Friday, March 22, 2013

Black Trans Leader to HRC: Flag Debate Now

Michael Pappas, pictured, is head of the LGBT advisory committee of San Francisco's Human Rights Commission and a member of the commission, who has spent years promoting human rights here at home and around the globe.

On Tuesday, March 19, he facilitated the monthly meeting of the advisory committee and I applaud how skillfully he ran the meeting.

Around the table in the HRC conference room at 25 Van Ness Avenue on the 8th floor, sat many members of the very diverse LGBT committee.

Public comment was taken at the beginning of the meeting and longtime black transgender, HIV positive, military veteran and global gay advocate Veronika Fimbres was the first to speak.

She spoke about the months of disrespect she suffered from leaders of the Merchants of Upper Market Castro, when trying in September and October to have equal access to the publicly-owned rainbow flag on public property at Harvey Milk Plaza. All she wanted to do was raise the Trans Flag for the international Trans Day of Remembrance, but she got such a runaround from MUMC she filed a complaint with the HRC.

Five months later, Veronika said, she's not received any updates from HRC executive director Theresa Sparks and she would like to know when HRC would help find a solution to the flag problems created by MUMC at Harvey Milk Plaza. Sparks was not present at Tuesday's meeting.

Bill Wilson, longtime community photographer and global gay rights activist, spoke next. He distributed a note and the excerpted minutes of recent HRC meetings showing commissioners were pressured to break their promise to hold a town hall meeting in the Castro about the flag.

After more than two-years of requesting numerous Castro leaders and stakeholder hold a simple open meeting for all to attend, and being thwarted every step of the way, Bill said he had expected the HRC to be an impartial leader working with all factions to create a solution.

Unfortunately, the commission has not fulfilled promises made to him but he remains hopeful the HRC will eventually do the right thing and host public discussions about the public flagpole.

I spoke after him, giving a history about the flag controversy. When Uganda's brave gay leader David Kato was brutally murdered on January 26, 2011, it sparked a request from myself on behalf of Gays Without Borders to MUMC to lower the rainbow flag. We want to mourn Kato and show solidarity with LGBT people of Uganda.

After much b.s., MUMC leaders did lower the flag for LGBT Ugandans and it opened up the question of why the LGBT community of San Francisco is not allowed to have equal access to the public flagpole and why it's controlled by a private group. That is the question we want addressed at an eventual HRC town hall meeting.

Michael Pappas thanked all of us for showing up and sharing our concerns, however, he dutifully noted that the advisory committee could not address the flagpole problems because it was not calendared for discussion. He urged us to share our concerns with the full commission, and we assured him that would happen.

All three of us -- Veronika, Bill and myself -- afterward felt so good we had the opportunity to voice our pain and reiterate our request for the HRC to play a role in foster community dialogue, understanding and an eventual compromise regarding the flag.

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