No equality without economic equality

The unified San Francisco queer movement is history


San Francisco's queer movement isn't what it used to be.

Even the Castro District — once the center of perpetual protests and street organizing, not to mention the Tom Ammiano write-in campaign — bears little resemblance to the neighborhood that used to be considered the gayest in the country. A recent Advocate survey didn't even mention San Francisco in its list of 15 gayest cities.

These days, the Castro has a lot of empty storefronts — 27, according to activist/blogger Michael Petrelis, who counted them last month — and a conservative merchants group that calls the shots on such things as lowering the giant rainbow flag at Castro and Market streets: "yes" to the death of a gay cop, "no" to a slain black gay activist in Uganda (until pressure from activists forced them to fly it half-staff for an hour or so).

Continued gentrification of the Castro by the ever richer, combined with an economic recession whose burdens are shouldered by those with dwindling resources, has taken its toll. With outrageously high rents, the neighborhood is no longer a haven for queers from all over the country seeking refuge from homophobic environments. The new upscale — and more often straight than gay — resident of the 'hood doesn't have a clue that those refugees replenished the ranks of activists who, since the early 1970s, made the Castro the "gay mecca" and forged a radical politics that dominated the movement for a long time.

Queer politics these days is a constant tug-of-war between gay moderates who've gained a lot of power (not to mention high-paying jobs) in City Hall and progressives who want to change an agenda that pours millions into gay marriage but nothing into finding housing for the 40 percent of homeless youth who are queer, or jobs for the scores of transgender people who are without work or inadequately employed.

The heavily gay moderate group Plan C is pushing for upping the annual condo limit to allow more tenancies in common (TICs) to convert and thereby increase substantially in value. At the same time, queer progressives fight to retain 49 below-market-rate units at the proposed 55 Laguna Street development; keep Parkmerced from tearing down more than 1,500 rent-controlled units; and prevent the city from giving tax breaks to Twitter and other dot-com companies to encourage them to move into a downtown area the city considers blighted without any substantial proof that their free ride will benefit the city. It may well just push out more needy people.

While the conservative merchants group in the Castro endorses a measure that outlaws sitting or lying on sidewalks, progressives work with Dolores Street Community Services and the city's Human Services Agency to set up an LGBT-friendly shelter for queers who experience homophobia in the city's shelter system.

Even the city's two leading queer Democratic clubs reflect the schizophrenic nature of queer politics: the Alice B. Toklas club backs moderate candidates and takes a more conservative stance on everything from tenants' rights to affordable housing, while the Harvey Milk club supports a progressive agenda.

Meanwhile, the disparity between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. While the Castro may be dying as a gay mecca, the Tenderloin is still home sweet home to countless queers and transgender people who are left out of every bit of progress the community makes. Except for the elimination of don't ask, don't tell, which now gives poor and working-class queers the opportunity to better their lives by being fodder for the military's latest wars for oil.

Universal healthcare or a living wage job would have been a better fit. There's no equality like economic equality. 


Tommi stays true to what many of us came to believe as we gave birth to a community. We lived in a time when disenfranchised people and communities began to come together because we had new options -- for ourselves and for empowerment. District elections, statewide one-man, one-vote rulings, the fight for civilian oversight of police, environmental justice -- all were strongly rooted together in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

We pushed through on health care with ACT UP and the refusal to be victims but to empower ourselves in seeking health solutions.

In my view, it has been a tragedy that we have, perhaps because of the success of many formerly disenfranchised communities, failed to realize that the need to take power over our lives is not over with a credit card. The environmental impact in the Bayview results in the highest infant mortality rate of any zip code in the state and that ought to be a priority issue for us. The condition of public housing, the last resort for the elderly poor, the disabled and even working families at minimum wage, is truly unacceptable to everyone except HUD, the Housing Authority, and the city’s political interest.

Notice that today’s news on the potential loss of Redevelopment funds looks at the consequence for mid-Market, and then trails along with the impact on Alice Griffith Public Housing which fails all housing safety standards. We have won a new definition of family that allows same sex couples access to family public housing, but what about the condition of the housing?

The LGBT community is not alone in drawing back into a restricted politics. But we have been the community that often had more access to power and the powerful. And so we had and still have more responsibility to move things forward for all of us, not just some of us.

Thank you, Tommi, for an important reminder.

Posted by CitiReport on Jun. 22, 2011 @ 6:23 am