Friday, January 31, 2014

Castro Theatre Hosts Lesbian Tech Summit in February

This invitation was a surprise to receive this week from Chris Cassidy of the Hustle Labs public relations outfit:

I'm working with the wonderful folks at Lesbians Who Tech, and they wanted me to offer you a press pass for their upcoming summit.

Lesbians Who Tech is hosting its inaugural summit in San Francisco's historic Castro Theatre on February 27 and 28. Sponsored by Google, the Lesbians Who Tech Summit will bring hundreds of members from the organization's eleven chapters across North America and Europe. 

What surprised me is that our iconic theatre is hosting such an event because it seems such an inconvenient site, unlike say a hotel conference hall or suite of meeting rooms. The theater had muddy acoustics, I don't imagine the lighting will be great for note-taking and the seats lack surface space to put one's notepad or laptop and other electronic devices.

Another way I look at this is as a creative way for the theatre's owner to fill the seats and turn a profit. Curious about this summit being the first of its kind at the theatre, I asked Cassidy what she knew:

To my knowledge, it is not just the first conference dedicated to queer women (and allies) in tech, but also the first tech conference at the Castro Theatre. To be sure, though, I'd have to circle back with the folks there.

The November edition of the Castro Courier reported on the history and restoration of the theater's cherished organ, and this sentence stood out:

The owners of the Castro Theatre are very excited and supportive, partly because they envision the theatre as moving more toward a performing arts center than just showing movies.

This echoes what I was told in December 2011 by Bill Longen, the former booker for the theatre, about a radical shift in focus for the venue.

I'm looking forward to checking out the lesbian tech summit and will learn first-hand how well (or not) the Castro Theatre holds up as a site for conferences.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Russian Gay Transparency: HRC, American Apparel& Foreign Agents Law

(Photo courtesy of American Apparel.)

My campaign following the money flowing to an assortment of Russian LGBT cultural organizations from American nonprofits and the American Apparel company, has produced initial transparency steps. Previous blogging on this topic is here, herehere and here.

A recap. The Human Rights Campaign and Arcus Foundation have raised and allocated at least $100,000 to the Russian Freedom Fund, which is passing the money along to Russian groups. I've asked how these entities do all that and either comply with or challenge Putin's laws. Anastasia Smirnova, pictured on the right, was asked to address my concerns since she was quoted in HRC materials. She writes:

It seems from your text that you understand this law as making foreign donations to Russia-based non-profits illegal. However, the law does not ban such donations – it aims at labeling certain groups in a discrediting way as ‘foreign agents’. The labeling can occur under two conditions: NGOs receive foreign finding and engage in ‘political activity’ (which is defined in an extremely open way in the law). [...]

In short, foreign donations per se are not illegal. Failure to register as a ‘foreign agent’ is if the above two conditions are in place. [...]

Registered organizations are of course abiding by Russian law and providing all documentation and reporting that is required from non-profits to the Ministry of Justice and other relevant government agencies. How exactly it is possible to mitigate risks while being transparent is not a subject of an open discussion – as no one here would like to make life difficult for any Russian organization. [...]

The donation by HRC [...] was donated to the Russia Freedom Fund, not to any Russian recipient directly. It will be further reallocated by the Fund to the activities in Russia under the issued call for proposals.

While I appreciate Anastasia's substantive response, I have respectfully disagreed with her contention that we cannot have an open discussion about these matters. When you have HRC, Arcus and their associates and supporters widely circulating solicitations for funds, and political backing, it is unwise to have any of the parties involved draw a curtain over their activities. 

This is not in any way to make light of Putin's laws against NGOs, but genuine transparency, and not just "Trust us" statements, is quite necessary. 

I asked Anastasia if the documentation Russian NGOs file with their government is available on the web, perhaps like US IRS 990 tax forms are posted online, and suggested getting it on the web would greatly enhance transparency. She has not replied and I will followup on this.

Also weighing in is Polina Andrianova:

How do we do it? First of all, we, the Russian human rights NGOs, continue to maintain that what we do is not “political activity”, but human rights activity. “Coming Out” LGBT organization, for example, is not a political organization, does not represent interests of any foreign state, but works in the interests of the Russian citizens, defending their universal rights. 

However, the prosecutors are not of the same opinion. When we are charged, we defend our rights to freedom of association in courts, and this also becomes part of our human rights work.

Secondly, there are ways for the Russian NGOs to mitigate risks. To discuss them publicly is to increase risks for us, for other Russian NGOs, and for the human rights activists working for these organizations. At this point in time, we are not willing to do that. 

My response to Polina asked for additional communication to create additional steps for transparency and expect the conversation with her, Anastasia and other interested parties will continue after the Sochi Olympics are over.

Finally, I asked leaders of the NYC-based AllOut nonprofit what are the costs to create the gear they're hawking from American Apparel with proceeds designated for unnamed Russian group, if the manufacturer is opening the books, and if so, where online is that info? Regarding any proceeds, how will they make that info transparent along with the agreements they have with American Apparel? Wesley Adams replied:

The cost of producing the apparel ranges from about 15-30% depending on the item and the size.  For items sold through one of American Apparel's brick and mortar stores, there are also additional shipping and stocking costs.  After covering these costs and the costs of promoting the sale of the apparel (e.g. pr, website, etc) that All Out and Athlete Ally have advanced, the net proceeds will be donated to several Russian LGBT groups.

American Apparel has indeed been transparent with us about their costs and has also supported the campaign out of their own pocket through PR and online advertising. [...]

For safety and security purposes, I am not able to answer your questions about the destination of the funds or method of transfer. In the last six months, All Out has raised and distributed about $55,000 to directly support organizations on the ground.

As with Anastasia and Polina, followup questions were sent to Wesley, especially about getting this info and more transparency details posted to the AllOut and American Apparel sites and I hope he will soon enough address my concerns. Russian gay transparency is only beginning and must expand in the coming months.

Which 7 SF Supervisors Voluntarily Released Their Calendars?

There needs to be more voluntary sunshine from our elected officials and to increase transparency, I am sharing the December 2013 calendars of seven members of the Board of Supervisors and the Clerk of the Board. Unfortunately, San Francisco's Sunshine Ordinance, written by a previous slate of supervisors, exempts supervisors from requiring them to keep and share calendars. 

The ordinance states: The SEC. 67.29-5. CALENDARS OF CERTAIN OFFICIALS. The Mayor, The City Attorney, and every Department Head shall keep or cause to be kept a daily calendar wherein is recorded the time and place of each meeting or event attended by that official, with the exclusion of purely personal or social events at which no city business is discussed and that do not take place at City Offices or at the offices or residences of people who do substantial business with or are otherwise substantially financially affected by actions of the city.

A public records request was sent to ten of the supervisors, the District 8 Supervisor was exempted from my informal survey due to his legal vendetta against me. The first to reply was District 5 Supervisor London Breed: The sunshine ordinance does not require members of the board of supervisors to maintain an official calendar.

Breed copied her reply to the Clerk of the Board Angela Calvillo who seized the opportunity to engage with me about the supervisors' calendars and to her credit, she volunteered to send me her December calendar. You can read it here.

The seven supervisors who provided their December calendars to me without any qualms are as follows, with links to their calendars:

District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar;
District 3 Supervisor David Chiu;
District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang;
District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim;
District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee;
District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen;
District 11 Supervisor John Avalos.

