LGBTs ♥ the Golden Gate Bridge
The Bay Area’s LGBT community has been enthralled with the Golden Gate Bridge since its Art Deco towers debuted on the ocean’s edge 75 years ago.
The reasons why it has struck such a chord with LGBT people abound. Many point to the suspension bridge’s International orange color and sublime design.
"I was seduced by the majesty of that bridge," said gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who served on the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District board for more than a decade. (The Bay Area Reporter’s founding publisher, the late Bob Ross, also served on the bridge district board for many years, including a stint as president.)
Georgia Wright, a lesbian who works for the bridge district, called the Golden Gate "one of the wonders of the world."
"The bridge is such an amazing structure. It represents the beautiful city we have," added Wright, whose office is near the toll plaza on the San Francisco side of the bridge.
Peter Guthlein, a gay man who is the bridge district’s marketing director, said many people associate the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco’s reputation of being a tolerant and accepting city.
"Folks who don’t live in the area, they just are in awe of the fact I work for such an icon," said Guthlein.
The architectural and engineering marvel, chiefly designed by Charles Alton Ellis, has long been conflated with the city’s reputation as a safe haven for LGBT people. And like New York City’s Statue of Liberty, it has served as a beacon for people across the globe looking for a better life.
"For me the Golden Gate Bridge has always had a special significance in the sense that, being born in a foreign country, when you think of not just San Francisco and California but the United States, you often think about the Golden Gate Bridge and what it represents," said gay San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who in his youth illegally immigrated to America from Guatemala. "It really is a symbol of the American dream and of the American promise."
Campos, who currently sits on the bridge district board, sees the bridge as a magnet drawing people to California and the Bay Area.
"I think within the LGBT community there are many of us who see the bridge as a symbol of the freedom and opportunities we have here," he said.
Favorite for magazines
Long before the birth of the modern gay rights movement, the bridge featured prominently in male muscle magazines. The GLBT Historical Society’s archives contain a trove of such images.
"It was a favorite of San Francisco physique photographers and appeared on the cover of numerous classic 1950s and 1960s homophile and early gay liberation publications," noted Gerard Koskovich, who uploaded several examples to the society’s Facebook page.
The bridge today figures in the logo for the Golden Gate Business Association, the country’s first LGBT chamber of commerce. And it is featured prominently in the city’s advertising campaigns geared at LGBT tourists.
"That is the strongest, most positive iconic image we have around the world," said Joe D’Alessandro, a gay man who is president and CEO of SF Travel.
Raised in northern California, D’Alessandro still "gets a tingle" whenever he drives across the bridge.
"It is an amazing structure and we have it," said D’Alessandro, who recalled eating at an Italian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that had an image of the bridge on its wall. "It had no connection whatsoever to San Francisco, and yet there is the Golden Gate Bridge."
Jeff Dion, a gay man who has worked in administration at the bridge district for nearly two decades, also tends to smile whenever he sees the bridge. As for why people feel such a strong connection to the Golden Gate, Dion believes it is because it has a romantic presence.
"I think it is because it has great physical beauty and its location. It really could have been an eyesore," said Dion, whose partner, Michael Soo, also works for the bridge district. "But the Art Deco styling on it and choice of color really sets itself off and looks appropriate for the area for some strange reason. It looks like it belongs there."
Point of protest
The bridge’s ability to capture the imagination and attention of people all over the globe was a key reason why AIDS activists staged a demonstration on the Golden Gate Bridge the morning of January 30, 1989. Organizers spent months planning their action; it was the first time protesters had shut down the bridge.
"We needed a very bold statement that would resonate nationally and internationally," recalled Kate Raphael, who helped plan the Stop AIDS Now or Else blockage of the bridge. "The bridge is a legend and any group that could block it would become a legend. Not that we wanted to be famous. But we felt we needed to do something really, really bold. Something that would shake people awake."
The bridge also has a darker side to its attractiveness. It is a magnet for the bereft, many of whom commit suicide, or attempt to, by jumping off the bridge.
Ammiano fought to address the issue while he served on the bridge board and hopes to soon see a preventative net be installed along the span.
"It is still a wonderful, iconic structure and we should celebrate it. But the sobering part is it has been an apparatus for suicide for too many years," said Ammiano. "Now we are hoping to remedy that."
For the majority of people, however, the Golden Gate Bridge is associated with warmer memories.
"I think of home when I see it," said Soo, a Hawaii native who has lived in the Bay Area for the past 30 years.
His views of the bridge have changed since first seeing it as a boy during visits with an uncle who lived in the North Bay.
"At that time and age, I couldn’t understand my uncle when he would try to impress on me how iconic the bridge was. We don’t have any bridges in Hawaii of any note," said Soo. "I do understand now. I see how people come here and that it does mean a lot to a lot of people from all over the world."
A host of activities, including a fireworks show, are planned for this Sunday, May 27 to celebrate the Golden Gate Bridge’s diamond jubilee. For the full schedule, visit http://goldengatebridge75.org/celebrate/golden-gate-festival.html.