Walking the Castro Neighborhood...

 

More on Strut

 

It was standing roomv only earlier this week at the inaugural ceremony kicking off the innovative Strut program at the new San Francisco AIDS Foundation building on Castro. Former CEO Neil Giuliano, who participated in the ribbon-cutting and remarks, flew in for the opening from Tempe, Arizona, to help launch the center he worked so hard to establish while at the foundation. Early indications are that even despite the wet weather, the center will get a lot of use.

 

Strut hours are Monday from 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesday to Thursday from 10 am to 8 pm, Friday from 10 am to 6 pm, Saturday 10 am to 6 pm as well, and closed on Sunday.

 

HRC Selling Out Special Edition Mug

We can happily report that it was a successful holiday season at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) store in the historic home of civil rights legend Harvey Milk up at 575 Castro. Amidst staff reports that they did well and had “great business”, the regular stream of visitors continued their strolling and examining of the historic sidewalk plaques. Some visitors even came prepared to look for their favorite people, with Sylvester being one of the most frequently requested. The Rainbow Walk brochure itself has been called “absolutely cool”, and the HRC store is the only place in the Castro where you may purchase a souvenir mug.

 

The initial production of special edition souvenir Rainbow Walk mugs is close to running out. The price is $19.50 each with proceeds going to the Walk itself. It is expected that a new run will be produced in the future after additional plaques are added to the collection. Get your special edition mug before they’re all gone!

 

••••• December 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Yuletide in San Francisco

Of all the beautiful settings in our city, two of the most different pack different kinds of charm. One is the tree by the Bank of America at 18th and Castro, as parents and toddlers wander by, entranced at the splashy oversized ornaments, something the kids have never seen before.The other is the gorgeous Tree of Hope that the World Rainbow Fund positioned in the Rotunda of City Hall. Wednesday afternoon Mayor Lee and the Consul General of Japan, Nobuhiro Watanbe, spoke at the tree lighting.

 

Controlling HIV

 

Reading about Marcus Conant and the efficacy of Truvada, I’m reminded of Supervisor Scott Wiener’s brave column in September of last year in which he shared his use of the daily antiviral pill Truvada as part of pre-exposure prophylaxis. Thanks, Scott. In a related story, on Wednesday of this week the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, warned that “hundreds of thousands of people with diagnosed HIV infection are not receiving care or antiretroviral treatment. These people account for most new HIV transmission.”

 

Terror in Paris

 

Finally, watching scenes of shocked Parisians placing scores of bouquets in an enormous and grieving monument to the victims of the November 13 terror attack brought me immediately back to 9/11 in Amsterdam. I had spent the day in the Van Gogh Museum and stopped late in the afternoon at a bathhouse to soak and relax. Instead, over the indoor pool, were two large screens showing the carnage from New York. I later found out that one of my nephews had been at work high in the second tower and had perished. Moving on to friends in Paris, I bought a bouquet to which I attached a note I had written to my nephew Gregory and placed it with so many others outside the U.S. Embassy. Seeing the scenes in Paris last month brought back this experience. Shortly after I heard the shocking news, I exchanged emails with a best friend in Paris. He told me that his 22-year-old daughter had been out with friends at a club near the Bataclan but had come home early. What luck!

 

••••• November 2015 Issue  •••••

What happened to the craziness of yore?The Castro streets were somewhat calm during Halloween.

 

A Google entry on what to do in the Castro on Halloween from a site that calls itself “Johnny’s Guide to San Francisco for cheapskates” seemed to get it right this year judging by the thinning Saturday afternoon crowds on Market, as the frigid winds from the ocean did their best to empty sidewalks.

 

“The huge 250,000 person Castro Halloween block parties in San Francisco,” they cautioned visitors, “are a thing of the past - so don’t head to the Castro expecting a massive street party. The streets will not be blocked and traffic flows normally.” Yup, right on that account.

 

After years of absorbing ruly and unruly crowds as the place to be on Halloween, including incidents of violence in 2006 and 2009, the Castro neighborhood rose up and proclaimed the new NON-Halloween, with no street party, no street closure and no Castro event.

 

Celebrants were encouraged to check out www.homeforhalloween.com and gather with friends at home or at the many clubs and private events set up for the occasion. Good-bye cheap Johnny and hello incident-free partying with a discreet police force in support. Last year was incident free, and this year didn’t look much different.

 

Witches and skeletons be damned, it was a relatively quiet evening, even quieter than normal. Maybe it was the young gay couples pushing baby strollers, or the paucity of youngsters trick or treating in this city of adults, or the aging hipsters who left their daring costumes back in the seventies when all was scandalous and revolutionary, risqué and on the challenging edge of straight society.

 

If you were looking for some coffee, Illy’s even closed at 8 with a sign that said they wanted their employees to go out and enjoy themselves. And we hope they did.

 

Photos: Bill Sywak

••••• October 2015 Issue  •••••

 

With the nip of autumn in the air and even that strange wet stuff falling down from the sky the other day, we mark both the changing of the seasons and the continuation of the Castro’s 2015 cycle of great events.

 

By now the “Up Your of Alley” of last July, not to mention June’s PRIDE spectaculars, have either faded into the past or served as extended fun warm-ups. Then depending on how much energy you have left from last Sunday’s fantastic Folsom feast, here comes the mighty Castro Street Fair tomorrow.

 

From 11 to 6 starting at Castro and Market the celebration of Drag Superstar Cookie Dough should be attracting a colorful line-up of queens and exquisitely finished models. And did you know that none other than Harvey Milk founded the first Castro Street event in 1974? Too early to remember? Of course, sweetie.

 

Besides all those creative crafts and art objects, and the hot crowd of 50,000 that are expected Oct. 3, be sure to check out and enjoy the bands and dance stages.

 

And before you go tripping up the Castro, mon cherie, save some mascara and glitter for that night of local parties at the end of October when the witch climbs her broomstick and says “Happy Halloween!” San Francisco, the party town!

 

••••• September 2015 Issue  •••••

 

 

Boy Scouts and the Morman Path

We follow up on last issue’s extensive discussion of the Boy Scouts of America’s quarter-century long journey to adopt a policy of nondiscrimination, first, in 2013, to allow gay youth to openly participate in the organization, and now in 2015 to end the blanket ban on gay leaders and employees. The recommendation to allow gay leaders was ratified by the BSA’s National Executive Board in July and in August at a series of annual Mormon Church leadership meetings.

 

Over the two summer months the significance of these changes must have seemed enormous. As Michelle Boorstein wrote in the Washington Post, “Mormons have been deeply invested in Boy Scouts for more than a century, and any boy who goes to a Mormon congregation is automatically part of the Boy Scouts.”

 

“The Boy Scouts is, literally, the youth program of the Mormon Church for boys, a bond forged because the church saw their core values as the same: Patriotism and devotion to God.” Indeed 20 percent of all scouts are Mormon. Allowing gays in positions of leadership was clearly like a couple going through a breakup.

