Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Badlands mediation derails


Pride board president Joey Cain pickets Badlands Saturday night, following the cancellation of mediation. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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A last-minute disagreement over who could attend mediation in the Badlands racism case derailed the process last weekend, with both sides blaming one another for the problem. Community activists returned to the picket line outside the 18th Street bar Saturday night, while others who had hoped to see some resolution in the matter, instead, were left disappointed.

Lawyers for the eight complainants in the case and for bar owner Les Natali, who has denied charges he discriminated against patrons and job applicants based on race, planned to meet with former Mayor Willie Brown, whom Mayor Gavin Newsom tapped as mediator in the case, at 4 p.m. Wednesday, August 10 after the Bay Area Reporter went to press. While both sides hoped Brown could help broker a compromise to get mediation started, others said that after hearing numerous excuses over the last year as to why Natali did not want to begin mediation, they are increasingly doubtful talks will ever begin.

On Saturday, August 6 mediation had been expected to begin at 10 a.m. at the offices of the Human Rights Commission. The two sides were to be seated in separate rooms, and Natali had agreed to allow six people who are not complainants in the case but represent community groups to observe the process.

However, on Friday the talks were called off after Natali insisted he did not want representatives of the community group And Castro for All, which is organizing the picket and boycott of his bar, present for the first four hours of mediation. He said he would allow them to join in the process if no resolution had been met with the complainants within that timeframe. Instead of beginning mediation, both sides met with Brown separately at different times Saturday morning.

"We had a disagreement about logistics," said Natali attorney Steve Goldstein, who said the sit-down with Brown was "a mini-mediation" and "a good first step for us. I think we are headed in the right direction."

Asked about the last-minute proposal made by Natali Friday, Goldstein told the Bay Area Reporter that it was a change in the ground rules that were initially agreed to.

"That is probably correct," Goldstein said.

Natali said this week that he did not cancel mediation or change his position.

"I did not stop the mediation. I am willing to discuss further compromises. It is going to take more compromise," he said. "I think everybody wants to have a mediation and try to come to some agreement."

But AC4A leaders called Natali's latest move a "backing out" of mediation and   assailed him for not sticking to the original parameters for mediation.

"Natali's 11th-hour shenanigans are so damaging to the resolution of this struggle," said AC4A organizer Paul Mooney. "Our organization is eager to redirect our energies toward a host of proactive new initiatives to foster greater inclusion for all people in the LGBT community, but that starts by ending the struggle that began this new movement. As a community we all must demand accountability for Natali's proven civil rights violations. After more than a year, time is up. Natali has to stop squirming and face the consequences so that all of us can move forward."

Julius Turman, the complainants' attorney, said he rejected the proposal not only because Natali had initially agreed to allow the community representatives to be there from the start, but also because the community needs to be part of the process in order for the community to begin to heal.

"It is all smoke and mirrors. It is a false means of creating an issue to stop a process that would have ended this dispute," said Turman. "Mayor Newsom and all the folks who pushed hard for us to get into mediation are seeing just how unreasonable Mr. Natali is. The community needs to stop allowing them to shift blame and tell them to come to the table and do what's right. If you don't have any intention of doing the process as you agreed to then stop entering into false agreements that you later break."

When Mayor Brown became involved in the process last month, Natali said he specified he did not want the community groups involved. But his attorney informed him that the complainants insisted the groups participate in the process, and a compromise was reached.

"I said I am not going to let them observe or participate in mediation. I said I will allow them to be there at the place where mediation takes place and consult with the complainants," said Natali. "They could meet with them in the room and that would be okay as long as I wouldn't see them

Patrol special police officers talk with a Badlands patron Saturday night after he threatened to urinate on picketers outside ofthe bar. Photo: Rick Gerharter
. This got misconstrued to the point they believed I would agree the nonparties could either observe or participate in mediation."

Natali offered the new mediation terms after the August 2 Entertainment Commission meeting on the Badlands matter, where one commissioner compared the bar's staff to Germans who denied the Holocaust after World War II and outraged the employees [see story, page 17]. While Natali asserted the commission meeting did not influence his decision to restrict the community groups' presence at mediation, his lawyer indicated it did play a role.

After a long pause, Goldstein said, "I think the perception was these people were going to be rabble-rousers instead of adding to the positive nature of mediation. It was a concern Mr. Natali had."

Natali said, "I didn't change my mind but offered another compromise. Let's give it a chance with the complainants. I believe that is fair and that has been my position."

He added that the dispute between the complainants and himself has only become a community issue "because these people have been rabble-rousers going from group to group signing them on by putting on a little show, shall we say, that contains lies and mistruths and getting them to sign on to false allegations."

Turman said Natali made his latest request because he does not want the community members to be able to consult with the complainants or him.

"He wants to limit our ability to confer with them. He said he is afraid they will have Mayor Brown's ear," said Turman. "This was an attack on black LGBT persons and it needs to be dealt with on a community basis, to a certain extent."

Turman added, "I still don't understand what was wrong with the former plan. I don't think I am acting unreasonable here. I am bending over backwards with every request even after he said he would enter into mediation without preconditions."

For his part, Natali argues he is being more than reasonable in agreeing to mediate with all eight complainants. Pointing to the city's Human Rights Commission staff report, which could not find sufficient evidence to support the charges brought by five of the complainants, Natali argues he really only needs to mediate with the remaining three complainants.

"I agreed the parties could include all eight even though I felt and believed as of this moment only three complainants have anything to mediate," said Natali.

Despite the wrangling over how to begin mediation, all sides continue to say they believe once it begins it can lead to some closure in the matter.

Natali said, "I am hopeful mediation will resolve the issues and everybody can get on with their lives. Wouldn't that be nice?"

Goldstein said, "I am absolutely confident Mayor Brown can resolve this mediation."

Turman agreed, saying, "If anybody can work the magic, it is Mayor Brown."

Mayor Gavin Newsom, when asked about the latest postponement of mediation on Monday, also sounded a hopeful note.

"It's a process and it takes some time. We are moving forward," said Newsom. "You don't snap your fingers and get a resolution. Mayor Brown is the right person for this. We will get there."

Supervisor Bevan Dufty said he found mediation being stalled "disappointing" because "in the long term the only way to bring some healing is to get people to the table. I would strongly encourage that we move forward with mediation and not argue over the terms."

David Sims, a Badlands bartender, said while he could not speak about what happened over the weekend, nonetheless the staff was also disappointed. But he said the employees remain hopeful mediation will occur and some resolution will be worked out.

"We encourage both parties, Mr. Natali and And Castro for All, to come to the table for the betterment of the community," said Sims. "I think he definitely wants to mediate but I am sure he rightfully doesn't want the mediation to turn into an issue where And Castro for All is maybe convincing or using their influence to influence the complainants. The bottom line is this is the complainants against Les Natali, this isn't And Castro for All, this isn't a class action."

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