Vote is on for SF Pride marshals
by Heather Cassell
This year's nominees to lead the annual Pride parade and celebration include four transgender individuals; a male pair who have been at odds over the stewardship of the AIDS quilt; a couple fighting for marriage rights; and a longtime lesbian health activist.
The choices represent what is at the heart of the LGBT community's largest celebration: civic involvement, whether at the local, regional, national or international level, said Lindsey Jones, Pride executive director.
"Our entire community builds this Pride, shapes this Pride and continuously evolves this Pride to meet the needs and desires of our diverse and vibrant queer community. Our grand marshal nominees make me proud, as they are each outstanding civic leaders, role models and ambassadors of our LGBT Pride movement," said Jones.
Ten individuals and five community-based organizations are vying in this year's competition. The top vote getters will help kick-off the 37th annual Pride parade on Sunday, June 24. Four candidates are also in the running for the annual "Pink Brick" award. [See story in this week's paper]
Voting begins this weekend, Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4, at the corner of 18th and Castro Streets. Ballots will be available at polling places at various venues and events, in LGBT newspapers, and at SF Pride's Web site throughout March.
Ballots are due either in person or by mail at polling places around the city or the SF Pride offices by March 31.
This year's theme for Pride is "Pride Not Prejudice," a queer twist on Jane Austin's popular novel where pride and prejudice meld into a passionate admiration, respect, and compassion for differences.
Leslie Ewing, 57, didn't know in 1987 when she mistakenly walked into a Queer and Present Danger meeting, held by a group of eight dedicated people raising money for a needle exchange program, that she was about to embark on a profound journey. She simply thought she was attending a meeting about free housing for the March on Washington that year.
Twenty years later she is a leading community activist. She has been involved with some of the Bay Area's most recognized HIV/AIDS organizations from the Names Project's AIDS Memorial Quilt to the AIDS Emergency Fund to Under One Roof.
Her passion and commitment to health care and people's well being lead her to found the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund. Currently, she brings quality health care to women and transgender individuals as the associate executive director of the Lyon-Martin Women's Health Services.
"It's a tremendous honor," said Ewing, a self-proclaimed grassroots activist. "Perhaps nominating me makes a statement about the importance of long-time activism. We still need people in the streets doing the work."
Combining their passion for equality and commitment to each other for 20 years, Stuart Gaffney, 44, and John Lewis, 48, an interracial gay male couple, remain optimistic about gaining marriage equality. As one of the 12 plaintiffs in the California same-sex marriage civil suit, Gaffney and Lewis are confident that marriage equality will be won. Both men have been deeply involved with the LGBT community and the queer Asian communities for over 20 years. Gay Asian Pacific Alliance honored Gaffney and Lewis in 2005 with the George Choy Memorial award for their outstanding service to the Asian American community. Gaffney and Lewis count as one nominee in the grand marshal voting process.
"We consider grand marshal to be the highest honor the community bestows on its members," said Gaffney. "We are so humbled. We see our work for marriage equality for the broader struggle for LGBT rights and human rights more generally. That's one of the reasons it's such a great honor to be nominated with these amazing activists in the other parts of the community."
Lewis added, "It seemed to create a beautiful mosaic of many aspects of our community's work [and it] gave me the feeling that we are all doing this together for that common goal of LGBT rights and human rights."
A Latino artist and activist since the 1970s, the openly gay Juan Pablo Gutierrez, 52, moved to San Francisco in 1982 from Austin, Texas. Soon after his arrival he became the director of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, an organization devoted to preserving and developing Latino culture and arts. Since then he has been an integral part of the Latino and queer artistic and cultural movement.
Gutierrezï¿½s artwork is part of the White Houseï¿½s permanent collection. He founded the San Francisco Latino AIDS Education Prevention Project and co-founded the Community United in Response to AIDS-SIDA. In 1989 Gutierrez became the procession director of the San Francisco Day of the Dead Ritual Procession, which is a project of El Colectivo del Rescate Cultural (Rescue Culture Collective).
Gutierrez is most proud of the Cultural and Artistic Service Award he received for 25 years of community service, the Queer Latino Artists Coalition Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Heart of the Arts Award.
His nomination would not have been possible, he said, if it were not for the Latino transvestites that stood up to the police at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969, igniting the birth of the modern LGBT movement.
