Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Moscow News: End Gay Rights 'Ghetto';
Alexseyev Plan 'Unstuck'

The Moscow News is doing global gay activism a huge favor by running a number of balanced news stories on the myriad problems of Moscow Pride and its leader. On Monday, the news outlet published an editorial pointing up the failures of Alexseyev's leadership and refusal to work in coalition with other social justice advocates in Russia, and that is incredibly damaging to the LGBT struggle.

The criticism coming from Russian gays, online/new and traditional media, a small number of foreign activists and the non-existent support from IGLHRC, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, ILGA, et al, seems of no consequence to many European and American bloggers and reporters.

They seem blinded by the high wattage of celebrity activists parachuting into Red Square. If those bloggers and reporters need a good place to start with covering the other sides of the Moscow Pride story, this editorial would be the place. Some excerpts from the Moscow News:

The failure by gay rights activists to hold a march in Moscow on Saturday, and the now-ritual beating of LGBT protestors by police, ultra-nationalists and Orthodox fundamentalists, comes as a blow to hopes that a post-Luzhkov City Hall would finally allow the march to go ahead. ...

But the prejudices fed by a largely intolerant mainstream media need to be challenged by more than publicity stunts and annual visits to Moscow by international LGBT celebrity protestors.

The strategy of Nikolai Alexeyev, the main organiser of Moscow’s gay marches, to appeal for Russian authorities to obey European laws on equal rights but not to link up the struggle for equality with a wider alliance of social protest movements, seems to be coming unstuck.

The problems with this approach were clearly shown by Alexeyev’s controversial performance on the ‘’K Baryeru” TV debate last week. Faced with homophobic comments and attempts by his opponents to link gays and lesbians to paedophilia, Alexeyev somewhat petulantly walked out of the debate.

Taking his place for the last part of the TV show – and doing a far better job in arguing for an end to discrimination against all sexual minorities – was a socialist feminist, Yevgenia Otto.

Rather than antagonising the audience, Otto pointed out how discrimination is used by elites to divide and rule, and cited examples of how united community action in the US changed attitudes there. ...

Rights for sexual minorities should not be a “ghetto issue”. They should be part of a wider campaign for a more just and tolerant society.

Monday, May 30, 2011

As Moscow Pride Violence Erupted,
Organizer Hid at Family Dacha?

In an unsigned post at the LGBT group site Anti Dogma, several gay Russians present their analysis of Saturday's violent and media-grabbing pride march organized by Nikolai Alekseev and a handful of local activists. One of the authors, Ruslan Porshnev, translated the essay into English and I've excerpted key passages:

Leaders of the gay parade in Moscow had promised not to hide, but in fact they didn’t show up on May 28th event. At a press conference on May 27 Nikolai Alexeyev said: "Tomorrow there will be two [protest] actions... we do not intend to hide anymore".

However, expectations of the many journalists who have come to the designated place, have been deceived. As described by the witness Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, member of the art-group "Voina", reporters frantically rushed to find at least one activist to be interviewed about the meaning of what is happening. But no luck.

One of the invited photographers Mitya Aleshkovsky reproached the pride organizers in the commentary to his report: "Nikolai, if you suddenly read these lines, I want to ask you. 82-year-old human rights activist Ludmila Alekseeva was not afraid to go out for the [Strategy] Day 31 event, and police took her, and you, Nicolai, call your supporters to go out, invite journalists, and the second year in a row we have to wait for you, chase you, seek for you. Last year we accidently managed to film your "action", because after a long trip by car all over Moscow, we just ran out of petrol. So, Nicolai, either go in the forefront, or stop misleading us”.

"[They] talked me out of it," Alexeyev said. According to other information released by British activist Peter Tatchell after the rally, Alekseev did not participate in the "gay parade" because of his aching foot, which he injured on the scene, walking out from the live TV show "Duel" (“Poedinok”), dedicated to the gay parade.

In an interview with “Moscow News” Alekseev voiced a third version of his absence. Explaining his “no show” to the journalist of the publication, Alexeyev told about “reluctance to divert media attention to himself”.

"I did not want me to once again be charged that the gay pride parade is my personal PR”, said Alexeyev. “Besides, I have a difficult family situation that I would’ve not been able to resolve if I was arrested. I could’ve been detained in an administrative arrest”.

Where exactly was Nikolai while neo-Nazis and religious fanatics attacked the 20 or so gay activists, and manhandled by police officials? He's offered up several reasons for skipping his own demonstration; none of them satisfactory. What kind of hostile and provocative leader organizes a protest that inflames violent homophobes, invites his local and international pals to the action, then chickens out and offers no plausible defense for his absence?

It wouldn't shock me to learn if on Saturday, as gay bodies were bashed in his hometown, Nikolai was hiding out at his family's dacha in the countryside. The photo of Nikolai holding shish kebab spears on the day after the pride violence, was taken by French lesbian Judith Silberfeld, who's been blogging from Moscow. She filed these details on the excursion to the dacha:

Sunday 23:59 (local time). The feast after the battle, we spent the day in the country, right on the border of Moscow. To thank the activists, Nikolai Alekseev has invited everyone to a barbecue at his parents' dacha. A twenty-minute subway, about the same bus, 10 minute walk alongside a forest and then sinks a little and then calm. After the fury of the Pride, it makes a world of good.

The house (three rooms, toilet in the garden), built by the grandfather of Nikolai in the early 30's, now owned by his mother. Upon our arrival, Nikolai shows us where not to set foot, flowers were planted. ...

The gay Russian leader, who never fully explained his supposed kidnapping last fall by mysterious security agents in collusion with SwissAir employees, owes the gay community some serious answers about why he was missing in action at Moscow Pride.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

20 Russians at Moscow Alexeyev Pride;
Gay Organizer Skips Action

Permit me to say I'm glad another effort was made at staging a small gay pride march in Moscow on Saturday, and that no one was killed. I deplore the rough treatment and arrest of the activists by police forces and homophobes, and wish a speedy and full recovery to Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko, a straight ally, who suffered a head injury that sent her to the hospital. [Correction: She is a lesbian who came out the day before the march.]

I also have to pipe up about the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

The dearth of gay Russians, and their allies in the feminist, socialist and liberal movements, either backing the sixth attempt by Nikolai Alexeyev to stage a pride march or showing up, needs wide discussion. Why? Because after a half dozen similar occasions the tactics and strategies employed by Alexeyev have not evolved and produce the same dismal results.

Rejecting working in coalition with other gay or allied organizations or individuals, who are collaborating together throughout the year on street actions, Alexeyev applies for and is denied a parade permit.

He imports foreign friends with marquee names, in some cases paying their travel expenses, puts them before the cameras and hostile crowds at a very small pride march, violence erupts and occasionally gay blood blows, generating sensational coverage, and the larger gay local gay community is not engaged, creating even deeper distrust of Alexeyev's motives and goals.

The ensuing media attention omits facts about all the other public displays of gay visibility, including flashmobs and rallies, including recent IDAHO May 17 actions in thirty Russian cities and towns. Western gays are left with false impressions about the vibrant and open LBGT community across Russia, because readers of blogs and newspapers only see the sensational shouts and arrests of Alexeyev's foreign pals.

In St. Petersburg, where there is a coalition of activists working in concert, just two weeks before the Moscow march, the local daily paper wrote about this great gay happening (except for the release of the balloons) and ran a photo by Sergey Chernov with the headline "Police Protect LGBT Activists":

The Rainbow Flash Mob — an extremely rare authorized LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights event — took place without incident due to heavy police presence Tuesday, despite threats from nationalists and the arrival of tough-looking opponents at the site.