It's my hope that the praise I now offer to these seven supervisors (and to the clerk), for their terrific voluntary acts of complying with my public records request for a one-month calendar (which is a public document regardless of what the Sunshine Ordinance says), will carry some weight for larger sunshine issues.

Big thanks to these seven supervisors and their staffs for not only releasing their December calendars in electronic format but also for doing so quickly!

Maybe Breed, along with Supervisors Mark Farrell and David Campos who never acknowledged receipt of my public records request much less shared their calendars, will join their seven colleagues in making their calendars available for public inspection.

The larger context here, which I've been pushing since last spring, is for all City department heads, whether elected or appointed, the mayor and supervisors, all of whom are our public employees, to voluntarily provide us taxpayers and voters with monthly publication of their calendars on their respective web sites. Let's start to view their calendars are time-sheets for the bosses, the taxpayers.

I am advocating doing away with placing a burden on the citizens to file requests for the calendars. Sunshining the these important public documents must be done regularly and voluntarily, so we can better keep tabs on our City employees. Let's also not overlook my efforts to sunshine the guest lists and costs of Mayor Ed Lee's City Hall parties and his various official functions.

Now, one might think San Francisco Pravda, my nickname for the Guardian, which touts itself as a fabulous government transparency advocate, would pick up on this idea and pay attention to the many calendars I've obtained and shared on the web. However, the Guardian ignores these matters and I can't get their support, I believe, because they are just too myopically focused on bicycling issues, public service unions and the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, and these bread-and-butter transparency issues I'm raising aren't on their radars.

Last week, Guardian writer Rebecca Bowe, who's got a decent sunshine reporting track record, posed and didn't answer these questions:

What if each and every public record — down to every last email, calendar appointment, or police report — were instantly uploaded to a publicly accessible database, easy to locate, and fully searchable? Would that be a check against corruption?

What if the Guardian were to report on related existing citizen's efforts? Hello, Rebecca? There is one blogger who's been advocating on these matter for years. In May 2012, I called for the fire department to make all fire incident reports available for public inspection on their City site. Last April, I obtained and shared the District Attorney's calendar, full of media appearances and pressers, and that of the Sheriff, which was very detailed with his meetings and often said who he met with.

Last week, Rebecca's colleague Steven T. Jones penned a piece titled "Local journalists starting to catch on to Airbnb's subversion of SF's rental market", in which he patted himself on the back and I don't begrudge him doing so for his trailblazing reporting:

Yet I’ve been one of the few local journalists to hound Airbnb over its illegal business model and refusal to pay nearly $2 million per year in transient occupancy taxes that it owes the city. But that may be beginning to change, as pair of mainstream local publications in the last week have cautiously waded into what outside journalists from Time magazine (which specifically mentioned my reporting on the issue)

Sure would be great if the Guardian followed the example of Time and got around to reporting on the reporting and digging I and other sunshine advocates have performed in recent years.

Again, thanks to Avalos, Calvillo, Chiu, Cohen, Kim, Mar, Tang, Yee, and their staffers!
What's in Pete Seeger's FBI File?

(Seeger with Joan Baez. Public domain photo.)

The legendary troubadour and social justice advocate Pete Seeger died this week at age 94, and when I heard the news about his death my memory bank called up times in first and second grade from the early 1960s.

My siblings and I attended public grammar school in West Caldwell, NJ, and our teachers were of the liberal and do-gooder type. We were taught folk songs of the era, including those penned or sung by Seeger, and sang them in class and during school assemblies, so I have a long connection to and appreciation of Seeger's music and politics.

During his lifetime, Seeger was under surveillance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and some of his file has already been released, but now that he has died it's time for the agency to release all of its records on him. I sent a request to the agency and suspect other activists and a few journalists have done the same, and our collective curiosity will likely lead the feds to post the Seeger file on its web site, due to widespread public interest.

Here's the reply from the agency to my request. Let's see how long it takes the feds to disclose what they hold on Seeger:

Dear Mr. Petrelis, 

The FBI has received your Freedom of Information Act/Privacy (FOIPA) request and it will be forwarded to Initial Processing for review. Your request will be processed under the provisions of FOIPA and a response will be mailed to you at a later date. 

Requests for fee waivers and expedited processing will be addressed once your request has been assigned an FOIPA request number. You will receive written notification of the FBI’s decision. 

Information regarding the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy is available at or If you require additional assistance please contact the Public Information Officer. 

Thank you, 
 David P. Sobonya

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

'Rainbow Lips' Pedestrian Crosswalk Brightens SF's Hayes Valley

(Click to enlarge.)

These photos and the video were shot this morning at the corner or Octavia Boulevard and Linden Street. Bright rainbow lips highlighting the pedestrian crosswalk not only caught my queer eye, but I think are a great safety enhancement for pedestrians. When car drivers see the lips, they're likely to slow down and look at them.

None of the dozen folks walking by, including one who said he lived on Linden Street, could answer my question about when the rainbow lips were painted on the street. Haven't a clue who created this crime, er, public safety artwork on our street. They didn't sign their name.

It would be terrific to see similar artistic expression in the crosswalks near the Russian consulate in Pacific Heights or the Russian Orthodox Church in the Castro. Don't you agree?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SF Mayor Releases 31-Page Private Calendar, Public Version Omissions

(Cropped image from the mayor's private calender for 12/16/13.)

My public records request to Mayor Ed Lee last week for his December 2013 calendar in electronic format produced that public document. It was provided to me yesterday. I have posted the 31-page PDF at my Google Docs page.

This detailed private calendar, in my view, should be voluntarily posted on the mayor's site on a monthly rolling basis. As an employee of the San Francisco taxpayers, this version of his calendar showing how he spends his time, is the time-card citizens should have access to without the burden of having to file public records request for it.

Compare what is in that version with very few of the same events listed on his public calendar made available on his web site and you'll see a very different version for public disclosure. We deserve a single calendar from Mayor Lee, not to mention disclosing of invitees and attendees at his meetings.

Let's look at just one day, Monday, December 16, and compare the two versions. The private one shows he chaired a ninety-minute lunch meeting at 1 Market Street in the office of, while his public web-posted calendar omits the meeting.

Sunshine, like water, needs to flow freely from our public employees and elected officials starting with their calendars.
3 Berkeley Cop Cars to Ticket 1 Bad Driver: Excessive Deployment?

After leaving the Pacific Film Archive's sold-out screening on Saturday, January 25, of Satyajit Ray's magnificent "The Music Room", I recorded this video shot along Bancroft Way.

A mature hippie-ish guy on a bicycle (you know the type), was standing near the scene watching the three Berkeley police officers deal with the driver, and he thought the cops were ticketing the driver for going through the red light at Telegraph Avenue. It seemed an excessive show of police power for one bad driver.

A bit further down Bancroft Way, after passing an AC Transit bus, there was a UC Berkeley campus police SUV, a Berkeley fire department paramedic rescue vehicle and a fire engine, and finally a campus police car.

I asked the three young male student jocks (I wish to know the type in the buff!!), walking on the sidewalk what was happening in the gym and they said a student had passed but was doing fine when they saw her being tended to.

One thing I learned is that it's not just San Francisco that sends out a fire engine to a medical call. Sure wish first responder resources were better utilized and just medical personnel in EMT vehicles answered medical calls.

