Final Impressions

Hey Castro Fans! This is going to be my last post…for now. Sounds like my time to entertain and inform you on the Castro District has come to an end.

But let’s recap on our journey through the Castro as I leave some advise and last notes that I may not have mentioned before.

My lasting impression of the Castro is a cultural melting pot, where many different people come to the neighborhood and explore. I will always remember reporting news from January to May that happened around the Castro.

The Castro taught me a lot about diversity and change. There were many different viewpoints on the LGBT community where it would relate to the debate over the Castro flag

The iconic rainbow flag that brought attention between an activist and the merchants group.

and how gender comes into play and how others views them.

There are crimes in every district, even in the Castro! You may think gay men seem harmless compared to heterosexual men because we are given the stereotype as feminine but that’s definitely not true. Some gay men are still under the suspicion of drugging other gay men to steal from them. Never underestimate anyone.

From a journalistic view, it was very tough getting all the information I needed. Some were so helpful in answering my questions, some just looked at me like a crazy person with a recorder. This was a good learning experience to break out of my shell and really report as a true reporter.

I respect everyone who was there to help me get some sources for my stories and from the conversations I had with police officers, residents and merchants, I was able to read their body language, which led me to ask the right questions at the right moment.

The reporting process was easy after I got used to it. I started to find contact information on the internet and started making some calls. I setted up interview dates and brought a recorder with me in case I wasnt able to write everything down. After a while, I had plenty of information that I needed to narrow down in order to find the perfect quote.

The Castro District had community organizations such as Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC), Supervisors like Scott Wiener to reach out to in case of any community issue that needs to be resolved and reports to get past information on.

As a reporter, I definitely have a different perspective on the Castro. It isn’t just a gay street where all you see is drag queens roaming the streets almost half naked or leather bears carrying whips and leashes around, it’s how they function as a community and can express who they are as a small tight group. I learned that it’s tough to keep business open and running for a long time. It’s scary out there when you know you’re not secure on running a successful business that can potentially destroy financially.

As my learning experience has definitely grown, I will continue to carry the knowledge and experience I have from the Castro. I hope some of you got something out of reading my blog on “The Stro” and enjoyed it.


Magnet Testing

You know it never hurts to go and get tested for HIV/AIDS. So why not try one the medical centers in the Castro District? The Magnet Health Center, a testing center located on 18th Castro streets, is one of the well-known testing centers in the Castro that is open to everybody.

“I learned a lot when I came here. I never got tested in my life but when I found this place, they gave me plenty of information on how to have safe sex,” said Jason Aguinaldo, a client of Magnet’s. “I would come here again.”

Magnet is home to a lot of gay men who come here regularly to get checked for STDs and HIV. the sexual health services menu does testing and treatment for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. They do a confidential rapid HIV antibody testing and provide Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. They don’t test for herpes or HPV.Raid HIV testing results are given within the same day.

Magnet is also a place where gay men come and get connected. In addition to the clinical services, Magnet has something a little extra to add to the clinic. It has an art gallery, lounge and a cafe with wi-fi internet. Magnet is a place where people can feel safe and engage.

“I didn’t know it was an art gallery until I noticed all the big portraits on the wall,” said Aguinaldo. “It’s a great idea to have a cafe with the clinic so people can come and just hang out.”

Magnet is a program of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation who are different in approach to total health.  They promote the physical, mental and social well-being of all gay men in San Francisco.

Since there has been a reduction in staff for nurses and need to enable system upgrades, Magnet has new hours of operations that will take into effect in may. Magnet will reduce business hours and these changes will start May 7th to May 31st. They will be closed Mondays and have shorter hours on Wednesdays through Fridays.

Sparky’s May Be Filled with Rats

Everyone’s favorite restaurant down the street of Lime was shut down for a quick minute. And when I mean by that is the place was closed for a week. Sparky’s recently had a food inspection and found rat infestation in the restaurant.

Sparky’s Diner is a famous for its long list of breakfast entrees and pasta dishes. It is a 24-hour open diner that serves delicious food from baked pizzas to gourmet omelettes.

“I love Sparky’s. Every time I go out to the different tourist attractions in the Castro, we would stop by Sparky’s to grab something to eat even though it’s 5am,” said Nickel Lester, a visitor from Los Angeles. “I would definitely come back here again.”

But since the place had an inspection that may be nerve racking for the usual customers, it doesn’t too promising that the regulars would come back.

“I couldn’t believe they had rats running around that place,” said Amanda Heater, a Castro resident. “I love Sparky’s but I’m a bit iffy on going back there to eat knowing it’s unsanitary.”

Food inspections are very important for the business and for the customers. It really reflects on how well they take care of the restaurant and keep the place clean and disease free. If you don’t have loyalty towards your customers, they won’t be loyal on coming back.

“I was pretty disgusted when I heard the news about Sparky’s,” added Heater.

Currently, they reopened and business is running back to normal.


Trigger May be Closing?

One of the well-known Castro bars in San Francisco may be in danger. Today, I found out the bar Trigger may be closing within weeks or months. In early March, Trigger owner Greg Bronstein had two liquor licenses briefly suspended from over unpaid taxes, at both bars Trigger and Lime, which was emended and both bars reopened shortly after two days of being closed.

