Gay San Francisco: Scenes From the Tenderloin’s Early Queer Movements

by on September 7, 2017

The Tenderloin’s queer history is getting a lot of attention these days. Tonight at the Tenderloin Museum this history comes to life. The Museum is showing the legendary documentary Gay San Francisco, for the first time in its entirety. The film offers a rare look into the Tenderloin’s early queer movements during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

I saw a shorter version of the film at the Roxie earlier this year and it was incredible. Anyone interested in the Tenderloin’s early queer world will not want to miss this.

Created by filmmaker Jonathan Raymond, the full-length, never-before-screened Gay San Francisco gives an unabashedly raw window into queer life decades ago. Restored from its original 8mm film and transferred to digital, the restoration of the film was a collaboration between the Tenderloin Museum and California Preservation Society. This extended version features, among other new scenes, lesbian subject matter and a fetish “tickle sacrifice” scene.

A true mondo film, it does include pornographic material. But Gay San Francisco tackles its gay and erotic themes with a respect and humor that was all but unheard of at the time of its shooting.

This footage — along with scenes from San Francisco’s thriving LGBTQ culture, interviews with gay men and transwomen, and rare pieces from a Halloween drag show at the historic On The Levee gay bar — give a shockingly complete depiction of homosexual life in San Francisco, and more specifically, the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s first queer neighborhood.

Gay San Francisco was discovered by filmmakers Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman during research for their Emmy-winning documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, which includes footage from Gay San Francisco.

The original 8mm film was generously provided to Stryker and Silverman by Ed Muckerman, cinematographer of Gay San Francisco. This collaboration between the Tenderloin Museum and California Preservation Society is a part of California Revealed, a State Library initiative to help digitize, preserve, and serve online historically significant California.

California Revealed is currently accepting submissions on behalf of the Tenderloin Museum. Participants are encouraged to bring in material related to the history of the Tenderloin (e.g., books, documents, photographs, audiovisual recordings) to be digitized and added to the Tenderloin Museum’s digital collection as well as the California Light and Sound collection.

In exchange, participants will get free copies of the files. The Tenderloin Museum will gather basic description and help send the original materials to California Revealed for digitization. The next deadline for nominations will be Spring 2018. To arrange a drop-off, please contact the Tenderloin Museum at

Since 2010, California Revealed and its sibling project, the California Preservation Program, have worked with over 150 partner institutions across the state — including public libraries and local historical societies — to help preserve California’s history through digitizing materials, making them available online, and providing long-term storage. For more information about California Revealed please visit the California Preservation Program. Bryn Hoffman, archivist with California Revealed, will be speaking following the screening of Gay San Francisco.

Space is limited and tickets are selling quickly! Reserve your spot now!

Randy Shaw is on the Board of the Tenderloin Museum and author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

More Posts

Filed under: Mid-Market / Tenderloin

Translate »