Thursday, February 27, 2014

SF Chronicle: Gays to Protest Russian Orchestra on March 3

(On his 75th birthday, conductor Temirkanov was feted by his friend Vladimir Putin in December 2013. Credit: Kremlin Information Service.)

In recent days, I've emailed many people at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and their U.S. management company Opus 3 Artists, informing them that members of Gays Without Borders and feminists are holding a solidarity rally outside Davies Hall on Monday, March 3 at 7 pm when the Russian orchestra is performing. Unfortunately, no one has responded to my request for a pro-LGBT and pro-Pussy Riot statement from the philharmonic.

Here's the link to the Facebook event page for the rally.

Earlier today, the San Francisco Chronicle's classical music critic Joshua Kosman called me in response to receiving a copy of the notes sent to the musicians and their tour organizers. He's now posted a terrific piece to the paper's web site and I hope it prods the Opus 3 Artists reps for the philharmonic to respond to my letter and take a clear stand for respecting the human rights of LGBT people in Russia and free expression for Pussy Riot.

Excerpts from the Chronicle's post:

The upcoming San Francisco appearances by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic – who are slated to play concerts in Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday and Monday nights under longtime music director Yuri Temirkanov – may become the focus for protests against the treatment of LGBT people and the state of human rights in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Michael Petrelis, a community organizer with the group Gays Without Borders, has promised a rally outside Davies on Monday night — Sunday, after all, is Oscar night — in support of the group Pussy Riot and LGBT Russians. He also sent Temirkanov’s management a request for his views, asking whether Temirkanov “endorses full and universal human rights protections for LGBT citizens of Russia, along with repeal of the anti-propaganda laws,” and whether there are policies in place to protect gay members of the orchestra. [...]

Witnesses from elsewhere on the Philharmonic’s current tour report no incidents, but San Francisco may be different.

“This conductor endorsed Putin, and now he’s coming to San Francisco, the gayest city in the world?” said Petrelis. “You know we’ll have something to say about that.”

Temirkanov, meanwhile, is hardly a model of enlightenment on other matters related to gender and sexuality. In October, the New Yorker’s Alex Ross reported on an interview Temirkanov had given to a Russian paper in which he suggested that female conductors run counter to nature. “The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength,” he said. “The essence of a woman is weakness.”


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Names of Arrested Russian Gays to be Read at 3/3 SF Pussy Riot Rally

(Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, rear, and Maria Alyokhina, front, are taken into custody by Russian police during a protest in Moscow on Feb. 24, 2014. Credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)

When LGBT activists and supporters of Pussy Riot gather on Monday, March 3 at 7 pm outside Davies Hall in San Francisco to show solidarity as the St. Petersburg Philharmonic makes its local concert appearance, the names of arrested or detained Russian gays, feminists and human rights defenders so far this year will be read aloud. We will also include the names of foreigners, such as Vladimir Luxuria, the Italian transgender politician detained during the Sochi Olympics. Please join us and promote the Facebook page.

This Kremlin-funded philharmonic is headed by Yuri Temirkanov who endorsed Vladimir Putin's 2012 reelection and was feted by the Russian president in December on his 75th birthday, and the activist group Gays Without Borders has requested a pro-LGBT statement from the philharmonic. We hope to learn before the concert what the positions are of Temirkanov and the philharmonic regarding the anti-gay propaganda laws and harassment of Pussy Riot members.

With the tremendous assistance of Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with the Advocates for Human Rights based in Minnesota, I've started a list of names that will be spoken at the March 3 rally. If you know of additional names that should be listed, please either email me their details or leave a comment with the info.

People of all sexual orientations and gender identities prosecuted, threatened by government agents or detained under the anti-gay propaganda law:

- Maria Alyokhina. One of the Pussy Riot women bashed and detained in Sochi, then detained two weeks later in Moscow supporting defendants in the Bolotnaya Square protest case.

- Anna Annenkov. Arrested in Moscow with ten others on the eve of the Olympics for attempting to display a rainbow flag in Red Square.

- Anonymous lesbian teenager. She was found guilty of violating the law publicly coming out and was hospitalized after her father beat her.

- Dmitry Isakov. This activist protested the law in Kazan and was fined 4,000 rubles in January after a teenager saw photos of Isakov’s protest online and filed a complaint.

- Elena Kostynchenko. Arrested in Moscow with ten others on the eve of the Olympics for attempting to display a rainbow flag in Red Square.

 - Elena Klimova. On January 31, Russian authorities charged her with violations of the propaganda law because she launched the Deti-404 site for LGBT youths.

 - Pavel Lebedev. In January, police arrested this young activist for waving a rainbow flag as the relay brought the Olympic torch through Voronezh.

- Vladimir Luxuria. A transgender leader from Italy, she was twice detained during the games for hold a "Gay Is OK" sign and wearing rainbow apparel.

- Maria. A government commission threatened to sue the 14-year-old after she held a one-person picket in the town of Kyatkova to protest the propaganda law.

- Olga Mazurova. Arrested in Moscow with ten others on the eve of the Olympics for attempting to display a rainbow flag in Red Square.

Alexei Navalny. Anti-corruption blogger and Putin opponent, detained in February at the sentencing of democracy activists arrested in 2012 in the Bolotnaya Square protest case.

- Knicks Nemeni. Attempted to march in Moscow with a banner demanding gay inclusion at the Olympics, as the games began.

- Tarja Polyakova. Attempted to march in Moscow with a banner demanding gay inclusion at the Olympics, as the games began.

- Lynn Reid. Nationality unknown. She tried to march in Moscow with a banner demanding gay inclusion at the Olympics, as the games began.

- Anastasia Smirnova. Russian lesbian leader. Attempted to march in Moscow with a banner demanding gay inclusion at the Olympics, as the games began.

- Daria Starshinina. Attempted to march in Moscow with a banner demanding gay inclusion at the Olympics, as the games began.

 - Alexander Suturin. In late January, a court in Khabarovsk fined this newspaper editor 50,000 rubles for publishing an interview with an openly gay teacher.

- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. The other member of Pussy Riot bashed and detained in Sochi and Moscow supporting defendants in the Bolotnaya Square protest case.

- Gleb Warrior. Attempted to march in Moscow with a banner demanding gay inclusion at the Olympics, as the games began.

- Ulrika Westerlund. Swedish national, attempted to march in Moscow with a banner demanding gay inclusion at the Olympics, as the games began.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Norway's Given How Much to US State Dept's Global Equality Fund?

(Public domain photo.)

At the start of February, I began an effort to make the U.S. State Department's Global Equality Fund (GEF) for gay rights work as transparent as possible. The administrators of it brushed off my attempt at gaining more info than the fund's donors and grant recipients, and how much money is flowing into it and from where.

Fortunately, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is amenable to sharing data and did so with a lengthy response to me regarding their $14 million contribution through Sweden's foreign ministry.

Now, I have a reply from Marna Eide of Norway's leading gay group (LLH) about their engagement with their foreign ministry and the GEF, and her government has donated $91,000 to the fund.

It's terrific to have SIDA and LLH engaging with this gay blogger, and probably other global gay stakeholders, about their campaigns and funding streams. I'd like for our State Department to follow the example of SIDA and LLH and communicate with the gay public.