"It's important to give credit to those elements in the community that paved the way for us to enjoy the privileges that we now enjoy," said Gutierrez.
Robert Haaland, 42, a transgender queer man, is tightly woven into San Francisco's political fabric. In 2002 he became the first transgender candidate to win an elective office in San Francisco when he won a seat on the Democratic County Central Committee. He helped initiate and ran openly gay Supervisor Tom Ammiano's 1999 mayoral write-in campaign and is a former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.
Apart from gay politics, Haaland has fought for social justice, including housing rights, environmental issues, and labor rights. His eye is always on disenfranchised people and neighborhoods. He sued the San Francisco Police Department over its handling of transgender people in custody, has fought landlord efforts to gut rent control, and routinely lobbies to protect city services. An organizer for SEIU Local 790, Haaland sits on the city's Board of Appeals.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian has named him a "local hero" and the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club honored Haaland with its Coalition Builder Award for building and empowering the LGBT community.
"I feel completely honored and I was blown away," said Haaland about his nomination. "This isn't about me as an individual - it's an acknowledgment of all of our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. To the extent that I've been chosen to represent this larger community, I feel incredibly humbled to stand in solidarity with them."
Who would have imagined the impact the AIDS Memorial Quilt would have two decades ago? Created by San Francisco resident Cleve Jones , the Quilt has traveled the world and inspired other quilts for causes, such as the Marriage Equality USA Story Quilt.
Jones, 52, a gay man and long-time political activist, stitched the first quilt panel for his best friend, Marvin Feldman, in 1987. He later founded the Names Project to watch over the quilt, co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and has served on the boards of the Harvard AIDS Institute, Project Inform, and the Foundation for AIDS and Immune Research.
"Being nominated for any sort of awardï¿½is a wonderful thing,ï¿½ said Jones. "I've been in Pride marches all over the world and there is nothing like San Francisco's."
Mike Smith, 46, co-founded the Names Project and directed displays of the AIDS Memorial Quilt several times in Washington, D.C., including the March on Washington in 1996 and two national tours. He received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
Smith left San Francisco for five years to lead Denver, Colorado's LGBT Community Center. He grew its budget from $100,000 to $1 million, increased services for youth and men's health, and established the Denver LGBT Film Festival. He returned to San Francisco and is the executive director of the AIDS and Breast Cancer emergency funds.
Last year he joined the Names Project's board and found himself in the middle of a legal dispute between the agency and Jones. After the Names Project terminated Jones as its spokesman, Jones sued and sought to have several sections of the quilt, including the one he made for Feldman, returned to San Francisco.
The two sides entered into an agreement to settle the matter, but it fell apart last month. The nomination of Jones and Smith, which counts as one nominee in the grand marshal voting process, came as a surprise.
Either one could have declined the nomination, but instead, they opted to put aside their fight over the quilt and accept the honor.
"I'm very, very honored to be nominated," said Smith. "This is the 20th anniversary of the founding of the [AIDS] quilt. While the nomination is for both Cleve and I, it's really about so many people who stepped forward in 1987 to tell the world what we are going through."
Lesbian transgender activist Reverend Victoria Kolakowski, 45, has been active in the LGBT community fighting for religious and civil rights for nearly 20 years. She is an ordained minister in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and was the first published transgender biblical scholar.
Kolakowski is also a pioneer in LGBT legal and political communities. She became the state's first transgender administrative law judge this year. She is a founding member of the State Bar of California's Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination, and was the northern co-vice chair of the California Alliance for Pride and Equality [now Equality California].
She sits on the board of the Transgender Law Center and is the transgender outreach director for Marriage Equality USA. She is the partner of Bay Area Reporter news editor Cynthia Laird. [Neither Laird nor anyone employed by the B.A.R. nominated Kolakowski for grand marshal.]
The East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club named Kolakowski "Woman of the Year," the city of Berkeley picked her as its first lesbian "Outstanding Woman of Berkeley;" and the Santa Clara County Council of Churches gave her its Celebration in Spirit award in 2006.
"I'm truly honored and excited to be nominated," said Kolakowski. "Community grand marshals are chosen because they are trailblazers, and this year's nominees are all heroes of our community."
Each time employment opportunities lured her away, Theresa Sparks, 57, left her heart in San Francisco. A transgender straight woman, she always returned, and in 1996, chose San Francisco for good.
