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June 8, 2021

Always Proud, San Francisco: A Brief Gay History

This is a story we’ll all tell 50 years from now: “When I was your age, an iPhone cost $200. And gay people couldn’t get married. Can you imagine?”

Love won. On June 26, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality is a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The decision has been eagerly awaited by the community and city of San Francisco, and the announcement came on the eve of the 45th Pride celebration and parade unfolding in San Francisco that weekend.

As the symbolic heart of gay rights progress for decades, San Francisco has so many reasons to be proud of this moment. The first gay bar. The first gay Pride parade. The first same sex issued marriage license. So many “firsts” in this civil rights struggle have taken place right here.

We’ve created a little timeline to commemorate some of these milestones. We’ve come a long way and we can’t wait to see what comes next.

  • 1908: First Gay Bar in SF
    The Dash was the first “notorious” gay bar in San Francisco. The city may have had gay bars before The Dash, but none was as visible. Waiters cross-dressed and for $1 (a huge sum in those days) would perform sex acts in nearby booths. It was shut down by the vice squad almost as soon as it opened, after a high-profile judge was linked to bar, leading to a reform movement that helped shutter the equally infamous Barbary Coast.
  • 1955: First U.S. Lesbian Organization
    San Francisco is the home of the first lesbian organization in the U.S., The Daughters of Bilitis.
  • 1964: Gay Captial of America
    Life Magazine links San Francisco as the “Gay Capital of America” in an article “Gay San Francisco”
  • 1966: First U.S. Gay Community Center & More
    The Society for Individual Rights opens the first gay community center in the U.S. The National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations holds the first national convention of gay and lesbian groups in San Francisco. The world's first transgender organization, the National Transsexual Counseling Unit, was established in San Francisco in response to the Compton's Cafeteria Riot that occured in August.
  • 1970: First Gay Pride Parade
    On June 27, 20 to 30 people march down Polk Street from Aquatic Park to City Hall in San Francisco's first gay rights march. A "gay-in'' the next day in Golden Gate Park draws many more people. This is the start of the Gay Freedom Day Parade, also known as Pride.
  • 1972: First Openly Gay Bar in SF
    With open windows, Twin Peaks tavern opens as the first openly gay bar in San Francisco. Before, gay bars were required to install blackened windows or no windows at all.
  • Harvey Milk is elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk is the first openly gay elected official in California history. Tales of the City, written by Armistead Maupin, is published. The series of novels has won numerous awards, including Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Book Award in 2001 and Best Gay Read Award in 2006.
  • 1978: Rainbow Flag Designed In SF
    The first rainbow flag was designed by Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco artist, in response to calls by activists for a symbol for the community. Baker used the five-striped “Flag of the Race” as his inspiration, and designed a flag with eight stripes: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
  • 1982: First Gay Games
    First Gay Games draws more than 1,350 athletes from 10 countries to compete in 17 sports at Kezar Stadium.
  • 1994: First World AIDS Day
    First official observance of World AIDS Day in the AIDS Memorial Grove located in San Francisco’s verdant Golden Gate Park.
  • 2004: First Same-Sex Marriage Licenses Issued
    First same-sex marriage licenses issued. Long-time San Franciscans Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis) became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the U.S.
  • 2015: U.S. Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage Equality
    The 45th annual Pride parade takes place following a historical 5-4 Supreme Court vote to legalize same-sex marriage across the U.S.

Continue exploring all-things-gay in San Francisco through our LGBTQ site-section. Stay informed about SF Pride and all things San Francisco on facebook and instragram.

Since we no longer have to celebrate virtually, it's time to dress your best, grab some friends, and celebrate Pride out loud! And this year, you can take the celebration to center field of Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.




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