Here's the link to my post and video from last week about a dozen San Francisco police officers arresting one drunk in the Mission. Another display of excessive police, IMHO. We all have a duty to keep tabs on our local police and first responder forces and their stewardship of taxpayer dollars and equipment.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hope For Cinema: Lessons From Sold-Out 'Music Room' Screening

As the lights began to dim, the audience at the Pacific Film Archive's screening on Saturday night of Satyajit Ray's "The Music Room" quieted their voices and an anticipatory hush filled the theater. The black-and-white credits began to roll on the screen and I was among the privileged 222 people in one of the seats for the sold-out screening.

About ten minutes before the show, I did a walk-around with my camera to record the crowd, and hopefully inspire local programmers to give us more opportunities like these, after looking at this house. Btw, the few empty purple seats were soon occupied.

This is the second Ray film to play at the PFA to a full house and many disappointed people turned away. My report and vid on the sold-out "Pather Panchali" is here. While "The World of Apu" didn't wasn't a sell-out, it was damn well-packed the previous weekend

In my view, the lessons from these screenings start with a clear indication it's the entire Ray series that is of wide interest and not just a single film or two. I expect similar full houses as the series continues and when the Apu trilogy is repeated in the summer, and believe this interest is something to build on because there is an large audience for screenings of works from the cinematic canon, and decent box office receipts to be made.

The hunger for communal cinema in the Bay Area is not limited to the significant number of maturing cineastes of a certain age, but includes a robust high number of 20- and 30-somethings (whom I've seen walk away from the PFA lobby genuinely dejected about not getting in to the Ray classics). We will turn off our computers and tablets and TV screens and other electronic devices to gather together to either see again the old works from master directors or discover them for the first time.

Thinking back to the Piers Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder series, and the Andrei Tarkovsky's "Nostalghia" restorations and new prints shown during 2013 at the PFA, the Castro Theatre, the Roxie Center and the Yerba Buena Screening Room, I recall screenings with vast numbers of seats occupied by movie lovers.

These audiences need nurturing and our savvy programming friends at the arthouses must find ways of keeping us coming back for more movies.

Maybe a series of selections from the Janus Film collection, iconic works from other distributors or thematic historical programming, say, featuring highlights from the Sight & Sound list of the 50 greatest films ever made, with the proper advance public relations would feed the hunger of film-lovers we're seeing at the PFA lately.

Support your local arthouse and keep hope for cinema alive!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My 70th Birthday: Gaiety, Depression and Baryshnikov

Chronologically speaking, today I am hitting fifty-five but in queer years it is my seventieth birthday. Still here, still queer and still kicking butt!

It's been quite a year since my last birthday, one full of plenty of gaiety with loving friends and my great family, more serious health challenges than I can to think about, quite a bit of depression in general and much grief over the suicide of my good buddy Carl Goodman, and deep happiness with my life-mate and partner Mike. We go on.

One of the treats from Mike to celebrate all my decades and our life together is seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov next weekend in a theatrical and dance performance piece based on two Anton Chekhov stories at the Berkeley Rep. Gifts to myself include seeing a restored 35mm print of Satyajit Ray's classic "The Music Room" at the Pacific Film Archive, and today I'm catching their screening of a Technicolor print of  Jean Renoir's "The River".

What's my present to Mike? I'm soon getting hearing aids for both ears. He's been on my case to get my hearing levels tested, the audiologist recommended devices and now when Mike is shouting at me to turn down the Judy Garland records, I'll be able to hear him loud and clear. Ah, the joys of ageing are fabulous with Mike at my side, giving me reason to smile every day.

Happy birthday to my fellow January 26 birthday folks Angela Davis, Ellen Degeneres and Paul Newman, not to mention everyone Down Under celebrating Australia's National Day!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Uptown Almanac: 'Rainbow Burqa' Zap Hi-Lite of Chiu v Campos Debate

(Credit: Patrick Connors, Uptown Almanac.)

Only in San Francisco, kiddies, do we see such fun zaps of political debates! Many thanks to Patrick Connors, alias UppityFag on Twitter and lots of other social media platforms, for such coverage and analysis of the highlight of the evening. Anyone care to wager money that Campos won't keep his promises to bring attention to the privatization of the rainbow flag on public land at Harvey Milk Plaza?

From the Uptown Almanac report by Patrick:

Last night, [Thursday, Jan. 23] at the SF Public Library, David Campos emerged as the champion of the people in the race to succeed Tom Ammiano in the CA State Assembly representing District 17.

Campos spoke in Spanish! He referred to his illegal immigrant roots! He made it clear that he was THE gay in the race! He introduced his newlywed HUSBAND!

David Chiu, for the most part, was like a tree in the wind.

The debate, sponsored by the San Francisco Young Democrats, was the first of the campaign between the two members of the Board of Supervisors: David Chiu (District 3) and David Campos (District 9). [...]

Highlight: Michael Petrelis' interruption early in the debate calling for a public forum on community access to the Rainbow Flag in the Castro.
Stoli's Pimp, LA Gay Center's Lorri Jean, Salary = $388,000

The sleazy and corrupt conservatives David and Charles Koch, with buckets of cash to spread around to further their profits and agendas, are behind an the Freedom Partners advocacy group based in Virginia. According to a recent Washington Post probe of that group, it has a voluntary commitment to transparency:

James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners [...] said the group has been upfront about its spending and made its tax return available online as soon as it was filed in September.

I didn't believe this but when I checked the Freedom Partners' site, sure enough, there on their About Us page was a link to their latest IRS 990.

Compare that transparency, regardless of the political differences between that group and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center whose executive director Lorri Jean has adamantly refused for years my entreaties for her to get with the voluntary sunshine agenda. Not only does she not share any IRS 990s on her site, her Financials page omits info about how the tax filings is available upon request and on GuideStar.

Just because the center's IRS 990s are at that site does not absolve them of posting the filings on the center's site, just like the Freedom Partners do. Says a lot about Jean's transparency policy that a Koch brothers funded group is more accountable than the LA gay community center.

Since GuideStar has not posted the 2012 tax filing for the center, and knowing that nonprofits must make their IRS 990s available to the public upon request the day they file with the tax agency, I sent a request to Jean and she complied with federal disclosure law. The 2012 filing was emailed to me. If you want a copy, please request it today from the center's finance director Mark Beaty:

The filing shows that Jean's salary is now at $388,000, her deputy Darryl Cumming pay is at $246,000 and other deputies's are receiving compensation well north of $150,000.

Speaking of money and the center, Jean's been pimping for Stoli vodka since the summer when she trashed activists boycotting the Russian vodka and its parent company SPI Group and the SPI North America firm. At the time, many suspected Jean was kicking activist butt and kissing Stoli's butt in hope of getting a nice fat donation from the vodka manufacturer.

This week, the unholy alliance of SPI North America announced on the Advocate's website, where it was disclosed Stoli is an advertiser of Here Media which owns the gay news site, that Jean's center has accepted a $300,000 donation.

The money is to be used to mentor LGBT leaders under the guidance of the center's executives, and it's damn frightening to think Stoli's blood money is flowing to Jean who now has the resources to mold others in her ways of pimping for rotten corporations. Such is how too many components and executives of Gay Inc operate.

