Trevor Hailey, Guide to the Castro, Dies at 66

Published in: November-December 2007 issue.


Trevor Hailey, who created and led for sixteen years the internationally known “Cruisin’ the Castro” walking tours, died of a stroke on June 13, 2007, at age 66. A woman of tremendous warmth and enthusiasm, she presented the gay and lesbian history of San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood in a way that was accessible, informative, and exciting to everyone: wide-eyed straight crowds, closet-ajar gay and lesbian tourists, and out-and-proud community members.

Born Dorothy Evelyn Fondren in Jackson, Mississippi, and educated at the Mississippi State College for Women, she made a career for herself as a Navy nurse, serving all over the world. Trevor arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and began a career as a real estate agent, working just down the street from Harvey Milk’s camera shop. The San Francisco Chronicle on-line reported, “The idea of a walking tour blossomed in the late 1980’s after she studied recreation and leisure iTrevor Haileyn graduate school at San Francisco State University.” When Shirley Fong-Torres, a longtime leader of Chinatown walking tours, lectured one day to the class, Ms. Hailey said, “It was like a lightbulb went off. I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do.” Fong-Torres continued to inspire Trevor on the value of giving walking tours of one’s community and also offered practical assistance. Having minored in history, Trevor volunteered at what later became San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society, where she was assigned to file articles and ephemera. “That’s when I discovered we even had a history,” she told the Chronicle. “Until then, I thought we’d all sprung full-bloom from rocks.” It was at this time, and strictly for business reasons, that she changed her name to something more androgynous-sounding.

As the Castro changed, so did the stops on her tour. One of her last tour routes included Harvey Milk Plaza, Milk’s camera shop, the memorial to gay Holocaust victims, and Twin Peaks, which was the first gay bar to have windows. I was lucky enough to have participated in one of the estimated 4,000 tours that she gave, meeting her in mid-March of 1993 at the Castro Street metro station for a four-hour event. The Castro Theatre (which was playing Blue Velvet, Do the Right Thing, and Sunset Boulevard) was one of the stops. Our group paused for a leisurely lunch at the Elephant Walk Restaurant at 500 Castro Street, where Trevor held forth, chatting easily with everyone on the tour and covering not just San Francisco’s gay and lesbian history but the state of GLBT life in general, as well. Our stop at the Names Project (now known as the AIDS Memorial Quilt) was an extraordinarily moving experience. At the front entrance I saw an almost-finished AIDS quilt, made in memory of Cape Cod actor, director, designer, and bon vivant Tony Hancock, someone I’d known since the 1960’s. I had attended his memorial service but hadn’t known about the quilt. Trevor was a comforter and a listener, and she told me how many times she had witnessed experiences such as mine over the years.

A 26-minute film about her life and tours, “Only in the Castro with Trevor Hailey,” narrated by comedian Marga Gomez, produced and directed by Rick Bacigalupi, was shown shortly after her death as part of Frameline’s San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival. Kathy Amendola—herself a resident of the Castro and a worldwide tour leader for 25 years—took over the tours in 2005 after Trevor retired to San Diego.

Trevor Hailey is survived by several members of her biological family and by her partner, Norma Sue Griffin.