Let's get to the Q and A between myself and Marna Eide:

1. When did the Norwegian LGBT Organization, LLH, agree to be part of GEF? 

The donation to the GEF is from the Norwegian Government with whom LLH has a strategic partnership. LLH maintains a vast network of contacts with people working for lgbti-rights issues all over the world and advises the Norwegian Government on these issues. During the autumn of 2012 the Norwegian Government asked LLH to function in an advisory capacity and to distribute and monitor the Norwegian contribution to the fund. 

2. How much money have you donated to GEF? 

The total contribution from the Norwegian Government so far is NOK 550 000. [The equivalent of $91,000.]

3. Would it be possible to be provided with a list of projects funded with LLH money via GEF?

Funds from Norway support the emergency response programme, run by Freedom House. (If you need more info on this programme I suggest you get in touch with them directly as I don’t know how much is official for security reasons) 

4. Should other European govts and LGBT NGOs follow your example and join GEF? 

As a general rule LLH urges the Norwegian government to either fund rights based organisations directly or through south based intermediaries when ever possible. LLH does not advise for, nor do we advise against, other European Governments and LGBT NGOs to follow the Norwegian Governments example. If European Governments decide to join the GEF however, we believe that the model the Norwegian Government has chosen secures input and advise from the lgbt NGO sector.

5. Does online transparency exist for GEF, so past and potential donors can easily learn about its work, and follow the money?

The level of transparency for those who have contributed is good. When it comes to online transparency there are security issues to consider. Finding the right balance between maintaining a secure environment for activists and organisations, yet being transparent and accountable, is always a challenge.

6. What key points should USA gays know about GEF and LLH with it? 

That Norway/LLH supports emergency response.

7. How is the Norwegian foreign ministry advocating for LGBT human rights? 

LLH has, and has had, a constructive working relationship the current and past goverment on this rights issue. More information on the Norwegian Goverments advocacy for SOGI rights can be found here:
SF DPH Absolves Itself of Lousy Gay Syphilis Campaigns

The current edition of the Bay Area Reporter contains an article by Matthew Bajko about a rise in gay syphilis infections in San Francisco. Yes, the homos are still having sex and the health officials have not devised an effective multi-pronged approach to controlling syphilis. Of course, this STD has been with us for quite a long time and since there is no vaccine against it, syphilis will be with us for decades to come.

Matthew mentioned a December paper written by San Francisco Department of Public Health staffers Susan Philip, Stephanie Cohen and Joseph Engelman, and the former director of STD services here Jeffrey Klausner who is now a researcher at UCLA. During his polarizing DPH tenure that turned off many gay health advocates and sexually active men, one of Klausner's most stigmatizing efforts was a social marketing campaign based on fear that equated people with syphilis with time-bomb ready to explode and cause damage. Not the best way to conduct outreach.

In their scientific paper, the four STD experts trotted out their usual blame-the-victims excuses for their failed prevention efforts. Let's unpack their excuses:

The syphilis epidemic among MSM has been attributed to individual, network, and population level factors, including (1) a decrease in safer sex practices secondary to HIV prevention fatigue, antiretroviral treatment optimism, and an increase in recreational drug use, especially methamphetamines and erectile dysfunction medications;

Since 1981 when AIDS first hit the gay community, there's been prevention fatigue and it's like saying pregnancy prevention isn't working because women are still getting pregnant and giving birth. In other words, the researchers are denying reality and trying to force gays to conform to their condom-driven way of thinking.

Whenever I see treatment optimism cited like this, I hear dog-whistling on the part of the scientists who seem to have a wish to return to when there were no treatment for AIDS. We've had cocktails since 1996, long enough for public health officials to adapt their STD prevention programs to this reality and cease with implying HIV treatments are a bad development for syphilis control.

Drug use in the gay community? Get used to it and let's move away from the emphasis on whether it's up, down or stable. Gays, like straights, take advantage of recreational and erectile substances during sex. This fact is not going away.

(2) harm-reduction strategies like serosorting (selective unprotected sex with partners of the same HIV-serostatus) and oral sex, which may decrease the risk of HIV transmission but can facilitate syphilis transmission;

Would they prefer we didn't have poz guys having sex only with other poz guys? Sero-sorting does reduce HIV transmissions and is one prevention strategy that was community-developed without the moralizing of public health officials. It's also problematic that the researchers equate HIV prevention with syphilis prevention when the former is harder to acquire than the latter. This is why HIV infections rates goes down but the syphilis trend does not.

(3) rising use of the Internet as a meeting venue, which has revolutionized sexual networks and facilitated sex partnering, leading to increased number of sex partners, including anonymous partners who cannot be reached for partner services;

Well, in San Francisco we used to have more bricks-and-mortar venues including bathhouses and back room bars like My Place, which was closed by Klausner when he was at DPH's STD control unit and pressuring the alcohol control board and police to shut it down, where sexual partners could more easily be reached than on the web for counseling. Don't complain about more dudes hooking up online when you're reducing physical location for public health outreach.

That said, the web as a cruising venue has been around as long protease inhibitor cocktails and maybe the problem is that these researchers don't know how to adapt their outreach and prevention messages to this fact.

(4) decreasing AIDS mortality, which has increased the size of the population at risk for syphilis.

Again, I hear dog-whistling that says because people with AIDS are living longer and developing fewer and less virulent opportunistic infections it's bad for syphilis prevention. Did the researchers think just because we're not dropping like flies that for some magical reason PWAs would not have sex? It's time for the researchers to stop trying to use shame and finger-wagging and wringing their hands over cocktails and such to create the community norms they'd like to see.

One huge factor, in my view, that has contributed to gays tuning out DPH's social marketing campaigns and alarmist messages about syphilis (and HIV too), is that we have seen the stats manipulated for funding purposes, ads equating folks with an STD as explosives about to cause widespread harm, and a general disconnect between those with numerous degrees from fancy universities and cock- and cum-hungry queers hunting for sexual love and intimacy.

It's time for SF DPH and Klausner to take responsibility for their lousy gay syphilis control efforts. I'm not buying DPH researchers and their paper peddling absolving them of that responsibility.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How Masha Gessen Failed Russian Gays at Sochi

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the call to action before Sochi from domestic and emigre LGBT Russian leaders: "______________________________________."

As a global queer activist engaged on Russian issues since the early 1990s when the USSR still existed, who organized a speaking engagement with visiting gay leader Roman Kalinan at Washington's now-defunct Lambda Rising book store while the Iron Curtain draped across Eastern Europe, I'm quite displeased with Masha Gessen today. I knew her back in the day when we were both involved with ACT UP and worked with her on Roman's appearance in DC.

(A reminder that Gays Without Borders holds a solidarity rally on Monday, March 3 at 7 pm outside Davies Hall, as Putin's pal Yuri Temirkanov conducts the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Info at this Facebook page.)

Masha has penned an offensive piece at Slate titled How the International LGBTQ Rights Movement Failed Russian Gays in Sochi, and not once does she state what the hell she and other Russians asked global activists to do. If they issued a call to action, I missed it. The headline is very misleading since Masha is solely focused on American groups.

