Thursday, March 10, 2011

DPW: Rainbow Flag at Milk Plaza
Not Controlled by Castro Merchants

(Gays w/o Borders February 3 rally at Milk Plaza for slain gay Ugandan, with the iconic rainbow flag at half staff in the background. Credit: Rick Gerharter, Bay Area Reporter.)

Ever since the San Francisco Department of Public Works upgraded and redesigned Harvey Milk Plaza in 2000, one private organization has claimed they had controlled over one small part of the municipal space, the enormous rainbow flag and flag pole. The Merchants of Upper Market/Castro have repeatedly told anyone who asked that they alone are in charge of the flag and pole and how they are occasionally used for political purposes.

In January after Ugandan gay leader David Kato was brutally murdered, I began organizing a rally to honor him. I asked the director of MUMC, Steve Adams who is also the president of the local branch of the Sterling Bank, to lower the rainbow flag at Milk Plaza in conjunction with our global gay solidarity action. Steve wrote me and said MUMC would not grant my request and that the decision was made solely by the control queens in his group.

After much unnecessary stress, wrangling and extreme intransigence, Steve eventually relented and flew the rainbow flag at half staff, after he didn't work with activist organizers to stage a photo-op of the lowering. Every step of the way, the control queens in this organization were most unhelpful.

Once our David Kato rally was accomplished, I followed up with Steve about further discussion regarding control of the flag pole and his claim of a special understanding between MUMC and DPW. In response to my request for dialogue and the alleged written pact, Steve wrote:

The agreement is with DPW, you can contact them to get a copy of the agreement. I will be bringing up the subject about the flag when our board meets. I will let you know what we decide.

He never got back to me about where and when this board meeting was, and I filed a public records request with DPW for the alleged agreement, or any memorandum of understanding between the agency and MUMC. This reply was sent on Tuesday, from Nathan Rodis who works in the DPW's director's office:

We completed our research and did not find any documents that would be responsive to your request. This, therefore, concludes your Public Records Request. If you have any questions, please let us know.

Whoa nelly, this was startling news and I quickly got on the phone to Rodis and DPW's public info officer Gloria Chan. They explained that the agency diligently searched their archive for any records granting MUMC control of the flag pole on city property, and found absolutely nothing. Both DPW executives asked if Steve and MUMC could provide the public with the agreement, and I told them he and his group have not shared the agreement with anyone that I know of.

Despite repeated emails and a voice mail message to Steve at the Sterling Bank, he has remained silent about this matter. If this gay banker has _anything_ in writing he can produce showing he's in charge of the flag pole, a lot of people would like to see his documentation.

Until Steve and MUMC produce their alleged written agreement, I maintain that they have been lying to the gay community for a very long time about who is in charge of the Milk Plaza flag pole and how to best use it as a political tool and symbol.

I am pushing DPW to meet with me to discuss issues like regaining the key from MUMC to the flag pole box that controls the rope and flag, setting up a democratic process that allows for activist control of the pole, and to clearly spell out in writing that the Milk Plaza flag pole is city property and not under the purview of the MUMC group.

Additionally, it behooves MUMC to hold 2-3 well-publicized open meetings about how they have bamboozled the activist community for too long about the flag pole. Until those meetings are set up by MUMC, I will be recruiting other political activists to join me at _every_ monthly meeting of the organization. They convene the first Thursday of the month at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center on Collingwood Street from 9-10 AM.

I want to see a transparent advisory committee established to set guidelines on allowing for creative use of the flag pole like lowering it, flying the United Nations flag, and other ideas. Oh, it would also be beneficial to the San Francisco gay community to put an end to the crap pulled by Steve Adams and MUMC.

Whose Harvey Milk Plaza and rainbow flag? Our plaza and flag!

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