Wednesday, August 31, 2011

SF Rainbow Flag to Fly at Half-Mast
for AIDS Heroine Ruth Brinker

(Ruth Brinker. Credit: Tim Kao,

Permit me to say a few things before getting to the main point of this post.

First, while I appreciate the praise from the Project Open Hand leaders, I must say my role in bringing about this flag lowering for the agency's founder was small. All I did was speak to the agency's director of government relations and nudge him to make the request to the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro to lower the rainbow flag on the day the city of San Francisco pays tribute to Ruth Brinker.

Second, I have many friends, both living and deceased, who have greatly benefited from the hot meals, nutritious foods and dietary counseling services provided by the agency. People with AIDS, women with breast cancer and anyone with serious illnesses in need of Project Open Hand's programs have received direct help from them, and the assistance all started because one woman cared for hungry people who were suffering.

Here's the info on the many ways we will be celebrating the life and legacy of this remarkable woman:

We invite you all to join us in commemorating Project Open Hand Founder Ruth Brinker and celebrating her good works and giving spirit at a public service on Monday, September 12th at 5:30pm in the North Light Court of City Hall. Guests are asked to enter City Hall through the Polk Street main entrance.

After a unanimous vote by the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro, the Rainbow Flag on the corner of Castro and Market Streets will be lowered to half-mast on September 12 to honor Ruth Brinker's contributions to the LGBT community.

This kind note arrived earlier today from Jim Illig, the government affairs staffer:

I talked to Steve Adams ([MUMC's president] who was on our Board for 6 years and still serves on the Finance Committee). He had already planned to lower the Rainbow Flag in honor of Ruth. It will happen on Sept. 12th to coincide with the celebration of her life we are hosting at City Hall. I gave your contact information to our special events team who will send you the event announcement.

Thanks for thinking of this public way to acknowledge Ruth’s contributions to the community.

And Hannah Schmunk, who is the communications director for the agency, shared this sweet message:

Thank you for your help in having the Rainbow Flag flown at half-mast in honor of Ruth. What a beautiful idea. I have attached the press release which includes information about the memorial service and the Rainbow Flag.

MUMC: Castro Needs a Separate,
But Equal Rainbow Flag at Gay Center

The private group Merchants of Upper Market/Castro, which illegitimately controls the public rainbow flag at city-owned Harvey Milk Plaza, continue to do all in their power to not collaborate with activists and taxpayers who will to use the flag and pole for commemorative and celebratory occasions.

Instead agreeing to request to hold public meetings about the controversy, MUMC is now proposing that they be allowed to rule over the rainbow flag at the historically important Milk Plaza, and that activists should approach the cash-strapped LGBT community center about erecting a separate, but equal rainbow flag at the center.

Fiscal and political concerns aside, someone needs to inform MUMC that there is no plaza at Market and Octavia to install a flag pole, just one of many problems with their bogus proposed solution. Also, MUMC again states they have an agreement with the city to manage the flag, but neither MUMC nor the city has produced this alleged agreement.

Below is MUMC's note, followed by replies from Castro merchant Isak Lindenauer and civil libertarian Clinton Fein. Let's proceed to review the latest skirmish in the battle over the Castro's rainbow flag:

Recently, the MUMC Board considered two requests from you for the Rainbow Flag and pole which MUMC manages pursuant to an agreement with San Francisco Department of Public Works at Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro at Market Streets in San Francisco.

Your first request, to fly an American Flag beneath the Rainbow Flag on Veterans Day, November 11, 2011, was denied for the following reasons: It is not possible to fly multiple flags on the flag pole due to the rigging, and for the safety of pedestrians and vehicles on busy nearby streets. Additionally, it is improper protocol for display of the US Flag, to fly it beneath any other flag.

Your second request, to fly the Rainbow Flag at half mast on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2011 was denied for the following reason: It is the opinion and longtime policy of MUMC's Board that the Rainbow Flag should be lowered to half mast only on rare occasions and only in the case that someone widely recognized as a local LGBT hero dies.

The Board views the Rainbow Flag as a symbol of hope for the LGBT community and feels that it is important that the Rainbow Flag fly high and proud at all times, reminding everyone that The Castro and San Francisco are places to celebrate your right to be what you are.

A motion was made by the Board to consider adding a Red AIDS Ribbon on the Rainbow Flag or pole on World AIDS Day (December 1, 2011), if feasible. This motion was approved and MUMC Board Members are looking into that possibility.

It is the opinion of MUMC's Board that your political actions are important and it suggests that you consider contacting The LGBT Center about erecting a flag pole there for the purpose of political action and awareness.

This is Lindenaur's reply, and I endorse what he says, and hope that his membership in MUMC and status as a business owner in the Castro carries some extra weight with the board of directors:

Thank you to the MUMC board for opening a public dialogue of sorts in regard to this issue. As a MUMC member, I consider that a giant step in the right direction.

I must say however that the suggestion of erecting a second flag outside of the Castro proper to deal with political action is to my way of thinking both a dodge at best and divisive in the extreme.

What would Harvey say about all this? What would all the men who died of AIDS say if they could but speak to us now? How can you think to separate politics from this flag of ours and put it over there, to the side? This flag is made up of the blood of our martyrs and the hopes and dreams of all of us who have dared to speak our names as free gay men and women.

I know you can do better. I trust and believe and hope we can all do better. Please reconsider using this flag which belongs to the world for more than just our “village”. It takes a village first. Yes. We have done that. Now let us work to use this flag for the good of the whole world.

And here is what Fein has to say to MUMC's board of directors, and I especially like that he reminds them DPW can't produce this alleged agreement giving them sole domain over this crucial piece of municipal real estate:

While the technical reasons you provide for your declinations of flying the flag in these instances make sense, you ignore other requests to mark occasions, such as the passage of marriage equality legislation in New York or the passing of both Elizabeth Taylor and Ruth Brinker. If people like Ms. Taylor or Ms. Brinker are not sufficiently recognized as local LGBT heroes, that failure belongs to the community, and unfortunately your “opinion and longtime policy” simply perpetuates that failure.

Your claim: “The Board views the Rainbow Flag as a symbol of hope for the LGBT community and feels that it is important that the Rainbow Flag fly high and proud at all times, reminding everyone that The Castro and San Francisco are places to celebrate your right to be what you are,” is based purely on your commercial interests, and to pretend otherwise suggests you think are speaking to village idiots.

Arguably, without Ms. Taylor and Brinker, The Castro would be a very different place today. Not everyone views the LGBT community as immature, giddy revelers interested in nothing more than consuming. A lowered rainbow flag will not dampen the pride of a community that is old enough and out enough to appreciate the significance of its gestures relating to the flag.

What you have not provided is a methodology that invites community involvement, nor a transparent articulation of your vetting process which appears to be at the whim of one or two people. Who, for instance, might meet your very stringent requirements?

While the tenacity of Mr. Petrelis may well be annoying to some, his suggestions about community participation have been ignored, as have the views of some members of MUMC itself. This letter and this Board’s cowardly failure to own up to anything or redress what is becoming an increasing loud chorus of grievances around this issue demonstrates that perhaps you are inadequate custodians of the flag and the flag pole, no matter how well you may have looked after it in the past.