She writes that she and prominent Russians including members of Pussy Riot called for a boycott of the Olympics, which didn't materialize. Masha cites plans of the Human Rights Campaign, Athlete Alley, AllOut and Human Rights Watch and celebrities to call attention to the plight of Russian gays:

It all failed. Sure, American Apparel sold the T-shirts, hats, and bags, and [Melissa] Etheridge sold the song, and money was raised, and representatives of Athlete Ally and Human Rights First went to Sochi. But nothing happened there. The movable Pride House idea was nixed by both the Russians and the IOC. None of the competing athletes agreed to wear Principle 6 clothing. Olympic sponsors politely took meetings with human-rights advocates and proceeded to do nothing. 

Did Masha have a plan for success on any front regarding the Olympics? Not that I've seen, but she did jet over to Davos, Switzerland, with the financial assistance and maybe even a private airplane ride from sleazy and corrupt venture capitalists Paul Singer and Dan Loeb. She spoke on a panel that garnered a fair amount of media and online attention, but I don't recall a list of do-able actions for either her super-wealthy friends or ordinary Western gays to carry out. She goes on to say:

Indeed, international media attention to the Kremlin's homophobic campaign seems to have had a major chilling effect on Olympic athletes and spectators, who traveled to Sochi with a set of largely unfounded fears, which kept them from doing anything at all.

There were countless stories in myriad languages about Putin's hateful anti-gay policies and the violence gay Russians face and at least one transgender Italian activist, Vladimir Luxuria, acted up and caused a two-day headache for Olympic and Russian authorities. Granted, not much but what exactly did Masha want others to do in Sochi, while she was comfortably sitting in front of her computer in New York City?

Masha rightly praises courageous handfuls of LGBT Russians who took to the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg as the games began and mentions the hassles they now face:

Now many of those who were detained will face fines of between $285 and $570 and, quite possibly, further legal and extralegal persecution.

These brave Russian activists came out to protest because they thought that the eyes of the world were fixed on them that day and that their American activist allies in Sochi would support them by word and deed, staging their own protests and ensuring that the thousands of international correspondents in Sochi would hear of their protest and the treatment they faced. They were wrong.

Sounds to me like the Russian activists did not organize themselves very well, surely they expected to be detained and fined for their street protests, and apparently they didn't secure the commitment of the unnamed American allies in Sochi. Sorry, but these are not reasons to say the global gay movement failed the Russians. Does Masha propose any course of action for Westerners? She says:

First and foremost, working with LGBTQ activists in Russia has to involve ensuring that their names and their individual arrests and court hearings are well-publicized in the Western media. It also means ensuring that their fines are paid: The point of those extremely high fines is to open the way for further prosecution for nonpayment. 

How about Masha telling us their names and what's happening with legal proceedings of the Russians in this Slate essay? Nope, she does not follow her own advice and a week into the Olympics she used her access to the New York Times' opinion page, where she's a contributing writer, to publicize troubles with her Citibank gold card in a piece titled Banking While Russian. Not one word was said about those arrests and brave detained activists.

Regarding those relatively paltry fines the activists must pay, in the context of at least $100,000 grant from venture capitalists Singer and Loeb, $150,000 from Stoli, more grants from the Arcus Foundation and American Apparel, cash from the UK and European government and NGOs, in addition to robust funds from the U.S. State Department's Global Equality Fund, there's plenty of funding to take care of the fines.

Not through with trashing the nonprofit advocacy groups, groups I might add that she has not criticized up to now and with whom she has closely aligned herself particularly the Human Rights Campaign, at least for her participation in Davos, Masha says:

Meanwhile, as the founder of an online community for LGBTQ youth faced a court hearing on charges of “homosexual propaganda” on Feb. 20, American groups strategized about their social-network presence during the closing ceremony.

Name the groups and take them to task. Lumping them together contributes nothing to accountability and better performances in the future from HRC, AllOut, HRW, Athlete Ally, and the rest. Adding further insult, Masha ends with this:

The Sochi Games were the U.S. gay rights movement's first real attempt to venture into international work. It was an embarrassment. If U.S. groups continue to do nothing but stage fundraisers and strategy sessions, it will be a disgrace.

Excuse me, Masha, but there have been decades of global activism by U.S. gays on Russia and other countries where LGBT people are persecuted, hated, stigmatized, bashed and also killed for their sexual orientation and gender identity. You've been in bed with those U.S. groups and involved with the strategies, and you paint with a very broad brush your opinion that _we_ failed the Russians.

Since the summer, unpaid activists with groups like Queer Nation NY and Gays Without Borders and other grassroots collectives around the world who don't receive funding from sleazy venture fund capitalists or clothing and alcohol companies or nonprofit foundations or government ministries, have poured time and money into lots of street actions, boycotts of Russian vodka and targeted a few cultural institutions and done all we could with nothing more than our own blood, sweat and cheers to keep the plight of Russian gays in the news.

What did she want us to do, parachute into the opening ceremony with rainbow flags and toss glitter in Putin's face while singing "Over the Rainbow'?

For Masha to be so shortsighted and arrogant in her essay is wrong, especially because she presented no plan of action prior to Sochi and got into bed with Gay Inc and venture capitalists. I say to her, look in the mirror and you'll see who failed the Russian gays.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

SF Chron: How Will Castro Sup. Debate Blogger With Restraining Order?

(It's not easy being an underdog!)

Mike and I were reading the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle print editions over the breakfast table this morning, and both of us were happy to see this passage in the Hearst-owned paper written by Heather Knight:

[Castro Sup. REDACTED] said he and the rest of the board are taking constituents' concerns about the cost of living very seriously. They helped the mayor create an affordable housing trust fund and have focused on legislating tenant protections. Nonetheless, he assumes he'll have competition in November.

In fact, he already does - though we doubt he's all that worried.

Nudist George Davis, who despises [REDACTED] for making it illegal to bare his bits in public, is running against him. So is Michael Petrelis, the blogger who tried to photograph [REDACTED] using a City Hall bathroom in 2012. [REDACTED] has a restraining order against him, so we wonder how those political debates will play out.

Well, at least we political reporters will have something to write about when it comes to the supervisor races this fall. 

Glad to know I'm giving Heather something to write about now. Regarding getting on the ballot, I need to raise $500 and gather twenty signatures from District 8 voters to get on the ballot and the earliest date I can walk into the Department of Elections to pay that fee and turn in the signatures is May 16. I'll let you know when my fundraising effort gets underway.

I don't expect the incumbent, who wasted at least $26,000 in City funds to obtain that restraining order and applied pressure to the sheriff, police department and district attorney to teach me a lesson instead of putting the pee-parazzo incident before the Human Rights Commission at a greatly reduced cost to taxpayers, to agree to debates with me.

That is, if Judge Sam Feng would consider relaxing the order in the interests of democracy and the integrity of the electoral process.

Weekend Woof #66: Beef on the Menu

A lot of beefy dudes have passed in front of or posed for my camera this week, quite pleasing to my queer eye. It's always difficult to choose a favorite out of the dudes caught on memory-card because they each have something special about them, but I have to single out Riley as the most enjoyable due to his terrific way of laughing with all of his upper chest straining against his shirts.

The top photo is cropped from the bottom image and no matter which one you look at, the tattooed hunk gripping his rod and camera is quite a specimen of the modern young male.

I simply don't understand the dress or business drag fetish but the dude in the bottom photo filled out his office clothes so well, it didn't matter what he was wearing. That balding, shaved head and facial fuzz only add to his hunkiness.

