Wednesday, August 31, 2011

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.

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