Finally, your alleged contract with San Francisco Department of Public Works (that they can’t find and you can’t or won’t reproduce) needs a major rewrite. My strong suggestion is that you grow up very quickly and figure out a way to work with a community that really cares about this or find your custodianship embarrassingly petitioned away from you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

SF Examiner Letter:
Reclaim Harvey Milk Plaza

(Photo credit: Rick Gerharter.)
For those of you who didn't find a print copy of Friday's Examiner, here is the text of my letter that ran in the paper. Nice to get the issue of the illegitimate control of a private merchants group over this crucial piece of city real estate before Examiner readers. From the Examiner's letters page of August 26:

It is time for the Department of Public Works to reclaim Harvey Milk Plaza for the citizens of San Francisco. This historic public space is now partially controlled by a private association, the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro.

The DPW has not been able to find a single written document granting authority over the plaza’s rainbow flag and pole to the merchants. The MUMC association allows no public input into when the flag is lowered or another flag is raised, and it maintains an unacceptably secretive vetting process.

What needs to be done is that the DPW should establish a community committee to process requests for flag honors in an open and transparent procedure.

SF Rainbow Flag Lowered on Sept 11
for Gay Hero Mark Bingham?

A request has been submitted to Steve Adams, the president of the Sterling Bank in the Castro and the head of the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro who controls the public flag at Harvey Milk Plaza, to lower the flag all day and evening on Sunday, September 11, 2011, to honor all those who were killed on that date ten-years ago and especially gay hero Mark Bingham.

Even though the plaza is city property, the rainbow flag and pole are illegitimately controlled by MUMC, a private group that refuses to either share control or maintain a transparent request process for lowerings.

On September 11, President Barack Obama will direct the White House and all federal government buildings to fly the American flag at half mast to honor the nearly 3,000 people who perished a decade ago. Obama does this, in part, because of a federal resolution passed by the U.S. Congress after that tragic day.

Many, if not all, states and local governments will also be flying the American flag at half mast, both to remember the dead, renew our collective commitment to democracy and freedom, and to show solidarity with liberty-loving people everywhere.

And the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community, along with the Castro district, should be part of those national, state and local efforts. That is, if MUMC finally understands the need to work with activists to make the rainbow flag and pole living tools used to educate, heal and unite.

A reminder. On February 3, after community pressure was applied, agreed to fly the flag at Castro and Market Streets at half mast for one-hour, for a solidarity rally in support of gay Ugandans. The rally was held to honor the life and advocacy of murdered gay activist David Kato, pictured, in late January in his home in Kampala. If MUMC can lower the flag for the brave Kato, it should be able to do likewise for the equally courageous Mark Bingham.

My request to MUMC asks for a written response by this Friday, which is a day after their private monthly meeting. Let's hope Steve Adams and his colleagues at MUMC grant my request to lower San Francisco's enormous rainbow flag in the Castro on September 11.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Readers Reax: Castro Nudity,
News Racks, & Rainbow Flag

A number of posts last week generated several letters, which I'm sharing here. Good to hear from other Castro stakeholders and give their views a wider audience.

Reax to Castro Biz Owner Says MUMC Has No Clothes:

I met Isak Lindenauer last year in connection with the Rainbow Walk of Honor. I went to talk to him about including Harry Hay among the 1st 20 LGBT people to be included on it.

I found out Harry had already been selected, but we talked for a while about the history of the Gay Liberation Movement and LGBT history in SF from North Beach, to Polk St. to the Castro. I liked him and found him to be an intelligent nice older man. Reading the post
about him I thought I'd chime in.

Jerry the Faerie

Well, I must say my long-time friend Isak has surprised me. Known him since Berkeley in the early '70s before he became a purveyor of status-objects to the moneyed homo set and never realized he still had a spark of his old rad self. He seldom seems to want to connect with me when I see him (perhaps because of my scathing letters in the BAR? haha) but I do wonder if somehow he has connections with other merchants who might see things from his angle.

His suggestion of changing the funding and control issues are good to see and should be used as a strong discussion-starter on how and why the issue should be resolved. I do also wonder how much else he might dissent from the other merchants on other issues--sit/lie? It would sure be good to cultivate relationships with some merchants like him to show the issues aren't just us vs. them.

Yes, his letter is way too long for the Bay Area Reporter, though you'd think if the BAR weren't so firmly in the clutches of the real estate/conservative merchant set, there'd be a way for Isak's points to be made in a shorter fashion or as an op-ed. It makes me wonder even more about the BAR's agenda.

Alan Collins

About those twelve empty news racks in the Castro . . .

I do not disagree with decreasing the large number of racks, however, are you aware that we publishers have to pay for those racks through a program with the city of SF. As a monthly, my racks are used about 10 days per month.

The pedestal racks were put in to clean up blight that was being caused by the "individual" newspaper racks that were often covered with graffiti, etc, chained to light posts, etc.

My concern has always been that "out of town" publications have been given preference over the local neighborhood papers. (BAR / Castro Courier / etc). We have had difficulty getting space in the rack "lottery", but that has changed a little over the last several years.

It is probable that the number of pedestal locations could be reduced by (maybe 50%), but the danger would be the larger publications (SF Weekly, Bay Guardian, Chronicle, Examiner, Homes and Land) placing non standard (ugly) boxes to fill the void of the lost pedestal stands. For us smaller publishers, we would lose that battle financially as stand alone boxes cost 200-300 ea and are stolen, vandalized, damaged often.

Hopefully there is a compromise that can be reached.

PS- if you think the news racks are intrusive, wait until you see the 5' x 4' AT&T broadband boxes that will be going into public spaces like sidewalks.

Mitch Bull
Publisher and Owner
The Castro Courier


Tolerance or not in the Castro?

It seems that our neighborhood's tolerance has been pushed to the limit recently. The public nudity in Jane Warner Plaza has become an embarrassment to our community. Personally I am completely for freedom of expression and social tolerance, my prejudices are few and my personal integrity is intact. Provocation is a good thing - it prevents apathy.

However, I do believe that it's time to change the rules, just a little, and make Jane Warner Plaza inviting to one and all - not just a safe haven for compulsive and habitual exhibitionists. I understand the laws about public nudity in California and San Francisco. These exhibitionists can still satisfy their need to be provocative, if my suggestion is implemented. They just won't be able to lounge around Jane Warner Plaza if it is made into a park. Public nudity in parks is illegal in San Francisco. Ask any police officer in the city (as I did) and they will tell you that it is easy to cite someone for that offense.

We all deserve the right to enjoy the open spaces in our fine city. And we should all accept the responsibilities to exhibit behavior that is appropriate in public spaces, and to understand that what "works for me" doesn't always work for the majority.

Bill Kinzie
Herth Real Estate agent and Castro resident

Dear Bill Kinzie:

You don't know me, but I saw a copy of your letter about nudity in the Castro and I wanted to throw in my two cents.

First of all, to introduce myself, I have been a queer activist for 41 years. I have been a resident of the Castro for 20 years. I used to work at A Different Light bookstore.