This is Riley who works at Any Mountain on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, who hails from Alaska and showed me ski masks because I was looking for Pussy Riot apparel for the March 3 solidarity rally at Davies Hall when the St. Petersburg Philharmonic performs. Riley was super-friendly, said he's straight and played along with my cruising routine, plus he easily chuckled whenever I said Pussy Riot.

Thanks for the entertainment guys!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Campos for Assembly Event Disguised as a Techie Happy Hour?

If you have not had your fill of Assembly candidate David Campos at the Board of Supervisors' weekly general meeting or the committees he chairs or sits on, or at the SFMTA board of directors meeting on the Google bus fee where he played the privilege card and didn't have to wait for public comment and also didn't have to keep his remarks to just two minutes like everyone else, or one of the many bodies where he's a director or has a seat and a vote including, at the Democratic County Central CommitteeGolden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation DistrictMetropolitan Transportation Commission, the SF County Transportation Authority, or at the Harvey Milk Democratic Club or his recent debate with David Chui or one of his many campaign events and photo-ops, you have one more opportunity to hear what the gasbag has to say.

Well, this Tuesday, Feb. 25 starting at 7 pm you can participate in a Tech Workers Against Displacement Happy Hour, bolding added:

Sick of being blamed for SF's housing crisis? Want to join the effort to stop evictions, displacement, and skyrocketing rents? Come join fellow hackers, coders, and makers for an informal happy hour with housing rights activists and Supervisor David Campos (City Supervisor of District 9 - The Mission, Bernal Heights, and Portola). The goal of this event is to create an open discussion on how improved communication and collaboration can affect reforms needed to stop involuntary displacements of longterm San Franciscans and ensure sustainable, cohesive and diverse communities.

Based on the messages at that Facebook page, where no techies have posted notes saying they'll be attending, I'm not sure it's a genuine tech workers against displacement event but we'll see how many techies show up.

It's all being organized by Gustav Feldman and Rolla Selbeck, and Gus is a member of the Milk Club and supports Campos' for assembly. The happy hour happens at Virgil's Sea Room at 3152 Mission Street, and the club is owned Milk Club co-president Tom Temprano. Nothing wrong with Milk Club folks organizing this event, but they've done an early endorsement on behalf of Campos and electing him to Sacramento is a top priority for the club this year so I'm not at all surprised that the only announced speaker is Campos.

Why is his granted this privilege? What's so special about a happy hour with him making remarks, as he just happens to be campaigning for higher office? Will Campos be limited to only two minutes, the same amount of time allowed for each speaker at public comment at the Board of Supervisors and the various other public bodies he sits on?

Frankly, I don't see advancing Campos' political career as really compatible with starting a conversation at an event springing up from the anger of the recent class war skirmishes in San Francisco. He's a sloppy and ambitious Democrat who flew under the radar for years as the eviction epidemic exploded in his district, and now he's trying to get out in front of the grassroots organizing to stop displacement.

How about a happy hour on Tuesday, Feb 25 without any politicians getting special privileges?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Shultz & Pals Asked to Fly Rainbow Flag on March 3 at Russian Concert

Yesterday was a meeting of the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center (WMPAC) board of trustees and to get to it I had to walk along the Charlotte and George Shultz Horseshoe Drive along side the opera house. The WMPAC oversees a number of City-owned and funded cultural institutions include Davies Hall, home of the SF Symphony.

Last week, Jennifer Norris, the administrator for the trustees in an email denied the request from Gays Without Borders to fly the rainbow flag on the pole prominently affixed atop Davies Hall. We want to raise our LGBT colors on that City-owned flagpole in solidarity with gay Russians and the punk feminist group Pussy Riot, on March 3 when the St. Petersburg Philharmonic will perform at the hall.

A solidarity rally is happening on March 3 at 7 pm outside the hall located at Van Ness Avenue and Grove Street.

I passed Charlotte's cream-colored convertible Mercedes-Benz and noticed her vanity licence plates read "7CMS11" and thought the CMS must stand for what else but Charlotte Maillaird Shultz. You can see her City-issued business card as the Chief of Protocol in the upper right corner, on the dashboard.

Also parked on Charlotte and George Shultz Horseshoe Drive was trustee Thomas E. Horn's Jaguar. He's the former publisher and minority stock-holder of the Bay Area Reporter, is on the board of directors of Charlotte's SF Host Committee and SF Special Events Committee and is a power-broker at City Hall. His licence plate shows he's a member of the Honorary Consul Corps, as he is the honorary consul for the principality of Monaco. To the right of the the licence plate is the crest for the House of Grimaldi, the ruling royal family.

Once inside the board meeting on the fourth floor of the opera house, I began snapping photos and everyone smiled for my camera except Charlotte.

Looking lovely in a stylish purple outfit was socialite Dede Wilsey. At one point she pulled out a paper notepad to write something down and it was a lighter shade of purple, that perfectly matched her jacket. Does she carry matching notepads suited to her color of the day?

My, this is a lengthy digression. As this video illustrates, I verbally appealed to the trustees to show us their written flag policy and requested that we communicate via email about finding a way to display the rainbow flag on March 3 when the St. Petersburg Philharmonic will play at Davies Hall.

Will Shultz and other trustees work with Gays Without Borders to creatively show visual solidarity with LGBT people in Russia and Pussy Riot protest musicians? Time will tell.

As we wait hearing from the trustees, please visit the Facebook page for the March 3 rally outside the hall, "like" it, post messages of support, spread the word about that page and the rally, and join us at 7 pm that day!
My Culture Vulture Report for the Week

(The SF Film Society new executive director Noah Cowan, shown in one of his favorite spots: a movie theatre. Credit: Taku Kumabe.)

The past week has been full of very satisfying entertainment and good news, starting with the San Francisco Symphony concert on Feb. 14 marking the debut of Dutch conductor Jaap Van Zweden.

On the program was Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and it was the first time Mike and I were hearing it performed live. Van Zweden, possessing a compact wrestler's build, brought tremendous verve and poise to the podium and during the most lively sections of the Russian music, he pushed the performers to play with maximum gusto.

Mike claims I jumped a few inches out of my seat at the first clang of the cymbals, but I experienced a mere jolt. When I really jumped up was at the conclusion of the symphony, to shout "bravo" along with the other cheering members of the audience. We look forward to seeing Van Zweden again leading the orchestra in the future.

My cinematic plate was full of tasty treats with Satyajit Ray's comedic melodrama "The Big City" being the main entree. It's this cineaste's dream come true, to finally catch up with this master's body of work shown on restored 35mm prints at the Pacific Film Archive. As with several of the other Ray films in this brilliant series, the PFA was packed almost to capacity.

This weekend's Ray film is the noir "The Expedition" featuring Soumitra Chatterjee, the handsome star of "The World of Apu" and it screens at 2 pm on Sunday.

I also saw the Oscar nominated live action shorts at the Embarcadero Cinema and enjoyed it immensely. My favorite was from Denmark, "Helium", about a quirky janitor at a children's hospital easing a young boy's early death and I expect it to win the Academy Award. The compilation ranges in length, narrative styles and themes, and each short is top-notch and worth seeing.

Last night, I caught up with the new film from Japanese "Like Father, Like Son". Another gentle and elegant work by director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, it follows two straight married couples whose sons were switched at birth by an angry nurse at the hospital shorting after being born. A very sly and humorous account of child-rearing, family ties and class differences.

