Volunteer Highlight: Harry Breaux
A middle aged gay man accompanied by two adolescent girls approached the Castro
Ambassador’s table. “Will you tell my nieces about the Twin Peaks bar?” he asked,
pointing to the iconic sign.
The volunteer, Harry Breaux, grinned. “It’s famous for being the first bar where
you could look in the windows and actually see gay people inside. In 1970 that was a big
deal. People wouldn’t go in after that because they were afraid of being seen. In the
1970’s when gay people were coming out the bar took down the paper that covered the
windows. A guy named Harvey Milk moved here. You probably know that whole story.
You can go into his camera shop, and the plaza across the street is dedicated to him.
Thanks for coming kids. Welcome to the Historic Castro!”
That is the kind of stuff Mr. Breaux loves to see. Being an ambassador is a natural
extension of his kind and generous character, although he came upon it by accident. One
day five years ago he was out walking when he saw someone talking to some tourists,
wearing this t-shirt that said ‘ambassador’ on it. Breaux asked what he was doing and the
man explained he was a Castro Ambassador, helping tourists feel comfortable and
informed about visiting the Castro to whatever degree they need or want. Breaux
immediately signed up.
Since 1971 Mr. Breaux has called San Francisco his home. He sees sharing his
personal knowledge of the gay rights movement as a contribution to the welfare of the
neighborhood, a neighborhood that is sacred to him. Growing up in Louisiana he knew he
was gay early on. In response, his family sent him to military boarding school from the
age of ten until he graduated high school. Arriving in the Castro changed his life. “The
biggest thrill for me was to be able to walk down the street holding hands with another man…without someone throwing bottles at us or some teenaged boy yelling ‘faggot.’
That was earth shaking and earth shattering.”
Nowadays Mr. Breaux volunteers from 1-5pm, two Saturdays a month. At least.
“I keep my shirt and cap in a bag in the trunk of my car so I can grab it anytime. I love
the freedom to come out help people whenever I feel like it, rather than just watch TV or
catch up on the latest tweets by the president.”
One of his most memorable moments was with a woman and her two adolescent
children from England a few years ago. “They wanted to go to the Seward street slides,”
Mr. Breaux explains. “I used to live up by those gardens above the slides, so I knew
about them. I told the kids to make sure to find a piece of cardboard to take with them to
go down faster. She came back a few hours later and told me their story. It was such a
wonderful, moving connection. Her husband, the children’s father, had told them about
visiting the Castro and about the slides. He was a wonderful father, she told me, such a
kind man. And he died of AIDS. He was gay. It had meant so much for the kids to go to
this place where their father had been.”
Mr. Breaux knows that the Castro cannot survive without tourism, and sees the
Ambassadors program as an important way to keep his beloved neighborhood healthy.
He is thrilled to be a volunteer. “It has the potential to make the Castro a more warm,
friendly, and inviting place.