You talk of tolerance, but your letter is about anything but tolerance. You want to do to nude men what straight folks did to queers in decades past -- push them out of sight, and restrict them from public spaces because their behavior is (in your view) "inappropriate." How well I remember a time when gay men cruising in the parks or drag queens hanging out in public spaces were considered "inappropriate," even by some in our own "community."

When I first moved here, neighbors used to go ballistic occasionally about cruising and sex at Collingwood Park at night because they thought it was not "appropriate" behavior.

I honestly don't know this "tolerance" you talk of in the Castro. I don't see it. Not that long ago, a lot of gay black men filed complaints with the city's Human Rights Commission against a bar in the neighborhood that they said was trying to keep them out because of the color of their skin. It wasn't the first time that people of color had complained about a Castro establishment's racism.

More recently, I was witness to neighbors calling the cops on a group of young queer people of color who were sitting in Harvey Milk Plaza enjoying the benches, as white men do all the time. From what I've heard from some queers of color, they don't feel comfortable in our "tolerant" neighborhood because they get hassled.

Then there's the intolerance towards those who are homeless. In the late 90s, I helped organize three shelters for homeless youth, a food program at MCC and a shower project at Mission High. I know how intolerant the neighborhood is toward those in our community who are homeless.

Even now, the Castro solution to poverty and homelessness is to call the cops on homeless folks. The Castro Benefits District has proposed removing benches and posting a guard at Harvey Milk Plaza. Tolerance?

The Castro has a long way to go before I'd call it tolerant.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Friday, August 26, 2011

Biker Gets Red Light Running Ticket
On Market From SF Police: Pix

On my way to the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last night, I saw another biker getting citation from a motorcycle cop, on South Van Ness just south of Market Street. Click here for my post last week on a different biker and cop going through the same routine.

Some urban biking advocates have demonized the San Francisco Police Department for what appears to be targeted enforcement, and I wonder if they are familiar with chapter five on enforcement and safety, page five, which calls for such a campaign.

Biking culture in San Francisco needs to curve out a large niche promoting standards of safety on the part of bikers - fully stopping at red lights, slowly down in the presence of pedestrians, signaling when making turns - as part of comprehensive plan to lessen the current dangers posed by bikers.

But I digress. I asked the helmet-less biker why he received a ticket from the police officer and he said it had to do with failure to stop at a red light. He rode off down Market Street and made it to the advisory committee, where I told this tale and mentioned I snapped pix of the episode.

Here are my pix:

DPW: October Merger of News Racks?;
Valencia St. Next Cluttered Area

(At Clear Channel's site, their promo image for news racks shows at least three empty boxes, with a potential fourth on the upper left row that appears to contain nothing but a pink spot.)

After my phone conversation a few days back with Grace Moore, the Department of Public Works' person in charge of news racks on city sidewalks, I posed follow-up questions in writing, to get a better understanding of why DPW continues to install racks, while simultaneously moving to merge existing ones that are primarily empty.

I asked Moore how the Castro could become the district with a pilot program to remove and/or combine the blight of the 12 big racks cluttering the public space, and the time-line involved. Her reply:

Before racks can be considered for consolidation, DPW must provide every reasonable opportunity for publishers to apply for vacancies. Many of the existing pedmount units throughout the city, including those in the Castro, will be subject to reassignment by October 1st. Only then can we assess and determine next steps.

The public needs more details about exactly what reassignment entails, how quickly consolidation can occur and what efforts DPW is making to give every stakeholder in this matter the chance to influence policy.

Agendas for DPW's News Rack Advisory Committee reveal the members have monthly meetings, when there's a quorum, and that the meetings start at 8:30 am, not the most convenient time of the day, maybe 10:00 am. I asked Moore if the committee be accommodating on the time, to increased attendance. Her reply:

Meetings at City Hall are calendared at least one year out and are not subject to change without prior discussion and consent by committee members. The News Rack Advisory Committee meetings are scheduled regularly; however meetings without a quorum can result in its cancellation.

That does not sound flexible at all, and I question why it was decided to meet so early, and will bring up these and other concerns at the September meeting of the committee, if they establish a quorum and conduct official business.

Unaddressed by Moore was a question about properly updating the DPW page for news racks. Currently, it's a confusing mess. Minutes and agendas are promised, with a list of previous months, some linking to documents, other months dead links. Click on August and a zipfile opens containing this month's committee agenda and the minutes from the May meeting. Huh?

The state of this DPW has to be immediately addressed and cleaned up, to better serve everyone's need for easy-to-navigate clicks to documents, laid out in a consistent manner.

Regarding installing more of this useless street furniture, the August agenda listed discussion and recommendation to the director of DPW to approve locations for new racks along Valencia Street from 15th to 24th Streets, Clement Street from Arguello to 11th Avenue, and Haight Street from Masonic to Stanyan.

Why is DPW moving ahead with misguided plans to place more of the empty racks on crowded sidewalks? I'd like to see the city's proof that any publication or guide will regularly be stocked in the racks on those three high-density streets. Minutes from the August meeting, if it happened, are not on the web.

Minutes from the April and May meetings record comments from committee members related to the many empty news racks.

In April member Jim Lazarus, who also works for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, asked if there is a process for reallocating un-used racks to other sections of the city. Moore replied that there is and it allows for downsizing at intersections, and can also eliminate the number of empty boxes.

Then in May member Debra Newman, and a member of the Noe Valley Benefit District, questioned Moore about reallocating spaces of the many empty news rack around certain parts of 24th Street. Moore said the city would examine locations block-by-block basis to consider downsizing.

BTW, at both meetings time was set aside for a report from Clear Channel, the advertising giant, and no representative from the corporation bothered to put in an appearance.

There seems to be no disagreement that there are lots of hollow racks on our sidewalks, which circles us back to the question about why DPW is charging forward to place more of this blight on the public space around town.

Let's get this horrible street furniture off our sidewalks and put an end to installing a single additional rack.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Castro Biz Owner: MUMC's 

Rainbow Flag Plan = Emperor Has No Clothes

Isak Lindenauer is a refined gay gentleman of a certain maturity, schooled in traditional letter-writing and he posted this rant in the window of his antique store on 19th Street in the Castro. When I saw it this morning, I snapped pix of the many individual pages and transcribed them.

Honestly, we've had a few arguments over how he doesn't spray his letters over the web and lacks a blog, and don't for the life of me understand why he tried one avenue - the Bay Area Reporter - to get his message out.

It's one thing to have a flame-throwing radical queer activist demanding the illegitimate control of the city's rainbow flag and pole at Harvey Milk Plaza, public property, and another matter entirely when a soft-voiced member of the Castro merchant class gets angry enough to put his concerns down on paper and in his store's front window.

The president of the local Sterling Bank and head of the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro, Steve Adams, has never enjoyed even microscopic support from activists who want to return the flag and pole to the city _and_ members of the LGBT beyond the tight MUMC circle.

Adams and his colleagues now have a merchant so fed up with their flag nonsense and lack of a transparent process for lowering or hoisting policies, he's shouting his frustration from his self-created soap box at his antique store. This is a significant change in the dynamic to end MUMC's sole rule over the plaza's supposed community flag.