And finally, the San Francisco Film Society recently announced a new executive director has been hired by the name of Noah Cowan. He hails from Canada and for the past five years has been the programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival's Bell Lightbox, a year-round venue with a daily movie schedule. Read this cheeky interview with him and let's welcome him to the Bay Area cinema world.

I wish Cowan all the best and hope to meet him when the society begins the 2014 edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival in April.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gay Pussy Riot Vigil @ Russian Concert: March 3 in San Francisco

(Russian policeman about to strike Pussy Riot musicians on Feb. 19, near Sochi. Credit: Morry Gash, Associated Press.)

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic, under the direction of conductor Yuri Temirkanov, will be performing in San Francisco on March 3and members of Gays Without Borders are organizing a solidarity vigil outside Davies Hall where they will be performing. Please mark your calendar for this important event:

WHO: Gays Without Borders, LGBT & Feminist Activists

WHAT: Speak out and raising of a 6'x10' rainbow flag

WHERE: Davies Symphony Hall

WHY: Protest before the St. Petersburg Philharmonic concert

LOCATION: Grove Street and Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

WHEN: Monday, March 3

TIME: 7 pm

Facebook event page:

Conductor Temirkanov was one of the Putin 500 Trustees, a group of prominent Russians who endorsed Vladimir Putin's 2012 reelection bid. On December 14, 2013, he was honored at a gala concert and 75th birthday party by Putin in St. Petersburg, according to the Kremlin's Presidential Press and Information Service which also circulated photos from the ceremonies.

Temirkanov and the visit by the government-funded St. Petersburg Philharmonic are the perfect cultural figure and musical performance to communicate a message to Putin and all of Russia: We refuse to be silent as our brothers and sisters are denied free speech, the right to publicly assemble and full protection of their universal human rights.

Pussy Riot's new video titled "Putin, We Will Teach You How to Love the Motherland", was released today and should be viewed by anyone concerned with human rights.We believe March 3's vigil is the first post-Sochi action in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Russians, and the feminist rock group and social justice advocates of Pussy Riot.

(Gay activists being denied their right to assemble in Moscow's Red Square, before the start of the Olympics. Credit: Reuters.)

After months of escalating violence and stigmatization of LGBT people in Russia, and the beating of Pussy Riot performers during the Olympics, it is crucial that we use cultural visits to send a message of hope and tolerance.

A call has gone out to Bay Area supporters of the incredibly brave Pussy Riot performers, to join the March 3 action wearing the group's famous costume of a solid, brightly colored knit ski mask and blouse or dress. A limited number of such masks will be available at the solidarity vigil.

(Davies Hall illuminated with orange lights in solidarity with the SF Giants baseball team. Credit: Daniel Leu Photography.)

The San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, which is a City government agency that oversees Davies Hall because it is a publicly-owned building, last week rejected a request from Gays Without Borders to fly a rainbow flag on the hall's flagpole. We are appealing that decision and have also requested that the atrium lights of the hall be lit up with rainbow colors.

If the City can illuminate the hall in the color of a privately-owned professional sports team, we think the hall can use the rainbow lights presently lighting up City Hall during the Sochi Olympics in support of gay Russians to light Davies Hall for one night.

Please join us on Monday, March 3 at 7 pm at Davies Hall and show your strong solidarity with Pussy Riot and LGBT people of Russia!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

City Funds: SF Pride = $168,000 vs. Charlottte Shultz = $955,000

Let's followup on my post today about the City Controller's Office providing me with proof that over the three most recent fiscal years, two nonprofits headed by Chief of Protocol Charlotte Shultz received $955,000 and I believe much of that went toward her annual lavish City Hall parties for her elite friends and diplomats. Must be nice for the 1 percenters to enjoy themselves on the taxpayers' dime via welfare to the SF Host Committee and the SF Special Events Committee.

Last summer, with passions boiling over the SF Pride board of directors bestowing and then rescinding a grand marshal honor on WikiLeaks heroine Chelsea Manning, I filed a public records request with the Grants for the Arts program for documents showing how much the queer nonprofit had received from 2010 through 2012. At that point, the City had not provided any funds to SF Pride for 2013. 

(Courtesy of SF Pride.)

For all the faults of the old board of directors at SF Pride even I, one of their most ardent critics, would say that paltry $58,000 each year was a wise investment by the City for an event that brings hundreds of thousands of people to town during June, and millions of profits for public and private coffers.

Now, I am also keeping tabs on the new board and while I have not seen their report to the City Controller responding to an audit, and the report is in the works and after it is submitted to the controller will be made available to the public, I say with much confidence in most of the current board and the newly hired executive director, City Hall should allocate more taxpayers funds to SF Pride. 

(Charlotte Shultz, recipient of City welfare, seated at left. Credit: Catherine Bigelow, SF Chronicle.)

Why is the City skirting Prop F, which banned public funds paying for the activities of the Protocol Office, and directing robust six-figure grants to Shultz's two nonprofits that perform diplomatic services and organize soirees for her friends, and providing SF Pride with only relatively low five-figure funds to produce events that attract nearly a million people?

We need every queer who thinks the City should be giving more public dollars to SF Pride, and all businesses that benefit from Pride Month every June and the myriad functions organized to celebrate our liberation and activism, to lobby the mayor and Board of Supervisors. Our June parade and celebration bring in way more people and profits than Shultz's shindigs, and City allocations should reflect that reality.

Let the mayor and Supervisors cut the welfare Shultz's two nonprofits now received, adhere to the law created by Prop F, and she can rattle her gold plated begging bowl at her 1% friends to pay for their parties at our City Hall. The party subsidies she received would then be redirected to SF Pride.

A much better use and investment of City dollars.
Charlotte Shultz's City Hall Soirees Cost Taxpayers $955,000?

It's taken a few public records requests and poring over IRS 990s, but I've finally received proof that the City foots at least part of the bill for the annual diplomats' holiday ball Chief of Protocol Charlotte Shultz throws at City Hall.

The City Controller's office yesterday provided me with the screenshots showing $760,000 taxpayer dollars have flowed over the last three years to the SF Host Committee and $195,000 to the SF Special Events Committee. Both committees are headed by Shultz. The mayor's staff told me last month that they had no public records about costs for the consular parties.

Technically, that's true but the 2010, 2011 and 2012 tax filings for the host committee, and the 2009 and 2010 filings for the special events committee show that Shultz's nonprofits received robust government grants. So, the City money is allocated via the General Services Administration to the nonprofits and they in turn pay for the City Hall parties.

Here's what the mayor's office said to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force in response to my complaint that no public records were located regarding the cost of the most recent diplomat's soiree:

[T]wo nonprofits fund events hosted by the Office of Protocol, including the December event to which Mr. Petrelis refers in his first request. Therefore, the Mayor’s Office does not have an itemized breakdown of the December 11 event because the nonprofits, not the City, paid for the event.

In January, Shultz's deputy Matthew Goudeau, whose title is Director of Protocol and who occupies an office at City Hall, said:

In June 1998, voters approved Proposition F, prohibiting City funding of the Office of Protocol. The same proposition permits the Office of Protocol to continue to operate paid for by private donations and in accordance with the laws and practices as of October 17, 1989.