More than 100 participants holding rainbow flags and posters with slogans such as “Homosexuality Is Not an Illness” and “Different Love, Equal Rights” released 300 balloons into the sky to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The event was organized by the local LGBT rights group Vykhod (Coming Out). ...

My estimate, having read voluminous Russian, French, German, American and British blog and news accounts of the pride attempt, is that only twenty or so Russian gays participated as protesters or observers with cameras in the actions in Moscow. Compare the Moscow numbers with the St. Petersburg numbers, and see that gay street actions can take place in Russia with local backing and engagement.

Speaking of locals missing from the pride march, the Moscow News reported on Alexeyev not making an appearance at his protest:

Nikolai Alexeyev, leader of Russia’s gay rights movement, was conspicuous by his absence at Saturday’s latest attempt to stage a Gay Pride march in Moscow.

The cast of defiant gay rights protestors, jeering far right counter demonstrators and grim-faced riot police was a familiar one, but Alexeyev’s unexpected absence left a big gap at the heart of proceedings. ...

The paper didn't say why he was missing-in-action and no explanation is offered at his blog, his GayRussia site or his Facebook page.

From St. Petersburg, lesbian activist Polina Savchenko shared her thoughts on the QueeRussia listserv regarding key issues:

LGBT community for the most part ignores the Moscow pride because: 1) people do not understand the goals of the parade or how the parade will help them. They do however see its harmful effects, and 2) people do not have any trust in the Moscow pride organization because the organization has never addressed THEM, asked for their opinion, assessed their needs. 

Presence of foreign supporters is great! It's always good to show that international community is watching. However, the proportion of foreign supporters to Russian participants should never be so lopsided. Gay pride should demonstrate the PRIDE of LGBT people in who they are and what they have achieved in the struggle for their rights. When it does not actually include the local community, it is no longer a pride event but is something entirely different.

The U.S. news site Global Post ran a fascinating profile of Alexeyev written by their Moscow correspondent, shedding much light on his tactics, including paying travel expenses for two of his guests from abroad:

Alexeyev has won high-profile champions abroad, from leading British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to Dan Choi, the former U.S. soldier who became the face of the battle against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He flew both of them to Moscow to attend Saturday’s rally. ...

Yet within Moscow’s activist society, Alexeyev has won more enemies than friends. He has shrugged off potential partnerships ...

[His blog and FB page are a] treasure trove of rants against U.S. justice, with particular attention paid to Jews, and once an outpouring of serious hate against Lady Gaga after the pop star declined to meet him. Recently he has derided the “illegal prostitute” sent to discredit former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss Kahn. ...

I'm not sure his needless provocations are what's needed when trying to obtain marching permits in today's Russia, and if after six tries you're still coming up with the same violent results with little local support, it is more incumbent than ever that other gays besides Alexeyev speak up and that Westerners list to them and give them a platform on our web sites.

The Moscow News reported the views of another local gay leader, who reinforces what many know to be the truth about Moscow pride:

But other people have different reasons for staying away, “First of all, stop calling it a ‘gay pride march’,” Ed Mishin, publisher of gay magazine Kvir.ru, told The Moscow News. “It is a meeting organized by one person, not widely supported by the gay community.

“In St Petersburg last week there was another successful gay meeting.  With rainbow flags and balloons, everybody was happy. A few years ago St Petersburg even had the real gay parade with no hatred from townspeople. 

“And Alexeyev’s problem (the guy who ‘tries’ to organize the meeting) is a lack of will to speak with the authorities and negotiate, not the problem of Russian society in general,” he wrote in an email.

American gays would be wise to look beyond just Alexeyev and his Putin-esque behavior when considering Russia's LGBT community and organizing strategies.

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Foreign Gay Organizers than
Russians at Moscow News Conference

(Moscow Gay Pride Parade organizers' official press conference on May 27. From the left: Anna Komarova (Russia), Peter Tatchell (United Kingdom), Nikolai Alekseev (Russia/Switzerland), Louis-Georges Tin (France), Nikolai Baev (Russia), Dan Choi (United States), Andy Thayer (United States). Photo credit: LGBT Grani.)

[Correction and update: There are more than four foreigners helping to carry out Moscow Pride. Norbert Blech of Germany, Judith Silberfeld of France, Andy Harley of the UK, Chad Meacham of the US, and Logan Mucha of Australia, are also there, bringing the total of foreign gays to nine.]

Earlier today, on the censorship-free QueeRussia listserv, Scott Long, who is former head of the gay division at Human Rights Watch, commented on a few aspects of this year's campaign to stage Nikolai Alexeyev's gay pride march in Moscow.

Scott's remarks prodded me to look at who spoke at an important news conference regarding the parade and to count the number of Russians versus foreigners, and the visitors slightly outnumbered the native organizers, 4 to 3.

This is Nikolai's sixth year of importing activists to attempt a march with him, and some questions to be addressed by him and his foreign friends.

Where are even a few dozen Russian gay supporters backing the march attempt? Why do other Russian gays collaborate with straight feminist, progressive and socialist organizations to stage marches and protests, that attract a decent crowd of local people and Nikolai never joins those actions? Are foreign voices the best ones to address Russia's gay concerns?

A condensed version of Scott's note:

The foreignness of Moscow Pride really seems to me the crux of the problem. 

I vividly remember the press conference before the first Pride in 2006. About 40 foreigners, I swear to God, spoke--Nikolai basically enlisted everyone who wasn't Russian to go stand before the microphone in succession and make some supportive statement, and Nikolai was essentially the only Russian voice there. 

The TV and press reporters there couldn't have gotten a clearer message: Pride was the Invasion of the Foreigners. That was how LGBT issues got broadcast to a wider public.

From the start, I thought Nikolai was recognizable as a type: the east European expatriate who spends a few years in the Great Abroad, then returns convinced that his poor ignorant compatriots don't know how to do anything right, and that he'll show them the true way. Usually it takes only a few weeks or months for reality to knock some sense into their heads.

However, Nikolai had the misfortune to develop, from the very start, a cocoon and coterie of Westerners who surrounded him with admiration (and love, and sometimes lust) and cushioned him from ever having to care about how Russians reacted. From the first Pride onward, he was only playing for the foreign audience. 

At this point, all he cares about when he storms out of a TV studio is how Dan Choi or Peter Tatchell see it--and, of course, what the foreign folk who watch it on YouTube will think of it, without being able to understand a word. The way it plays out in Russian eyes is really the least of his concerns.
Gay Russians Criticize Moscow
Pride March, McKellen & Alexeyev

(May 22 in Moscow, about 50-70 people took part in the Equality March. The action was for the rights of women and members of the LGBT community. Participated in the action Left Socialist Action, the Committee for Working International, Independent Action, Moscow Radical Feminists, Rainbow Association, as well as human rights defenders and civil society activists. Pix credit: Anti Dogma.)

The QueeRussia listserv is moderated by three people and committed to open dialogue without censorship, in sharp contrast to the Gays w/o Borders listserv controlled and censored by one individual Nikolai Alexeyev, who tolerates no criticism against him or his controversial attempts at staging a pride march in Moscow.

Curious about what other gay Russians thought about the pride march effort, the many foreign activists from the UK, Europe and America either in Moscow or in the case of gay actor and activist film star Ian McKellen who issued a statement about the mayor of Moscow, I asked everyone on the QueeRussia listserv to share their views.

This very interesting and necessary message comes from young activist Vito Ivan Hernovich who lives in Brooklyn:

American activist tend to operate under this notion that there is a monolithic movement in Russia that is focused around Nikolai and Moscow. I think it is important that we realize that there are so many more working for Russian GLBT in different areas and with varying approaches.