 

Right away there was talk of the church starting its own youth program, but that did not get very far. A key reason was that though “devastated” by the vote to allow gay leaders, each sponsoring organization (overwhelmingly churches and especially Mormon churches) was free to select leaders “according to their religious and moral values.”

 

So what was new? Some champions of nondiscrimination understood this giving in to the sponsoring organizations as a good thing, meaning keeping them in the fold so scouts would still have their programs. Looked at from a distance, however, after much angst and struggle, as is the BSA habit, nothing really changed.

 

••••• July/August 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Where Has the Excitement Gone?

 

No offense to you straight guys but all the fun and sneaky excitement about gay culture and rituals, including surreptitious eye contact and our own secret codes and language, are now at risk. They made a boring meeting slightly dangerous and edgy when we knew that our boss wasn’t even aware that his staff were checking each other out, at least for starters.

 

Thank you, Will and Grace, Archie Bunker and All American Family. I guess it’s just a natural evolution. If it’s legal, it must be boring and taken for granted. Yes, we’re all getting older so the chase isn’t after young hot ones any more (we’d be kicked off the chat lines if our true ages were known). It must be those babies that gay couples lug around these days. Back to cheating on your partner for a little extracurricular fun?

 

Has the End of Gay Discrimination Truly Arrived in Scouting?

 

It started out as a straightforward AP story that former Secretary of Defense Gates came out with a bold statement in his new position as CEO of the national Boy Scouts of America to the effect that discrimination in scouting was out of place in the modern world and would no longer be tolerated by the scouts, including discrimination against the young scouts themselves and now their adult leaders. What started out as this unassuming story turned out to have the ability to nearly take over my life.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I was a naive and innocent seven year-old Cub Scout and later Boy Scout in suburban New Jersey in those whitebread Eisenhower years, and my parents were good scout supporters.

 

But then as I looked deeper into the story, I ran into another ghost from my past life: United Way of the Bay Area in San Francisco. I had been a social planner in different Bay Area counties in the late seventies, and my only memory of the scouts was when we had a disagreement with that organization. Then I distinctly remembered all these earnest straight men in business suits filling our meeting room at UWBA headquarters at Bush and Kearny, armed with a mission on behalf of Bay Area scouts. Intimidating, yes. But my duties at United Way were elsewhere and I did not get involved, though I did remember when we made the momentous decision to fund agencies that provided services to the LGBT community.

 

This story is pretty long by Courier standards but hopefully laced through with quotes representing the attitudes of the players and the times, sometimes humorous, usually quaint. After all, it took a quarter century from sexual discrimination against scouts and their leaders as a way of life to BSA President Gates’ historic statements two months ago. This could easily have grown into a fascinating book as we trace the individual stories and changing turmoil within the Scouts. Baden Powell must have gotten used to spinning in his grave.

 

••••• June 2015 Issue  •••••

Even the ticket seller had a sense of humor for Drag Queens of Comedy at Castro Theatre on May 23.

 

Since this is Pride month, let’s begin with previews of two new movies that will be introduced in tandem with Frameline39, the 39th San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival. The first is “Limited Partnership” and will be broadcast Monday night, June 15, at 10 pm on KQED. The second is That’s Not Us, to be screened at the Castro Theater on opening night, Sunday, June 21.

 

Limited Partnership

 

This new Independent Lens documentary tells the 40-year love story of one of the first gay couples to marry and their decades-long fight for legal status. Funded by several foundations and in particular by KQED and PBS, the film follows the relationship of Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan, a gay couple who fell in love and over the course of 40 years, took on the U.S. government to fight for marriage and immigration equality.

 

The documentary is powerful on many levels, from love to politics to immigration, following the history of the times through extensive archival footage. The stories it tells focus on the hardships and legal obstacles faced by a binational same-sex couple decades before the Defense of Marriage Act, Proposition 8, and public acceptance of same-sex marriage.

 

Richard is a Filipino-American and Tony is his Australian husband. They were married in 1975 in Boulder, Colorado, thanks to a courageous county clerk, and were one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married in the U.S. When Richard filed for a green card for Tony based on their marriage, he received a denial letter from the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) stating that “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” In their outrage, Richard and Tony filed the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history, and the movie takes off from there.

 

Winner of nearly a dozen awards at various film festivals, It is engaging, beautifully paced and provides a sharply delineated picture of the legal precariousness that binational same-sex couples had to endure.

 

Photo: Bill Sywak

 

That’s Not Us

 

Coming up at the Castro Theater on opening night of Frameline is That’s Not Us, a new movie that garnered enthusiastic reviews and premiered to substantial acclaim at the Inside Out festival in Toronto. Utilizing the familiar device of a couples weekend away to great effect (Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion! is one example), That’s Not Us is an improvised romantic comedy of the strong emotions expressed by three twenty-something couples - one lesbian, one gay and one straight - as they strive to enjoy one of the last weekends of summer together at an East Coast beach house.

 

Spending the weekend in close proximity, each couple has to come to terms with the raw emotions and differences of living together, albeit for a few days. Soon what should be a fun and carefree weekend becomes an exploration of what it takes to sustain a healthy relationship and make love last.

 

With a beautiful and delicate color palate and several twists in the plot line, real life issues emerge and how each couple deals with theirs becomes a learning moment, even if the solutions range from the impossible to the nearly stereotypical.

 

The actors form an effortless and entertaining ensemble in what has been called an emotionally mature film. The entire production was a low budget labor of love by a group of committed actors and producers. It’s well worth the screening, especially for millennials encountering the same challenges and opportunities.

 

Drag Queens of Comedy and Summer

 

And what would summer be without a send-off from the Queens of the Castro? This time let’s go to those unsung outside belles that sell the tickets and pass out the programs. Where would we be without them?

 

••••• May 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Sisters BingoThe Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence raised about $9,000 of charity money from Bingo nights, one of which drew 500 people to the Oakland waterfront.

 

There once was a time when I wandered into the War Memorial Green Room on Van Ness in search of the hilarious Bingo franchise run by San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I think some of them even cruised around the room on roller blades.

 

It was such a fun night that I got carried away in my youth and asked a cute nun out on a date. I guess she must have lost my number, or else going out for coffee, in nun-scape drag or not, was unseemly and forbidden for a woman of the cloth. Surely it had nothing to do with me.

 

Fast forward to April 23, 2015 and the latest incarnation of this kinky fundraiser. This time the Sisters had migrated across the bay to Jack London Square, probably the better to accommodate the nearly five hundred happy souls who filled a floor of the vast and empty space at the Oakland waterfront on Harrison Street.

 

Billed as “Drag Me to Bingo,” with the best come-on photo I’ve seen in years, I joined others who exclaimed, “I haven’t played Bingo since I was ten!” Well, Bingo technology has improved some since then, and now being an adult you can enjoy the “sassy diva entertainers” between cards. Pictures of some of them are scattered throughout this article (but not too sassy since this is a family newspaper). In any event, it was good to brush up on my Bingo skills in preparation for those killer nights I can see coming in senior housing.

