OPINION Any attempt to organize an official Halloween in the Castro is a terrible idea, maybe even a deadly one. But before I rant, let me give a little history. In the wake of the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake, a BBC story reported that "a massive rescue effort is now underway in what experts believe is the second biggest earthquake ever to hit the United States."
More than 3,500 people were injured and 100,000 buildings damaged. For this reason, a few members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made a spontaneous decision to stand in the Castro among the drag queens and costumed folk that Halloween to put on street theater and collect donations for the mayor's relief fund for the victims of the earthquake. A brilliant move. We collected thousands.
This put a bee in our bonnets ... er ... wimples to use Halloween as a fun fundraiser the next year. A tremendous success. Each year the caliber of entertainment drew more people and brought in more donations, enabling us to entertain the otherwise unruly crowds while collecting donations for AIDS charities. The events were a hit, until we saw attendees getting hit — with bottles, bats, and other deadly weapons — by drunken gay-bashers out to get their kicks. The next year we saw that police checking for weapons had collected garbage cans full of baseball bats, hammers, knives, axes (none of these were the rubber kind), and many blunt instruments that could harm people. I saw someone with a mask running a gas-powered chain saw. But when police told us that among other weapons they had confiscated an AK-47 assault rifle, that was the year the Sisters were through with Halloween in the Castro, frightened that an event we had sponsored might bring about death.
So we tried something different. Luring people away from the Castro and into a private club, we turned the Pleasuredome in SoMa into a Halloween-themed party space with ornate All Hallows Eve–oriented backdrops and props. We had stellar entertainment, and the door charge went to AIDS and cancer charities. There was only one rule: you had to be in costume. The event was called HallowQueen, with the slogan "Evolve with the Sisters as Halloween moves to the next level." It was successful in getting people out of the Castro and into a safe space, but we couldn't afford to do it again on our meager budget.
The attempt to move the party to the Civic Center did not work because of poor planning and insufficient advance public relations. And since the Castro was still gated off, the queer-bashers thought that was the better locale in which to be violent. There were several stabbings that year.
There should be no official gathering in the Castro. No gates set up to make it look like an event. Police should infiltrate the area to keep peace but not harass the costumed folk. And something must be scheduled by the city outside the Castro and managed well to draw the crowd away to safety. Then perhaps the Sisters will get involved again. Then maybe the Sisters will MC and run a stage. But as it is now, the cordoned-off section of the "official" Halloween will end at Market and Castro. That is potentially deadly — inviting bashers and spoilers to assemble right at the very entrance of the Castro. Boo! SFBG
Sister Dana Van Iquity
Sister Dana Van Iquity is a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.