Friday, January 24, 2014

AllOut's Money Trail: IRS 990s, Salaries, Russia & T-Shirts

(If you don't like the HRC "Love Conquers Hate" t-shirt money-making effort for gay Russians, you can purchase AllOut's "Principle 6" gear seen here modeled by Elina Yuvakaeva, left in hat, and Anastasia Smirnova. Courtesy photo.)

The professional advocacy organization AllOut recently issued a call to action on behalf of LGBT Russians prior to the opening of the Olympics, and their release from spokesman Guillaume Bonnet stated the following about one aspect of the demonstrations:

Dress code: RED Let's all wear red! We encourage you to wear Principle 6 branded gear:  After covering costs, proceeds from the gear will go to support Russian groups. [...] Don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions.

For a group that spends so much on web and tech expenses, according to the latest IRS 990 filing, AllOut's web site is bare bones and the release isn't posted there, but LA Frontiers has it up and Guillaume posted it to the QueeRussia group.. He was available for questions, so I sent these to him yesterday:

I would like as many details as possible about the fundraising effort with Principle 6 gear. What are the costs to create the gear, so far? Is American Apparel opening the books about these costs, and if so, where online is that info? Regarding any proceeds, how will you make that info transparent? 

Can you share the agreement between AllOut and American Apparel for this endeavor? Also, what about making the agreement between AllOut & American Apparel and the Russian groups that will receive money from the sale of the gear? 

I also think it's important to learn how you will either be challenging or complying with the foreign agents law and the hurdles Putin has placed on Russian groups accepting grants from non-Russian NGOs and such. Finally, let me know if you can share the list of Russian groups that will get grants from the sale of the products. Thanks.

My hope is that he will reply over the weekend with substantive answers, but as we wait let's go over the IRS 990 filings for the two arms of AllOut, and allow me to laud the group for its commitment to voluntary transparency by posting its most current tax filings on their website.

First up is their domestic arm Purpose Action Inc and its IRS 990 for 2012, which shows revenue of $1,780,000 and expenses totaling $364,500, with net assets at $1,400,000. They spent $173,000 fighting for gay marriage in four states, and $161,000 on AllOut's global initiatives and they claim to have engaged one millions queer persons.

AllOut's international arm is the Purpose Foundation and their IRS 990 report for 2012 shows revenue of $1,089,500, a deficit of $168,300 and net assets of $690,100.

The salaries were as follows: for president Jeremey Heimans at $115,800, executive director Andre Banks at $124,500 and chief operating officer $117,200. The sub-total for their compensation comes to $357,500, but when you add in $20,200 for employee benefits and $55,800 for payroll taxes, the total amount paid out for these three employees is $540,400.

Then for functional expenses on page 10 there is the website and technology cost of $208,400, $117,500 for campaign fees, and $49,100 for travel expenses.

Two NYC based nonprofits, the Underground Development Foundation received $13,100 and the Urban Justice Center got $60,000 from AllOut.

There are many more financial details and explanations in the IRS 990s for the two arms of AllOut and I encourage you to read them, and to share your thoughts and questions about the fiscal stewardship of the organization and leadership in charge.
Answers From Russia Freedom Fund & HRC's $100,000 Donation

Over at the QueeRussia Google group this afternoon, Julie Dorf of the Council for Global Equality has shared these details on behalf of the Russia Freedom Fund. This is in response to questions I've been raising in the past few weeks with the Human Rights Campaign, after they announced the formation of the fund and a $100,000 contribution to it. HRC quoted Anastasia Smirnova, who also received my questions this week, and no one from the group or Anastasia have replied to me.

That said, I'm pleased to pass along these details and appreciate this requested transparency and accountability. However, I also advocate for regular disclosure about funds raised, from whom and amounts given, and general info about how the money is being used in Russia.

There is also still a very legitimate need for HRC to answer my questions, and those from other bloggers and reporters, regarding their international and Russian-specific advocacy and fundraising. I see Julie's note as the first of many steps necessary in this transparency process.

Julie has much more info for Russian groups who want to apply for grants and additional details about making donations. Please contact her for that info:

Excerpts from her post to the QueeRussia group:

Dear Michael and all, 

Below is more information that was just finalized about the Russia Freedom Fund. As one of the people on the committee working to get this fund off the ground and who will make recommendations to the Arcus Operating Fund's Board of Directors for funding along with Anastasia, I thought I'd try to answer a few of the questions you aimed at her. [...]

We are hoping that these funds will reach a broad range of organizing endeavors throughout the country. As someone who was behind pushing for this fund, I can tell you that the impetus was to find a safe mechanism to support the groups on the ground that could capture some of the explosion of interest in Russia that began last summer here in the United States. Arcus Operating Foundation is donating all of their administrative expenses and their staff time so that 100% of the money raised will go out in grants to Russia. 

The grant committee consists of a handful of people such as myself with experience in philanthropy and with the Russian groups like ILGA-Europe and Open Society Foundations, together with three movement Russian representatives who were selected at a meeting of over 25 Russian activists and groups in St. Petersburg last fall. 

The specifics of how money will be disseminated will not be made public for the safety of the recipients, as should be quite obvious given the current status of the law in Russia -- but it has been thoroughly thought through and discussed extensively with the groups on the ground. [...]

I was also someone who lobbied HRC to give the proceeds of their T-shirt campaign (not their Paul Singer money) to the groups via this fund as opposed to doing it themselves. The fact that groups like to put out press releases to tout their achievements is part of what we all know occurs from groups that raise money from individuals in our community. 

But HRC does not control how the money will be given out -- the committee will recommend to the board of Arcus operating Foundation. [...]

There is no deadline because they will be considered every month, and we hope more money will be in the pot to give away, because there is currently not that much more than the HRC money to date. I hope that answers some of the questions raised on this list.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

'Rainbow Burqa' to Rights Panel: Honor Mandela With Castro Forum on Flag

The Human Rights Commission held its monthly meeting tonight at City Hall and I used public comment time for a few purposes.

Wearing my rainbow burqa, I reminded the panel that three years ago on January 26, Ugandan gay advocate David Kato was murdered and his death led to a huge controversy over the lowering the flag at Harvey Milk Plaza, which eventually happened with the Merchants of Upper Market Castro kicking, screaming and uncooperative every step of the way.

Since January 2011, promises were made by the commission to hold a simple town hall meeting in the Castro about why MUMC controls the flag on public property and the continuing contention over it, most recently when MUMC refused to lower the flag for South African humanitarian Nelson Mandela upon his death.

The District 8 Supervisor threatened the commission's budget when he got wind of the forum idea and commissioners kowtowed to his vendetta against me.

I remarked that millions of flags around the world on public property flew at half-staff for Mandela, but not in the Castro and said shame upon the commission for failing to keep a promise for a town hall. In honor of Mandela, and so many other reasons, I requested the commissioner finally do the right and just bring the community together for a discussion in public in the Castro.

Finally, a copy of the Los Angeles Times story about the many meetings at the West Hollywood City Council regarding displaying a large rainbow flag on public land at City Hall was given to the commission tonight.