 

For those of us who came late and brought an appetite, the “light eats and beer” must have vaporized before we made it through the line - but, hey, you can do worse than start your diet with half a package of chips and several beers while enjoying drag hipsters over several hours. So keep on the lookout for the next time the nice ladies whip out the mascara and markers to do good for charity.

 

Liberal-Conservative Church

 

If we in the Bay Area constitute one of the most liberal groups of Catholic parishes in the country, how did it happen that we were given as our leader such an intensely conservative prelate, one who as an opponent of same-sex marriage helped draft Proposition 8 and raised substantial sums to pass it?

 

Without pretending to have a source within the Vatican, a sequence of appointments of similar-minded thinkers emerges which may help explain things.

 

Let’s start with Pope Benedict XVI, who was elected in 2005 and resigned in February of 2013. He had a long career as an academic and professor of theology in German universities. Originally a liberal theologian, after 1968 he adopted conservative views: anti-secularism, stating that relativism is the denial of objective truth, and promoting Latin and reintroducing the use of traditional papal garments.

 

At that time he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with little pastoral experience, ensconced in the Roman Curia and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dean of the College of Cardinals and described as the main intellectual force within the Catholic church since the 1980s.

 

In this short highlighting of hundreds of years of musty history, fast forward to March 2009 when Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, named the theologically conservative Salvatore J. Cordileone the fourth bishop of Oakland. Known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and civil rights for LGBTs, Cordileone added to his conservative resume in a number of actions that are well known and unfortunately continues to do so to this day.

 

He may hit a stumbling block in the future, however, as his overall boss, the Argentine Pope Francis, unravels or ignores the old rule-driven, inquisition orthodoxy, piece by piece. Recall that his predecessor Benedict felt the need to rein in U.S. nuns who were ministering to people in need. The good nuns, as they say, fought back with determination and patience, only to have Pope Francis call off the battle to get the nuns to submit as both he and they shared a focus on compassionate care and not hidebound rules.

 

Now he has directed the resources of the Vatican and the worldwide church to influence nations to combat environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor. Part of this will be a campaign to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December.

 

How will all this affect the San Francisco Bay Area and the Castro? As Catholic schoolteachers and the signers of the open letter to the archdiocese can attest, there is much to do first to win the ideological battle at home.

 

 

Photos: Bill Sywak

 

 

••••• April 2015 Issue  •••••

 

 

San Francisco as Largest LGBT Metro Area

 

Did you see the new Gallup Poll released last month in which all 50 of the largest metro areas are shown with Gallup’s estimate of the LGBT population in each? Guess which area scored highest? San Francisco, of course, with 6.2 percent of the population being LGBT. Portland was next with 5.4 percent, then Austin (5.3 percent) and New Orleans (5.1 percent). Of the California metro areas, Los Angeles came in at 4.6 percent, Riverside at 4 percent, Sacramento and San Diego each at 3.9 percent, and our neighbor San Jose at 3.2 percent.

 

The article traces an overview of LGBTs in San Francisco, with this concluding paragraph; “Though San Francisco has less of a pull, as other parts of the country have become less hostile, the city is still a destination, including for transgender people. And while other big cities on the West Coast like Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland also have large LGBT populations, San Francisco continues to draw people, including from nearby San Jose, which has one of the smallest shares of LGBT people among the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.”

 

Beautiful But DryCome and get it: The Castro Farmers’ Market has returned to the area on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.

 

The flip side of this drought is day after day of nearly picture-perfect weather. Somehow that seems similar to the shopper who surrounds himself with new toys without so much as a thought about what to do when the day of reckoning, or at least the minimum payment, comes due. Mother Nature doesn’t seem to be obliging us either.

 

What can we learn from the Farmers Market this April springtime? The agrarians at the Castro Farmers’ Market point to a veggie basket of fresh-looking greens based on these healthy leafy specimens: baby spinach, bok choy, arugula, and red and green lettuce. It’s fun to check out the different flavors of each, before you sample the perky asparagus, peas, green onions and other spring lettuce.

 

When do we get to enjoy fresh local fruit? Blueberries and raspberries, along with cherries and apricots, are expected towards the end of the month. In the meantime, beautiful spring flowers seem to be everywhere, ours to enjoy.

 

The Castro Farmers Market appears every Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Noe and Market, rain or shine. Stop by and get a whiff of spring.

 

Civic Projects Keep Moving Along

 

Apart from the bursting forth of spring, a number of long-term civic projects are in various stages of activity. Examples include, in no particular order, the renovations and improvements at Jane Warner Plaza, the progress of reconstruction at Dolores Park, preparations for Pink Saturday now that the LGBT Center is assuming a leadership role, and the evolution of the new SF AIDS Foundation building and Magnet. Check Supervisor Scott Wiener’s latest constituent newsletter for details.

 

An important addition is San Francisco MTA’s Vision Zero Program, begun last year, with the goal of reducing traffic deaths and serious injuries to zero by 2024. Chicago and New York have similar programs. The project distinguishes between comprehensive long-term locations and quick cost-effective locations. At least three of the quick locations fall within the Castro and the Upper Market corridor. According to a spokesperson for SFMTA, their priority is working with local residents and taking quick remedial measures in specific danger areas with a collision history.

 

From White Plains

 

Finally, a thumbs-up to the current New Conservatory Theater production of New York Playwright Michael Perlman’s “From White Plains.”

 

With a dynamic cast of four and directed by long-time NCTC professional Sara Staley, the play runs till April 26. It is an excellently written and superbly acted examination of four men, both straight and gay, as they attempt to take responsibility for their past actions as teens and move beyond, this in an era of social media and viral videos.

 

The play looks at how male relationships change as boys grow into men, especially when the victim of bullying is no longer here to speak for himself. When the victim of bullying feels he has no other out than suicide, the parallel with the tragic actions of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi generated some intense emotions for me.

 

 

••••• March 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Maybe with the arrival of Daylight Savings Sunday, March 8 what has seemed like a time of waiting will slip decisively into spring. Living as we do in this land of sun, moderate temperatures and fresh air, it’s fashionable to bemoan the lack of rain while enjoying the nice weather brought about by drought.

 

What are we waiting for? For one thing, the announcement by the San Francisco Archdiocese that they and the teachers at the five Catholic high schools in the area have reached an accord which allows for professional respect and responsibility and even an openness to the real world circa 2015 (and not 1315). I checked with the good people at the Castro’s Most Holy Redeemer parish only to find that the school there has been leased to a private educational group probably for some time and is generally immune to chilly winds from the Vatican.