Despite that proposition, City funds make their way into Shultz's hand. Goudeau's position is actually part of the San Francisco International Airport department and is paid $113,900. In other words, Shultz and her City Hall pals have created ways to keep their party machine going and taxpayers underwrite their soirees. Shultz's guest list for the December 2013 consular shindig included 100 friends of her socialite best buddy DeDe Wilsey.

The SF Chronicle's stenographer for Shultz and the moneyed elite, Catherine Bigelow, gushed about the 2009 party, and snapped this photo during the fun:

Days before Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz hosted her holiday party for members of the San Francisco Consular Corps and Host Committee, she wished for a bit of snow. [...] But Shultz was already prepared with some white magic: she’d decorated the lawn of City Hall with piles of the fresh, fluffy stuff with an assist from a snow-making machine. [...] A snowman was built in Charlotte's snow on the lawn of City Hall.

Wouldn't surprise me to learn that City funds were funneled to the host committee that year and were used to pay for the snow-making machine and the lavish displays and costumes of performers paid to entertain the crowd. I've filed another public records request with the City Controller for additional payments to Shultz's two nonprofits.

Numerous vmails left for the contact listed on the nonprofits' IRS 990s, a Pam Miller of Menlo Park, have not been returned. I've requested communication with her over the questions I have about the $955,000 they have received in the last three years.

Yes, perhaps some of the money went for events and costs unrelated to the annual consular parties, and maybe a few private bucks went toward the parties, but I can't report on how the host committee and special events committee used their taxpayer dollars if they don't answer my questions. One way to find is to examiner the actual contracts between the City and the committees, so a public records request for those contracts has been filed with the General Services Administration.

Of course, we could also do with a big dose of voluntary transparency from Shultz and Goudeau, and their boss Mayor Ed Lee about all this, but we're more likely to have genuine snow fall on the City than these three public servants sharing answers with me.

Follow the money!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Historic DPH Meeting on Obamacare Will Be Live Streamed Today

As well as I can determine, the San Francisco health commission has never televised or live streamed one of their meetings, so the meeting this afternoon, Tuesday, Feb. 18, that starts at 4 pm, will be historic because it's the first time a commission meeting will be aired on the web.

On the agenda today are three resolutions about implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the ripple effect it is having on Healthy San Francisco and charity care in the City. As if it weren't enough for the commission to contend with Obamacare, also on the agenda are the 2013 annual report and proposed 2014 - 2016 budget.

You would think with all these crucial items to discuss and their impact on thousands of San Francisco residents and City coffers, that the DPH leaders would ensure community engagement via SFGovTV and the City's various social media platforms. Yet, with a $1.6 billion budget DPH has no plans to televise or stream the meeting. Essentially, DPH tells members of the public if you can't attend the meeting but want to watch how the commissioners deal with these issues, tough luck.

Well, thanks to the tech skills and equipment of Punk Boy in SF, the meeting will be live streamed later today. Go to his page here, , starting at 4 pm to watch and listen, and after the commission meeting you can find it archived for viewing later on.

It's time for DPH to stop resisting using technology to better engage and inform the many San Francisco citizens they serve. Now is also the time for the Board of Supervisors to pressure the DPH to move their meetings from 101 Grove Street across the street to City Hall, where there are many rooms equipped to air their meetings.

Sunshine in the form of televising and streaming DPH hearings is a requirement for good public health.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Russia Frees Italian Trans Leader Vladimir Luxuria

(After her release from jail, Luxuria, center, celebrated with comedic reporters Pio and Amedeo in this photo from their Facebook page.)

There is some excellent news to share today from Sochi, allowing us all to breathe a sigh of relief, according to the International Business Times:

An Italian LGBT activist and former member of parliament who was arrested in Sochi while protesting Russia's anti-gay propaganda law has been freed, activists said.

Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender who served as lawmaker with Italy's Communist Party was held by police in the southern Russian city hosting the Winter Olympics as she was waving a rainbow flag saying "Gay is OK" in Russian. She was released after a few hours.

"I've been freed and tomorrow I'll watch the Games," Luxuria, 48, wrote in a SMS message to the Gay Centre, Fabrizio Marrazzo a spokesman for the LGBT community told ANSA news agency.

While we celebrate her freedom from a Russian jail, let us remember that for LGBT Russians the battle over Putin's anti-gay propaganda law and confronting the widespread social and religious hatred goes on.

Here's a photo of Luxuria at Euro Pride 2011 which was held in Rome that year, looking rather fabulous in an eye-catching rainbow tiara during the parade and celebration. We can expect much more media-savvy activism from her, thank goodness!

(Credit: Bill Wilson, Gays Without Borders.)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ammiano's Agita From DPH's ACA Plan; TV's the Cure

Remember when Tom Ammiano was a member of the Board of Supervisors and a staunch government transparency advocate? It's been a while since he last took up that issue. Sure would be great to have him rekindle his sunshine interests and push for finally airing the San Francisco health commission's twice-a-month meetings on the City's TV and web platforms. Sunshine is just the antidote to a vexing problem at DPH that has Ammiano very upset.

From Sunday's article by Heather Knight in the Chronicle:

[Ammiano] finds it no laughing matter that Healthy San Francisco, the city's universal health care plan, will continue to be available to undocumented immigrants who don't qualify for health insurance through President Obama's Affordable Care Act but not to U.S. citizens who qualify for it but can't afford it. 

The city's Department of Public Health is telling people in the latter category they have to leave Healthy San Francisco, which means they stand to lose their doctor and primary care doctor, and fulfill the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate that everybody who qualifies buy insurance. [...]

"We knew it would help the undocumented, but we didn't write it just for the undocumented," [Ammiano] said of Healthy San Francisco. "It's really outrageous. ... It's very troubling, and they're betraying the program."

You may recall that I blogged about the Feb. 4 health commission meeting where these very issues were raised and debated, but not seen on SFGovTV because DPH has not been pressured by anyone but me to televise their meetings on the City's extensive TV and streaming platforms.

We need beaucoup sunshine disinfecting how the health commission is making decisions related to Obamacare, Healthy SF and charity care, not to mention quality of services and costs of it all. If we were all able to monitor the commission's hearings, I believe there would be less agita for Ammiano and folks coping with the changing health care insurance landscape.

Ammiano's political protege David Campos could lead the charge to have the commission televise its meetings and the Chronicle asked if he agreed with his mentor:

Supervisor David Campos, who arrived in the United States from Guatemala with his family and without documentation as a 14-year-old, said he's with Ammiano on this one. (No surprise since he's running for Ammiano's state seat.) "I don't think reliance on charity care is good public policy," he said.

I agree with Campos about charity care and wonder why he and Ammiano are not pushing full transparency over the health commission and all of its work. It's time for these two queer politicians to speak up for televising DPH meetings.

Italian Trans Activist Arrested at Sochi Displaying Rainbows

My friend Valerio Barbini is a young gay Italian leader and he just alerted me to this breaking news from Russia. A famous transgender Italian activist and politician named Vladimir Luxuria has been taken into custody at Sochi for protesting Putin's homo-hatred and waving a rainbow flag. Here's a Google translation of the Giornalettismo story that gives some of the facts:

Vladimir Luxuria arrested in Sochi with a gay flag. On Twitter she writes: "I'm in Sochi ! Regards with the colors of the rainbow, in the face of Putin!" 