[Correction: Ruslan lives in Southern Urals.] From Moscow Ruslan Porshnev of the progressive LGBT group blog Anti Dogma had this to say:

I find it very unlikely that there will be any statements on Alexeyev's show from Russian LGBT organizations or major human rights activists from Russia. The reason is obvious  - Moscow gay pride event failed to win any Russian LGBTs' hearts and minds during all these years due to endless scandals surrounding it and its leader.

On the other hand, we had around 150 LGBT people and their allies attending the first sanctioned by local authorities Rainbow Flash mob on May 17th in St. Petersburg. The contrast between these two public LGBT actions is overwhelming.

Some other notes. First one is on the TV show. Alexeyev rushed away from the studio after a short conversation with a controversial Russian sexologist Dilya Yenikeeva. While she was asking him a legitimate but challenging question on threats she claimed to recieve from gay people after publishing her book on LGBT, Alexeyev, instead of replying to the question, started his nasty name-calling: "You go from one TV show to another and lie all the time! You wear your stupid hat and a wig! You are an effigy!".

This hysteria didn't look relevant at all. Maybe it was planned, because after Alexeyev left the stage, he waved to his foreign supporters and they immediately all got up and left also. The rest of the TV show went quite alright, when Alexeyev's proponents took his place, especially Russian feminist Zhenya Otto. She made some great clear points on reasons of homophobia and goals of LGBT public actions in Russia, which Alexeyev didn't say.

Second note is on message from Ian McKellen. I am saddened and disappointed that Sir Ian McKellen joined Alexeyev's name-calling campaign. Name-calling doesn't ever change anything, does it? Especially when it comes to local politics in countries with different culture. Do we need to fan this fire more? My answer as a gay Russian - no, thanks, Sir Ian McKellen. Please come to the "Side by Side" Russian LGBT film festival instead which is welcomed by St. Petersburg local authorities.

Third note is on Dan Choi presence in Moscow. Frankly, I do not get this point, because in Russian army there is no written prohibition for gay people to serve. There is no written "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy. There might be bullying in army if it becomes known that someone is gay (as any other bullying for any other reason which is common in Russian army, unfortunately), however it is also rumored that homosexual prostitution practiced by soldiers is widespread. So I do not really understand what point Dan Choi is trying to get across in Moscow, really.

Longtime advocate Igor Kochetkov of St. Petersburg, chairman of the Russian LGBT Network, offered these remarks:

For the sixth time in a row Moscow authorities ban Gay Pride. This is a display of unlawfulness and total disregard for human rights, the Constitution, and international obligations of Russia. Each person must be afforded the opportunity to manifest peacefully for his or her rights and dignity, regardless of what other people, who disagree with the goals of the manifestation, might think.

There are, however, other reasons for the defeat of Moscow gay pride organizers, not limited to legal nihilism of the Russian authorities. We feel that the overarching goal of any public event is to raise awareness and inform the society. People have to understand why we come out to the streets. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Moscow gay pride. Pride organizers' main point of coming out is simply that they have the right to do so.

In six years Nikolai Alekseev and his followers have failed to gain tangible support for their initiative from LGBT communities and civil society of Moscow. The handful of activists found themselves alone, faced with homophobia of the authorities and clerical organizations.

This was inevitable. Regular work for mobilization and awareness-raising of LGBT communities and civil society can lead to better results. May 17th of this year, 1000 LGBT persons in 30 cities of Russia marked the International Day Against Homophobia with street actions.

IDAHO cities and towns included Saint-Petersburg, Pskov, Murmansk, Moscow, Kazan, Naberezhnye Chelny, Ufa, Volgograd, Bryansk, Izhevsk, Penza, Rostov-on-Don, Ivanovo, Samara, Archangelsk, Saratov, Tolyatti, Orel, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Kemerovo, Tomsk, Perm, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tyumen, Krasnoyarsk, Khabarovsk, Krasnodar and others.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

YouTube: 90-Minute Russian
TV Debate on Gay Pride March

If you're following the controversial attempt at a gay pride parade in Moscow, you may want to watch this 90-minute Russian TV debate with the gay anti-Semite Nikolai Alexeyev and anti-gay opponents.

He's also complaining on his blog about alleged censorship Kremlin-friendly media outlets stopping reporters from writing about the debate, and that is a laugh considering he proudly serves as the censor of the Gays w/o Borders group on Yahoo.

There is much debate among gay Russians about the TV show on the LGBT group blog Anti Dogma, along with reports about recent Moscow marches and protests organized by liberal, socialist and gay organizations not associated with Alexeyev. Click here to visit Anti Dogma.

Here is the 90-minute Russian television debate. There are no English subtitles, but you'll be able to read the body language of the participants and get the gist of the discussion:

Globe Tabloid: Bin Laden was Gay;
Partied at TX Leather Bar in 1987

On May 2, I blogged about how soon it would be before we saw stories alleging that Osama bin Laden was gay. The answer is just under three weeks, thanks to the Globe tabloid with the May 30 cover date.

I bought a copy yesterday at the Safeway on Market and Church Streets after noticing the teaser on the cover: Government insider reveals: Bin Laden's Secret Gay Life! There will probably be a San Francisco-gay connection in the story, I thought. Wrong. The tabloid alleges a Houston-gay link dating back to the 1980s.

The Globe's bare-bones web site does not contain the shocking article, so I've key in prime excerpts from it, so more folks can have a few good laughs:
Osama bin Laden was gay but hid his shocking secret from his fanatical followers beause he feared they'd turn against him, sources tell the Globe in a bombshell world exclusive. Although the terrorist kingpin took no fewer than five wives and fathered at least 20 children, it was all desperate bid to cover up his true sexual preference for men, the sources add.

But his gay secret was exposed after heroic Navy SEALs stormed his fortified hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1 and blew his brains out. ...

In true tabloid tradition, unnamed sources are behind the gay rumors and the claim of who was his partner:

International security experts reveal that one of the henchmen killed with bin Laden was the madman's secret male lover of 10 years, his loyal courier Abu Ahmen al-Kawaiti. ...

"The CIA also has suspected for years that this man ... was bin Laden's lover. They were never apart and hid together in a cave in Afghanistan right after the 2001 terror attacks on the United States. That's where the men apparently fell in love and began a sexual relationship that they carried on ever since." ...

Sounds romantic, doesn't it? I wonder if they had Judy Garland CDs to play while they hid in the cave's deep closet. The Globe reveals how long some government insiders have known about the terrorist's secret homosexuality:

Meanwhile, bin Laden's gay orientation came to light more than 20 years ago ...

An aide to a congressman tapped by President Reagan to help arm the Afghan rebels in their war against the former Soviet Union in 1987 says he met bin Laden near a Houston military base. ... "He had short hair, was clean-shaven and dressed in khaki cargo pants and a Polo sweater. ...

That Polo sweater was a dead giveaway.

"We met to discuss the selling of U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Afghanistan. Afterward, I took him to a restaurant where we shared a booth. He leg rubbed against mine, but I figured it was because he was so tall. When it happened a few times, I began to get the feeling he was hitting on me.

"The he wet his lips and batted his eyelashes - and there was no doubt what he was after." ...

Did he also speak with a lisp and flutter his limp wrists while putting the make on the congressional aide? The Globe doesn't say.

"He also kept saying, 'Ripcord, ripcord,' and I thought he meant he wanted to buy parachutes. But then he said 'club.' That's when I realized he was looking for the Ripcord Club, Houston's infamous leather boy disco.