Here's Isak's long letter:

The Bully Pulpit

I wrote a letter to the BAR the morning Elizabeth Taylor died asking the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro to lower their rainbow flag in her honor. My request was denied. Then, I sent an email to the president of MUMC, the executive director and president of the Castro Benefit District, and our Supervisor Scott Weiner asking each to consider the need to address the issue of the current control of the flag and, in my opinion, the inadequacies in regard to its usage. Later, I spoke to the board of the CBD which considered my concern, but decided not to act.

Now Ruth Brinker [founder of Project Open Hand hot meals program] has passed away. The rainbow flag went unlowered again. I wrote the letter I've in posted in the window to the BAR, hoping to bring attention to the issue once more. The BAR has not published it. (In their defense, it's a long letter and perhaps inappropriate for their "Letters to the Editor" column.) I don't know why they decided not to publish it.

With no recourse left, (it's difficult to keep a feisty old queen down), I decided I would post this for the community who pass my window to see. Speaking out publicly in the only way I have left, in at least this small way I have stood up for Elizabeth Taylor and Ruth Brinker, and my belief that our community should have lowered the rainbow flag in honor of their incredible work on behalf of many from our community who no longer have mouths which with to cheer their great-heartedness.

Upon returning last Thursday evening from a week’s business in the South, it was with a mixture of sadness and gratitude that I noted the passing of kind, generous, caring Ruth Brinker. And that was followed by incredulity.


What is wrong with our community? First Elizabeth Taylor, and now, Ruth. These two straight women were giants in our community’s lives. They did what they didn’t have to do but felt compelled to do out of an excess of loving kindness for their fellow creatures, albeit queer ones.

Are we nothing more than a community of ingrates to let these women pass and not publicly acknowledge our appreciation of all they did for us by lowering the very flag which is inevitably shown in all the television coverage memorializing their deaths? Sad irony and shame on us.

Apparently, no one asked the MUMC board to so honor her by lowering the Rainbow Flag. This is the silence which equals death. But that loud silence is perhaps in part due to the board’s previous great recalcitrance in regard to affirming prior requests. This then is the silence which annihilates life AND death.

What does this say about such a board, guardians and protectors of the flag which is our symbol to the world, said board needing a community request before they decide to lower the flag for such heras of the LGBT community as Elizabeth Taylor and Ruth Brinker?

I ask you: Is that class no longer taught here? You know the one I mean: It’s called Basic Humanity 101?

This is an appropriate and honorable function of having a flag. No one ever wants to need to lower it, but from time to time wonderful, important, giving people amongst us die, and this is how we honor them. We stop what we are doing, we lower the flag, we take off our hats and bow our heads in silence and say a prayer of thankfulness that in a world which is too often bitter and cruel, we had the good fortune to have these good people grace our lives by walking for a time among us.

It is a moment in which we manifest our shared brotherhood and sisterhood, our basic humanity, our oneness.

And then, after a discreet period of time, the flag is raised once more in Pride, and once again we go about the business of our daily lives.

That we work now to correct this inequity in regard to our Community’s flag and its many functions is more important than ever. MUMC, the CBD, our Supervisor Scott Weiner, and others could consider joining forces and working together to spearhead an effort on our behalf.

They could start by scheduling a public forum at which a reasonable dialogue could be opened to engage those with both converging and opposing ideas in a civilized discussion. Perhaps a new method regarding the raising of finances needed for upkeep and use of the flag could be developed, shouldered more by the community’s many neighborhood organizations and foundations than it is now.

This might be accomplished through the formation of a more inclusive and responsive committee which could shepherd the flag into our future.

MUMC is certainly to be commended for having assumed the role of caretaker of our flag for more than a decade. It has been very costly and they have been dutiful and responsible stewards all these years. We are indebted to their efforts and generosity which have preserved the flag so it could grow into the international symbol of LGBT Pride it has become.

For saving it, they are to be commended. Let the mayor make a proclamation. Let a medal or a piece of parchment be inscribed. Let a plaque be placed at the flag’s foot in gratitude. But their current policies are parochial and uncompromising and their obvious lack of understanding in regard to the powerful symbol the Rainbow Flag has become in the world is manifestly clear for all to see.

MUMC, the Emperor, is wearing no clothes. If the organization to which I belong realized that fact, its board would not be afraid to honor the passing of illustrious partisans and friends of LGBT people’s struggle for Civil Rights and equal participation in the life of the world at large for fear some tourists who bring dollars into the pockets of merchants like myself will be disappointed not to be able to take a picture while they are here of our flag flying high and proud and perhaps decide not return to the Castro a second time.

Personally, I’d use the moment as an opportunity to tell them why the flag had been lowered on that particular day. Educate ’em. Why don’t we? That’s something different they could take away with them when they got back on their planes and buses. Or tell ’em to extend their visit, stay around in San Francisco one more day. We’ll raise the flag again tomorrow in Pride Everlasting. They can snap their pictures then.

The LGBT communities of the world look to the Castro to lead. The straight world recognizes our power and importance. Having been forced to at first by our many years of activism and our dying brothers in great numbers, it is slowly learning to accept us and now considers us more and more in the equation. Advances. Thanks to Harvey Milk and many others before and after him who have fought on behalf of our place in the sun; it is our legacy.

Let us use our flag which represents that legacy for all it’s worth: fly it proudly, lower it in honor when it is called for, and raise it always again to wave in hope of a better world for everyone.

As for Ruth Brinker: Farewell, rare and lovely lady with the great heart. My sympathy to her family and her many friends.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

IRS 990:
AIDS Fdtn of Chicago to Post 3-Years' Filings

(Munar, in a 2010 photo from

The new issue of POZ magazine arrived recently in the mail, and contained a profile of David Ernesto Munar who's the executive director of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and also a person with AIDS.

Conducted by Oriol R. Gutierrez Jr., the POZ chat with Munar gave me a sense of his nuanced thinking on Latinos and HIV, cocktails and side effects, and new methods of treatment-driven prevention.

Over the years, I've had good dealings with AFC's prevention chief Jim Pickett, and long admired his Life Lube project that beautifully combines messages promoting gay wellness, STD prevention, healthy sex, and uses images of real gay/bi/queer/trans men of many shapes, colors and ages.

I made a mental note to check out the organization's parent web site and see if it included any IRS 990s, and when I did and saw no tax filings were disclosed decided to reach out to Munar directly and request the addition of the filings to the site. Late this afternoon, he received an email request from me to join the fabulous and expanding club of AIDS advocacy and service organizations agreeing to post at least three most current IRS 990s.

A trusted source of mine in Chicago told me on the phone that they had much respect for Munar, his commitment to transparency and that it would be surprising if he didn't get with the fiscal transparency campaign I'm waging. Very happy to report my source was accurate in assessing Munar.

When I returned home from the YMCA, this wonderful note from Munar was waiting for me:

Thanks for your voicemail. We will gladly post 990s for the the past three years on our website. We just launched a redesigned website earlier this year and are still populating it. We'll work on this in the next week or so.