 

Will Pink Saturday continue in the Castro? Talks are underway with the city since the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence pulled out of organizing the party, which takes place in late June and the night before the SF Pride Parade.Closer to home there are nuns that have thrown in the habit, so to speak, and are no longer able to manage Pink Saturday. Actually I doubt that they’ve done anything destructive with their habits, good, bad and enjoyable as they may be, and will probably lend their expertise to the discussions underway about making sure Pink Saturday continues. Still no clear decisions yet, though the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are working with the Mayor’s Office, city departments and the supervisors to anoint a successor or successors. Maybe a puff of smoke released into the Castro air to announce a decision?

 

Triangle hats off to Patrick Carney, the creative and dedicated architectural spirit (and hard worker) behind the annual Pink Triangle display up on Twin Peaks. What would Pride be without him? And with the speakers who help focus us all on what the pink triangle means and how we must remain vigilant and aware in today’s world. Good luck to Patrick in his quest to be a Community Grand Marshal (this is not a paid political announcement; all the candidates deserve to win).

 

There is no truth to the rumor that Google is going to find Mountain View too crowded and is looking at Civic Center Plaza and the Jane Warner Plaza for their next expansion (or maybe that was just to guarantee that they had a place to park the big buses).

 

Finally, is the news that Sullivan’s Funeral Home at 2240 Market St. may be leaving their earthly plot of land and selling out to a six-story mixed-use building really true? For the Courier they have special meaning, as one of our first advertisers and the one that was most steady, prompt and reliable in paying their bill. Those old virtues never change! Happy Spring!

 

 

••••• February 2015 Issue  •••••

 

 

Prosperity and Greed

 

Talk about a busy news agenda affecting the Castro. The start of 2015 has been replete with prosperity, greed, community compassion, awards and the deadening hand of a clerical past that just won’t quit.

 

As ripped from the pages of a variety of sources, the annual Silicon Valley Index put out by Joint Venture Silicon Valley reported that the region’s tech economy generated 58,000 new jobs and 42,000 new residents last year. No word on how many Castro residents were participating via the luxe commuter buses, but the report found some of the highest income gains and housing prices in the country here. Tell us something we didn’t know, you say.

 

Then a San Francisco Bay Times graphic shows “the highest priced median rents for a typical one-bedroom apartment across the United States” start at Palo Alto ($3,645), with San Francisco second highest ($3,488), then Bay Area laggards Cupertino, San Mateo, Redwood City and Mountain View.

 

Next comes the greed. As a ten-year resident of beautiful Corona Heights with its “secret staircases and crooked lanes, Monterey pines and funky cottages,” I concur with J.K. Dineen in SF Gate, whose headline says it all: “Developers with big plans descend on S.F.’s fanciful Corona Heights.” Say good-bye to the Vulcan Stairs and Ord Court, the real estate boom in the heart of the city is resulting in a “house-by-house transformation that, in some neighborhoods, is making the city’s modest Victorian cottages a thing of the past.”

 

Jane Warner Plaza

 

Moving on from real estate to quality of life and safety issues in the Castro, two recent events brought out our compassionate community. At the invitation of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, up to sixty mostly neighborhood residents and others with an interest in the Castro crowded into the Eureka Valley Recreation Center to discuss ideas on how to fix problems associated with Jane Warner Plaza. Facilitated by CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello, Captain Perea of the Mission Station and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener spoke and answered questions.

 

Attendees were encouraged to speak freely about their experiences, concerns and suggestions for the plaza, which were recorded by a CBD volunteer. Both Perea and Wiener shared information and took questions for their respective areas. Captain Perea explained what the police can and cannot do within the bounds of various laws to manage behavior within the plaza.

 

Acknowledging that it’s been a rough few months at the plaza, Wiener, a former city attorney and long-time neighborhood resident, took pains to emphasize the distinction between being homeless and exhibiting bad behavior.

 

Among all the concerns and suggestions that were shared at the meeting, Castro Merchants president Daniel Bergerac’s was shared by a number of attendees: “I worry that tourists get off at the F Line terminal there, see the Plaza and hightail it right back out of the neighborhood with all that money they should be spending here.”

 

Wiener mentioned upcoming plans to temporarily close down the plaza with fencing in order to make some needed improvements that should help with problems at the site. During that period the Department of Public Works will store the seating and furniture and place protective mesh around the plantings. According to Aiello, attention will probably be focused in the areas of design, activation, landscaping, enforcement and legislation. As one example, a yet to be chosen landscape contractor will make significant changes in the landscaping, and Wiener will propose new legislation forbidding either you or your dog from laying down on the new vegetation. Everything will be for a reason, we’re told.

 

Castro Cares

 

During this pause at the plaza, Castro Cares will be active addressing various individual needs, in conjunction with different city resources such as the Homeless Outreach Program.

 

The other example of compassionate community is an amazing experiment currently underway in the Castro. If you live in the immediate neighborhood you undoubtedly received one of the purple brochures inviting your support and participation in Community Cares.

 

Community Cares is none other than a committed coalition of neighborhood groups, businesses, and social service and city programs that are working together to improve the quality of life both for those living on the street and those who “live, work, shop and play” in the Castro.

 

Community Cares is a local coordinated effort to address problems such as people with serious mental illness and substance abuse living on the streets, non-violent crime, drug dealing and petty theft, and quality of life issues such as public drunkenness and lack of respect for the Castro neighborhood.

 

In cooperation with the City, which is providing $100,000 a year for an initial two year pilot program, and the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, which is contributing $15,000 in initial funding and overall coordination, the Police, Public Health departments and related public agencies are all involved. Merchants and residents are encouraged to contribute donations and, for merchants, a monthly subscription fee. Find out more about this worthwhile endeavor at www.CastroCares.org.

 

Good News

 

While we’re on the good news, congratulations to the San Francisco LGBT Center for meeting a $45,000 challenge grant from the Castro Lions Club and raising over $100,000 for the Center. Also in the happy column is the Merchant of the Year award given by the San Francisco Council of District Merchants to Cliff’s Variety and General Manager Terry Asten Bennett. Cliff’s has been owned by the same family since 1936, a neighborhood institution long predating the Castro as the first widely recognized gay mecca.

 

Sobering News

 

Someone should tell Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone that there’s a new leader in the Vatican and he needs to get with the program. The most recent act of this promoter of the infamous Proposition 8 is a document that administrators, faculty and staff at Catholic high schools should “affirm and believe” his version of Catholic teaching: that marriage is between one man and one woman (despite the legality of same-sex marriages in the Golden State), and “gravely evil” practices to be avoided include sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, and the viewing of pornography and masturbation. Uh huh.

 

As reported by Chronicle reporter Heather Knight, “educators at East Bay Catholic schools would be required to ‘demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church’ as part of a new contract.” Is this legal?

 

 

Photo: Bill Sywak

 

 

••••• January 2015 Issue  •••••

 

Vacations

 

Whew, now that my holiday vacation is over, I can relax! Don’t get me wrong, I had fun in a different city and took in my share of festive concerts, parties and family dinners. But there’s one thing about holiday vacationing, especially over those major holidays, when you choose a destination where you and everyone living there seem to be on vacation at the same time. It’s as if nobody’s home. It’s like visiting a museum after-hours.

