Have you ever wondered what made San Francisco a mecca for gay men and women? Would you have ever guessed it was Adolf Hitler?
During World War II, the U.S. military instituted a draft, sending hundreds of thousands of young men into boot camp and, subsequently, battle, without performing extensive background checks.
That war would mark the first—but certainly not last—time that being gay was cited as a reason for soldiers’ discharge. (This policy remained in effect until the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”) Decommissioned servicemen, especially from the Navy—which was at that time waging a fierce sea battle with Japan—were shipped back to the United States. Many of these soldiers and sailors were decommissioned on the West Coast, and of those, many were released in San Francisco Bay.
Instead of moving back home, many stayed local, expanding the small gay community that already existed. As more gay ex-servicemen heard about this mecca of ex-military gays, it blossomed into the district we know today as The Castro–and gave San Francisco one of its most distinctive and vibrant local communities. Not quite the legacy that Hitler had in mind.