San Francisco has always had a large gay leather community. By the late 1970s, they had created ‘Miracle Mile’, a stretch of Folsom street that featured over 30 gay leather bars and bathhouses. But Miracle Mile as it was called. was a bothersome eyesore of City Hall, but the leather community defended their sanctuary against City Hall’s ambitious redevelopment program for the South of Market by continuing successful high rise development already underway on Rincon Hill.
In the early 1980’s as HIV and AIDS tore through San Francisco’s gay severely weakening the leather community. City Hall took this opportunity to push through a series of redevelopment plans that, together with AIDS, spelled the end of miracle mile as a leather sanctuary.
But in 1984 a coalition leather community organizers and hosing advocates got together and decided to start a street fair. The fair would enhance the visibility of the leather community, provide a means for much-needed fundraising, and create opportunities for members of the leather community to connect to services and vital information that the bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been situated to distribute.
And thus the Folsom Street Fair was born.
Now the Folsom Street Fair after almost 35 years has become California’s third-largest single-day, outdoor spectator event attracting a whopping 400,000 slaves, masters, mummies, ponies, puppies, pigs, nudists, fakirs, boot boys, jocks and people-with-such-crazy-sexual-interests-that-there-are-no-noun-for-them-yet, all crammed into 13 overcrowded street blocks of fun. It has grown as a non-profit charity, with local and national non-profits benefiting from the proceeds as numerous fundraising booths within the festival including games, beverage and even spanking booths. (And a helluva lot more).
Similar events in Canada and Germany. In San Francisco they also manage Up Your Alley Fair and special events like the “Folsom Street Fair Formal Leather Gala”
Folsom Street Fair Trivia: The first Folsom Street Fair date was chosen to coincide with the autumnal equinox which it did through 1992. Thereafter the Fair became more associated with one of the last two Sunday in September.
*Photo: Gene Dermody and Carl Martin at the 1984 Folsom St. Fair. Carl served in the U.S. Air Force in the ’70s with gay activist Leonard Matlovich.