 

One year, during Christmas in New York, a friend and I rented a hotel room and did a survey of promising watering holes and places we thought colorful customers were sure to frequent. After a tour of seven nearly empty gin mills, we decided to retreat.

 

On another occasion, our family thought flying down to Mexico on Christmas Day would be a neat idea. Well, the renowned chef at the destination restaurant was off to be with his family, and the fill-in staff couldn’t seem to duplicate his signature dishes.

 

If it’s active, high-energy touring you want, be prepared to accept that many inhabitants of the local party scene will be making their annual family pilgrimage miles away.

 

Manspreading

 

Back home, as I walk around the Castro, I’m reminded of a new phenomenon: “manspreading.” As the year wound down, a long simmering phenomenon in cities with underground transportation systems like New York and Philadelphia surfaced as perhaps the latest urban irritant.

 

Reported as “the bane of many female subway riders . . . (with) a name almost as distasteful as the practice itself,” the practice is called manspreading, defined as “the lay-it-all-out sitting style that more than a few men see as their inalienable underground right.”

 

On increasingly crowded subway cars, men taking an inordinate seat space between widespread knees have generated a fierce urban backlash that has merited various Eastern city campaigns.

 

Beyond public transportation, while attending formal concerts this holiday season in two west coast halls I did my own informal survey of how men consumed tight seating space, especially in the upper level cheap seats. It seemed to come down to formality, politeness, and the casual unawareness of students.

 

How does San Francisco, especially MUNI and BART, rate in all this? We’d like to hear readers’ comments. As Olof Hansson of Manhattan summarized, “A true gentleman doesn’t sit on the subway, he stands.”

 

Donating Blood

 

Finally, here we go again: You remember “don’t ask, don’t tell” on Bill Clinton’s watch, when being gay in the military meant you could be a homosexual, practicing or otherwise, but not tell anyone that you were or be fired. Then there’s the misguided Catholic dictum that it was OK to be gay as long as you didn’t act on it. Presumably God was not an activist.

 

And now the latest discriminatory stricture: Gays can finally donate blood, but as second-class donors, they must attest that they have not had any physical contact with another man for a year.

 

Does abstinence truly guarantee a healthier donation? Like its predecessors, as a practice it doesn’t make much sense.What do the holidays look like in the Castro? Of course we’re all part of the larger social cosmos that brings us archives of familiar stories, music and urges to purchase, whether we want them or not. But living in an unusual or marginal community like San Francisco and the Castro can bring opportunities often just below the surface and unusually rewarding. In no apparent order let me cite a few.

 

One was on November 20 of this year, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Transgender individuals and their friends and families gathered in an innumerable number of locations around the world in “solemn tribute to those who have lost their lives” and to raise awareness of “the constant threat of brutality faced by the transgender community.”

 

Here in the Castro at the LGBT Center at least 200 people of all backgrounds, and probably more, gathered on this year’s Day of Remembrance to share stories, lives, resources and more. One thought stayed with me: “Being transgender isn’t what is killing us. It is the culture we live in.”

 

In a different light, November saw the sixth annual presentation by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence of their “Project Nunway,” a fund-raising charity show by “a leading-edge Order of queer nuns,” with “Heretics of Fashion”. Continuing with the on-the-edge theme, they admit to being inspired by both reality TV and a scene from Fellini’s 1972 film “Roma” that featured a Vatican fashion show.

 

Of course San Francisco and the Bay Area are home to new theater and traditionally have had much to offer. One such company is San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center, which held its 2014 Pride Party recently. Among the works currently being given birth at NCTC is a new show in progress by playwright Jewelle Gomez, “Leaving the Blues”. A previous play given at NCTC was her 2010 production of “James Baldwin”. A lesbian feminist activist, Jewelle is the author of seven books and other pieces.

 

Moving on, a young actor, singer and songwriter who recently appeared at Feinstein’s, San Francisco’s jazz and night club in the Hotel Nikko, is Telly Leung. As with many recognizable performing artists, his list of dates, places and accomplishments can drain your printer before you even get to the end.

 

Telly was born in New York City and grew up in a traditional Chinese home, about which he speaks disarmingly and humorously in his club act. Many people know him as the character “Wes” on Glee (the Dalton Academy Warbler). He has appeared in RENT, Godspell, Flower Drum Song and Pacific Overtures, among others.

 

What is particularly interesting for a Castro audience is that this 34-year old performer is openly gay and discretely introduces his partner of a dozen or so years to the audience. Moreover, during one of the Feinstein shows, Telly shared how excited he was to be in San Francisco, mentioning in particular a visit he and his partner had taken to the Castro and especially to the site of Harvey Milk’s store, currently at the HRC shop. It was easy to see how important the visit was to him as well as to hear his appreciation for the courtesy of the HRC staff. It is well to occasionally witness the reactions of others.

 

 

 

••••• December 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

 

What do the holidays look like in the Castro? Of course we’re all part of the larger social cosmos that brings us archives of familiar stories, music and urges to purchase, whether we want them or not. But living in an unusual or marginal community like San Francisco and the Castro can bring opportunities often just below the surface and unusually rewarding. In no apparent order let me cite a few.

 

One was on November 20 of this year, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Transgender individuals and their friends and families gathered in an innumerable number of locations around the world in “solemn tribute to those who have lost their lives” and to raise awareness of “the constant threat of brutality faced by the transgender community.”

 

Here in the Castro at the LGBT Center at least 200 people of all backgrounds, and probably more, gathered on this year’s Day of Remembrance to share stories, lives, resources and more. One thought stayed with me: “Being transgender isn’t what is killing us. It is the culture we live in.”

 

In a different light, November saw the sixth annual presentation by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence of their “Project Nunway,” a fund-raising charity show by “a leading-edge Order of queer nuns,” with “Heretics of Fashion”. Continuing with the on-the-edge theme, they admit to being inspired by both reality TV and a scene from Fellini’s 1972 film “Roma” that featured a Vatican fashion show.

 

Of course San Francisco and the Bay Area are home to new theater and traditionally have had much to offer. One such company is San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre Center, which held its 2014 Pride Party recently. Among the works currently being given birth at NCTC is a new show in progress by playwright Jewelle Gomez, “Leaving the Blues”. A previous play given at NCTC was her 2010 production of “James Baldwin”. A lesbian feminist activist, Jewelle is the author of seven books and other pieces.

 

Moving on, a young actor, singer and songwriter who recently appeared at Feinstein’s, San Francisco’s jazz and night club in the Hotel Nikko, is Telly Leung. As with many recognizable performing artists, his list of dates, places and accomplishments can drain your printer before you even get to the end.

 

Telly was born in New York City and grew up in a traditional Chinese home, about which he speaks disarmingly and humorously in his club act. Many people know him as the character “Wes” on Glee (the Dalton Academy Warbler). He has appeared in RENT, Godspell, Flower Drum Song and Pacific Overtures, among others.