"Six meetings in a few months in WeHo, zero meetings in San Francisco in three years," I said. The commission chairman thanked me and the panel moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Do you support community control of the Harvey Milk Plaza rainbow flag? Want to see the Human Rights Commission keep the promise to hold a forum about it? Then send an email now to the commission's executive director, Theresa Sparks:
Mayor Releases Names, Addies of Tech Moguls Invited to Meeting

My recent public records request to Mayor Ed Lee for his list of invitees and attendees to a controversial invitation-only lunch meeting held on December 16, at the office of Salesforce, that I allege was subject to sunshine and open meeting laws, has produced this two-page list of Tech Inc folks and their addies:

The companies included Adobe, Adroll, Advent, Airbnb, AT&T, Autodesk, CBS Interactive, Dolby, Dropbox, EventBrite, Expedia, Facebook, Github, Google, Hipmunk, Jawbone, LinkedIn, Microsoft, One King's Lane, OpenTable, Pinterest, Riverwest, Salesforce, Sigma West, Square, Tagged, Tipping Point, Twilio, Twitter, Trulia, Yahoo, Yelp, Zoosk and Zynga.

I've asked the mayor's office of communications to explain why, if the meeting was private as they claim and not subject to sunshine, did they release the list to me and also where is the list of attendees. Waiting for a response.

In my complaint to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force alleging the December 16 meeting should fall under open meeting law, and that I believe members of the Board of Supervisors and their staffs, along with the superintendent of schools, were present. The mayor denied that sunshine applies, the Clerk of the Board said no Supervisors or their staffs were present, and the Unified School District said they are not subject to sunshine laws (and I'm waiting to receive calendar for the superintendent which is unquestionably a public document).

However, the calendar for that date for Todd Rufo, head of the mayor's office of economic and workplace development, shows he was at the meeting in question. With at least two City Hall leaders present, the Mayor and his economic adviser, I counter-argue to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force that this was a passive meeting and as such open meeting laws apply.

The mayor's calendar for December 16 says he chaired the meeting with the Tech Inc executives. One reason I believe the meeting falls under sunshine laws.

It's been one month since that meeting took place, and three joint committees were established in partnership with the Mayor, the Board of Supes and the Unified School District. What have the committees and its members been up to? Only more sunshine can answer the question.
Human Rights Campaign's Chad Griffin Heading to Sochi Olympics?

(Today in Davos, from the left, Fareed Zakaria host a panel with Elliott Management Corporation founder Paul Singer, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and Third Point founder Dan Loeb. Credit: Huffington Post.)

Recent history may provide clues about a potential action or two in the near future for the Human Rights Campaign and its new-found interest in global LGBT affairs, especially in Russia.

In November, HRC's well-oiled PR machine touted their Russian "Love Conquers Hate" tee shirt effort, then announced in December a $100,000 donation to Russian LGBT groups and this month we see that HRC president Chad Griffin is in Davos, Switzerland, for the economic summit organized for the 1 percent of the world's richest 1 percent club members.

HRC presence, along with that of LGBT leaders from countries other than the USA, is being underwritten by corrupt hedge fund financiers Paul Singer and Dan Loeb. Here at home, HRC still refuses to address the plight of low and moderate income LGBT Americans fighting for a raise of the minimum wage, restoration of cuts in food stamps, creation of housing we can afford to rent, and I'm sure none of these economic justice issues are discussed when Griffin hobnobs with the financiers.

Let's connect the visible dots. HRC and its funders are staging actions on a monthly basis involving gay Russians and my gut says that in February we will see HRC and friends staging attention-grabbing events in Sochi at the Olympics or at last in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

I wanted to give HRC leaders a chance to address my hunch about where they may be headed next month, or maybe right after Davos, after all Griffin is already so close to Russia, and sent this note twice to them:

I am curious to learn if you have plans to organize any events, such as press conferences or vigils etc, in Russia leading up to or during the Olympic. Will you have any HRC folks from America on the ground at Sochi or in Moscow? Given all the advocacy and money-raising you are doing for gay Russians, including heading to the Davos economic summit to participate in panels, it seems very much within the realm of potential that HRC would have a presence in Russia in February. If you're inclined to respond, please do so by noon, SF time, on Thursday.

The response from HRC? A big silence. I guess we'll all just have to wait and see what HRC gets out of Davos, and what PR events they stage as we more closer to the opening of the Olympics. Questions must be raised about HRC getting in bed with Singer and Loeb, attending Davos, the concerns I raised recently regarding their grants to Russians, and what their plans are during the games.
WeHo Debates Rainbow Flag on Public Land, While SF Stifles Dissent
Many thanks to my friend Patrick Connors, who Tweets as UppityFag, for alerting me to this development in Southern California.

As you know, for three years myself and lots of other grassroots activists including Bill Wilson, Clinton Fein, Melanie Nathan and Veronika Fimbres, have pushed Castro leaders and queer and straight elected officials, and the Human Rights Commission which notoriously backed off a promised town hall after the District 8 Supervisor threatened their budget, to hold open meetings about the rainbow flat on public land at historic Harvey Milk Plaza.

We've also heard numerous and empty promises from leaders of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and the Bayard Rustin Coalition that they would challenge the control of the public flag by the private Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, after requests to lower the flag to honor Nelson Mandela were rejected by MUMC.

Thank goodness for Blacklight editor Sidney Brinkley for recently taking queer electeds Tom Ammiano, Mark Leno and David Campos for wimping out about returning the flag to community and public control, after MUMC raised the usual b.s. excuses why Mandela's death was not reason to lower the flag.

Long and short of it, is that dissent over the flag's control is stifled in the free speech bastion of San Francisco. But down in West Hollywood, according to an LA Times story by Hailey Branson-Potts, the local council has had several public meetings about their rainbow flag on City Hall. Not only have they held open hearings for all to attend in WeHo, they also flew the Trans Pride Flag for an entire month and still more meetings are planned:

The West Hollywood City Council will reconsider the recent removal of a rainbow flag from atop City Hall. After months of public debate over the flag — which was raised above City Hall in June — city officials this month removed the flag, which symbolizes gay pride. During a meeting Tuesday night, council members said the removal should be discussed again at an upcoming meeting. [...]

The council in November unanimously voted to maintain the city’s practice of displaying only the United States, California and City of West Hollywood flags on public facilities. At one meeting, Councilman John Duran said the city “belongs to all of us.” [...]

The City Council in November voted to allow City Manager Paul Arevalo to decide when and whether other flags could be flown at City Hall for special occasions, such as LGBT Pride Month in June. The blue, pink and white transgender flag was flown on a City Hall flagpole for the month of November in recognition of Transgender Awareness Month.

Maybe the Castro leaders, Milk and Rustin groups, the Human Rights Commission and San Francisco queer electeds will look to the WeHo situation and finally give us what they have down there: transparency and accountability over public space of great importance to LGBT people.
Video: A Dozen SF Cops Arrest 1 Drunk in the Mission Tonite

All I wanted was a slice on Wednesday night around 9:30 pm at the Escape From New York Pizza shop on 22nd Street between Valencia and Mission. As I ate and read the NY Times, two men banged each other up against the shop window and the more drunk one wearing a white shirt threw punches at the head of his sparring target, dressed in a green jacket.

The three hipster chicks at the next table shrieked and we began yelling, "Stop fighting!" Patrons from the cafe next store came out and urged the men to chill, to no avail.

