Note: Like Vancouver, American cities, including San Francisco and Philadelphia, are seeing the LGBT community displaced from traditional neighbourhoods by high rents and housing prices – especially seniors.
When Ray Rudolph landed in San Francisco in 1976, he knew he’d found his moment. “There were a lot of gay people coming here from all parts of the country, and there were so many potentials at that time,” he says. “I fell in love with it.”
Ray was at the forefront of a massive transformation in American society. Now, 40 years later, he finds himself on the cutting edge of a new set of challenges. Like many who shared the moment with him, he is part of an aging segment of the LGBT community that finds it increasingly difficult to remain in the city it helped to build.
When he arrived, Ray scored an apartment off Polk Street, “the gay center of the city before the Castro,” and took a job at PS Restaurant, where drag queens would arrive in limos and order the chateaubriand. He spent many afternoons hanging out with his friends at Harvey Milk’s camera store and chatting about local issues and politics. Soon, he started campaigning for social change. “There was a lot of activism on the street,” he says. “I was there for getting Harvey Milk elected, for the assassinations of Milk and [mayor George] Moscone. I helped organize the candlelight march on Market Street, and of course the White Night riots, when Dan White got off from murder charges on the so-called ‘Twinkie defense.’”
With a neat mustache, a slim build, and lively blue eyes, Ray wears an updated version of the “Castro Clone” uniform that he adopted in the 1970s — with the addition of sensible walking shoes. “We all wore jeans and boots and checked or flannel shirts back then, and I still hold on to that,” he says with a smile. “But now I don’t tuck in the shirt anymore, I leave the tails out.”
For a while it seemed anything was possible. But in the late 1970s, according to Ray, life in San Francisco took an ominous turn. “Healthy friends were suddenly on canes and walkers. Then you didn’t see them anymore. People disappeared overnight. They died.”