"I had no intention of going there, so I paid for a taxi to take him and assumed he had a great time." ...

Bid Laden couldn't afford the cab fare and was dependent on the aide's small act of generosity to get him to the gay club? Just one more bit of wacky gossip from the Globe and its crazy story.

About the only grain of gay-related truth in the piece is that there is indeed a Ripcord bar for the leather/Levis/S&M crowd. Their web site says they've been around 25-years, proudly serving the local community. If nothing else, the Ripcord got some free (unwanted) publicity out of the Globe story that could have run in the pages of MAD magazine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WSJ Omits Dufty:
SF's Mayor's Race & Gays

Out gay politician Bevan Dufty, when he was still on the Board of Supervisors, was the first big-name candidate to toss his chapeau into the race for the 2011 San Francisco mayoral election and his nascent mayoral effort is not generating much traction.

He's not regained any serious degree of trust he once enjoyed among moderates and independents, trust that evaporated when he betrayed the progressive community with his back room deal with Willie Brown and Rose Pak that produced interim mayor Ed Lee over Mike Hennessy.

Bevan's snatched an endorsement from the Democratic Party's affiliated organization Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and he's proved very capable at raising funds and securing matching public election funds from the municipal coffers, but there is definitely an absence of enthusiasm among many sectors of the electorate for him.

The political gay community, never a monolith around these parts, has not gravitated to endorse Bevan and in recent weeks Dennis Herrera received a hearty endorsement from and gorgeous photo-op with Phyllis Lyon, while Scott Wiener, Chad Griffin and Dustin Lance Black have come out fully for Herrara. Guess those A-gays are not under the influence of the Victory Fund in this race.

From the WSJ:

When Gavin Newsom stood behind a lectern at San Francisco City Hall in May 2008 to celebrate the city's victory in a gay-marriage lawsuit, the mayor flung his arms wide, flashed his signature grin and proclaimed to a jubilant crowd that same-sex marriage was "going to happen, whether you like it or not!"

Behind his shoulder stood Dennis Herrera, the little-known city attorney responsible for the legal strategy. Today, that man is considered one of the front-runners for the office Mr. Newsom vacated last year to become lieutenant governor.

Mr. Herrera's rise to prominence over the past three years underscores the importance of the gay-marriage battle to the city's identity. In 2007, Mr. Newsom's gay-rights advocacy helped him win re-election by a landslide. Mr. Herrera, 48 years old, is expected to benefit in his mayoral bid from his gay-rights work while also winning votes from moderates for obtaining injunctions against gangs. ...

The interim mayor, Edwin Lee, and Mr. Herrera's other top rivals, Michela Alioto-Pier, David Chiu and Leland Yee, also are seen as quieter figures than the other recent mayors.

It's debatable if Alioto-Pier is a top dog in the 2011 race, but that aside, it's worth noting Bevan's omission from the list. The entire article excludes his name. How can this major newspaper write about San Francisco's mayoral campaign, and fail to say the mini-major gay candidate's name once? 

The candidate reaping positive national media attention for his gay advocacy, along with a few marquee endorsements and bigger bucks from gay donors is Herrera, a straight dude. Not good signs for Bevan, but a damn healthy development in an only-in-San Francisco way that the best mayoral wannabe for the gays is seen by many to not be the gay politician.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SF Talk With UK Diplomats at Demo:
Grant Gay Tanzanian Asylum

The alert about a rally today at 4 PM came too late today for me to change plans and be there, but my Gays Without Borders colleague Gary Virginia was able to attend. The protest was organized by the By Any Means Necessary chapter of Northern California, a progressive immigration and affirmative action group, which issued this demand:

We call on the UK Home Office to release Edson "Eddy" Cosmas from detention immediately. As a gay Tanzanian activist, Eddy has been a fighter for freedom, justice, immigrant and LGBTI rights and democracy in Britain and internationally.  He was known to be gay in Tanzania, where homosexuality is illegal and carries prison sentences of 25 years, and gay and lesbian activists are targeted for arrest.

The Daily Censored site provides background:

On 9th May, 2011 Edson Cosmas went to the Home Office in Croydon to submit his initial claim for asylum in Britain and to go to a screening interview. At the end of the interview, Eddy was stunned to be told that he was going to be taken into detention. He was interrogated by immigration officers for over 20 hours over 2 days, without an attorney or representative present. On May 18, 2011 the Home Office issued a ruling denying him asylum.

Details about the immediately status of Cosmas' effort to avoid deportation could not be located via Googling, I'm sorry to report.

However, in a phone conversation Gary Virginia told me that twenty primarily straight people of color, including adolescents, showed up with hand-held signs, a rainbow and pink triangle flag, call-to-action flyers, and a bull horn for an hour of picketing and an extended chat with UK diplomats.

The UK government's office in the Financial District is located in an office building with an enormous marble courtyard, and according to Gary, the chants of the protesters echoed to such a degree a security guard came out to talk to them. It was requested that the guard ask the consulate send down staffers to hear the activists' demands about Cosmas.

Two consular officials eventually came out to listen to the demonstrators' pleas that the UK immediately halt deportation proceedings against Cosmas, grant him freedom from the detention center, allow him to reapply for asylum and stay in the UK. The diplomats assured everyone that they were well aware of the case and would convey the demands to their superiors in London.

I checked the latest U.S. State Department annual human rights report's section on Tanzania and gays, and it said:

Homosexuality is illegal on the mainland and in Zanzibar. On the mainland the offense is punishable by up to five years in prison. The law in Zanzibar establishes a penalty of up to 25 years' imprisonment for men who engage in homosexual relationships and seven years for women in lesbian relationships. Since the burden of proof in such cases is significant, the law is rarely applied, and there were no reports that anyone was punished under the law during the year. In the past individuals suspected of being gay or lesbian were instead charged with loitering or prostitution. Gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) persons faced societal discrimination, which restricted their access to healthcare, housing, and employment.

Interesting that the law in Zanzibar, both recognizes lesbian relationships specifically and that the maximum penalty for lesbians to serve time in prison is much less than for gay men convicted of same-sex related crimes.

Many thanks to all of the folks who cared enough to take the time to deliver a loud and direct message to the UK government's outpost in San Francisco, and let's additionally extend a word of gratitude to the diplomats who got out of their suites and into the streets to hear from activists.

Stop the deportation of Eddy Cosmas!

(Photo credit for all three pix: Gays Without Borders.)
FBI Releases Liz Taylor's
154-Page Extortion Related File

Yesterday, I received a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding my Freedom of Information Act request for the agency's file on the late actress and AIDS advocate Elizabeth Taylor. The feds said that due to the high volume of requests for her file, the FBI would be posting the file on their web site, but they omitted a release date.

I checked the FBI's FOIA reading room pages and Taylor's 154-page file was posted this morning. The records reveal she was subjected to extortion threats over several decades, and that the agents investigated who and how the threats were made. Taylor's file contains nothing else.

Since she led the colorful life of a diva, with much drama and controversy throughout her career and off-screen life as a great friend of many gay men and people with AIDS, I thought there might be gay or AIDS related content in her FBI records. The 154-pages made available for public inspection today show that my hunch was wrong.

Oh, well. Such is the life of FOIA requesters. We never know what may be in a file, and the only way to find out is to make FOIA requests.

It feels good having played a role in being part of the high volume of FOIA requests submitted to the feds, because it led to a rapid release of Taylor's file and the agency posting it to their electronic reading room.

Click here to read Taylor's FBI file.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gay Centers' Board Meetings:
SF = Public, NY = Private, LA = ??

