As the Pulse nightclub massacre recently reminded the world, LGBT nightclubs are, in many ways, at the heart of our community. They’re our community gathering spaces. They’re where many of us grew up, met some of our closest friends, and picked up our next boyfriend (or at least boyfriend for the night). I started sneaking into LGBT nightclubs when I was 18 years old. I can’t even imagine what coming out as a gay man would have been like without these community spaces — the places where you always knew you could go to be with your people.
We recently learned that the Stud — an iconic gay nightclub at 9th and Harrison in Western South of Market — is at major risk of shutting down due to sale of the building, a steep rent increase, and possible future development of the site. I have a personal connection to the Stud. I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and spent. more nights there than I can recall, at Trannyshack, Sugar, and other awesome parties. The grave risk to the Stud’s future is personal for a lot of us. A significant community effort has risen to save the Stud. We must join together and support this effort. These fights are hard, though winnable and well worth the effort. After all, we are talking about our community and our spaces.
The Stud doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Western SOMA has long been one of the hearts of San Francisco’s LGBT community and particularly our community’s nightlife. Going back to the 1960s, the neighborhood has had a major concentration of LGBT-focused clubs, for example, Powerhouse, Rawhide, Eagle, and Hole in the Wall, with Folsom Street named the “Miracle Mile.” Western SOMA has long been a place where LGBT people — and particularly the leather community — can build community, party, and just be who we are. The area continues to be a vibrant part of our LGBT nightlife, including the recent addition of Oasis, under the leadership of the great Heklina, and the revival of the Eagle. I was proud to be part of the efforts to get Oasis and the Eagle open.
(Photo: Western SOMA gay scene back in the day, sanfrancisco.travel)
Unfortunately, the Stud isn’t the first and won’t be the last LGBT nightclub in Western SOMA to be at risk. A rezoning of the neighborhood a few years ago, the Western SOMA Plan, made the situation more challenging. The rezoning was explicitly designed to reduce the number of nightlife venues in the neighborhood, designed to push nightlife south of Harrison Street (the Stud is north of Harrison, as are the bulk of LGBT nightclubs), and designed to increase housing density in the area, thus increasing the value of land and putting more pressure on nightlife. There was significant pushback against the plan by the nightlife community. Small changes were made to make the plan less anti-nightlife around 11th Street, but in the end, the plan’s goal of reducing the number of nightlife venues remained in tact.
I voted against the Western SOMA Plan precisely due to its anti-nightlife bent. After the plan was enacted, it promptly almost killed Heklina’s effort to open Oasis; fortunately, follow-up legislation cleaned up the mess, grandfathered the club, and allowed it to open and become the thriving queer space it is today.
The Western SOMA Plan also requires the creation of an LGBT cultural historic district in the neighborhood. Due to lack of political will, that cultural district has not moved forward with the notable exceptions of Eagle Plaza and Ringold Alley. The cultural district must move forward.
Despite all these pressures and political failures around protecting LGBT nightlife in Western SOMA, we can win. Rallying and working together as a community, we were able to save the Eagle, and we were able to create Oasis. Supporting new ownership, helping them establish themselves as viable businesses, making sure they get the permits they need, and, most important, making sure these precious spaces don’t get bulldozed are all key.
We can save the Stud and other nightlife venues as well. Let’s do it.