So terrific to add AIDS Foundation of Chicago to the list of nonprofits agreeing to expand their commitment to transparency as part of their democratic engagement with the public.  Can't wait to see their filings!

In about a month's time, I've persuaded AIDS United, GLAAD and the National Association of People With AIDS to post three tax filings, while also persuading the Long Island Association for AIDS Care to post one 990 and the National Center for Lesbian Rights share their 2010 filing.

Now, if we could only Lorri Jean at the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Center and Paul Kawata at the National Minority AIDS Council, two mature nonprofit directors who've been key leaders of AIDS Inc for decades, would like a valuable lesson from the newish kid on the block - Munar - and let the sun shine in, I'd really be happy.

Kudos to David Ernesto Munar - a new, more responsible AIDS nonprofit leader. 
Milk Club Calls for Public Control
of Castro's Rainbow Flag

Last night was the general membership meeting of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club at the Women's Building on 18th Street in the Mission, and it was packed because folks were voting on whom to endorse in the November races for mayor, district attorney and sheriff. Every seat was occupied and dozens lined the sides and back of the room.

I was there to use public comment time to educate everyone about the campaigns to reclaim the enormous rainbow flag and pole at Harvey Milk Plaza for the public, and to rid public sidewalks of the empty news racks cluttering up the Castro. As I gave a thumbnail sketch of the matters, a smattering of applause went up because club members approved of my basic demand: public space controlled by the public.

One of the two club leaders running the meeting, either Stephany Ashley or David Waggoner, I can't remember which, called on longtime trans and labor leader Gabriel Haaland after I sat down.

Gabriel said it was not enough just to listen to my presentation, but that he wanted the club to go on the record calling for genuine community/public control of the incredibly important piece of city-owned real estate at Market and Castro Streets.

He made a motion asking the club to support efforts to return control of the rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza to the public, and that the public and LGBT community, not just the private Merchants of Upper Market/Castro, should decide when the flag flies at half-mast or another flag is hoisted.

Stephany asked if anyone in the crowd had anything to say, pro or con, about the motion and no one raised a hand to speak. However, a few people near me whispered "you troublemaker" as they smiled at me.

The motion was restated by Gabriel, then all those in favor were asked to raise their pink post-its, which were given to all voting members of the political club, and since I was in the front row I had to turn around to see who was voting for the motion and too many hands with pink slips to count were raised high in the steamy room.

There were no votes against and no abstentions, so the motion easily passed and hearty clapping filled the room, as I said thank you to Gabriel and the club members for their important support.

I believe it's safe to say that if Harvey Milk were alive today, he would totally endorse a public process governing the rainbow flag in the heart of the gayborhood of America's gayest city. There is no way, unless he forgot his ideals, that he would embrace the current private MUMC ruling over the flag.

Oh, in other club news, they announced today who won their endorsements last night and their positions on propositions. From the club:

With nearly 200 ballots cast at our August General Membership meeting, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club is proud to make the following endorsements:
John Avalos for Mayor

David Onek #1 for DA, Sharmin Bock #2 for DA

Ross Mirkarimi for Sheriff

Ballot Measures:

Yes on A
Yes on B
no position on C
No on D
No on E
No on F
Yes on G
No on H

IRS 990s:
NAPWA = Yes; NMAC/Kawata = No

There is bad news and good news on the AIDS Inc sunshine front today. Let's start with the former first.

The National Minority AIDS Council, which last year had revenue of $6.1 million of which $2.9 million was in the form of federal grants, is not joining the club of groups who practice fiscal transparency on their sites.

Earlier this afternoon, I reached executive director Paul Kawata's executive assistant Kim Ferrell on the telephone and she stated the following regarding my request for them to share their three most-current IRS 990s: "We're not going to be posting our 990s on our site at this time. You'll have to speak with Paul for more information."

I told Ferrell that her boss has ignored my voice mails and emails in the past week, requesting dialogue with him about transparency, so I was unsure how to get any details out of him. Wish I knew why Kawata and NMAC fear sharing their IRS 990s on their site, but I hold out hope that they eventually will see the light on this matter.

In the good news column is the National Association of People With AIDS. Peter Kronenberg, who is responsible for communications at the group told me on the phone today that they've agreed to my request to get with the transparency agenda and very soon too.

Kronenberg said: "Early next week, the IRS 990s for NAPWA will go up on our web site. We'll be posting three recent 990s for fiscal years 2008, 2009 and 2010."

Yes, I'm pleased that the leaders at NAPWA, like the advocacy organization AIDS United which last week quickly posted three years' worth of tax filings, recognize the importance of fiscal transparency. NAPWA, of all HIV service groups, should be leading the charge for increased sunshine at all HIV nonprofits.

Let the sun shine in!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DPW Pushes Consolidating 
SF's Empty News Racks

After posting my photo essay on Sunday about the twelve mostly empty news racks cluttering up the Castro very limited sidewalk spaces, I poked around the Department of Public Works' pages for the racks.

One page contains info for publishers and distributors of recycled tree publications, about how to apply for stocking the boxes. Another DPW page is all about the News Rack Advisory Committee, containing a slim number of meeting agendas, and that page is being fully updated this week, in part because I've requested agendas and minutes for the last year.

Many questions about removing or consolidating the news racks came up while reading DPW's pages, and today I spoke with two folks from the mapping division, which is responsible for the racks. DPW employees Eric Lee and Grace Moore provided me very useful details about the past, present and future issues related to the racks and who is responsible for them.

First of all, I must correct the misinformation of my Sunday post on this matter, in which I said the street furniture belongs to JCDeaux. The racks are the property Clear Channel, which is also responsible for their maintenance. I appreciate DPW's Moore correcting my mistake.

Moore informed me that back in November 2010, at the advisory committee, DPW proposed consolidating some of the street furniture for newspapers and guides. The agenda and proposed changes to the news rack ordinance are here in zip format.

In February, DPW released a 7-page brochure about consolidating the racks and the evolving ordinance, and Moore told me that on the second page listing proposed modifications, the one of most importance to me was number five: Section 184.12 g(2)(e) establishes guidelines to consolidate clusters of pedmount units at intersections, where possible and to modify the size of individual units where possible.

Regarding number of news racks on San Francisco sidewalks, the number in spring 2010 was at 702, and approximately 100 additional pieces of such street furniture are added annually. Ugh.

Moore and her colleague Eric Lee are well aware of the high numbers of vacant boxes of current news racks, and believe the serious decline in publications and guides using them is due to drastic changes in the newspaper and business/real estate guides' industries. Of course, growth of online sources for previously printed information sources has also played a role in the declining need for street distribution of publications.

It pleases me that DPW has these consolidation plans in the works, and that DPW employees are fully aware of so many racks sitting empty and useless on the public sidewalk. Reclaiming any square inch of public space back from the likes of the for-profit Clear Channel and JCDeaux corporations is something I hope other advocates of making our great city more pedestrian-friendly will soon embrace and speak in favor of at civic meetings.

We also need to see the mayoral candidates present policy papers regarding how to give the people of San Francisco more of our public real estate back to the citizens.