 

What is particularly interesting for a Castro audience is that this 34-year old performer is openly gay and discretely introduces his partner of a dozen or so years to the audience. Moreover, during one of the Feinstein shows, Telly shared how excited he was to be in San Francisco, mentioning in particular a visit he and his partner had taken to the Castro and especially to the site of Harvey Milk’s store, currently at the HRC shop. It was easy to see how important the visit was to him as well as to hear his appreciation for the courtesy of the HRC staff. It is well to occasionally witness the reactions of others.

 

 

••••• November 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

 

World Series fever gripped the Castro for the third time in five years. Scoring by the Giants and their Kansas City visitors at different games went from one extreme to another. Just compare the euphoria that swept AT&T Park at Saturday’s Game 4 as the Giants pulled out an 11-4 win followed by Sunday’s 5-0 triumph, contrasted with the “complete rout” of Game 6’s 10-0 loss.

 

Mayor Ed Lee jumped into the excitement and brought out the giant jumbotron of World Cup fame and hosted the live public broadcast of Games 6 and 7 at Civic Center Plaza across from City Hall. The iconic scene showed a packed crowd of thousands of fans watching the action under a clear night sky while the orange lights of City Hall gradually grew more vivid as darkness fell.

 

To add to the excitement there was a special concert of Phish at the adjacent Bill Graham Civic Auditorium that attracted three marathon sold-out shows. As the “apparent heirs to the Grateful Dead’s endless road trip and nomadic followers,” the band has appeared in San Francisco before, including at the 2011 Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park. Their presence across the street from Civic Center Plaza added at least several thousand more celebrants to the party.

 

Even after the Game 6 defeat, departing fans were heard to say it was “still a great season” and “they’re a great team to watch.” “We believe in our Giants.”

 

 

The Passing of Another Warrior from Camelot and Kennedy’s New Frontier

 

While baseball fever and Ebola were occupying the media spotlight, the public world took note of the passing on October 23 of an important public servant at age 90 whose name not many may now know. He was Frank Mankiewicz, press secretary to JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy and the person who announced Kennedy’s triumph in the 1968 California primary and then shortly thereafter, to a shocked nation, this second Kennedy’s assassination.

 

Mankiewicz’s vita is long on accomplishments, including president of National Public Radio, director of George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, a prominent place on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” a journalist and lawyer, part of John F. Kennedy’s inner circle and a leader of the newly formed Peace Corps.

 

My recalling the Kennedys and Mankiewicz brought back a time at the University of Texas in Austin, when on occasion I would run into LBJ’s motorcade of big Lincolns as they moved through the East Texas hill country in the gentle springtime, beautiful bluebonnets all around.

 

In Austin I met Paul Vanderwood, a Pulitzer nominee from Tennessee and one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Latin America, who knew both Mankiewicz and Sargent Shriver, the first head of the Peace Corps. Great story-teller that he was, Paul would go on to write around 20 books on fascinating aspects of Mexican history as a professor at San Diego State.

 

Once for the final exam in a course he was teaching on Mexican political history, he had the students meet on the beach at La Jolla with several kegs of beer and assume the roles of haranguing politicians in the PRI, Mexico’s main political party, in an upcoming election. I was privileged to be at that exam.

 

My other distant connection with Robert Kennedy occurred on the night in 1968 when he was assassinated at a Los Angeles hotel. I had videotaped my role in a student production at UCLA earlier that day and, never seeing the result, later left on the red-eye for New York where my fiancee and I were to begin wedding festivities the next day. As I walked bleary eyed from the plane at JFK, I was shocked by huge newspaper headlines shouting Bobby Kennedy had been murdered in the city I had just left. My fiancee would later become the campus organizer for the Kennedy Action Corps in Southern California.

 

One other point about how we change. In order to persuade President Kennedy to create the Peace Corps, a student at my New York college went through the dorms collecting signatures for a petition. My roommate signed it, though he would go on to become a wealthy supporter of Ronald Reagan. I on the other hand, refused, as the product of a suburban catholic institution. Who knew I would end up in the Castro?

 

 

The Naked Rambler

 

A follow-up to last month’s profiles of candidates for supervisor comes from a dispatch by the Associated Press in London. A British man lost a legal bid before the European Court of Human Rights to have public nudity declared a human right. The gentleman in question was a former marine nicknamed the “Naked Rambler” who, the AP wrote, “has twice walked the length of Britain, with frequent interruptions for arrests, court appearances and jail time,” including appearing nude on an airplane. According to the court, his conduct went “against the standards of accepted public behavior” and could be “alarming and morally and otherwise offensive” to others. To the Rambler, the judgment was disappointing and left him “no choice” but to continue.

 

 ••••• October 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

 

The seasons of our lives here in San Francisco and especially in the Castro are marked by our own set of unique events. Just as back-to-school and back-to-work signal the end of summer elsewhere, and the new season of our symphony and opera inaugurate the fall, the Castro has been jumping right along from the gigantic Pride celebrations in June, to San Francisco’s own Dore Alley fest in July (I prefer the original naming even though condos now line the alleyway). Then it’s September and Folsom Street brings a tidal wave of leather celebrants to our city, only to be followed by what’s happening tomorrow, the Castro Street Fair.

 

Of course I undoubtedly missed a leafy bushel of other seasonal events. But having our own arts and crafts festival helps us pause before that sacred feast, Halloween, and enjoy the strong autumn sun while it lasts. And if there’s anything you can depend on these days - and other than traffic there’s not much - it’s the Castro Street Fair, pretty much as it’s always been but with new wrinkles each year, regardless of the theme. Thank you, George Ridgely!

 

So remember, it’s this Sunday, October 5, from 11 to 6, here at home. Check out the Rainbow Honor Walk plaques if you haven’t already and enjoy the spacious new sidewalks. When everything is done and all the mortar has set, there will be an official ribbon cutting party though the final date and time have yet to be set. Yes, another blow-out event to add to our busy schedules. It’s tough to be a San Franciscan - more mascara and chintz than you can squeeze through a Muni turnstile going full throttle.

 

No word yet on any local talent that made good during the recent all-day filming fest at Orphan Annie’s. Here’s hoping “A Star is Born” is not a thing of the past just yet. Speaking of stars, the vocal army that goes by the name of Gay Men’s Chorus will soon be tuning their pipes for the 25th annual Christmas Eve concert at the Castro Theatre. It has been said that between four and five thousand holiday-goers will be giving those chubby new sidewalks a yuletime workout while pretending they’re dashing through the snow, but I have to see it to believe it.

 

Lastly, speaking about seeing and believing, you’ve got to strip down and toss on that new Santa cap and join this year’s Santa Skivvies Run sponsored by the SF AIDS Foundation. It’s on Saturday, December 6 (something else for your calendar), and starts at UN Plaza and ends at the LOOKOUT (santaskivviesrun@org).

