That was 20 years in the past, and Westover (who makes use of they/them pronouns) remembers being surprised by the performers strutting down an elevated runway behind the bar, heels impossibly excessive, clothes dangerously low lower, the temper ebullient.
“These are my spirit animals,” Westover thought. “And I’m going to be a part of that world.”
I met Westover on Sunday night time as AsiaSF celebrated its 25-year anniversary, in a room packed sardine-tight with drag queens, politicos in fits and even a few Stanford college students. Westover, who identifies as gender nonconforming, was turned out in a beaded Artwork Deco robe, with dangling earrings and slicked-back hair, very a lot part of this vibrant neighborhood that reveals extra about San Francisco than the alarmist tales of city doom which have come to outline its fame nationwide.
For years, the hard-right outrage machine has zeroed in on San Francisco as a “hellhole” that epitomizes all the things mistaken with Democratic management. They’ve been aided by a small however vocal cadre of native social media influencers who’ve made their model pummeling San Francisco’s public well being and public security insurance policies. They focus virtually fully on medicine and crime, which dovetails completely into the right-wing propaganda that’s stoking paranoia and panic in varied components of the nation.
Should you’re questioning why I’m not together with the often compulsory pattern posts from these influencers, it’s as a result of I don’t really feel the necessity to give that false narrative extra oxygen. However their new king appears to be Elon Musk, who just lately tweeted out that “violent crime in SF is horrific,” regardless of the fact that, except for robberies, charges for violent crimes like murder and rape are to date on par or declining from final 12 months.
Many of those proselytizers protest that they don’t seem to be conservative, and most wouldn’t dare to the touch different points that animate the suitable, such because the wars on transgender individuals and abortion. However they’ve a symbiotic relationship with hard-right media (assume Fox Information) on crime and medicines.
In one other California city, perhaps Sacramento and even Los Angeles, their vitriol could be the stuff of Nextdoor posts. However as a result of San Francisco is a goal of the suitable wing, these native voices have amassed energy by offering the so-called proof that this metropolis, like different Democratic strongholds, is in perpetual chaos.
They publish numerous movies on-line of what I think about exploitative moral-outrage porn — clips of destitute individuals utilizing medicine, splayed out on sidewalks, incoherent and misplaced. Few of those seem like filmed with the particular person’s consent, however all are supposed to convey to the great people in Iowa and Idaho simply how unhealthy life might be underneath “leftist” management.
After all, that narrative shouldn’t be new.
In 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump referred to as out San Francisco and its sanctuary metropolis insurance policies after the horrific killing of resident Kathryn Steinle, who was shot by an undocumented immigrant with an in depth prison file and a historical past of deportations. The shooter, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, was acquitted of homicide after a jury determined he had discovered the gun underneath a bench and by accident fired it. The weapon belonged to a Bureau of Land Administration ranger and had been stolen from his automobile per week earlier.
However with the success of Trump’s political assault on the hearts and minds of immigrant-averse Republicans, the pile-on of exploiting woe has continued, culminating just lately within the aftermath of the killing of tech entrepreneur Bob Lee.
Lee was stabbed within the early-morning hours of April 4 in an upscale space of downtown. By the subsequent morning, right-wing social media had been drowning in condemnations of the town that assumed Lee had been randomly attacked — the unstated implication that the assailant was seemingly a homeless drug consumer. Lee’s demise rapidly grew to become simply the most recent proof of how violent San Francisco has grow to be regardless of its persevering with low murder price.
Police finally arrested an acquaintance of Lee’s for the killing, suggesting the assault might have been motivated by a dispute involving the suspect’s sister. Not a random killing in any respect, however that hasn’t stopped these distributors of grievance. After the arrest, one frequent social media poster urged that it didn’t matter who did it, as a result of any sort of killing proves simply how harmful San Francisco is.
On Friday, when Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a multiagency effort, together with the California Nationwide Guard, to focus on giant drug distributors in San Francisco, one other a type of agitators declared “victory,” wrongly claiming that troopers could be on the streets as a result of the state of affairs was so dire. CalGuard will present backroom intelligence-gathering help. There will likely be no tanks.
San Francisco has issues, after all. Not little ones. There’s a tech bust emptying costly workplace towers, very like the dot-com bubble did across the similar time AsiaSF first opened.
There may be additionally a disaster of dependancy, which has led to unacceptable ranges of property crime in addition to areas of the town the place medicine are brazenly offered and used, and stolen items hawked at sidewalk markets. As with so many different locations — city, suburban and rural — fentanyl has grow to be the drug of alternative, resulting in skyrocketing numbers of overdoses. Thus far this 12 months, 200 individuals have died of fentanyl overdoses within the metropolis in contrast with 142 deaths in the identical interval final 12 months.