Two minutes later, a uniformed San Francisco police officer approached the fighting dudes, separated them for a few short moments and radioed for back up on the mouthpiece strapped to his shoulder, then sprayed the white-shirted dude in the face with a chemical. That spritz sent the drunkard to the sidewalk's dirty cement and he rubbed his eyes, as the cop cuffed him.

You see the drunk fellow sitting in the streets in the video, hands behind his back and surrounded by cops.

At least three possible four police cars soon arrived on the scene, lights a-blazing and testosterone riding high and about thirteen police officers either assisted the arresting cop or just milled about chatting. Yeah, a dozen or so cops to deal with a drunken brawl and take one man into custody.

Cafe patrons shouted at that the cops were showing an excessive amount of police personnel for such a minor incident, one that was well in control, and a fire engine pulled up with four firefighters and medics wearing bright blue rubber gloves attended to the arrestee. I'll never understand why San Francisco sends enormous fire trucks to non-fire incidents only to deliver medical services, if needed. Costs a pretty penny when a much smaller ambulance unit with two medics would be enough for these things. Save the fire trucks for, er, fires.

Memo to chief of police Greg Suhr: Reconsider deploying such large number of uniformed personnel, and allowing them to remain at the scene long after it's clear they are not needed, cars parked askew and impeding traffic, leading the public witnesses wondering why the cops don't redeploy elsewhere to more quickly calm the streets and sidewalks where the minor fight took place.

Not good optics for so many SF Police Department officers to stand around like they did tonight.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hope for Cinema: PFA's 'Pather Panchali' Sold-Out, 100 Turned Away

For longer than I care to recall, the death knell  has rung for cinema as we've known it at film festivals, the dwindling number of art or repertory houses and in magazines around the globe. The rise of home theaters, online streaming and the phasing out of making movies on actual film or screening of celluloid prints are contributing factors behind the exaggerated claims of cinema's demise.

Thanks to the wonderful administrators and funders, and devoted patrons, of the Pacific Film Archive I am here to say loudly and clearly there is hope for cinema and I witnessed it with my own eyes on Friday, January 17.

The occasion was the launch of the PFA's extensive Satyajit Ray retrospective with a screening of his first film "Pather Panchali", and a restored 35mm print no less. Showing up forty minutes before the scheduled showtime, I was pleased to see a horde of folks milling about the entrance on the UC Berkeley campus and as I got closer I realized there was a rate stand-by line. A lobby door displayed a "SOLD OUT" sign, which made me happy so many wanted to see the film but I also worried my comp ticket might have been sold. It wasn't!

I shot a few minutes of video footage of the stand-by line, dozens of people streaming over the steps from the walkway to the entrance (reminiscent of the ending of Ray's "Distant Thunder"), a young man asking to purchase a ticket and then a mature gentleman selling an extra ticket to the first person on the stand-by line.

Before the show, programmer Susan Oxtoby made introductory remarks about the Ray series and how it continues into the summer months, then turned the mic over to preservationist Josef Lindner who shared tales of locating and restoring Ray's works. While it was fabulous to hear their remarks, I also wished they held a short chat afterward to further enhance the special evening, now that we had all seen the beautifully restored print and heard that terrific Ravi Shankar music.

All 222 of the PFA's seats were occupied during the film and in addition to us old-timers, there was a healthy number of 20-and-30-somethings (with lots of that age range turned away), and in the row behind me a couple with two boys around 7 or 8 years old. I estimate at least 100 people were turned away during the time I was outside and the disappointment of those without ticket was pronounced.

Needless to say, I hope to catch as many of the other Ray films in this series and smart cineastes know to run to Berkeley for this rare opportunity to see this great director of world cinema's output on the big screen and on 35mm film.

Cinema is not just the projection of images with light onto a screen. True cinema, in my book, is complete only when an audience has gathered in a communal venue -- a film archive, a theater, a school classroom or church basement -- to collectively watch movies. The most important image is that of people in seats gazing up at the silver screen.

In response to the overwhelming number of people who couldn't get into see "Pather Panchali" on Friday, the PFA will be showing it, and the entire trilogy of which it is part one, in the early summer. For more info check the PFA site.

Do your part to keep cinema alive and well, especially at our Bay Area art houses including the PFA, the Rafael Film Center in Marin County, the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, and Yerba Buena Screening Room, the Castro Theater and the Roxie Film Center all located in San Francisco.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

$1.6B Budget: Can SF DPH Afford to Skype Commission Meetings?

At today's San Francisco Health Commission meeting, used public comment time to address my recent post regarding how it's been seven years since I first approached the health department to televise commission meetings on SF Gov TV and the web.

You'll recall that DPH chief Barbara Garcia has no plans to bring full transparency to her agency that has a $1.6 billion budget. She and the commissioners opted not to delve into when they would take full advantage of technological advances making it so easy to get live streaming on the web and give taxpayers more tools to hold our public officials accountable.

Is there really no allocation for community engagement via tele-communication with taxpayers, out of such a large budget?

This video shows the small audience in attendance, the huge rays of sunlight streaming in through the large auditorium windows and Garcia and the commissioners listing to my testimony. As I spoke, a DPH-issued laptop was on the podium for later use with a PowerPoint presentation and I wondered why DPH can't just use the web came on the laptop and air the meetings via Skype or a live streaming service.

Before the meeting started, HIV positive and transgender health advocate commissioner Cecilia Chung, who is not advocating for televising meetings, suggested I go across the street to City Hall and address the Board of Supervisors at their weekly meetings in Room 250. I told her then and again during my comments that we need to see the Health Commission in that City Hall room or another one of the many equipped with cameras.

Sunshine is not only vital to the wellness of individuals, it is also a key component to cost-effective and life-extending public health care public policy. The SF DPH does us all a huge and unhealthy disservice refusing to televise and web-stream commission meetings. It's a point the commissioners will be hear repeating from me in 2014.
Sunshine Law Violated at SFMTA GoogleBus Fee Meeting

The class warfare of San Francisco came to this afternoon's meeting of the Municipal Transportation Agency at the City Hall, where the most controversial agenda item was whether to assess a paltry fee on the private buses clogging up public transit stops, and a shocking display of willful violations of the City's open meeting law took place.

I'm beyond pleased with the latest protests targeting Google buses, that took place this morning close to City Hall and attracted around 100 activists to surround the private transportation devices using public infrastructure. These actions appeal to video and still camera lens of social media users and mainstream media outlets, while capturing the attention of elected officials such as Mayor Ed Lee and the District 8 Supervisor who bemoan the alleged demonizing of techies and their luxurious modes of transit. Why is it we never hear those same politicians railing against the eviction epidemic, greedy speculators and Tech Inc firms not paying enough taxes?

From the hearing, Bay Guardian reporter Rebecca Bowe opined on the hostilities and frustration of taxpayers, making an excellent point about the agenda's lineup:
Yep, the board of directors knew well in advance of this morning's protests that hundreds of activists favoring more heavily taxing Google and private buses would be attending today's hearing. Did the director plan well enough to meet the needs of the public? Ha!

It was business as usual for the directors who not only stuck to their business as usual format but also used precious prime time to bestow a cable car bell on a longtime employee who is retiring and have him speak, and when Supervisors showed up, as if they don't get enough time at their Board meetings to talk talk talk about their great plans without any real waiting time, were allowed to hijack the agenda and then leave.

