Why San Francisco remains an LGBTQ Haven
It was not long after he moved to San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood in 1997 that Scott Wiener set his sights on elected office.
He certainly has the credentials. The son of small business owners, he studied on a Fulbright fellowship in Santiago, Chile, and received his law degree from Harvard.
His ascent was rapid. After landing a job as deputy city attorney, Castro voters sent him to the Board of Supervisors (that's San Francisco's city council). In 2015, he was elected to the California State Senate, replacing another gay politico, Mark Leno, who is now running for mayor of the City by the Bay.
How do you feel now about the Castro Street upgrade and redesign?
I’m elated every time I walk down it, which is often; I live a few blocks from the intersection of Church & Market. It really changes everything. For the previous 20 years I lived there, we had this incredibly vibrant commercial corridor, an iconic LGBT 'hood, but these tiny, awkward sidewalks, where God forbid anyone congregate without getting hit by a car. The new trees and fixtures are beautiful. It’s well worth checking out the historic plaques about the Castro in the sidewalk, much like the Hollywood walk. Redoing the streets for a much better pedestrian experience made it possible to put in the rainbow crosswalk and the history plaques.
How will the new design for Harvey Milk Plaza contribute to the ‘hood?
The redesign is the next step in improving the Castro and making it both as welcoming as possible while connecting it to our history. For years, no one has been happy about the plaza, which is basically unusable because there is a hole in the middle of it with a staircase leading down to Muni. People visit here and think, "What, this is it? This is Harvey Milk Plaza?" We can revolutionize the plaza, making it a place to hang out and gather, and to protest and to celebrate. There’s still a lot of work to do on the design, and the funding component has to come together, but it’s going to be a lot more functional and welcoming to the world.
Speaking of welcoming, to much of the world San Francisco is a beacon of freedom and liberation.
There’s no doubt the city is open to new people, and for a reason. There’s been 150 years of an influx of all backgrounds, nationalities, and religions from all parts of the world, whether visitors or residents, so people see welcoming others as not just the right thing but a good thing. This is simply the meaning of the city. Whether people are coming to hang out in our neighborhoods, our waterfront or bars or clubs, we find ways of making them feel they belong here.
Is the Castro assimilating as non-gay people embrace gay life in all its glory?
The bars are still gay bars–I can only think of one that’s mixed. If you are here when the bars are going, you can see it’s pretty gay still. Sure, some gay communities have been diluted, but you really don’t see that in the Castro, where the community is still deeply rooted. But there is a double edged sword here. We want to welcome everyone to the Castro regardless of sexual orientation but we also want to maintain our identity, our history, as an authentic LGBTQ population. Remember that the Castro has never been gay majority–there have been straight people who lived here forever, it’s always been mixed. The key is more about retaining the welcoming tradition.
Now that you’re commuting to Sacramento, what’s your social life like?
I have to say that Sacramento for me is mostly work, not play. When I’m at the state capital, I’ll go to a reception or dinner/drinks after work, but it’s mostly networking. Most days, I’m up early to go to the gym, work, then hang out with my roommates in the evening. I’m a San Franciscan through and through, though I must say the local Sacramento community is very strong and vibrant, too.
Back in San Francisco, where to you hang out?
Where do you eat?
When I moved here in ’97, there was much less of a restaurant scene. Now there are so many incredible restaurants with diverse cuisines from which to chose. I love Poecia, (so does Oprah, who had been seen there), Mamma Jis, Anchor Oyster Bar. I really enjoy Chow, which has really simple but good comfort food. The staff has been there a while; they are really diverse and friendly, and the restaurant treats them well.
What’s going on with the iconic club The Stud, which is losing its lease?
I’m proud of the collective, including Nate Allbee and Honey Mahogany, who are working to save The Stud. They are looking for a new location because the building it is in will be redeveloped. I have legislation to allow extended bar service from 2 to 4 a.m., which will benefit nightclubs like The Stud that struggle at the margins. It would give them two extra hours to make money, which for some clubs is the difference between just surviving or thriving.
What hotels do you like in particular?
If my friends and family don’t stay on my sofa bed, I put them up at Parker House Guest House in the Castro. Beck’s Motor Lodge had a reputation as a sex hotel, but now it’s under new ownership, cleaned up a lot, and it’s a great place to stay, and so perfectly located.
We hear you are single. What’s a perfect date night in San Francisco?
I’m single and dating. Welcome to my life! For me, the perfect date is meeting for drinks and a casual dinner, usually outside of the Castro so I won’t be recognized. I usually like when people come by and say "hi," but my dates are not looking for that so I head to SoMa. I love the Elbow Room in the Mission, and the bar at the St. Regis Hotel. People have no idea who I am there.
In 2014, you became one of the first public figures, even in San Francisco, to announce that you were taking PrEP, the anti-retroviral drug that prevents HIV infection.
I feel great about doing that. Before I made the announcement, I thought about it for a few months. I didn’t know what to expect, and a lot of my friends told me it could potentially backfire and I would be judged. Instead, it was a significantly more positive experience than I’d imagined, with literally 99% positive response from straight and gay people alike. I got emails from gay men who said, "Thanks for saying this. I had been too ashamed to tell anyone." Others said it made them think they should be on it, too. I even got emails from parents who said they wanted to talk to their gay sons about it. Sure, there was the cadre of trolls who stalked me on Twitter and Facebook, calling me names, but who cares? It felt great to be part of the movement to end new HIV infections, and to be part of the conversation really early on.
The gay beach at Dolores Park is fantastic now that the park has been redone
I hang out at Dolores Park as much as I did when I was in my 20s and 30s, and it’s really nice being there on a sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It’s even more pleasant now that they fixed the drainage issues, and added new bathrooms.
And, yeah, the gay beach is thriving like never before.