Luxuria, in the past the first transgender person to be elected to the parliament of a European state, so this morning announcing his arrival at the Games in Sochi on Twitter, even posting a picture of her at entrance to the Olympic park with a rainbow fan and umbrella. 

"The goal, of course, was to protest against the law homophobic Putin, one that prohibits gay propaganda pretext in the presence of minors," he explained over the phone to ANSA, while buying tickets to Sochi airport go see a hockey game tomorrow night. 

Immediately after the Agi news said: Luxuria was arrested with a gay flag. "I just got a call from Vladimir Luxuria and she said: 'I was arrested by police while attending the Olympics in Sochi with a banner with the inscription in Russian 'Gay and ok'". This news was announced by Imma Battaglia, Honorary President of the Gay Project. 

"The attitude of the police, Battaglia reports, 'was brutal and aggressive'. No one speaks English. Now Luxuria is alone in a room with neon lights on the face, allegedly in police custody. We call for an immediate intervention of Minister Bonino."

Let's hope Luxuria is not mistreated while in Russian custody and is soon released from jail, and out on the streets continuing her fabulous activism.
Moscow's Sochi 'Hunger Games' Rally Included LGBT Issues

(Photo courtesy of Grani.Ru.)

Such queer bravery by a handful of peaceful activists, putting themselves out on the streets of Moscow with bright, visible LGBT symbols and easy to read to signs in Russian, with hostile agitators expressing their opposition to gay liberation and uniformed police officers to end the rally, and with various cameras recording it all, needs the attention of American and global activists.

I'm cross-posting from Ruslan Porshnev's fantastic QueeRussia news portal, a true asset in English that you should be reading regularly, this incredible story in text and video. I salute the activists who organized and participated in this action. Bravo!

From QueeRussia:

On February 15, about 50 people attended a sanctioned rally against corruption and repression in a ‘Hyde Park’ zone located inside the Gorky Park, Moscow. Participants waved rainbow flags, held a banner saying “The Sochi Hunger Games 2014″ , as well as posters in support of LGBT rights, ecologist Eugene Vitishko and prisoners of May, 6 (‘Bolotnoye’ case).

Police tried to ban the posters against the Olympics, insisting that the Olympics is not related to corruption and repression which was the declared theme of the rally. Police threatened to disperse the rally and to arrest participants, so the posters about the Olympics  were put away by the decision of the organizers, about 40 minutes after the rally began.

A number of Orthodox activists, who were allegedly accidentally passing by,  also demanded the police to remove LGBT symbols from the event,  but the police did not mind the rainbow flags, reportsIn a press release posted prior to the event organizers said:
The government has spent $50 billion to host the Winter Games in Sochi – they will become the most expensive Olympics in history! This amount could be spent on building 500 modern medical centers or five thousand schools. Big business and officials make profits on kickbacks, but for the locals there is unemployment or slave labor, demolished houses and destruction of nature. [...]
Sochi ‘kickbacking event’ is not an international holiday, this is Russian “Hunger Games.” The real players here are political prisoners, powerless migrant workers, LGBT, poor pensioners, residents deprived of shelter. But they lose, this carnival is not for them. 
There is no freedom and no holiday! There is a cause for joy only when we achieve the abolition of all repressive laws and set activists free, when the majority will win a real opportunity to address issues of political structure in Russia and dispose of its wealth.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

SF Pride Finally Creates a Members' Page but . . .

Nearly five months ago, a reform slate of candidates for the board of directors of SF Pride won seats and forced out the old guard. One of the new directors is Jesse Oliver Sanford who touted his extensive tech and web skills in his campaign materials here, here, here and here as reasons to vote for him.

For months, I've raised the serious IT issues in writing and verbally with the board and received many assurances that the directors were working on upgrading the site, and never did I or the general membership receive a written outline of what was in the works. The closest he came to an outline was in an email in early January:

I'm not an officer and the reports are typically given by the officers. [...] I've been serving on the hiring, nominating and P&P committees, and participating actively in policy and issue discussions. Shortly, I will also be chairing the IT ad hoc committee. I would be happy to provide more details on any of the above as appropriate and needed.

When I again asked at the February board meeting about the tech issues, Jesse said the IT matters would soon be addressed. Not impressed with the response, I wrote this post on Tuesday expressing my frustration. On Thursday evening, I saw Jesse for a few minutes on the street and he said he'd created a members' page separate from the primary SF Pride site, and that I could find the link to the page at the SF Pride blog.

OK, I'll give Jesse credit that the bare-bones members' page has finally been created but must also note it has a thrown-together air about it. Good to see that the agendas and minutes of membership and board meetings are on the site, but much more substance is required, such as reports from directors.

Really, we're in the center of the tech universe and after nearly five months the main site has not undergone a major modernization and no written plan with clear measurable goals has been presented to the members, and believe we deserve a better site that is easy to navigate, allows for respectfully interactive threads and discussions, and takes full advantage of technology.

Having problems delivering on all that? Then put out a call for assistance to the thousands of queers who work in Big Tech, heck, maybe even enlist the pro bono services of a web-building firm and get cracking on engaging the SF Pride membership more fully.

Jesse has designed a Membership Expectations page and on it he said:

Monthly Membership Meetings (also known as the General Planning Meeting) are generally held on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. This is the primary method for you as a member to directly involve yourself in the governance and direction of the organization.

While I have long lauded SF Pride for holding two open meetings each month, I respectfully disagree that they are the primary method of membership engagement because there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of members who can't make the meetings. No one method should be seen as the best route of involvement for members.

A friend and longtime member and observer of SF Pride, who also very much approves of the new board and its work, rejected my complaints over the IT issues. "Give them time," he pleaded on the phone this week. I responded saying just as I was tough, but constructively critical of the old board, I was taking the same approach to the new directors.

Just as there are expectations of the members, we also have expectations of the directors and I'm here to bring a degree of accountability to the new board.

Friday, February 14, 2014

After 27 Years at SF DPH, My Lesbian HIV Doc is Retiring

Sure feels like a trend, the retirement of highly qualified and experienced AIDS specialty doctors retiring. Last April, my primary care physician Dr. Fred Strauss ended his practice with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. I had been under his care since 1995 and he knew so much about medical history, without having to check my records, I had built up so much trust in him.

In November, longtime AIDS doctor Paul Bellman of New York City announced he was closing his practice, after decades of serving the gay male and HIV positive communities as both a physician and public policy advocate.

Now, the SF DPH doctor I've been seeing for the past nine or ten months is retiring. After twenty-seven years on the frontlines of the AIDS epidemic and after the plague era ended with the development of HIV drug cocktails, out lesbian Dr. Toby Dyner is calling it quits at the Castro-Mission Health Center of DPH.

I am in the process of gathering info about all the options available to me as a person with AIDS with Medicare and Medi-Cal public insurance. Don't know if I'll be remaining in the DPH system, most likely not for many reasons linked to its bureaucracy and leaders at the top of the agency at its 101 Grove Street headquarters, or transferring to the AIDS clinics at UCSF or Kaiser. If you have any advice about where to get quality AIDS and general healthcare in San Francisco, I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Here's Dr. Dyner's letter:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Construction Starts Soon at Alamo's Mission Street Cinema

A cineaste acquaintance last month told me about the rehab work supposedly happening at the old Mission Theatre in San Francisco, and it was the first I heard about transforming the long-closed and decrepit movie palace in my neck of the woods.

