When the Pandemic Hit San Francisco’s Castro Gayborhood, the Response was…Fabulous

3 min readJun 10, 2020


Castro Street was a vibrant village, and then suddenly a plywood void.

I live and work here in one of America’s few remaining gayborhoods, a mecca for queer rights and a beacon of hope for people who live oppressed around the world. We know that what happens here matters.

When the pandemic came to town, and San Francisco was the first major U.S. city with a shelter-in-pace dictate, the composite wood flew up. With the shutdown indefinite and the future in question, owners wanted to protect their properties.

But to many, each nail pounding in those boards felt like defeat. In a neighborhood that has battled death, from the assassination of Harvey Milk to the genocide of AIDS, the plywood represented a terrible message.

I sat in a Zoom town hall meeting in March when Donna Sachet, the city’s drag doyenne, offered a solution.

“Any thoughts about painting those awful plywood boards? Maybe local artists without current work would be interested in painting flowers, murals, or something to make things more interesting?”

I want to say that the politician running the meeting immediately embraced the idea and the community rallied, like in a scene from some inspirational movie. No. Donna’s vision seemed to land with a thud. There were concerns raised about violating local graffiti ordinances, and the bizarre argument that an artist painting a mural outside would risk death from the virus.

Well, I’m not the first one to say this…

Donna Sachet was right.

It would take weeks because of those initial naysayers, but in time the plywood was conquered. And this being the Castro, there’s more than just pretty pictures.

Take a look…




Scott James is a veteran journalist and author of TRIAL BY FIRE, about The Station nightclub disaster. www.scottjameswriter.com