Sunday, February 06, 2011

Castro Sup. Wiener Snubs Uganda Vigil;
Bay Times: Keep Flag at Half Mast
(District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, at a recent HRC dinner. Credit: 123NonStop.)

The new member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for the Castro district is Scott Wiener. I reached out to his staffer Gillian Gillett on Monday, after the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro denied my request to lower the enormous rainbow flag in honor of murdered gay Ugandan advocate David Kato.

As far as I know, Wiener has no activist credential or history to speak of, and his involvement with political advocacy has been restricted to the Human Rights Campaign, on who board he was a member for many years, and retaining a seat on the local Democratic central committee.

Getting in touch with his office a full three days before our rally, I had hoped to work with Wiener on lowering the rainbow flag and other ways to honor Kato. Unfortunately, his office didn't contact me until Thursday morning. In an email Gillian said Scott had singularly focused on the arson fires from earlier that morning, which was why he hadn't been in touch. Ok, but I contacted them on Monday and the fires broke out on Thursday, so they had had some days to reach out.

On Friday, I spoke with Scott on the phone and he mentioned he and MUMC president Steve Adams had several conversations about the flag controversy. In response to my question of where he stood, with the merchants or the activists, Scott took no position and said he was happy there had been a resolution. "If you had time to speak with MUMC, why couldn't you find time to speak with the activists?" I asked. I got the same reply about him being pleased the flag was lowered.

Let's cut to the chase. Neither Scott nor anyone from his office came to the rally, offered help to lower the flag, send us a statement to be read at the rally, or do anything public about the murder of Kato. Scott snubbed us and our effort. Not a good sign for him becoming engaged in global gay activism in his district.

After not reaching out, making no appearance at the protest, etc., Scott said he might close this coming week's full Board meeting in memory of Kato, and he asked me to send him the latest info on the situation in Uganda. My response was no, after being snubbed, and I suggested that he or his staffers search the web for that info.

I hope Scott surprises me and he develops an international gay activist agenda. There's a lot he can do to help our brothers and sisters around the world, and it behooves him to have genuine engagement with experienced activists. Dialoging only with MUMC is no way to engage all sides nor show some activist interest. That can change, if Scott wants it to.

Now, after criticizing the Bay Area Reporter for failing to offer any pre-event coverage of the rally, and giving Scott a tongue-lashing, I wish to single out SF Bay Times columnist Ann Rostow. In her column that came out the morning of the rally, she made excellent observations and suggestions:

According to the merchants, who are in charge of the flag, there are four to eight requests to lower the flag every week. Obviously, as Steve Adams wrote Petrelis, if the group were to agree to all these requests, the flag would be permanently at half-staff. (Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the flag should be at half-staff all the time, and we could raise it on special occasions, like big court victories or Gay Pride Day).

Anyway, I can’t characterize the routine requests of which Adams writes. But Kato is a gay martyr. His life eulogized by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, his death covered in the pages of major newspapers around the world, his sacrifice marked by vigils in New York, London, San Francisco and Cape Town.

If the Castro merchants can’t lower the rainbow flag for David Kato, hammered to death after his name and address were published last October in one of the most homophobic countries in the world, who would they choose to honor with this sign of respect?

Thank you, Ann, for recognizing the importance of San Francisco gays and the Castro neighborhood working with activists on global gay matters. I still can't believe the unnecessary hurdles placed in our way of properly and publicly honoring Kato, and remain optimistic similar problems don't crop up the next time we want to lower the flag at Harvey Milk Plaza.

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