 

And while we’re at it, do you know about www.OurTownSF.org, the online guide to San Francisco’s LGBT nonprofits and community, art and athletic groups? Besides looking up SF Gate or Goldstar, check Our Town’s calendar of fairs and events. And join them at The Edge Saturday, October 11, from 4 to 7. Party on!

 

Clarification: The pamphlet of historic LGBT sites mentioned in last month’s column was created and distributed by the Castro Community Benefit District.

 

 

 

 

••••• September 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

 

“Hot Cop” Chris Kohrs after taking an ice bucket for ALS research. Photo: Bill SywakIce Cop

 

You’ve probably seen and heard more than enough about last month’s Ice Bucket Challenge starring “The Hot Cop of the Castro,” Chris Kohrs, sponsored by the SF Police Officers Association and Supervisor Scott Wiener. Suffice it to say the excited crowd of beautiful young women (and occasional gay blades) who paid to douse our studly straight bachelor got their money’s worth.

 

 

Check These Out

 

Moving from recent days to the richness of the Castro’s past, there are two excellent new resources to recommend. One of course is the brand new Rainbow Honor Walk, a series of bronze plaques stretching from Harvey Milk Plaza through the Castro and back again. If you haven’t ventured out yet to follow the steps of the new Rainbow Honor Walk, you have a treat waiting. The Honor Walk is sure to be a strong contender for placing the Castro near the head of any list of must-see LGBT icons. Check at the HRC store for the latest informational brochures or online for more thorough descriptors.

 

The other is a beautifully-designed, pocket-size guide to “Historic and LGBT Sights” in the Castro and Upper Market. Meant for visitors but handy for regular residents, this small brochure provides a quick list of annual events from the AIDS Candlelight Memorial in May, to June Pride and the upcoming Folsom and Castro Street Fairs, and the many film festivals each year at the Castro Theatre. The guide is available at the HRC store, on the site of Harvey Milk’s camera store at 584 Castro Street just down from 19th. One caution: plans are under way for an eventual re-printing to accommodate the new Rainbow Honor Walk.

 

Our Ever-Moving Past

 

It must be said that San Francisco is a city with a vibrant past, one that in thankfully large measure and, despite gigantic, numbing developments, lives on today. Remembering the brave, heroic, sensitive and crazy stories of gay (and non-gay) men and women and their struggles and achievements continues a civic tradition.

 

The Nightingale Empress

 

August began with a one-year commemoration of the passing of a unique, gutsy and colorful individual, Jose Julio Sarria, at the LGBT Center (courtesy of the senior organization, Openhouse). He is really one of those gay figures we all need to know about, with a fascinating life story and a strong independent drive well before society was ready for him.

 

Born in the 1920’s of a Colombian mother and a Spanish father, he was accepted and supported by his family even when he acted outside the norms for little boys, like his penchant for dressing in girls clothes. While still in high school, or so the story goes, he fell in love with an Austrian baron, which arrangement was accepted by his family. Fast forward to his return from the army after World War II, to his waiting tables at a bar called the Black Cat in North Beach. Over time, joining the piano player in arias from Carmen, he grew famous singing parodies of popular torch songs (hence the title “The Nightingale of Montgomery Street”).

 

In an era of constant harassment by the police, when innocent touching of another man in a private bar was cause for arrest, Jose boldly encouraged gay men and women to be as open and honest as possible. Not one to hide, in the early 1960’s he proclaimed himself “Empress of San Francisco, The Widow Norton”, with a drag collection to match. He founded the international Imperial Court System and spoke out against the vice squad from the stage of the Black Cat.

 

On the first anniversary of his passing at age 91 (August 19, 2013) a panel shared memories and lessons from his life. When moderator Donna Sachet opened the mike to people from the floor, heartfelt stories came out of how Jose influenced them to be proud and strong and take ownership of who they were at important times in their lives. Just as Jose Julio had closed many a meeting, the group at the LGBT Center last month sang his favorite empowering song, “God save us nelly queens.”

 

Help Is On the Way

 

Twenty years ago the first of these major fundraising concerts was held in San Francisco, sponsored by the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation (REAF) and conceived by two mothers who were lifelong friends and who had each lost a son to AIDS. With the determination and tireless work of a legion of friends, supporters, and talented and famous performers, they set to work putting on shows by the boys’ favorite musicians with the proceeds going to AIDS organizations. Now, 20 years later, over $3 million has been raised and donated to 33 nonprofit agencies helping those with AIDS.

 

This year’s anniversary concert at the Palace of Fine Arts was what a successful tribute to the past and a gathering of a giving community should be. It raised around $100,000 and brought back many original performers. The reunion of those who gave their time and talent over the years and who have returned again and again - as well as a continual flow of new talent - is one of the loving and special features of “Help Is On the Way” programs.

 

On this occasion special tribute was paid by treasured songwriter David Friedman (“Listen To My Heart”) to the outstanding artist Nancy LaMott. David told the audience that his “most gratifying musical experience” was his association with the late Nancy LaMott for whom he wrote “Help is on the Way”, first as her closing song and now one which has endured over two decades as the title of this event.

 

 

 

 

 

••••• August 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

Humid Summer Days

 

How not San Francisco! Some of us thought we had escaped for good from the energy-sapping summer heat and humidity of New York, the East and South, not to mention ever-soggy Houston. And let’s not forget our friends from Southeast Asia.

 

To all of us refugees, a much appreciated advantage of the Bay Area are always the few days of moderate humidity we have to endure. And if that is too much, you always know that Mother Nature’s air conditioning can roll in overnight from the ocean. This summer all that seemed to change as we adjusted to a dose of the tropics in the Castro.

 

World Cup Fever

 

But the real news this June and July was the onset of World Cup Fever. For a city that loves to party, having a new sport and rekindled passions was exciting. Of course we still have a lot to learn from the rest of the soccer-crazed world, even if our emotions run a bit cooler, even at their wildest.

 

Under a beautiful sun and clear sky, San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza was the place for free World Cup viewing. The energy was amazing as an enormous community celebration brought together as many as 7,000 San Franciscans watching the games on giant robotrons. Besides the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, costs were underwritten by local partners such as Twitter, VISA, and America SCORES. In addition, viewing parties sprang up at many other places around town, like the courtyard of UCSF’s Rutter Center or wherever people just stopped to watch and cheer.

 

After it was all over, the Recreation and Parks people and their partners, elated by the intense excitement and involvement generated by the games, announced support for an America SCORES’ Civic Center League to provide youth soccer and academic programming for children who live in neighborhoods around Civic Center Plaza. Bravo!

 

San Francisco AIDS Walk

 

AIDS Walks overall are said to be the world’s largest fundraisers for HIV/AIDS research and education. In the U.S. alone major Walks were set for New York (May 18), San Francisco (July 20), and Los Angeles (October 12). It’s been reported that the crowds in Golden Gate Park the other Sunday numbered over 25,000 walkers. This 6.2 mile hike through the park raised more than $2.2 million to be distributed among the more than thirty human service agencies fighting HIV-AIDS in the Bay Area.

