June 16th, 2011

A sense of history

Last night I had dinner with a couple of my coworkers, both of whom are gay men in their late 20s. We were talking about the history of San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, and the gay bars and bath houses that were there.

In 1981, a huge fire broke out on Folsom Street. It destroyed 25 buildings, partially fed by broken gas lines. 120 people were left homeless. Radical sex photographer Mark I Chester had a lot of his work stolen or vandalized. A bit about it is here, though it's not entirely safe for work. Mark wound up suing the city over the work that they'd destroyed.

I was describing this to my coworkers, and one of them gave me a puzzled work. "Why would the city do that?"

The question threw me for a loop, and then it made me feel old. It hadn't occurred to me until now that there was such a huge generation gap between us-- they hadn't lived through the AIDS crisis, Anita Bryant was a quaint historical footnote for them, and they'd never really known discrimination based on their sexual orientation. "If you were gay in the 70s, the police weren't there to protect you." A look of dawning awareness told me that I'd hit my mark, but I think it was at an intellectual level rather than an emotional one.

From there we went to see the new Tales of the City musical. (Review: mixed bag, has potential, needs work.) Afterward, I found myself explaining a few of the cultural references.

The world is definitely a better place now, but it makes me sad that so much recent history is being forgotten.