21 April 2006

Rampant Heterophobia in the Castro

So families have been moving into the Castro, and that doesn't please everyone
Although the Castro has long been called Boys Town, that moniker has assumed an ironic new meaning: The gay bastion is now an unlikely hub for families with children.

For more than a decade, heterosexual parents have been drawn to the quarter-mile-square Castro to raise their families in its quaint Victorian homes and small-town atmosphere. In recent years, the Castro's same-sex couples have also increasingly chosen to become parents, a revolution that has brought even more children.

In the Castro, restaurants oriented toward gay singles now offer child-size portions and even highchairs. One coffee shop features a hot chocolate "Castro Kids Special," a popular item during the morning rush that the owners call the "stroller hour."

At Cliff's Variety store, children shop for toy unicorns and jasmine-scented clay putty alongside cross-dressers perusing feather boas and rhinestone tiaras. And at this year's Gay Pride Parade in June, one float will celebrate gay families, featuring kids clad in construction-worker outfits and singing Village People songs.

But this new Castro has not emerged without tensions.

The racy storefront displays have pitted protective parents against equally militant gay residents. Many parents — both heterosexual and gay — say the suggestive ads are inappropriate for children. Gay activists want to preserve a sexually liberated atmosphere that embraces such gay-themed holidays as "Leather Day" and — in celebration of hairy men — "Bear Day."

Some complain that gay culture itself, which has long celebrated free sexual expression, is under attack — not just by straights, but by gays and lesbians as well.

Last year, a lesbian mother of two, now 6 and 2, complained about a sadomasochistic tableau in a clothing shop window that featured a male mannequin chained to a toilet. "As an adult I find this disgusting," she wrote in an e-mail to city officials. "As a parent I find it unconscionable."

After failing to persuade merchants to post suggestive ads above the line of sight of small children, the mother, who asked not to be identified, said she plans to move from the Castro.

Another parent complained when an antiques store displayed a kitschy life-size statue of an aroused naked man. Owner Robert Hedric said he reluctantly covered the offending portion after police intervened.

Hedric, who is gay and said he moved from Germany to the Castro for its lively gay culture, worries that family-friendly sensibilities will quash the neighborhood's spirit. "What surprise is next? Are they going to outlaw the Gay Pride Parade?" he asked. "This is the Castro, not the Vatican."

There's more, of course, but you'd think there'd be room for everyone, breeders and gay alike.

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