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Are we losing queer spaces like San Francisco’s Castro Street Fair to assimilation?

Ronnie Lynn and Tammy, Castro Street Fair 1974

My friend Ronnie Lynn, Miss Gay San Francisco 1977, moved to San Francisco in 1968.

She proudly boasts that she attended every queer event that happened back in those days and was at the very first Castro Street Fair in 1974. She remembers how excited everyone was to be there as it was one of the first fairs of its kind in San Francisco outdating even the Haight, Union and North Beach festivals. It still fascinates me to imagine what those early queer years were like.

Thinking about how the thrill of the journey to get here must have felt like and knowing that the freedom to express and be yourself was just waiting to be had really moves me. To leave home at seventeen or eighteen and head to a place you’ve only read about in a magazine (yeah, I’m talking about you, Cleve Jones), is a moment of bravery. That bravery still happens today but as I’ve written and said many times before, it is now close to impossible to escape here and survive without assistance as a queer youth.

So looking back on those early days still fills me with the great thrill of guts and independence.

The first Castro Street Fair I attended as Juanita was in 1993. I had been to previous ones but only as a shy young kid who spent most of the time watching from the sidewalk. The first time as Juanita opened up a whole new world to me. I wore a 12-pack of beer on my head (the beer I had previously drunk) and a gold faux-leather pantsuit that Mr. David designed for me.

I met so many people (some of you who still remind me of that meeting) and made so many new friends that day, many that I would continue to see at each fair I attended years after. This fair for me was a place to see old friends and make new. In 1994, as part of the drag troupe The Fishstix, which consisted of Glamamore (who had recently relocated from New York), Staci Gives (we coached audiences to scream GIVES good head after her introduction – Rest In Power my sweet dear Staci) and myself – we arrived wearing our classic “fish” costumes that Mr. David had created.

Related: In a sea of Pride parties, Juanita More! knows how to bring the magic

Glamamore was the Jellyfish, Staci was the mermaid, and I was the Great White Shark. We were promoting our shows at Kimo’s and walked down Castro Street taking countless photographs with people from Market and Castro to 18th. It was both thrilling and overwhelming as a baby queen. One year, I secured a booth as an exhibitor and sold items out of the House of MORE! closet. There were pieces of Mr. David Couture bursting with feathers, sequins, and drama, all being sold for a pittance.

Juanita MORE! store – Castro Street Fair, 2002
MORE boy Santiago selling JM! wares at Castro Street Fair

It was bittersweet to see some of those costumes go but at the time I had run out of room to store them and wasn’t thinking clearly about the future of all that couture and what it really meant in both of our lives. Now I have over 3000 pieces I dare not sell or give away because now every piece is stamped with our history. As the years passed I had the honor of performing on both the mainstage on Market Street and the one that got thrown up next to the Pendulum on 18th.

Day drag has never been one of my favorite things, as the sun is not usually your ally in holding onto the illusion of glamour you perceive in your little makeup mirror at home. But, I’ve prevailed over and over, and my beauty and glamour have only grown more ferocious over the years – be it day or night.

Glamamore, The Steve Lady & Juanita backstage at Castro Street Fair, 1998

The very first year the fair attracted over 5,000 people. Because of its popularity, it quickly grew to reach over 70,000 at its peak. I throw a lot of parties and events and imagine that it is a daunting task to organize an event of that size, especially when you are relying on volunteers. I will admit that I haven’t attended the fair in recent years, as I felt its sparkle was starting to fade as the humdrum of regular fair exhibits started to take over.

I recently wrote about the March on Polk Street to Reclaim Queer Spaces and said, “It feels like it’s been curtains away for queer spaces for quite some time. There are many people out there fighting to keep them alive, but just as many who shrug those efforts off as the nature of the beast. I don’t want to shrug it off.”

This is also true of the Castro Street Fair. Last year when the fair approached that is how I felt so I reached out to CSF with the thought of obtaining a food booth – I mean you all say you want to come over for dinner so I thought ‘Juanita why don’t you roast a pig on Castro Street and serve sandwiches all day!’

Can you fucking imagine? Well, that didn’t end up happening, which is why I’m reaching out to you today.

Juanita MORE! and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, Castro Street Fair, 2010 Image / Steven Underhill

San Francisco is rapidly changing and after 44 years the fair has changed too. I want it to be fun, successful, and feel fresh again. So this year instead of sitting back and bitching about it I’ve reached out to the CSF Board and offered my assistance.

And now I need yours. Let’s make the Castro Street Fair the best fair in San Francisco.

Let’s turn this bitch out in 2018.

Please join me at the Castro Street Fair Forum to discuss the future and success of Harvey Milk’s little block party.