Last week, I was curious about the San Francisco LGBT Community Center's board of directors and their meetings. The center last year received a $157,000 line of credit from the city to help with its large financial troubles, and that amount was on top of the $5 million previously provided to build and operate the center.

Did the center's board allow for public attendance and comments, either because of self-created or municipally-mandated transparency policies? The answer was not found at the page for the board, which provided this terse sentence: Board meetings are held in January, March, May, July, September and November every third Monday at 7PM.

In response to a few questions regarding the meetings and minutes, the center's executive director, Rebecca Rolfe, shared this info:

In answer to your question, yes, all board meetings are open to the public and every board agenda provides for opportunity for public comment. The schedule for board meetings is posted on our website, and we also post our meeting schedule at the SF Public Library Government Documents Section and with the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors. All minutes are kept in a public access binder available at our front desk during the hours that the building is open ...

It is my understanding that we are not only in full compliance the Sunshine Act, but exceed compliance as all meetings are open to the public. The board feels that having open meetings is an important component of our commitment to transparency and accountability to the community.

You are welcome to attend the next board meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, July 18th. ...

After thanking Rebecca for her reply, I asked if she would update the board's page to inform folks that board meetings were open to the public. What's the point of allowing public attendance and not telling folks about it? I am pleased to report that this info is now posted at the board's page: Board meetings are open to the public and board agendas allow time for public comment.

Next, I asked Cindi Creager, spokesperson for the NYC LGBT Community Center, about the attendance rules for their board and noted that the board's page omitted any info on this.

Her reply: The Center’s board meetings are not open to the public. That said, input from the community is welcome and encouraged and there are many ways for individuals to communicate with the Center’s Executive Director and board, including by email, phone and an online suggestion box which is open to the public 24 hours a day.

I'm not the least impressed with a cyber suggestion box, no matter how many hours of the day it is open.

I also queried the executive director of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, Lori Jean, and two of her deputies, about their board's transparency policies, which, like the NYC center, are not posted on the board's page. Jean and her colleagues have not responded to my two requests for info, so it's a big question whether the Los Angeles community center's board sessions are public or private.

Let's put aside concerns that until last week the SF center failed to communicate that board meetings are public, and that they need to mention on their site that minutes are open to public inspection, because this center is now an example to hold up to the NYC and LA centers and demand that they too open their board meetings to the community.

Every single community center needs to have fully open board of director meetings, minutes from the sessions are to be accessible for public inspection, and board policies regarding attendance and minutes must be posted on each center's web site.

Heck, we also have insist that the SF center post the board minutes on the web, and generally keep pushing these and other community groups to explain and expand their transparency policies. Full and comprehensive sunshine is required ingredient to keep these centers and all Gay Inc organizations accountable and accessible to the people they serve.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Uppity Fag Blog:
EQCA's Passive Aggressive Town Hall

Patrick Connors is a skeptical colleague of mine who blogs at Uppity Fag, where he primarily tracks news accounts of heterosexual people sexually abusing or otherwise mistreating their kids or adult acquaintances, and he also attended Equality California's town hall meeting in San Francisco on Thursday evening.

He didn't come away persuaded that a 2012 Prop 8 repeal ballot initiative was a serious proposal before the community, and he uses the right dose of snark summing up what went down at the meeting.

Memo to EQCA: it behooves you all to start writing reports about each town hall and posting the reports within days after the town hall meeting takes place. It says much about what is wrong with your communication skills that you have not yet issued a briefing back to the community about the May 19 forum. This is the age of quick info, and trust me, gay Californians hunger for fast reports about your town halls.

Here is a long excerpt from Patrick's essay, EQCA's passive aggressive town hall meeting, and I urge you to read the entire piece, especially his end point involving a sleazy used car salesman. Take it away, Patrick:

The evening began with a presentation from Mr. Minter about the Prop 8 trial ... The CA Supreme Court has to chime in about standing. The 9th Circuit court takes over again after that. Decisions can go in any direction and could end up at the US Supreme Court sooner on one matter or later on the big picture which makes everyone shit their pants just a little bit. ...

Mr. Minter didn’t specifically mention this overused phrase, but at the end of his spiel he could have uttered: “I’m just sayin’…” and it would have been fitting.

Next up was David Binder from Binder research with a SURPRISE! He had a slide show to present with results of a telephone survey (that was commissioned by EQCA and others for an undisclosed fee) conducted with 900 Californians between May 10 and 14. ... I can’t exactly regurgitate ANY of the specific findings because the results weren’t made available to the audience in a printed take away format.

The panel was asked if the slide show would ever be accessible and the panelists all took turns looking at each other and belching.

I guess that means the results probably won’t be available. ...

Any questions raised about a campaign to repeal were deferred to the “we’ll have to take that under consideration” file because the matter of campaign strategy hasn’t been addressed. Any opinions raised about the dismal No on 8 campaign that was directed by EQCA in 2008 were politely considered, defensively addressed or more or less ignored.

EQCA wants us to decide if we are interested in participating in a campaign that they won’t tell us anything about. ...
HRC MIA at Opening of SF Shop;
Union Angry Over Hyatt Rating

The Human Rights Campaign is so radioactive in San Francisco it was not mentioned once by any of the speakers at today's opening of the Trevor Project's hotline in the back of the HRC store on Castro Street.

At the 11 AM ceremony, the talk was exclusively on Harvey Milk and what was his camera shop, and the project. Every speaker studiously avoided saying the hotline is located in the HRC souvenir shop. The backdrop behind the lectern was from Trevor with their name and logo on a large plastic banner, that obscured the HRC tee shirts in the windows.

When project leaders announced they were ready to show the hotline off to the public, I thought a ribbon emblazoned with HRC's blue-and-gold equal symbol logo would be brought out and cut. A thick orange ribbon, with a bow tied in the middle, was placed in the hands of Trevor's leaders and they all smiled for the cameras, then tore the ribbon into pieces.

"Ha! Thank goodness you're not using an HRC ribbon. The gays would benefit if HRC went out of business today," I shouted. Behind me an HRC supporter hissed and said, "You're the only one who doesn't like HRC. It's a good group." My reply: "Sure, which is why they weren't thanked or mentioned once."

Neither Trevor nor HRC leaders have bothered to explain why a promised grand opening was scuttled with America's largest gay political advocacy organization. The Bay Area Reporter in January, with details from HRC, said this about what was supposed to take place today:

The HRC store and action center will open its doors Wednesday, January 19 to the public, but will not have its official opening celebration until closer to Harvey Milk Day, which is May 22 in California and coincides with Milk's birthday. ...

Why did every speaker at the Trevor opening omit HRC entirely? I can't imagine Trevor setting up a call center at Macy's, organizing an opening celebration and failing to mention Macy's. Omission of HRC's name at today's opening tells us how radioactive and un-supported this group is, at least on Castro Street.

After the opening, starting at 1 PM at the plaza located at Castro and 17th Street, a short rally was held to mark Harvey's birthday and about a third of the 60 folks were from the Unite Here union. The Harvey Milk Foundation was responsible for the rally and the keynote speaker was Harvey's nephew.

Under the auspices of their Sleep With the Right People campaign, the gay and straight labor folks were protesting both the Hyatt Corporation's poor treatment of its hotel workers, and HRC's 100% rating to the hotel chain on their dubious "Corporate Equality Index."

They paraded around the crowd with anti-Hyatt posters on sticks and handed out glossy fliers condemning HRC glowing rating for Hyatt, calling on folks to email HRC's top boss Joe Solmonese, with his addy printed on the flyer.