 

This year’s event, the 27th in San Francisco, began in the shadow of the Malaysia Airlines tragedy over the Ukraine and was dedicated to the memory of the six San Francisco AIDS researchers killed in that disaster. In the words of Project Inform Director Dana Van Gorder, “We dedicate our efforts today to them. For their enormous contributions to ending this epidemic, and to the vision of social justice they sought to advance.”

 

As is widely known now, the missile that took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine on Thursday, July 17, killed a number of AIDS researchers and scientists on their way to the 20th annual conference of the International AIDS Society in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Among those who perished were the Dutch AIDS pioneer and expert, Dr. Joep Lange, and at least six colleagues. Lange had a long and fruitful connection with the San Francisco AIDS community and a stellar career. He was an innovator and trailblazer in the area of international AIDS and was involved in the early years of the epidemic in Amsterdam and San Francisco. As a mentor and leader he was influential in the International AIDS Society, the World Health Organization, and other organizations.

 

The Melbourne conference, with 14,000 attendees, was titled “Stepping Up” and was building on the “real positive energy” that, in journalist Richard Kim’s words, “we had all the tools” to finally beat HIV/AIDS. According to Kim, Executive Editor of The Nation, “there was a real sense of profound optimism going into this conference”, “the belief that between the development of pre-exposure prophylaxis as prevention and the increased availability of anti-retrovirals as treatment that you can really end the epidemic in a generation. In terms of medical tools we had all we needed to end the epidemic.” What we lacked, Kim told Chris Hayes on MSNBC, was a political will, the human resources, and the struggle to get them, and this was Dr. Lange’s “entire life.”

 

How would the loss of Dr. Lange and others affect the activists at the conference? Paraphrasing Kim: we’ve been doing this work for years “in the shadow of AIDS and loss” and we’ve learned to work through our grief.

 

One final note, to the Consulate of the Netherlands from “the Ukrainian Community of San Francisco”: “We send our deepest condolences to the families of the victims who died in today’s tragedy. May they forever rest in peace.”

 

20th Help Is On the Way

 

Finally, it is possible to contribute further to the eradication of HIV-AIDS by supporting and enjoying Northern California’s largest annual AIDS benefit and concert, August 24, 2014 at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts.

 

 

••••• July 2014 Issue  •••••

 

 

Walking the Castro Neighborhood...

 

June in the Castro is our signature month, building on a multitude of events and celebrations and culminating in the gigantic Pride Parade, the first in the US (1972) and the largest as well. Last year’s parade came on the (high) heels of the landmark same-sex rulings - long overdue, as most civil rights victories are - in an explosion of pure joy reminiscent of what we see in the newsreels of the victory celebrations after World War II, only last year women waited to embrace women and men to kiss men. For coverage of this year’s parade, check out the accompanying article and photos.

 

For “Pride” this year we had our newly widened sidewalks on Castro, though they can give us neighborhood regulars a disorienting experience. When you’re skilled at maneuvering around fireplugs and telephone poles and oncoming pedestrians, and suddenly you have what seems like a football field alongside you, it takes some practice to give yourself permission to walk all by yourself in that vast space.

 

Or maybe this leviathan space contributed to one unfortunate’s misperception. In the early morning hours after the Sunday parade, what witnesses said was probably an intoxicated middle-aged man, smashed his late model car into the entrance and front windows of Cliff’s Hardware on Castro Street. He then got out and ran away. Evidently no merchant’s sidewalk sale was in progress at the time. Store personnel put up this helpful sign as they awaited repair crews: “The driver of the last car that parked here is still missing.” No reward was posted.

 

Earlier, June had busted out in a glamorous “Homage to La Cage” at the Castro Theater, celebrating Lee Roy Reams and Jerry Herman and guest Davis Gaines, all Castro favorites. The incredibly talented Reams in particular carried the bulk of the show, which was a benefit for the Imperial Council of San Francisco on its 50th anniversary and for Sunburst Projects. About a dozen well-coiffed beauties, some busting out for the season and well known locally like Miss Bunny and Donna Sachet, got the show off to a glamorous start under Empresses Patty McGroin and Cocketelia.

 

No mention of Pride month can fail to include the tremendous role played by the Frameline gay film festival, a truly important event. Also one that is consistently well managed, this year with 400 volunteers presenting screenings and logistics that would generate a migraine.

 

If you’re a first time attendee facing the triple lines outside the Castro and Victoria theaters, it can feel like you’re entombed in an endless chaotic mosh pit, only to be rescued by well trained, pink tee-shirted volunteers cheerfully sorting audience members like so many cards in a winning deck.

 

The drama builds as the last movie-goers to arrive, the “Rush” crowd, nervously wait as heads inside are counted and the earliest in line get to go in. Acts of kindness seemed to be the rule of the day at the opening screenings at the Victoria as a couple with an extra early ticket gave theirs to an otherwise unlucky rush holder. Or upstairs when a whole row cheerfully agreed to move in towards the wall to let a claustrophobe sit on the aisle. Good cheer seemed to last all Pride weekend and Pink Saturday as bars and businesses were busy and full, yet the overall vibe was calm.

 

Other important gatherings were the Transgender March and the annual assembling of the 175 pink tarps that make up the Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks.

 

So how did the Castro do? The reaction from first-timers Victor of Guatemala and San Jose, and his friend Juan from San Jose: The best thing about the whole pride experience was that you can be yourself. “I’m so lucky that I can be more where my freedom is.”

 

A few May leftovers…

 

As the city celebrated Small Business Week, always a very professional series of events, awards are given out for exemplary small businesses. This year District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener gave his award to “Joe the Barber.” While Joe undoubtedly deserved this accolade, I’d like to suggest a minor adjustment to next year’s awards. Since we all know that the best neighborhood gossip comes while we’re sitting in the barber (or beautician’s) chair, can we adjust the criteria to include best news and gossip on the block? Winning printable stories just might find their way into this column.

 

Bill Sywak

© Castro Courier 2014 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier. Opinions expressed are strictly those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher or staff.

Boy Scouts and the Morman Path

Sisters BingoThe Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence raised about $9,000 of charity money from Bingo nights, one of which drew 500 people to the Oakland waterfront.

Beautiful But DryCome and get it: The Castro Farmers’ Market has returned to the area on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.

While baseball fever and Ebola were occupying the media spotlight, the public world took note of the passing on October 23 of an important public servant at age 90 whose name not many may now know. He was Frank Mankiewicz, press secretary to JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy and the person who announced Kennedy’s triumph in the 1968 California primary and then shortly thereafter, to a shocked nation, this second Kennedy’s assassination.

The Naked Rambler

“Hot Cop” Chris Kohrs after taking an ice bucket for ALS research. Photo: Bill SywakIce Cop

© Castro Courier 2014