And anti-Asian hate crimes, largely unrelated to the dependancy disaster, have rightfully galvanized anger — having elevated 167% nationwide between 2020 and 2021, in response to FBI knowledge, far outpacing rises for another group. In San Francisco that has included, amongst different brazen assaults, an Asian man dying after being shoved into the road, a person throwing a brick at aged Asian individuals in a park, and an aged lady being robbed and crushed by 4 juveniles in her senior dwelling heart.
Anti-Asian hate crimes appear to be declining this 12 months, however Asian communities have grow to be extra vocal and political of their calls for to higher police the town — appeals that at instances have been conflated with the far-right speaking factors however which stem from very completely different views.
A latest metropolis survey discovered all residents, no matter ethnicity, really feel much less protected than earlier than the pandemic.
Solely 36% of respondents mentioned they felt protected or very protected strolling alone of their neighborhood at night time. In 2019, 53% mentioned they felt protected at night time.
Regardless of that decline, the general grade for residents’ emotions about security got here in at a C+, which isn’t nice however isn’t a hellhole failure, both.
Which is to say, don’t consider the hype you examine San Francisco on the web.
“The actual San Francisco is AsiaSF. It’s the cherry blossom parade. It’s Easter with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in Dolores Park,” state Sen. Scott Wiener informed me, after we stepped outdoors the membership to speak. For individuals who don’t know, the sisters are a collective of activist queer and transgender nuns who’ve been round since Jimmy Carter was within the Oval Workplace. They wish to curler skate.
“This can be a place with a soul that may’t be stifled,” mentioned Bette McKenzie, a former public relations government who helped conceive one of many largest AIDS fundraisers on the West Coast, as we screamed over the pounding beat again contained in the membership.
“Regardless of all of the BS you hear from the right-wing media, San Francisco is a beacon of hope for therefore many individuals,” Larry Hashbarger informed me. He’s one of many house owners of AsiaSF.
He got here to San Francisco from Boulder, Colo., in 1977, a “younger homosexual man who was not fairly prepared for the scene.” At 71, he is the scene, working the room in a black bedazzled swimsuit common after a Keith Haring portray.
When AsiaSF opened, “the phrase transgender was not even in our vocabulary but,” Hashbarger informed me.
However nonetheless, everybody needed to come back. “Pacific Heights matrons would carry their Dom Perignon.”
Since then, he estimates 1,000,000 individuals have come by means of the doorways. On Friday, Mayor London Breed stopped by, he mentioned. Former U.S. Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco resident, despatched a proclamation “in recognition of excellent and invaluable service to the neighborhood.” Even state Treasurer Fiona Ma was there together with her brother on Sunday.
“Everyone involves be who they’re and rejoice who they’re. Regardless of who you’re, you need to discover your fact and stay your fact,” Hashbarger mentioned.
And that’s the enduring power of San Francisco. Folks go to New York and Los Angeles searching for fame and wealth. Folks come to San Francisco searching for themselves — trying to find freedom and authenticity.
Those that discover their very own id and their very own tribes are the true powers on this metropolis, constructing communities with clout and endurance. Simply have a look at who will get elected, from Harvey Milk, the primary brazenly homosexual man to carry workplace in California, to Wiener, who has championed a progressive agenda that has made him reviled by the suitable.
For a small minority, their fact is at all times going to be born of spite and privilege. And that minority may have its energy, as democracy calls for, particularly on this perverse American timeline during which the push towards authoritarianism requires hate and concern to justify itself. That, mentioned Wiener, is a “problem,” however one San Francisco at all times has and at all times will overcome.
For almost all of San Francisco, the outrage peddlers are a sideshow, a pale whisper in opposition to the power of the true present in locations like AsiaSF.
Many years in the past, Westover, the closeted Mormon, discovered themselves standing on a 20-foot ladder, considering suicide — leaping to see if that might quiet the noise and the ache. They had been 23. Their mother and father had rejected them, and being homosexual or transgender or one thing else fully appeared terrifying. Seeing the performers of AsiaSF gave Westover the braveness to outline themselves on their very own phrases.
On Sunday night time, I noticed Westover as a lovely human wholly proudly owning who they’re, surrounded by discovered household.
“This metropolis is a protected sandbox that enables an individual to play with out concern,” Westover informed me. “I believe it saved my life.”
They aren’t the one one San Francisco has saved, they usually gained’t be the final.
That’s the fantastic thing about this metropolis, and no quantity of fear-mongering will change it.