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SF Paper Apologizes for Wiener Pic

by Matthew S. Bajko

The Westside Observer used a photo of Scott Wiener at the Folsom Street Fair with a story on his housing bill.
The Westside Observer used a photo of Scott Wiener at the Folsom Street Fair with a story on his housing bill.   

A local monthly newspaper that covers San Francisco's western neighborhoods is apologizing for running a photo of gay state Senator Scott Wiener that many found to be homophobic.

In its March issue the Westside Observer ran a scathing front-page article against the San Francisco Democrat's controversial Senate Bill 827 that would allow for taller housing developments near public transit stops. The legislation has drawn intense ire across the state from local officials and residents who fear it would lead to dense, towering projects in suburban neighborhoods with single-family homes.

On the inside page where the story continued, the paper ran a photo of Wiener taken at the city's annual leather festival the Folsom Street Fair. Wiener, who had posted the image to social media, is seen wearing only a leather vest.

Many lambasted the pictorial choice as not only inappropriate but an anti-LGBT attack after it began to circulate in recent days on social media. A number of people also contacted the paper directly to express their outrage.

"Shame on you for your overtly homophobic attempt to debase a debate regarding housing by inserting a photo that screams 'You see, Sen. Wiener does not share our West Side values because he is gay.' Is that why you oppose SB 827? Are you afraid more gay, black, Jewish, Latino, and Asians will move to the West Side?" wrote Todd David, president of the Noe Valley Democratic Club who worked on Wiener's Senate campaign two years ago, in an email to Mitch Bull, the paper's publisher.

Bull, who also publishes the monthly Castro Courier newspaper that covers the city's LGBT district, informed the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday night that he agreed use of the image was "a poor decision." The paper, added Bull, will be issuing an apology for the photo choice on its website, Facebook page, and in the April edition.

He also said the photo would be taken down from the website, though as of Wednesday morning it was still found in the downloadable PDF version of the March issue.

"As a straight person, I know that I cannot truly appreciate the angst we have created," Bull wrote in an emailed reply to the B.A.R. "I have seen the difficulties of those who are gay and trans that are in my immediate family and the editor, copy editors and I discussed this at length."

After the B.A.R. contacted Bull Monday regarding the outcry over the photo, he addressed the issue with the paper's managing editor, Doug Comstock. The "gay rights advocate and volunteer," wrote Bull, "personally felt the photo was not homophobic, but more of a political jab."

While Bull insisted Comstock "did not run the image as a homophobic slight. It was a poor decision from everyone involved, and I can only say that a lesson was learned about context, and items that several people may think is OK can be construed to be not acceptable by others."

Wiener, who did not contact the paper himself about the image, told the B.A.R. it should have been obvious to the staff that the photo was the wrong choice. (The paper did run a photo of Wiener in suit and tie with a different story in the issue.)

"I appreciate that they took the photo down, but it shouldn't have taken being called out," said Wiener.

For years Wiener has been a political target of the paper, noting he has been depicted in cartoons as "gaunt and sick. Nothing they do surprises me. But even by Westside Observer standards, using that photo was over the top."

Joel Engardio, a gay married man who ran twice for supervisor to represent the city's westside, had called out the paper over the Wiener photo on Facebook. While many voters in that area of town had supported a same-sex marriage ban a decade ago, Engardio said it is now more LGBT affirming with more LGBT residents.

"The attitudes and demographics have rapidly changed on the Westside. I tell everyone what a wonderful and welcoming place it is today," he told the B.A.R. "We should all accept the Westside Observer's apology so the paper can focus on showing the best side of the westside."

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