The rise and fall of a Polk Street hustler - Page 4

Corey Longseeker is a telling remnant of this gentrifying neighborhood's colorful past
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Image by Mirissa Neff

If you didn't make any money that day it didn't mean you were going to sleep on the street." Kiko eventually worked his way into the bar business, becoming a bouncer and later a DJ.

COREY'S STORY

Diez learned that Corey grew up in a deeply religious family in a small town in Minnesota. His mother and father worked in factories, and hunted and fished in the countryside. But "something happened in that family," Diez said. "Either he did something really wrong and they could not put up with him, or they did something wrong and he could not put with up with them, or both — I don't know." Corey never graduated high school, instead leaving Minnesota for San Francisco.

Corey gave Dan clues as to his move in a series of letters he wrote him from jail, where he was sent on a series of drug charges in the late 1990s. He wrote about three "childhood nightmares" that were "true life stories" and "part of my past survived existence."

He wrote of being part of a "bunch of little gay boys" in high school who "were not allowed to live a normal life one on one with their partners, among lost immediate family, and unforgiven [sic], misunderstanding, or nonaccepting [sic] religious traditional old fashioned folks.

"Our very own parents used to laugh and giggle, and be cruel to us. And no matter how gifted each child was, our parents watched us and made harsh comments, and truly not funny jokes, and then forced us by broken pride, trust, and rejection to survive in Satan's swamp.

"Some parents are not willing to understand the flower children of the nineties," Corey wrote, but now "I am trying to step out of a nightmare and back into a Dream ... [to] kickstart the new flower child era" in San Francisco, "like the hippies once did, so will we rise above once again."

A San Francisco State University study published in Pediatrics in January found that LGBT youth who reported higher rates of family rejection were eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, and more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs and have unprotected sex, compared with their peers who reported lower levels of family rejection.

Those escaping persecution also appear more likely to be runaways or homeless. While approximately 3-10 percent of the U.S. population identifies as lesbian or gay, 30 percent of youth served by San Francisco's Larkin Street Youth report that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex.

POLK FALLS APART

By the time Corey arrived in 1990, the twin epidemics of AIDS and methamphetamine addiction were wreaking havoc on Polk Street.

Harvard-educated ethnographer Toby Marotta, who worked on several federally funded research projects in the Polk Gulch, said that by the mid-1980s "the whole southern end of Polk Gulch was being transformed because of methamphetamine use."

Speed was the perfect drug for the early days of AIDS, when people were terrified and confused: it produced feelings of euphoria, a sense of invulnerability, focus, and a desire for sex. But while the drug "produced long mind-escapes" for people who used it, Marotta said, it "completely undercut the personal relationships and social obligations essential to functioning community."

Combined with a national recession and a rash of Polk Street business closures, the economic health of the street, and the support systems enabled by it, suffered a tremendous blow. The money, energy, guidance, and options for street youth employment through local bars and businesses were quickly disappearing.

By the late 1970s, the city's gay political center had moved to the more affluent Castro District. "For those of us that depended on the street to survive, the money was harder and harder and harder to make," Lobo said.