In the crowd was Fred Sainz, HRC's vice president for communications and marketing, smartly dressed in dark blue casual business attire and not sporting HRC's logo on his jacket's lapel.

Sainz didn't address either the Trevor opening or the rally. I wonder why he traveled from DC to be here this weekend, and stayed in the background at today's events, never identifying himself as a top HRC executive. Just another indication of how rocky HRC's reputation and agenda is in this town.

All in all, I say today was not a good day for HRC, and wish to point out that their web site omits details about today's events - at their own damn store!

This is one of the Unite Here flyers that was taped up in the Castro this afternoon:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

LAT: Cleve Jones Sells his
Palm Springs Home for $380,000

This real estate news item appeared on May 17 in the Los Angeles Times:

AIDS activist and gay rights leader Cleve Jones has sold his Palm Springs home for $380,000.

The 1935 cottage-style home, in the Warm Sands area, has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Including a one-bedroom guesthouse, the property has 1,956 square feet of living space. A flagstone-decked pool with a raised spa and the original flagstone barbecue are among outdoor amenities.

Jones, 56, conceived the Names Project Foundation's AIDS Memorial Quilt ... He was played by actor Emile Hirsch in "Milk" (2008). The initial meeting for the film about slain gay politician Harvey Milk was held in Jones' Palm Springs house.

The home had been listed at $399,000. ...

Just like former EQCA leader Geoff Kors, Cleve is wealthy enough to own a home in Palm Springs and an apartment in San Francisco, putting him in league with other A-gays. I'll remember that tomorrow when Cleve pontificates at the Harvey Milk Day events in the Castro, about how Harvey would have been railing against the out-of-touch A-gays at the Human Rights Campaign.

(Photo caption and credit: Andy Linsky, the Los Angeles Times. "The AIDS activist added the swimming pool during his ownership.")

Hat tip: S.B.
Scenes from a Gay Marriage Forum:
EQCA's Not Ready

The first in a statewide series of town hall meetings with leaders of Equality California took place on May 19 at the SF gay community center, and the take-home message was clear: they're not ready for 2012 repeal. Oh, and they sure as hell don't have deep, wide or anything approaching enthusiastic support among the 50 or so attendees. I've jotted down a few impressions of what I recall and hope they give you a small sense of what happened on Thursday night:

1. Organizers were not ready at the announced start time of 7 PM, so I stood up and deplored that EQCA had not reached out to the SF AIDS Foundation or the Milk Club, both of which were holding important events the same night. "You're wrong," someone said. "The Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center is also holding an event tonight." Lack of coordination through basic communication on EQCA's part would have avoided competition with other groups, and shows they're not ready for 2012, I said, putting the organizers on the defensive before their meeting started.

2. No formal agenda or ground rules, forget about details on the town hall process guiding EQCA's decision-making, were laid out by Andrea Shorter who served as a lackadaisical facilitator. Panelists included interim ED and EQCA's second-in-command Jim Carroll, legal scholar Shannon Minter, pollster David Binder, and youth advocate Tawal Panyacosit. Only Shannon and David made presentations.

3. Worst panelist award easily goes to Jim Carroll. Projected discomfort, refused to use a mic when requested, showed nervousness and befuddlement as he busied himself looking over a printed copy of David latest polling numbers. Why is Jim a key state leader?

4. Best comments came from a trans woman who repeated her castigating questions several times. Why wasn't EQCA illustrating what it learned from its mistakes of 2008, how they would operate differently in 2012 and were they really ready to not be wimps and get aggressive with our opponents, the woman demanded to know. When she finally stopped, the panelists were silent and none of them rushed to respond.

5. One 50-plus man cogently kvetched about the failures of No on 8 leadership, his distrust of them, and noted how lame the displayed "I Do" posters were. He strongly was against a repeal effort in 2012.

6. Sitting next to him, his mature bear friend took the opposite position. "I'm not looking back at yesterday's mistakes and problems. All I'm focused on is tomorrow and the good that will come out of working together. Count me ready to volunteer for 2012's repeal campaign," he said.

7. I, of course, said trusting EQCA with even a million dollars was a mistake, never mind giving them a minimum of $55 million to waste in 2012. I'm over putting sugary wedding cakes first on the California gay agenda, when gay seniors need rental subsidies, our youth on Castro Street deserve affordable housing, trans folks lack enough health care services and people with AIDS need cocktails, was another complaint I lodged.

8. Matt Foreman of the Haas Jr. Fund sat in the back row for most of the meeting, didn't introduce himself and made no remarks. Might have created community and fostered friendliness if organizers gave thought to breaking the ice at the start by going around the room asking everyone to state their name and a very brief few words about themselves. Or maybe have folks turn to those around them and introduce themselves. 

9. A middle-aged lesbian who recently moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area stood up, announced how pleased she was that her friend Roland Palencia was picked as the new EQCA top honcho because he is a dynamic leader with solid political experience and a healthy vision for the community's future.

10. My friend and lawyer Stephen Zollman pointed out that David Binder omitted who paid for his polling research and that several years ago in the very same room at the gay center, he presented similar basically hopeful findings among voters that might lead to victory at the ballot box, and we all know those findings didn't produce a win on Prop 8. I can't remember if it was David or Jim Carroll who spoke, but we learned that EQCA and two other organizations paid for the polling.

11. An under-30-something man was the most gung-ho person for 2012 repeal, no matter the cost of a campaign, whether we win or lose, was of no concern to him. What was vital was to show our adversaries and voters everywhere that we will fight hard and spend money to secure equality for sexual minorities, he said.

12. Two blocks away, I was informed by an eyewitness before the forum began, at the swellegant, pricey Cafe Zuni restaurant sat Geoff Kors and Kate Kendell at a window table having dinner. We thought there may have been an informal get-together with them and Matt, Andrea, David, Jim and Shannan before the town hall meeting.

13. Forget about a coherent message from EQCA folks not just about the potential 2012 repeal plans, we never heard a thing about the rest of their agenda or what to expect with the new ED. This meeting has got to be the laziest, disorganized town hall put on by any Gay Inc group in the new century. But what should we expect, when EQCA struggles mightily to stay relevant.

14. Afterward, as I spoke with Stephen Zollman and blogger Patrick (Uppity Fag) Connors, in the lobby, a 40-ish dark-haired woman came over to me and said how much she loved my proposal that EQCA hold regular town halls around the state, and let the community decide the agenda. She practically gushed with enthusiasm to bring EQCA leaders and all community folks together for public discussions. Her name? Suzy Jones, and she recently joined the EQCA board!

Oh, let's hope she brings her enthusiasm and support for on-going EQCA public forums where it should be delivered: to her board colleagues.
Stop AIDS Project Admits
S.F. HIV Rate is Falling: Window Pix

How long have I been demanding that the Stop AIDS Project inform the community of declining AIDS and HIV stats, and congratulate gay men for the drops? Ever since widespread use of protease inhibitors was implemented after 1996, and surveillance reports for San Francisco and the state first documented declining death rates.

SAP officials were too wrapped up in fear-driven messages and social marketing campaigns to offer any good news about epidemiology. They viewed gay men as diseased pariahs in endless need of safe sex workshops and scary ads, and forced us to create safety practices such as sero-sorting without them.

The key ingredient that allowed SAP to penetrate the collective gay male sexual psyche and body politic was unrelenting promotion of fear, with strong doses of stigma and controversy thrown into their outreach programs.

Telling gay men the truth about stats and offering some praise for the control and prevention sexual infections, and claiming some credit for the declines, was anathema to SAP. You can't strike fear in the hearts of horny homos talking honestly about how drug cocktails were extending the lives of many people with AIDS.