Bronstein owned club Trigger and Lime and rumors of Bronstein’s financial troubles have overflowing over the past couple of years, and now he might selling the license for Trigger, which would mean that a closure is not far away at all.

The license is being bought by Patxi’s for the Fillmore location, and given the typical timing of liquor license transfers and it is expected to happen within a month or two. The bar may of course shut start shutting down before the time happens, but it’s likely going on the market as well. It will be up for a new owner to get a liquor license and to vacate the new space.

Meanwhile, the West Hollywood-esque Trigger will still be remained open — though they are keeping some strange hours, which will open at 9:30pm on some weeknights and Lime will also remain open, with their notoriously boozy, extravagant Sunday brunch, though we may wonder if Lime will also flee as well.

Bronstein’s investment in the neighborhood, which once included the restaurants Blue, Luna, the former Bar on Castro (BOC), and the former Transfer/Bar on Church, has shrunk in recent years as he’s sold off the businesses to other bar owners. Only time will tell when the actual bar will be gone.

A spurred up issue of the iconic rainbow flag

In New Jersey, flags will be lowered in honor of Whitney Houston. People are standing in the soft wind waiting in anticipation for that moment to be at half-staff for the legendary singer. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown, will be attending her service. The streets up to six blocks will be shut down by the police in Newark for Houston. These flags represented pride, freedom and community.
            Yet that’s not the case, according to some. 
            “I think it’s unfair that the flag in the gay community wasn’t lowered,” said Patricia Paredes, a resident of the Castro District. “Who gets to call the shots for the flag anyway?”
            The famous rainbow flag placed at the epicenter of Castro and Market street, has spurred up a group of activists to challenge the merchants who control the flag.
             The problem started in January 2011, when the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, (MUMC), refused to lower the flag to half-staff for the Honor of David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist who was brutally murdered.
           Petrelis, 53, said he is angry that the local merchants have full control over the district’s symbolic flag placed in the Castro’s Harvey Milk Plaza.

“They are a private group controlling important public space and when they are questioned about this illegitimate control matter, they    either get rude or ignore the public,” said Petrelis.
            Though they originally denied the request from Petrelis and the activist group Gays Without Borders, the merchants association reversed their decision later in February.
            While the Department of Public Works maintains the Harvey Milk Plaza, MUMC has maintained and protected the flag within the plaza where it flies for the past decade.
            When they refused to lower the flag to half-staff for Elizabeth Taylor’s death, an actress for AIDS activism, the problem hit a nerve in Petrelis.
           “I couldn’t believe these guys are gay,” Petrelis teased. “What gay guy wouldn’t want to lower a flag for the gay icon Liz Taylor?”
           Petrelis, a self-described “brash hothead,” reached out to Supervisor Scott Wiener about the issue. Wiener agreed with MUMC, which had control over the flag since it was first flown in 1997.
          “MUMC handles requests to lower the flag to half staff, a request that is rarely granted,” said Wiener. “If MUMC granted all of the requests that are made, the flag would be lowered most of the time.”
          The association receives about 10 to 20 requests to lower the flag each month for many reasons, but the elected board of the merchants group doesn’t want to smear away the power of the Castro rainbow flag at half-staff constantly.
           “MUMC, with support from others, has done a tremendous job managing the flag,” Wiener added.
           Every year, the merchants group spends $5,000 on the insurance bill, according to the group’s previous president Steve Adams. They pay an additional $4,000 a year for maintenance costs.
          As simple as it seems to have a large flag there, it is not cheap, according to Wiener.
          “MUMC pays to replace the flag when it wears out, pays to replace the rope when it wears out and pays to insure the flag,” added Wiener.
          One example is the merchants group takes down the rainbow flag and replaces it with the black-and-blue leather subculture flag for the week before the Folsom Street Fair.
          But that doesn’t stop Petrelis from being quiet.
          “We were like, ‘Well you wouldn’t lower it for Elizabeth Taylor, but you let the leather flag up to fly for a week?” Petrelis said. “It harms us to have MUMC being these control queens.”
          Wiener did not make it a big issue.
          A small number of people — primarily one very loud person — have taken issue with the management of the Rainbow Flag, according to Wiener.
          San Francisco Department of Public Works is in partnership with MUMC. The flag-pole is on city land in the plaza where the flag flies while the merchants’ group pays the insurance and upkeep.
          DPW spokeswoman Gloria Chan said the merchants group and the DPW work together to get feedback from the community.
          “We are in charge of the area and land that the flag is on which is the Harvey Milk Plaza,” said Chan. “MUMC has full authority on the flagpole but we try to hear from the community about what they want.”
          “The rainbow should fly at full-staff since we have people come from all over the world,” said Adams. “We want to keep it up as much as possible.”
          Officials at the DPW and merchants said people should leave the flag alone. Wiener is satisfied with MUMC handling the flag.
          “I support MUMC’s public serving in managing the flag, as do other leaders in the community,” he said.