Memo to mayoral candidates: If you have such papers already written and ready for public inspection, please send them my way. I want to bone up on where you stand on removing or consolidating the news racks.
LA Gay Center:
990s Too Voluminous to Post

When it comes to dealing with tax exempt organizations about their IRS 990s, I've been around the block a few times and have heard many weak excuses why an organization won't disclose the filings on its web site. The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center (pictured) is just the latest nonprofit to say their 990s are too big to post for site visitors to read.

This note came from the center's spokesperson Stevie St. John, explaining their institutional eosophobia, fear of sunshine:

I’m responding to your inquiries regarding the Center’s website. We post our Annual Reports on the site each year, including our financials, but not the voluminous 990’s. If that should change, we will be sure to let you know.

The 2010 filing for the center, as posted on the Guide Star site, is all of 41-pages. Click here to read the center's three most-current filings on Guide Star.

Speaking of linking to those 990s at that outside site, I've emailed and left voice mail for the center's executive director Lorri Jean to consider at least linking to her filings at Guide Star, if her $46 million group truly cannot afford the space on their site to just post three 990s.

BTW, $9.6 million of the center's revenue comes from government grants, according to their latest tax filing on page 9, and that amount is one more big reason why it's important for Jean to get over the reluctance to disclose her 990s.

Let me say again, I salute the LA center for posting six-years of annual reports. However, that is not nearly enough voluntary fiscal transparency for an organization with such a substantial budget.

While this center can't make room for any 990s, compare that absence with the eight, yes 8, years of IRS 990s posted at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center's About Us page. Kudos to the SF center's executive director Rebecca Rolfe and her board of directors, for this wonderful large amount of institutional transparency. (So nice to write a few positive words about a gay service organization!)

Another example of a gay center providing at least three years' tax filings, is the New York City LGBT Services Center. Click here to read their 990s.

It's time for the LA center to emulate the fiscal transparency of the SF and NYC centers.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Remove 12 Empty News Racks
Off Castro's Cluttered Sidewalks

[Correction: The racks are not the property and responsibility of JCDeaux. Those duties belong to Clear Channel. My apologies for the error.]

The following request has been sent to members of the Castro Benefit District, a publicly-funded influential civic associated dedicated to improving the streets and other important aspects of this neighborhood.

By the way, according to Department of Public Works, the primary city body responsible for the public-private contract San Francisco has with the JCDeaux company, a deal struck when Willie Brown was mayor, as of March 2010 there were 702, seven-hundred-and-two, fixed pedestal news rack units allocated around our city. Quite a high figure, that should be reduced with the gayborhood leading the way.

Dear CBD Board Members,

I wish to place the following public safety matter on the agenda at your next monthly meeting - removal of certain news racks blighting the Castro.

After your recent rejection of a request to remove the benches at Harvey Milk Plaza, a public space, I spoke with other Castro stakeholders about the JC Deaux news racks that clutter the gayborhood's sidewalks. Unlike the benches that provide seating for folks, the racks have microscopic value to the community.

By and large, folks favored removing the racks for several reasons starting with the majority of slots for paper publications are always empty. Many people said the racks impede pedestrians and suck up precious public sidewalk space in a high-density business, entertainment and residential multi-use district.

News racks on the streets of the Castro are as necessary as telephone booths with doors for privacy.

I am requesting that the CBD debate sending a letter to the appropriate city agencies to begin removing all of these large metal-and-plastic pieces of street furniture, or at least take 80% them off our sidewalks. Doing so would immediately make our quality of life rise due to a more beautiful and cleaner streetscape.

There is no benefit gained allowing the property of JCDeaux to impede the assemble of individuals or crowds, interrupt the walking flow of thousands of pedestrians, many of whom are public transit users where every second counts to catch a connection on Muni.
On August 21, I strolled the densest part of the Castro for foot traffic and took photos of all the news racks, to show you how much public space they occupy. I also tallied some important numbers to consider.

Within a four-block radius of Castro and Market Streets, there are twelve news racks, containing a total of ninety big slots and ten small slots. Given that the slots, regardless of size, rarely are full of any newspapers or publication, the question must be asked why we allow them to remain on our sidewalks.

If the CBD and the city agree and move to seriously reduce the street clutter of the racks, publications would still be able to sell or distribute their products, returning more public space back to the public and protecting the First Amendment rights of the press.

I ask that you place on the agenda for the September general meeting of the CBD, discussing of curbing the infestation of news racks. Thank you.
 Here are the photos:

Rack #1: 17th Street and Jane Warner Plaza.

Rack #2: Harvey Milk Plaza, upper level.

Racks #3, left, #4, right: Harvey Milk Plaza and Castro Street.

Racks #3 and #4: Milk Plaza & Castro, backsides.

Rack #5: Lining Castro Street, near Walgreens.

Rack #6: On 18th Street near Castro.

Rack #7: Again on 18th Street, next to #6, against Walgreens'.

Rack #8: Castro Street, just past 18th.

Rack #9: BofA Plaza, right side.

Rack #10: BofA Plaza, left site.

Rack #11: On 18th Street, just past Castro.

Rack #12: Castro, a few steps from 18th Street.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sup. Wiener MIA on 
Castro Muni-Related Death

The new head of the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agenc, Ed Reiskin, was on the scene after a tragic Muni accident occurred in the Castro, Supervisor Scott Wiener's district, on Friday afternoon. Missing in action was Wiener, both on the scene and on the web.

In his capacity as a supervisor, he is a member of the County Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and he had nothing to say to the press about the deadly run-in of a Muni shuttle and a pedestrian named Emily Dunn, age 23 near 18th and Hartford Streets.

Dunn was declared dead at 2:45 pm, according to the San Francisco Fire Department.

Check out the links and see how Wiener's name is absent:

Associated Press, Bay Area Reporter blog, Bay City News (via SF Appeal), KGO TV, SF Chronicle, SF Examiner here and here, and the SF Weekly.

Not only is Wiener not quoted, none of the stories say a thing about attempting to reach him for a comment. How sad is that?

Wait, there's more. It wasn't just text-driven reports to render Wiener invisible, he also can't be found in this three-minute report that ran on KGO-TV:

Fifteen-hours after Dunn was struck by the Muni bus, Wiener on his personal web site issued a bland, terse statement about the loss of life on the street in his district that compounds his dereliction of duty the day of the fatal accident:

08/20/2011 - 6:30am

This is terrible. My heart goes out to the victim and her family. I know that Muni and SFPD will perform a thorough investigation and take appropriate action.

This statement raises several questions.

Will he be asking tough questions about pedestrian safety issues in the Castro, calling to examine the use of the shuttle bus or planning a community meeting to address these and other issues, such as the safety trainings for Muni drivers and the record for the driver at-fault in this fatality?

What about bringing concerned Castro citizens to a public forum, with representatives of the SF MTA executive circle, Muni management, the drivers' union and pedestrian safety promoters? Does Wiener see that as part of his democratic engagement with the district?

Oh, and why was he MIA at the accident scene and did it take 15 hours for him to make the most bloodless of public expressions of sympathy, and go out of his way to show solidarity with two bureaucracies?