In the past week or so, SAP finally got around to touting the latest good stats about HIV infections and giving the gays a pat on the collective back. How is the organization spreading the good word? By plastering the news in the windows of their storefront on Sanchez near Market in the Castro district.

Curious that SAP uses the number thirty twice in their message, what with the thirtieth anniversary of the first report by the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report coming up in June.

I wish the SAP web site explained why they are finally admitting HIV infections are seriously declining in San Francisco, and why they now feel the need to loudly proclaim the drop, coupled with mentioning their falling revenue. Does less funding equal fewer infections? If it does, SAP should immediately empty their bank account.

Here are pix of their windows:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

EQCA Boss Palencia:
$0 for No on Prop 8

The elitist Democratic gay lobbying organization Equality California, without holding a single community forum, chose their new leader this week and the name was unfamiliar to myself and many San Franciscans. The executive director is now a Southern California Latino gay man from the nonprofit world named Roland Palencia.

He gave his first interview as EQCA ED to LA-based longtime lesbian journalism Karen Ocamb, whose blog LGBT POV has unfortunately served as an uncritical platform for the group. Their chat did not broach the subjects of regular town halls where the community sets the evening's agenda, board members presenting themselves at free events in their local areas or any other challenge to the status quo.

Palencia told Karen he blamed the victims of EQCA's abysmal engagement for the 2008 loss:

I also think that we, the community as a whole, could have been a lot more involved, could have done a lot more things. It was an issue that was not getting us much traction for the community. It’s hard to believe that now – but that was the reality.

The No on 8 lacking traction in the community? Not a sign of intelligence from Palencia, if that is what he really believes. The remarks were thankfully duly scrutinized by LA Weekly's veteran gay reporter Patrick Range McDonald:

Palenci's comments about the disastrous "No on 8" campaign, which was widely reported to be disorganized and dysfunctional, echo nearly identical excuses often mentioned by "No on 8" leaders, which angered many people in the gay community.

There have been numerous reports about the "No on 8" leaders not reaching out to college students, people of color, and grassroots activists, for leaving gay rights activists to fend for themselves in places like the Central Valley, and for running an isolated campaign without much outreach to the larger gay community and their straight allies.

Neither Karen nor Patrick wrote about the matter of Palencia's donations to the No on 8 campaign, but Seth Hemmelgarn of the Bay Area Reporter broached the subject:

Palencia said his involvement in the No on 8 campaign included writing checks and phone banking. He didn't remember how much he'd contributed.

Surprisingly, Seth didn't report how much Palencia gave to the campaign, so I used two search engines to learn the amount.

According to the Secretary of State and SF Chronicle data, the new leader of EQCA contributed $0 to the No on 8 effort. Why would he tell the BAR he wrote checks when the public record doesn't back up his claim? If there is a record of Palencia donating to No on 8, lemme know the URL for it.

At the state level, Palencia's totaling giving comes to $4,150 to the CA Friends Latino PAC, the G/L Latino/a HONOR PAC, Villaraigosa for Mayor, Friends of Fabian Nunez, Friends of Gil Cedillo, Gatto for Assembly, Portillo for Assembly, ACT BLUE, Torie Osborne for Assembly, and no donations to EQCA.

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission campaign search engine shows he's doled out $1,250 to just three local candidates: Villaraigosa, Eduardo Reyes and Conrado Terrazas

Federal Election Commission records reveal a single contribution from Palencia. In late November 2008 he gave $400 to the Nevada State Democratic Party.

The only recognizable gay name among the recipients I recognize is Democratic Gay Inc hack Osborne, and I don't blame the guy for directing the bulk of his donations over the years to Latinos. But I'd like to know why he's not given more to gay pols, or anything to EQCA, Victory Fund or the Human Rights Campaign.

He's clearly a GWM, gay with money, so why no giving to those entities?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Trevor Project Erases HRC Store
from Castro Street?

Back in December, the Human Rights Campaign caused a controversy to erupt in San Francisco when they announced they were moving their souvenir shop into Harvey Milk's old camera store on Castro Street.

After much debate about the move and HRC's failure to consult with local activists, a deal was struck in private between HRC and the Trevor Project, a group helping gay youth at-risk of suicide, allowing the project to establish a small call center at the back of HRC's new location.

Many saw this collaboration as providing cover to HRC and quieting down the criticism level against not just their move into the old store, but larger complaints about the incompetence and elitism of HRC.

When HRC started selling t-shirts and knick-knacks earlier this year at their new Castro location, they promised to hold an official opening on May 22, Harvey Milk Day. That promise will not be kept. HRC has no plans to mark the day at their San Francisco store.

However, the Trevor Project, is holding an opening of what they're calling the Harvey Milk Call Center on May 22 and their brief notice appearing on SF radio web sites, makes no mention that the center is situated at the back of the HRC shop:

On the anniversary of Harvey Milk’s birthday, Sunday, May 22nd at 11am The Trevor Project will host a Grand Opening Ceremony of the Trevor Lifeline’s Harvey Milk Call Center at the historic location of Castro Camera, 575 Castro Street, San Francisco. ... The Trevor Project’s Harvey Milk Call Center is the latest addition to the Trevor Lifeline crisis call centers and is housed in the space formerly occupied by Milk’s office in Castro Camera. ... Come out to the Ribbon Untying Ceremony and take a guided tour of The Trevor Project’s Harvey Milk Call Center.

There is no mention of this event on the Trevor Project's web site, but the group's spokesperson Laura McGinnis is circulating an email with more details about Sunday's ceremony and HRC is omitted.

Even by the low standards of Gay Inc, it's very weird that HRC is not keeping a promise of an official opening at their Castro Street store, and their partner agency sharing the space is staging a grand ceremony there but totally fails to say a thing about HRC. Just another wacky episode in the world of gay nonprofits.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SF Gays w/o Borders:  
IDAHO Solidarity at Cafe Flore

May 17 is the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and this year's edition marked the seventh occasion for the day.

In San Francisco longtime activist and person living with AIDS Gary Virginia hosted a fabulous solidarity social at Cafe Flore in the Castro neighborhood, and on behalf of Gays Without Borders he and I organized everyone in the place into posing for a group photo.

Approximately forty people were sitting at tables, using laptops or tapping handhelds, maybe eating soup or sipping cappuccino, and everyone's spirits were up and grooving on this impromptu act of global political organizing.

We displayed pink balloons and printed materials about IDAHO and actions in other cities today, and posters featuring lesbian couples with their children from the Coming Out group in St. Petersburg, Russia, were taped to the DJ booth. You can see one of the posters, held up by the seated male couple in the photo.

As we assembled ourselves for our photo-op in solidarity with every other IDAHO event happening around the globe today, Gary thrust his mic in the face of everyone getting ready for the picture-taking, asking them to state where they were from.

Two lesbians were visiting from Norway, one man said his home was Peru, a few guys hailed from San Diego and another pair of lesbians announced they lived in Texas, oh, and few San Franciscans too.

I had a ton of fun standing with the other fourteen folks in the photo, talking to those who stayed at their tables but cheered us on, and doing my part today for global gay solidarity. And how was your IDAHO for 2011? Hope it was as terrific as the social in San Francisco.

(Photo credit: Gays Without Borders/San Francisco.)
Gay NBA Exec Welts:
$2K for McCain, $0 to No on Prop 8

Talk about a grand exit from the closet. Yesterday's front-page of the New York Times' recycled-tree edition reported the official coming out of Phoenix Suns executive Rick Welts as a gay man, and like many others I too laud his stepping out. Always good to have high-profile business folks, especially in professional sports, doing the right thing and stating that they are gay.