Oh, the actual average folks who are suffering from the inept planning of the SFMTA and the Supervisors that has led to the eviction epidemic, widening economic disparities and extravagant tax break to Tech Inc moguls are just gonna have to endure the powerful running their show the way they want to. The directors sit through testimony then do what was decided behind closed doors.

My only recourse to some of the b.s. that went down today at the SFMTA is this letter sent to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. I'll let you know when the matter is processed by the SOTF:

I wish to initiate a complaint against the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for several violations of open meeting and sunshine statutes at their Tuesday, January 21, 2013, meeting at City Hall, the agenda of which is posted here.

Alleged violations include: 

1. There is no item listing a presentation from the District 8 member of the Board of Supervisors, yet he spoke at the beginning of the meeting. 

2. The Director's report listed three items; special recognition (of a Muni employee), electronic taxi access (update), and the vague ongoing activities. During that list item, director Ed Reiskin amended the agenda and allowed Sup. Jane Kim, who was not listed as a presenter, to make a speech about pedestrian safety. This was not part of public comment for the director's report. 

3. Instead of sticking to the printed agenda and after item number 8, the Citizen's Advisory Council Report, taking up item number 9 which was public comment for matters not on the agenda, board chairman Tom Nolan announced that instead item number 14 would be heard. That was about assessing an insultingly small fee on private Tech Inc and Google buses illegitimately using public infrastructure. 

Fiddling with the printed agenda in a the course of a meeting to accommodate elected officials wanting to make speeches without time limits, instead of treating them equally on par with the members of the general public waiting their turns to speak and who are given only two minutes to speak, is a gross violation of sunshine codes. 

Same goes for radically changing the agenda's order, especially when it means delaying general public comments. I request that this matter go the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force members and that they take up this complaint at their next meeting. If you have any questions, please email them to me. Thanks in advance of your prompt attention and a reply acknowledging receipt of this complaint.
SF Mayor Releases List of Invitees to his State of the City Address

On Thursday, I kvetched about the general public not being invited to Mayor Ed Lee's State of the City address delivered on January 17 at a restricted construction site in the Bayview district. I was very glad to see other writers also noted the mayor's staff had a velvet rope policy of who gained entry to the speech, a policy that only adds to the elitism of the mayor and his administration.

In response to a public records request, the mayor's office today provided me with a nine-page list of hundreds of invitees from all walks of life, it's hard to ignore some names: socialite A-listers such as Dede Wilsey, Stanlee Gatti and George Shultz, Wells Fargo and Bank of America executives, tech mogul Ron Conway and his Oracle and Twitter colleagues, the owners of the Warriors basketball team Rick Welts and Peter Guber, and it seems like every honorary and general consulate from dozens of foreign countries.

It my view, the mayor needs to post this invitation list on his web site and should be regularly and voluntarily posting every such list when he holds an official function or public policy meeting in his capacity as mayor either at City Hall or elsewhere.

If you'd like a copy of the list, email the mayor's public records staffer here: .

Monday, January 20, 2014

No Milk Club Agendas Online: Would Harvey Approve?

They like to tout themselves as the "Home of San Francisco's Queer Progressive Left", but the Harvey Milk Democratic Club is actually a clique of moderate Democrats rightly viewed by many as David Campos' political home base and which has made no bones about serving as an arm of his Assembly run campaign.

I've been over the club for its various broken promises regarding reclaiming Harvey Milk Plaza and the public flag in the center, going to bat for admitted wife-bruiser Ross Mirkarimi, devoting resources to helping club owners and maybe even their own president get licenses to open bars and party spaces (as if the entertainment industry and alcohol companies can't do their own political heavy-lifting) and abysmal understanding of the importance of effective signage at street and park actions.

Recently, the president Tom Temprano promised to send a letter about the Merchants of Upper Market Castro and assorted politicians not lowering the rainbow flag at Milk Plaza for Nelson Mandela, but it was just more hot air from the clique.

When I put in some time assisting them promote the Castro Tenants Convention, one of their members Lee Hepner, listened to my kvetching about the club and asked why I don't come back to their meetings and give them an earful.

I told Lepner that I was a member for only part of one-year before vowing not to renew membership and noticed the group didn't post their agendas on their web site or Facebook page before meetings. Lepner said at the end of every meeting anyone could speak to the group and that advance agendas are emailed only to members.

The Milk Club meets on Tuesday, January 21 and true-to-form the agenda is not on the web. Why bother trying to entice new folks to their ranks by informing them of what to expect? The insiders and Campos supporters have the agenda and that's good enough for the club. Even if public comment is allowed from non-members, it's not worth my time to show up and get nothing but stressed out.

BTW, that tenants convention was good on a few levels for activists, but make no mistake about this: it also turned into a good PR move for the District 8 Supervisor who was allowed to attend and take notes, show he's allegedly progressive on housing issues, he was not taken to task for his long list of political transgressions in any substantive or symbolic way at the convention, and will soon be co-opting some of the tenant activists goals and agenda.

Holding the Supervisor to account is clearly not integral to the tenants agenda nor the Milk Club, which allowed him to speak at their Milk candlelight memorial two-years ago after he had proved himself hostile to the club's progressive goals. The club is totally fine that they can't access the Milk Plaza rainbow flag.

Would Harvey approve of the community not being able to use the rainbow flag in the heart of the Castro and a group named in his honor being opaque with agendas?
HRC + Arcus Money, Gay Russians & Putin's Foreign Agents Law

[Correction: Smirnova is not representing the Russian LGBT Network. I regret this error.]

[Explanation: Smirnova emailed me to say she had not received the emails because I used an old addy for her. She now has read the letter and I've requested answers from her, pointing out there is no deadline on more details being shared about the HRC and Arcus donation. When she replies, there will be a new post.] 

During the last week of December, I emailed several leaders of HRC and the Arcus Foundation, including their respective leaders Chad Griffin and Kevin Jennings, and Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network, after reading about the $100,000 donation from the US groups to the Russians. Curious as to how the three organizations were meeting or challenging Vladimir Putin's Foreign Agents Law targeting hundreds of human rights advocacy groups including LGBT ones, a law created to clamp down on and legally hassle the groups, I wrote to HRC, Arcus and Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network since she was quoted in the HRC release.

None of the people I wrote to responded. Oh, well. Such is is how accountability and transparency are handled by the three groups for this project. Actually, it's long been the policy of HRC to ignore questions about their agenda, their use of funds and failure to be fully transparent.

This is the note sent to Smirnova, and copied to Griffin and Jennings:

I am reaching out to you for a blog post I'm writing about the Human Rights Campaign and Arcus Foundation making donations to LGBT Russian groups. Given that you have stringent laws barring Russians from accepting donations from abroad, because "foreign agents" are not allowed to interfere with local society, how is it possible for the American gay groups to make donations to your network and the network not be charged for breaking the law? 

If I'm not mistaken, groups in St Petersburg have had major hassles putting on culture and political events since the summer because Putin's government has alleged funding was received by LGBT group from Western Europeans. Americans giving Russians money is no simple matter. 

How are HRC and Arcus Foundation able to make the donations and not create legal problems for you? I imagine the Russian media is reporting on these groups making big PR moves about their new-found interest in gay Russians and that the government is aware of the donations. Is the American money going directly to your network of groups? Are the proper papers being filed with the Russian authorities? 