The Alamo Drafthouse company of Austin, Texas, announced in September their intentions to start a franchise here and somehow I missed this news:

Alamo Drafthouse New Mission is slated to open during the third quarter of 2014 at 2550 Mission St. in the historic New Mission theater [which] upon successfully completing the local entitlement and approval process, will feature five screens of new release movies, independent and repertory films as well as the Alamo’s unique signature programming. [...] The theaters at Alamo Drafthouse New Mission will also be equipped for 3D and 35mm projection.

I wrote to Alamo Drafthouse's media contact Fons PR, to ask for a status report on their project and stressed the importance of communicating now with the local Mission neighborhood because this cinema company is a neighbor now and has been since they acquired the property, and spokesman Brad Johnson replied:

We are not participating in interviews in regards to the San Fran theater at this time.  I'll add you to our San Fran press list so that when we begin to make formal updates on the theater we can be sure to cc you and you can follow-up for an interview request at that time. 

Color soooooo over PR mavens who engage in spin and avoid respectful engagement of substance with affected communities and persons. Brad Johnson is in league with Mayor Ed Lee's communications staff and Alex Tourk of Ron Conway's nonprofit advocacy group, when I come looking for public documents and info. The last thing these folks do is actual relations with the public.

Memo to Alamo and their PR firm: Check the news for stories about fed up San Francisco residents demanding communication and engagement with various firms moving into our neighborhoods, in one way or another, and shifting a host of local dynamics affecting lots of people. In short, Alamo and their Austin crew ought to start a public dialogue with Mission citizens now and not wait until they open to hear from us.

Next I contacted the San Francisco planning commission for the latest details on permits and actual rehab work at the site. Richard Sucre, one of their preservationi technical specialists, responded:

I was the assigned planner for the entitlements associated with the New Mission Theater and the Alamo Drafthouse Project. Currently, this project has already been approved by the Historic Preservation Commission in December 2012, and the Planning Commission in January 2013. 

They are currently seeking their building permits and will soon be under construction. Alamo is still in process with obtaining their main building permit (BPA No. 201306200106) for the theater rehabilitation. I signed off on this permit in Dec 2013, and routed it to DBI. 

Last I checked, DBI was still in process with reviewing their permit submittal.

Let's hope Sucre is correct about the work soon starting and we also see Alamo executives and the public relations folks, all based in Austin, holding an open meeting or two in San Francisco.

(All photos of the facade snapped today, Feb. 12th.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How SF Pride Picked Manning as a 2014 Honoree; Parade Line-up

Like the Academy Awards, SF Pride is a year-round endeavor and not just a one-day affair. As someone who became a voting member of SF Pride for the first time last year, after the debacle of selecting Chelsea Manning as a grand marshal and then rescinding the honor, I've expressed concerns and praise for the new board that was installed in October.

After attending the Tuesday, Feb. 4 board of directors meeting, I was confused about a number of matters and submitted questions to the directors and today received a reply from Marsha Levine, who is a director and in charge of the parade contingent line-up. The video shows executive director George Ridgely as he finishes his report, and you can see how well-attended the meeting was.

First up, just when my brain was wrapped around the revised policies and procedures for the many grand marshal slots and the current nominating process, the directors last week voted unanimously to pick Manning as an honoree. Confused as to how she was chosen this early in the grand marshal selection process, I asked for clarification. Marsha replied:

The Board of Directors has historically appointed special awards or non-community grand marshal honors upon those most deserving at any time, as warranted. What you are referring to are only the Community Grand Marshal, Organizational Grand Marshal, and Pink Brick Award Recipient nominations coming to a close this Tuesday night. As for the number of grand marshals, they will be significantly reduced this year. 

Good to know the BOD has the right to select someone as they see fit at any time leading up to Pride. Just when I think I understand the selection process, a curve ball is tossed out but at least I know now how it can happen. As I've stated at meetings and in writing, there are too many grand marshals and even with a reduction this year there will be eight of them in addition to Manning and maybe a Lifetime Achievement honoree. Nine or ten honorees is like bestowing that many Oscars on leading actresses or actors.

Next up, my questions about whether politicians could be merged into a single group and made the last contingent, and if the mayor had a role in choosing the line-up of the politicians. Marsha said:

The Mayor’s Office is not given/does not have any special power to determine our line up, however, and as per typical of every major metropolitan city, we can get a list from the Protocol Office of elected rankings, to help us determine the seniority order for registered politicians attending our Parade. There is no chance at this time that all the politicians will be put in one large contingent and/or at the end of the Parade for a myriad of reasons, much of them posted at the bottom of the 2013 Line Up web page

Frankly, it's not worth my time and effort, right now, to attend these meetings knowing that when Pride Sunday rolls around, elected officials will very likely again, as in 2013, be front-loaded in the line-up. I in no way wish to expend energy building an event glorifying the egos of politicians.

The line-up has been a major concern of mine and last year I kvetched about how there were 23 elected officials with contingents and they were in the first half of the line-up, while more than 100 community contingents waited hours to march up Market Street with a sparse number of spectators and news cameras.

My largest area of concern is the Pride web site and how it lacks so much info. Yes, four months after the new BOD was installed, I expected a user-friendly site. Marsha's response:

Lucky Guttirez, Jesse Oliver Sanford, and Justin Taylor have addressed your questions about the progress on modifying the web site at every General Membership and/or Board of Directors Meetings where you have asked the question. The IT issues are being addressed, however, keep in mind that the web site design/updating belongs firmly with staff — not the BOD nor with volunteers -- and until a few weeks ago, we did not have a permanent ED to drive this. 

In the meantime, since October, Justin and Lucky worked very hard to post online some of the documentation the Membership requested — so I would not categorize this as nothing done. IT is also charged with updating our software, equipment, and Internet provider, much of which takes priority given its age and lacking — being able to work efficiently and effectively first would allow more time for redesign later.

On the Membership web page, you can see many of the minutes requested by the Membership posted as a priority, links to governance documents, and upcoming meeting dates for the BOD and General Membership meetings.

The members page today lists info for January's membership meeting and nothing about tonight's meeting. The minutes are current only up to September 2013. If you weren't able to attend the meetings since then, how are you supposed to learn what transpired? While an email was sent to members about tonight, folks may have changed their addies or non-members wishing to check out the meetings who visit the Pride site wouldn't have a clue about the time and location for tonight.

I've pushed for regular updating of the site with minutes, to keep everyone informed about all the various issues that come up at the meetings, such as Manning being selected for a grand marshal slot in 2014, and Marsha addresses this:

Every time there is something newsworthy to share, we have generated a press release (we cannot control the media picking it up and running it), we have posted to social media, and we have sent emails to the Membership. I think we've done more communicating with the public in the last four months than the previous leadership during the last two years combined. It would be really nice if the Membership would not judge us by the past transgressions of the previous BOD(s), and instead, supported us in the efforts we are making. Especially since we are now into full production mode for the event. 

It's not so much a question of sharing only newsworthy decisions or what the media chooses to cover but simply posting minutes and not depending on any media outlet to get the details out there. My hope is that I can very soon learn about the agendas, discussions and decisions of membership and BOD meetings from the Pride site.

Thank you, Marsha, for addressing my questions and so quickly too!