Wanting to learn more about Welts's political views, as best as they can be gleaned from Federal Election Commission and California election disclosure laws, I searched for any donations he may have made to politicians or PACs.

At the federal level, Welts in March 2003 donated $2,000 to Sen. John McCain's Patriot First PAC, and I imagine since Welts's team is based in the GOP senator's state, it makes sense that as a businessman he would want to support McCain. But what about McCain's opposition to gay rights legislation? Did Welts ignore those issues in order to make a contribution?

In February 2004 Welts gave former Sen. John Edwards $500 for his presidential campaign, and Edwards is way more supportive of gay rights than McCain so I don't believe Welts had to ignore anti-gay views of the recipient when writing the check.

That's it for Welts's giving at the national level, and in California no records turn up for him having made donations to any politician or ballot proposition race. The Secretary of State's campaign disclosure search engine shows no contributions, while the SF Chronicle's comprehensive data collection of donors contains no record of giving to either the Yes or No on Prop 8 campaigns.

Make of this what you will. I won't be surprised if Welts starts making donations to Gay Inc organizations, LGBT politicians and finds other ways to share his wealth and status with the community.

(Photo of Welts taken by Joshua Lott for the NY Times.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 19: 
AIDS Cure Forum vs. EQCA Town Hall

How well do Gay Inc and AIDS Inc leaders communicate and coordinate community engagement plans with each other? Considering neither the Equality California executives or their counterparts at the SF AIDS Foundation are known for holding regular public forums, I would think they would check with each other before organizing and hosting important town hall meetings. 

A demerit goes to all of the leaders at EQCA and the SFAF who are holding urgent public meetings open to all, quite a rare occurrence in these parts, on the same evening at nearly the same time. Why should I or anyone have to leave the AIDS cure forum early, schlep up to the community center for the gay town hall, in order to be at both?

There is a constituency of queer folks who would be at the EQCA and SFAF debates and discussions, if they weren't competing for attention and participation on May 19. The other thing is, in terms of mainstream, gay and blogger coverage, those outlets will also have to either choose one forum over the other to cover, or dash from one to the other. This potential shrinkage of media attention could have been avoided.

It should not be rocket science for the all the communication folks at both groups to, ahem, communicate with each other and better meet the needs of the community by coordinating town halls meeting dates.

Competing town hall #1:

SFAF Forum
Thursday, May 19
5:30 to 7:30 pm; reception to follow
SPUR Urban Center
654 Mission St, San Francisco

Long a taboo subject, the search for a cure for HIV/AIDS has recently resurfaced as a hot topic among advocates and researchers. But what does all the talk really mean? ...

Competing town hall #2:

Come and be part of the conversation! Equality California is holding a series of town halls across California and online for members of the community to come together and discuss the wisdom of moving forward with a ballot initiative. ...

No decisions have been made yet about whether to pursue a ballot measure. Please, join us and share your perspective. Help shape the decision.

Thursday, May 19
07:00 PM - 09:00 PM
SF LGBT Community Center
1800 Market Street
27 Empty Stores in the Castro;
Civic Groups, Pols Antagonistic

There are more than two-dozen empty retail spaces, restaurants and an entire building up for rent or available for purchase in the Castro district, and the reasons for rather high numbers are many, starting with the continuing recession and stretching to greedy landlords wanting too much coin.

The Castro, as with all gay or hip enclaves, is always evolving and recreating itself, but I sense a deeply nervous entrepreneurial community worrying about the businesses of the area and an equally anxious grassroots network of activist wanting greater say in who controls local public spaces.

Given the dozens of closed venues or assorted shop available for leasing, the Castro Theater closed eight-nights in April and frequently shuttered on Mondays or Tuesdays, still operating neighborhood stores hurting for more revenue and customers, it behooves the civic groups of the Castro to lessen their antagonism and disrespect of other district stakeholders.

It's not just the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro and the Castro Benefits District groups that have engaged in alienation tactics regarding the rainbow flag and pole issues at Harvey Milk Plaza that contribute to keeping visitors out of the Castro. MUMC and the CBD are joined by Supervisor Scott Wiener and his staff, in addition to numerous folks at the Department of Public Works.

The lack of creative thinking among those named parties to recruit people to the neighborhood, and be open to new ideas allowing increased "ownership" by diverse segments of the LGBT activist community, is another deficiency in the Castro's civic leadership and stewardship.

Will 27 retail vacancies have any impact on MUMC, CBD, DPW and Wiener to re-think their approach to community-wide engagement and outreach? Maybe put forward fresh ideas to revivify the neighborhood's businesses and put out a genuine welcome mat to activists and consumers?

As we wait to see how the civic groups and Wiener deal with a high business vacancy rate, check out my pix snapped over the weekend of the empty stores. Click to enlarge:

1. The Human Rights Campaign's souvenir shop operated for years at this 19th Street and Castro spot, before moving into Harvey Milk's old camera shop.

2. The sunny former home of the First National Title Company at 595 Castro, waiting to be leased again.

3. The old Patio restaurant and bar on Castro, may have closed while Bill Clinton was president.

4. An empty storefront sits next to the Patio in the 500 block of Castro.
5. Vacant corner store at Castro and 18th Streets that recently served as the temporary exhibitions space of the GLBT Historical Society.

6. The hollow shell that once was the A Different Light bookstore on Castro now has its windows obscured by butcher paper.

7. Further up in the 400 block of Castro is the shuttered Fuzio pasta restaurant.

8. The former ice cream parlor in the same Castro block is guarded with a flexible metal gate.

9. When did Sprint vacate the basement space of the building that houses the Diesel store at Castro and Market?

10. No more laundry and dry cleaning services at this deserted location on 18th near Collingwood Street.

11. Who can tell me what business operated last year from this space on Market between Noe and Castro?

12 and 13. The Tower Records building's first floor on Market comprises two empty spaces, that recently were home to Goodwill and the Kard Zone.

14. Has it been three, maybe four years, or even longer since this indoor gardening shop closed, moving over to Divisadero Street?

15. Behind the windows of what was GymSF sits a large vacant room that once was full of men working out on the second-floor space on Market near 16th.

16. This abandoned storefront recently served as the performance space and art gallery for the Femina Potens collective, Market and Sanchez.

17. A few doors down from the gallery sits the forlorn and angular office/retail space next to a credit union's ATM on Market close to 14th Street.

18. On the north side of Market between Sanchez and Church is the long-empty store that I believe last was occupied by a pilates/yoga studio.

19. Almost directly across the street from Number 18 is a large multi-level building that until about two-years ago was a fundamentalist church.

20. Same side of Market, but closer to Church, this small retail space continues to wait for a new business to move in.

21. Video Control used to operate at this Market and Church site, but went out of business nearly two-years ago.

22. Here on Church near 15th Street we have the old No Name Sushi restaurant available for rent.

23 and 24. The top level of this structure on Church and 14th Street lately was a medical marijuana dispensary, while the ground floor was BOC, the Bar on Church, and both floors are available for rent.

25. Half-way up Church is the forlorn squat store that operated as a Blockbuster franchise, with a large parking lot in the back, waiting for new tenant or two.

26. Somewhat odd name given its location, Castro Coffee, for this shuttered java-and-bagel food hut situated at the crazy-busy public transit hub and intersection at Duboce and Church.

27. And finally, the restaurant where Pudong most recently try to make a go of it as a dim sum palace on Market opposite the Safeway store, is available for leasing.