Those issues aside, I'm also curious to learn what exactly the agreement is between HRC and Arcus Foundation and your network. Surely there must have been a written document defining to whom the money will go, how it is to be used and what it cannot be used for, and what the Americans expect in return for the donations. 

By the way, be aware that my transparency advocacy is wide reaching and earlier this year I called for full transparency from nutty Nikolai Alexeyev when he announced a Swiss bank account to accept funds for his group. Here's my post about that development. As far as I know, he's not said anything since August about any donations to the account nor has he shared any documents about what he did with any money received.

If my concerns have already been addressed by another blogger or you or another LGBT group in Russia, let me know where to find that info and I'll pick up details from them and give them full credit, of course. My gut feeling is that my questions have already been raised by others and dealt with. 

Please assist me in bringing much-needed transparency and accountability to this HRC and Arcus Foundation effort, and share your answers and feedback with me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fab SF Pride Board Continues Great Liberating Strides Forward

The monthly membership meeting of San Francisco Pride was on Tuesday and after months of both criticizing and praising the new board, it's time for me to say a few positive comments about their terrific work. This is not to say that everything is perfect, but there are so many good developments of liberating benefit to the membership and those who attend Pride, that I need to point out some of them.

First of all, the meetings are expertly run by board president Gary Virginia and on Tuesday he again showed his well-honed facilitating skills. He kept us focused, respected all board members and the public no matter what was being said, and even managed a few genuine laughs.

During his dense and detailed verbal report of the work the board and staff have performed in the past month, we learned info about numerous Pride topics -- improved vendor relations, interviewing and recruiting potential new board members, successful fundraiser with our local professional hockey team, the annual $58,000 grant from the City is in the pipeline soon to be released, and so much more.

I singled out Gary's excellent and informative column in a recent Bay Area Reporter, for giving everyone a much-needed report back on exactly what has transformed at Pride in recent months and the better path we are on now. Read the column here. Nothing but gratitude came from me to Gary for citing the posting of IRS 990s on the Pride site and to treasurer David Currie for making that happen. The 990s are a version of porn and I can't get enough of them!

Next up were Marsha Levine, Joey Cain, Joey Cain, Justin Taylor and David Currie shared their written and verbal updates, and I was impressed with the changes made to the grand marshal rules and reduction of number of them, that the response to the Controller's Office audit has been submitted to the City, major revisions soon to hit the Pride web site including posting of more documents and sooner, and reminder of the hard work office manager Lucky Guiterez continues to carry out.

Haven't a clue as to what Jose Cital has done during his tenure on the board and can't recall him speaking on Tuesday. Also not sure what contributions Jesse Oliver Sanford has made and he was absent this week.

Most of the comments from the public and general members were constructive and on the positive side, and I admit to making one or two grouchy complaints that we heard, addressed by the board and we all moved on.

However, I have to say board member John Caldera twice almost forced a major and wasteful distraction to derail the meeting. He was complaining about not getting emails from other members and I don't think a single person in the room wanted to deal with the matter. Why he didn't communicate with his colleagues before the meeting is a mystery and I wish he'd get with the program of making 2014 SF Pride the best yet.

Back at the November members' meeting, which I skipped because of a health problem, Caldera took a leading role in trying to remove David, keeping us all mired in the troubled past. From James Patterson's Bay Area Reporter story:

Board member John Caldera, who arrived late, distributed a letter to members calling for them to support a motion to remove Currie from the board "without cause." Caldera took his seat close to Currie but the treasurer stared in the opposite direction. [...] 

He said there was no one else on the board who could serve as treasurer, a clear swipe at Caldera, who challenged Currie for the job at the October meeting. Among board members, only Virginia focused on Currie as he pleaded his case to members. Caldera continued to shake his head in disagreement with virtually everything Currie said.

During member comments, Caldera jumped to his feet and said Currie was "confrontational" and "disrespectful" to members at the annual meeting and urged members to unseat him.

What nonsense, trying to remove Currie, which I would have voted against, and then not having a qualified person waiting in the wings to replace him if Caldera had his way. FYI, the number of votes to get rid of Currie was 6 versus 29 to retain him.

Let's hope Caldera makes peace with his colleagues and gets on the same page as them, while also acting more constructively at monthly meetings.

A highlight of Tuesday's meeting was a fantastic explanation about the selection of grand marshals, and I'm learning to live with the still too-high number of them but at least the total has been reduced. My plan is to push for members of LGBT communities across Africa to be honored with one of the grand marshal slots. More about that as the months march on toward SF Pride 2014 -- which is gonna be beyond fabulous!
LGBT Homeless Shelter in SF Mission District: An Update

(The long-aborning queer homeless shelter on South Van Ness, as seen several years ago. Credit: Rick Gerharter, BAR.)

Three long years ago, this is what Seth Hemmelgarn of the Bay Area Reporter wrote about a shelter I very much want to see opened and occupied by folks who need such a facility:

Plans to open a homeless shelter space in San Francisco designed specifically to be welcoming to LGBTs are in the works, but it's unclear when the site will be ready. Out Supervisor David Campos appeared to jump the gun a bit in a December newsletter when he said, "We helped create the first LGBT friendly homeless shelter in San Francisco."

The shelter is in Campos' district. I'm not sure what he's doing about the facility but Matthew Bajko of the BAR reported yesterday that Campos' misguided and questionable effort to rename San Francisco's airport in honor of Harvey Milk, as if this icon has not been memorialized enough, took up more City Hall time. A committee created by the Board of Supervisors will soon convene to consider the name change and selected two more people for the committee. Why hasn't Campos formed a committee to deal with the eviction epidemic in his district instead of trolling for votes in his Assembly campaign with wrapping himself in Milk's golden glow?

The nonprofit in control of the shelter is Dolores Street Community Services and their executive director Wendy Phillips, who gave me an update in November, has shared the latest news about the project with me today:

During the month of December, Dolores Street’s contractors conducted extensive asbestos abatement work at the site where the shelter will be located. This required relocation for other office tenants of the building so it had to be done over the holiday break period for minimal disruption. The work was completed during the first week of January. 

The next major step of the process is to have our architect’s plans reviewed and approved by the Mayor’s Office of Disability (MOD) and the Department of Building Inspection (DBI). To this end, we have had a couple of preliminary meetings with MOD staff to clearly understand their requirements and expectations for the site so the plans we submit to them will be as close to final as possible. The assumption is that this will result in a quicker review and approval process. 

MOD staff have expressed their support for the project and their commitment to move it along as quickly as possible while also meeting their mandate to ensure accessibility and code compliance. Once MOD signs off on the plans, they will go to DBI for final review and approval. 

After the plans are approved, we’ll move into the contractor selection and construction phase. Through [SF Homeless Czar Bevan Dufty's] contacts, we have been able to leverage the support of Swinerton Builders who are providing pro-bono construction management for the project, so we will be working closely with them on the bidding and contractor selection. 

Unfortunately, at this point, I do not have a timeline on when each of these steps will be completed. I have learned over the past year that it’s best not to estimate deadlines because they inevitably get pushed back by one new unexpected event or another. 

But what I can say is that we are committed to getting it done and getting the shelter opened as soon as humanly possible and are working hard toward that end!

Many thanks to Wendy for keeping us informed about the progress of the shelter. Let's hope 2014 is the year this much-needed facility finally becomes operational.