The Castro neighborhood in San Francisco has long been a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and activism. As a haven for the queer community, it has played a pivotal role in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. One unique aspect of this vibrant neighborhood’s history is the development and evolution of LGBTQ+ volunteer safety patrols, aimed at ensuring the safety and well-being of community members.
To understand the emergence of LGBTQ+ safety patrols, it is crucial to delve into the historical context of the Castro neighborhood. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the LGBTQ+ community was beginning to assert its rights and demand recognition. The Stonewall riots of 1969 marked a turning point, igniting a wave of activism that reverberated across the United States. The Castro emerged as a hub for LGBTQ+ activism, drawing individuals seeking a safe haven from discrimination and persecution. As the community thrived, so did the need for ensuring the safety of its members in the face of harassment, violence, and prejudice.
Lavender Panthers 1973-1974
The Lavender Panthers was an armed patrol group which was founded by Pentecostal Evangelical preacher and activist Raymond Broshears. The group formed in direct response to violent assaults and verbal hatred levied against the LGBTQ+ community and patrolled in the Castro and Tenderloin neighborhoods. Adopting both aggressive and peaceful strategies, the Lavender Panthers first distributed safety whistles, a concept borrowed from the Feminist movement. Patrol members carried bats and shotguns, and a violent altercation outside of the Pendulum Bar in Castro led to Police being called and the ultimate disbandment of the group in 1974. Despite the similarity in names between the Black Panthers and the Lavender Panthers, the groups were not connected.
Pink Berets 1975-1979
The Pink Berets, a groundbreaking LGBTQ+ safety patrol group, was formed in response to rising violence against queer individuals in the Castro during the late 1970s. Comprising volunteers from the community, the Pink Berets aimed to create a visible and assertive presence to deter potential attackers and provide support to those in need. The early days of the Pink Berets were not without challenges. The group faced opposition from some segments of society, including law enforcement and conservative groups. Despite these hurdles, the Pink Berets persevered, gaining recognition for their commitment to community safety. The group’s successes included a reduction in hate crimes, increased visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals, and fostering a sense of unity within the community. As a symbol of resistance, the Pink Berets left an indelible mark on the history of LGBTQ+ activism in San Francisco. The Pink Berets were functional for around five years before ultimately disbanding.
Richard Heakin Memorial Butterfly Brigade 1976-1981
The Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL) group was active in handing out safety whistles in the Castro neighborhood as a safety initiative and in 1976 they formed the Richard Heakin Memorial Butterfly Brigade in memory of a young man murdered in Tucson, Arizona by a group of four teenagers in 1976. The Butterfly Brigade later became the San Francisco Street Patrol.
San Francisco Street Patrol 1990-1994
As the LGBTQ+ community continued to evolve, so did the strategies employed by safety patrol groups. In the 1990s, the San Francisco Street Patrol (SFSP) was formed. Initially called DORIS SQUASH (Defend Our Rights In the Streets / Super Queers United Against Savage Heterosexism) the group was active from 1990 to 1994. Its mission was to promote GLBT people’s safety by primarily discouraging queer bashing through organized and regular nighttime patrols of the Castro. SFSP also worked to increase awareness of self-defense and violence avoidance methods. This was the first group to hand out whistles and fliers with safety tips. The group drifted apart in 1994 as members moved out of the Bay Area for various reasons.
Castro Community On Patrol 2006 – to date
Castro Community On Patrol (CCOP) built upon the foundation and history laid by those who went before us, adapting to the changing needs of the community and the socio-political landscape. Formed in 2006 in response to violent physical assaults against Gay men in the Castro, CCOP forged partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, businesses, and other community organizations. These collaborations were instrumental in enhancing the effectiveness of safety patrols and addressing broader issues such as self-defense training and active shooter classes within the LGBTQ+ community.
The resilience and adaptability of CCOP has led to it being one of the most long-lasting, effective, and recognized safety programs within the LGBTQ+ Castro community. Looking forward, the LGBTQ+ community in the Castro and beyond must continue to advocate for inclusive policies, social acceptance, and safety for all. The legacy of safety patrols serves as a reminder that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights extend beyond legal victories and requires ongoing community engagement. As the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights continue, the lessons learned from the history of safety patrols in the Castro can inform future initiatives, fostering a sense of community, pride, and activism. Through collaboration, visibility, and ongoing advocacy, LGBTQ+ safety patrols remain a crucial component of the broader movement for equality and acceptance.
CCOP is a vital element in the overall fabric of safety in the Castro neighborhood. Volunteers are drawn from all neighborhoods, all walks of life, and all genders and sexual orientations. If you are 18 years of age or older with no criminal convictions or charges pending for theft or violence, then you are sought by CCOP to join our volunteer Patroller ranks.