Dunn's death in the Castro on Friday is the ninth such fatality and demand more of an assertive response and plan of action from the man who is the gayborhood's supervisor.
SFPD Tickets Biker on Market Street: Pix

One of the biggest dangers to me as a slow biker, especially on Market Street, are the many bikers who don't respect any traffic rules or common sense, so I've been pleased with the recent crackdown by the San Francisco Police Department on bikers violating the law on the city's main thoroughfare.

A post yesterday at the SF Streets blog delved into whether the cops are selectively targeting bikers on Market Street, and provided this background:

Last Friday, as part of SFPD’s traffic safety campaign [pdf], officers beefed up enforcement at 5th and Market and issued a total of 83 citations, mostly to bicyclists, but not a single driver was cited.

Here’s the breakdown, according to numbers provided to Streetsblog by SFPD: 30 bicyclists were cited for running red lights, 21 bicyclists were ticketed for riding on the sidewalk, 16 were cited for “bikes without brakes,” 3 “skateboarders on the sidewalk” were given tickets, and 1 pedestrian was cited for “jaywalking.” The SFPD said “12 misc. citations” were handed out, but withheld specifics. ...

Absent from the post were any photos from the current enforcement program, and I have pix to share from yesterday, showing a motorcycle cop citing a bicyclist. I took these pix, sorry for the two fuzzy images, around 5:30 PM on Friday at the corner of Market and 4th Streets and the cop and biker stood in front of the Starbucks outlet near the old Virgin store.

Let's hope this crackdown is one piece of a larger effort to address the havoc and dangers posed on Market and other San Francisco streets by bike riders who don't give a damn about red lights, pedestrians in crosswalks or on sidewalks, or slow bikers.

Friday, August 19, 2011

AIDS United Posts 3 IRS 990s;
LA Gay Center Hides Filings

Fiscal transparency in the AIDS nonprofit world took a big step forward today, when the executive director of the AIDS United public policy outfit kept his word to me to disclose his agency's IRS 990s after I requested he and other executive directors do so on my blog yesterday.

My follow up email to the groups mentioned yesterday produced this note from Mark Ishaug: Hey Michael. Good to finally meet you if only by email. Our site will be updated soon. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. All the best.

What he meant by soon was today by the end of business back in DC, where his group is headquartered. This image comes from the group's financials page:

Quite a nice piece of eye-candy, for this fiscal transparency watchdog.  FYI, the 2010 filing shows AIDS United had a $14.3 million budget last year, Mark Ishaug's salary was a reasonable $201,940, and they received $4.3 million in federal funding.

I extend hearty thanks to Mark Ishaug for promptly understanding the need to share his IRS 990s and simply making three-years' worth open for public inspection. His fine example will be used to prod other nonprofit leaders to do likewise.

Unfortunately, the three other nonprofits mentioned in yesterday's post - the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center, the National Minority AIDS Council, the National Association of People With AIDS - have not acted to jump on the disclosure bandwagon, despite emails and voice mails from me to executives and other staffers over the past two-days.

All three should disclose a minimum of three most recent filings, more are always welcome as Food and Friends and PFLAG do with five and eight respectively, but the $46 million LA gay center stands out to me as the most egregious of the three groups because they have the most money and resources to be able to instantly disclose six-years' worth of IRS 990s.

The center should be ashamed of itself for leading folks to think six-years of annual reports is all the fiscal transparency they need to produce on their site, omitting that they're a 501(c)3 organization (when such info must lead visitors to ask where the 990 is), and not even embedding a link to Guide Star or the Foundation Center.

There is no reason for executive director Lorri Jean to fear sunshine. Her financials page is woefully unacceptable:

Quite frankly, I'm surprised, given the large budget of the LA center and the many reporters and bloggers down there who follow the agency and report on their fundraising projects, that Lorri Jean has been pressured to post six-years of tax filings.

I'll be contacting the center, and NMAC and NAPWA next week, to encourage them to emulate AIDS United and post many of their IRS 990s for the public to examine.
IRS 990s: 
PFLAG's Eight, HRC's One, NGLTF's One

When Mike Bento of Food and Friends emailed me this week to say his group has posted five-years' worth of their IRS 990s on their site, I thought the group would win a sunshine prize for voluntarily posting the most tax filings among gay and AIDS service groups. Well, I'm happy to say my thinking was incorrect.

Poking around the site for Parents,Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, I was pleasantly surprised to see their financial info page discloses eight years' of tax filings, in addition to other reports:

If there is another gay or AIDS nonprofit out there sharing so many IRS 990s, I've not found their web site yet. PFLAG unquestionably wins the Gay Sunshine Award for Most Disclosed IRS 990s and they set a valuable example for every other nonprofit group to emulate.

PFLAG's latest filing shows their budget last year was at $2.6 million, a figure worth noting because with such a relatively small amount of revenue, they clearly have an enormous commitment to fiscal disclosure.

On the other hand, the Human Rights Campaign and the HRC Foundation, with $9.9 million and $32.1 million budgets reported in their respective 2010 filings with the IRS, are cheapskates in terms of sharing 990s on their site. Displaying their fear of sunshine, the HRC and HRC Foundation with a combined revenue stream of $42 million, can only afford to post a single 990 for each on their annual report page:

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is similarly tight-fisted about fiscal transparency. On their About Us page, just one-year's annual report is available for public inspection along with the 2010 IRS 990 for their foundation and nothing is posted for just NGLTF. Like HRC, NGLTF has two components. With $6.6 million in revenue, I think this group can afford to imitate PFLAG's leadership on fiscal disclosure:

Both HRC and NGLTF need to get over their eosophobia and immediately deliver on their respective web sites, way more than a single year's IRS 990. There is no excuse for their paucity of fiscal sunshine, especially in comparison to what PFLAG is doing in terms of transparency to the community.

Again, kudos to the folks at PFLAG for sharing eight-years' of their tax filings. Let the sun shine in!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lambda Legal's Kevin Cathcart
Backs Medal of Freedom for Kameny

The campaign to persuade President Obama to bestow the Medal of Freedom on gay movement pioneer Frank Kameny picked up an important endorsement today.

Kevin Cathcart (pictured), the longtime executive director Lambda Legal, after a few emails and voice mails from me, added his voice to the chorus of gay folks who agree Frank has earned this honor. Here is what Kevin had to say this afternoon:

When Frank Kameny first stood up for his rights in the late 1950’s, he stood up for all of us, and the fight that he helped to ignite more than fifty years ago is still our fight today. 

There has been so much progress toward LGBT equality since then, it is sometimes hard to imagine the courage and vision it took to do what he did: he spoke up, organized, took to the streets and also took his challenge to the Supreme Court. 

At Lambda Legal, we know what it takes to fight discrimination in the courts, and we honor his legacy. Those of us in the LGBT rights movement owe him a great deal of gratitude and respect – and the country owes him that, as well, for insisting that we live up to our ideals as a nation. 

I urge the president to award Dr. Kameny the Medal of Freedom – he stood up for freedom for us all.

Thanks, Kevin, for this statement. We're going to need lots of voices and pressure to make this campaign a success, and it's my sincere hope that Kevin is the first of many executive directors at major gay institutions to embrace the campaign on Frank's behalf.

