OK, so a Dutch queen and the mayor of San Francisco walk into a gay bar.
On Tuesday in the Castro, Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands—fashion icon, slayer of dragons and a darling of dos continents (she originally hails from Argentina)—stepped into Twin Peaks Tavern to pay her respects to a San Francisco institution while also listening to concerns from LGBTQ+ community stakeholders as part of her U.S. tour.
“There have been millions of queens in this bar, but today the queen came through and hung out with other queens—and that made it pretty fabulous,” said Aria Sa’id, executive director of the Transgender District.
The significance of the queen’s visit wasn’t lost on many in the boisterous entourage that followed her and Mayor Breed on a short walk from the GLBT Historical Society to the Castro Theatre and eventually Twin Peaks Tavern. The gay bar made history 50 years ago when it proudly removed its window coverings, letting the outside world know there was no shame in what was happening indoors.
On Tuesday, Twin Peaks once again played the role of a captivating fishbowl as the crowd waved and waited for the queen to wrap up an informational discussion with a coterie of local LGBTQ+ leaders.
“Well, I think it’s an honor to have her here, and she and the king are allies with LGBTQ+ community throughout the world,” said Jeffrey Green, who along with George Roehm has owned Twin Peaks for the last two decades. “It was a big deal in 1972, because if you were seen in a gay bar you could lose your job. Because of that, we became a landmark.”
Sa’id, whose group works to expand awareness of transgender issues in the city, was one of a handful of local leaders to take part in a roundtable discussion with Queen Máxima, Mayor Breed and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro. Wearing a flowing pink dress and teardrop crystal earrings, the queen held court and asked a fair number of questions on whether progress continues to be made.
San Francisco and the Netherlands share a unique history when it comes to the fight for equality and the free expression of love, as the latter became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001 while San Francisco is, well, San Francisco. The city’s pioneering path on LGBTQ+ rights stands in especially bright relief in the face of legislative attacks waged against the community across the country.
“I think at a time when San Francisco and some parts of this country are moving forward—along with places like the Netherlands—and other parts of the country are pretty insistent on moving backwards and rolling back rights, it’s great to have [Queen Máxima] here in the beating heart of the United States’ queer community,” Mandelman said.
Donna Sachet, a long time LGBTQ+ activist and drag queen who once served as the Empress of San Francisco, waited for the queen at Twin Peaks in her own stylish outfit, which included a Dutch Orange scarf.
“It reminds me of when the Milk film premiered here and they closed up an avenue and part of the street,” Sachet said. “It was just like Hollywood. We love playing those games, so it’s amazing.”
The queen and King Willem-Alexander were originally scheduled to come to the U.S. in February, but that trip was canceled due to Covid. They rescheduled the trip for September—roughly 100 businesses planned to join them as the Netherlands makes overtures to the Bay Area’s tech community, along with stops in Texas—but His Majesty came down with pneumonia, forcing him to stay home and have the queen represent the Netherlands in his stead.
Mayor Breed, who visited Europe in March to boost tourism and will make a trip to Amsterdam in October, deftly played the role of host Tuesday, as she greeted the queen on a red carpet laid out at City Hall before a flag-raising ceremony and the tour of the Castro. A black SUV whisked them away to an event at the Salesforce Tower, but not before Mayor Breed and the queen delivered remarks outside of Twin Peaks.
“The Netherlands and San Francisco share so many things in common, but the support for the LGBTQ+ community is something we feel so strongly about,” said Queen Máxima, who also delivered remarks in Spanish. “And I’m here to not only learn about your history but also to learn from each other: ‘What are we good at? What are we actually not doing that great?’ Because we have to still lead by example. We have to make our world equal for everybody, so that everybody feels at home wherever they live.”
Josh Koehn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org