(Top photo courtesy of Lambda Legal; bottom photo credit: DC Virago.)
Fear of IRS Sunshine:
AIDS Fund, LA Gay Center, NMAC, NAPWA

[Correction: My headline should read AIDS United. Apologies.]

Eosophobia is the fear of dawn or daylight and I believe it applies to gay and AIDS service groups that do not currently disclose at least three-years' worth their IRS 990s on their sites.

Yesterday, I looked at several nonprofits and if they presently post their filings, and for how many years. Let's now examine four groups that not only fail to post 990s but also don't link to them on the Guide Star or Foundation Center sites.

1. AIDS United. This DC-based group formed when the National AIDS Fund and AIDS Action groups merged into one nonprofit. It's a public policy incubator and doles out grants to local efforts. Their publications page shares two annual reports and two other self-promotional reports, no IRS 990s are disclosed for visitors to read and no link is embedded to the filings at the 990 archive sites.

2. Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center. The Southern California services agency is one of the richest gay groups around with $46 million budget and yet they skimp on sharing their 990s on their financial statements page. That page includes six-years' worth of annual reports and it's terrific so many are posted for all to read, but executive director Lorri Jean, a very smart movement veteran, clearly is not interested in making fiscal transparency a key component to the center.

The 2010 IRS 990 for the center, as posted at Guide Star, shows the revenue rose from $45 million in 2009 up to $46 million in 2010 and Jean's salary is now at $371,116. That amount seems fair enough for someone managing so many millions of dollars, and should be voluntarily made public at the center's site with the posting of the filing.

3. National Minority AIDS Council. Headquartered in Washington, NMAC serves as a conference facilitator and support network for minority HIV service organizations. At their About and Publications pages no IRS 990s are disclosed, same for links to the forms posted at 990 archival sites.

NMAC's 2010 filing is posted at the Foundation Center and shows revenue fell from $8.4 million in the previous year down to $6.1 million. They reported receiving $2.9 million in government grants, a nice chunk of change and executive director Paul Kawata's salary is listed at $229,534.

4. National Association of People With AIDS. They maintain an office in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, and their official mission is serving people living with AIDS. Their page for annual reports omits 990s and links to their filings at archival sites, and only two annual reports are posted. 

NAPWA's 2009 IRS filing posted at Guide Star shows revenue was at $1.5 million, with the bulk of money, $902,151, coming from government grants and Frank Oldham the executive director earning $125,800. When your funding stream is primarily from the federal government, it simply cannot be described as a grassroots organization whose mission is PWAs first, in IMO.

For AIDS United, the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Center, the National Minority AIDS Council and the National Association of People With AIDS to keep their IRS 990s hidden from public inspection at their respective sites is wrong and a serious blot on their commitment to transparency.

Today I'm calling on these nonprofits to immediately disclose their three most-current 990s, and ask them to also consider following the example of Food and Friends in DC and share five-years' worth of filings.

The only cure for institutional eosophobia is consistent sunshine, which brings groups closer to fulfilling their commitments to democratic engagement with donors and the general public.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

IRS Sunshine Galore:
Food & Friends, GLAAD, LIAAC, NCLR

The past ten-days have been full of beautiful fiscal transparency at several gay and AIDS service organizations, some more cooperative and committed to sunshine than others, but all-in-all some good developments to report. Let's go over the groups and their sunshine moves in alphabetical order.

1. Food and Friends. This  DC-area hot meals program has long faced criticism over the high salary of the executive director Craig Shniderman. Last year he voluntarily agreed to reduce his salary, which as at $333,800 and IMO could be lowered even more, but let's laud him for this reduction.

Mike Bento, the secretary of the board sent me this note of his own volition the other day:

I know you’re always curious to see this, so I thought I’d send [the 2010 IRS 990] directly. We filed it today and its posted on the website, along with the 990 for 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006. Craig has voluntarily declined regular increases that were negotiated in his contract, so his 2010 compensation is slightly less than his 2008 compensation.

Executive salary concerns aside, Food and Friends, like last year, gets a Gay Sunshine Award for quickly posting their latest tax filing, making this critic aware that it's available for public perusal and sharing five-years' worth of 990s on their site. The IRS requires nonprofits to make just three-years' filing open for the public, and does not yet mandate web-posting, making the disclosures of Food and Friends quite noteworthy. 

All gay and AIDS organizations should follow this group's fiscal disclosure example. They receive another Gay Sunshine Award this year.

2. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. This worthless group that serves as a bridge between corporations seeking gay dollars, actively solicits donations from media outlets they're supposedly watchdogging and hands out useless awards at drunken galas, had to be forced last year under Jarrett Barrios' leadership to finally post a single IRS 990.

In keeping with their extreme hesitation to democratically engage the community and adhere to basic voluntary transparency, I had to nudge GLAAD leaders in recent weeks to not only post their 2010 filing but also push them to post their 2008 filing. Click here to read GLAAD's tax filings. Since the disclosure was forced, they win no Gay Sunshine Award.

3. Long Island Association for AIDS Care. This organization was in the news in the spring when the New York Post reported on their leader Gail Barouh's $355,000 salary. After receiving a tip about Barouh also being compensated as head of BiasHELP and LINCS, two social tolerance agencies housed in the same building as LIAAC, I checked their 990s and combined Barouh's three salaries to arrive at a $526,000 take-home figure for her last year.

None of her groups posted any tax filings, and I contacted all three to ask about the 2010 filings. The director of finance for the groups, Maria Jacinto, sent this note:

Thank you for your inquiry. Please be advised that LIAAC 2009 990 was amended in May of this year and is available on LIAAC’s website. As of yet, the amended return does not appear to have been posted on Guidestar even though we sent it to them already. Regarding our 2010 990 form, we have requested for an extension since we had to amend our 2009 990. Please check our website for posting which will be before the extension deadline of November 15, 2011.

The LIAAC 2009 IRS 990, which last week was not on their site, has been added to it along with a letter explaining some confusing info and figures in the filing. Click here to read both.

BiasHELP's About Us page and the same page for LINCS have yet to share any IRS 990s. That should change and all three Barouh organizations should immediately disclose three-years' worth of filings. No Gay Sunshine Award for any of these groups until they post their three most current 990s.

4. National Center for Lesbian Rights. This San Francisco-based advocacy group last year, with fine voluntary disclosure from executive director Kate Kendell, publicly committed to posting their three most current 990s. They're doing that and they also say the name of the person to contact, Kris Hermanns, with a link to her addy.

To better help the public understand their finances, NCLR has this info posted above their three tax filings:

Our 2010 budget was $3.6 million, 84% of which is spent directly on our legal programs and services. As for our revenue, 75% of our annual budget is raised from individual donors, with major gifts of $1,500 or more making up about 40% of our total income. Additional funding comes from foundations and corporations, along with pro-bono services contributed by co-counsel.

Piques the appetite for more details, that easily available with a click, wouldn't you agree?

NCLR receives a Gay Sunshine Award for all of these steps and serving, like Food and Friends, as a beacon of transparency that is voluntary and worth citing.