Ever since she has fought for transgender protections and policies within the city. As the first ever transgender member of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, she formed a task force between HRC and the San Francisco Police Department and developed protocols for how the SFPD interacts and deals with transgender individuals.
Sparks was an original member and chair of TG Rage [now Transgender Day of Remembrance] and organized the first event held in the Castro in 1999. A founding member of the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, she worked to pass transgender health benefits in the city.
She served as the Alice club's first transgender chair, and is a Horizons Foundation board member. A Police Commission member, Sparks is employed as Good Vibrations' chief executive officer.
Sparks has been recognized as one of OUT magazine's 100 LGBT Leaders in the United States, named a California Legislature "Woman of the Year," and awarded the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Award.
"I don't think it's a secret, I really love San Francisco and I love this community," said Sparks. "If I'm selected, it's really the biggest honor I've ever had."
Academic scholar Susan Stryker, 45, a transgender woman, has been chronicling transgender history for 15 years. Stryker is a former executive director of the GLBT Historical Society.
She is best known for her books Gay By the Bay, Queer Pulp, and The Transgender Studies Reader. Her Emmy-winning public television documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria, was a finalist for Girlfriends magazine's Sapphie Lesbian Movie Award.
She was a lecturer in the Gender and Womenï¿½s Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley. Currently, Stryker is the Ruth Wynn Woodward Endowed Chair of the Department of Womenï¿½s Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Last year, the City University of New York Graduate Center awarded her its Martin Duberman Fellowship from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.
Stryker has received the Community Vanguard Award from the Transgender Law Center and received a KQED Local Hero Award. She has been honored for her writing and film work as a finalist for the Paul Monette Award and twice for a Lambda Literary Award for best photography book.
"I'm honored and surprised," said Stryker about being nominated. "I'm happy for the recognition."
Alison Terry-Evans, 53, is the brain and the brawn behind Hillgirlz.com. The former corporate event planner created the woman-centric community Web site so lesbian and bi women in the Bay Area had their own space on the Internet. Launched in 2002, Hillgirlz.com now has more than 6,000 Bay Area queer women members.
Hillgirlz.com is mostly ad-free, but Terry-Evans is slowly and selectively finding advertisers and sponsors. The site is the Australian native's reward because she is now free to travel the globe working from various locations.
"I'm actually really thrilled to be nominated," Terry-Evans, reached in Mexico, wrote in an email. "Being a grand marshal would be making the same statement that the Web site does about queer women having a very positive and fun presence in the greater queer community."
In 1988 teens and young adults with LGBT parents came together at Boston's Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International [now Family Pride Coalition] to form their own small group. In 1999 the group formally became known as Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere.
COLAGE is now the leading voice for queer families and their children in the United States and around the world, with 52 U.S. chapters and three international chapters. The organization supports and connects LGBT families in various ways from its newsletter Just for Us to its online community at www.colage.org to its advocacy efforts.
The group provides scholarships to youth who are role models fighting against homophobia and speaking out about their LGBT family.
"We are all really excited to hear the news," said COLAGE program director Meredith Fenton. "I think that it's a really important thing for the community at large to recognize, as well as celebrate, that youth with LGBT parents have a roll within our community as well as the larger movement."
Martha McDevitt-Pugh and her partner were exiled in 2001 from the United States to the Netherlands because of their binational same-sex relationship. Undeterred, she fought back and founded Love Exiles Foundation in 2004.
Working from the Netherlands, McDevitt-Pugh connects other LGBT couples and families who have fled their countries due to anti-gay immigration policies. Love Exiles is lobbying for the United States and European nations to sign onto the Uniting American Families Act to allow same-sex partners and close family members to sponsor a spouse for citizenship just as heterosexual couples can.
"The Love Exiles Foundation is delighted that SF Pride has the vision to recognize GLBT Americans in exile as part of the community and to honor us for our contributions," said McDevitt-Pugh.
To learn more about Love Exiles, visit www.loveexiles.org.
In 2003 the National Black Justice Coalition established itself to empower the LGBT black community. It is focused on social justice, equality, and ending racism and homophobia.
NBJC sees the fight for marriage equality on par with the struggle to end bans on interracial marriage. It is developing leaders across the United States who can speak out about LGBT African Americans' relationships.
"We are absolutely thrilled about it," said NBJC communications director Herndon Davis. "It's a great opportunity for the community to become more aware of who we are and what we do."
To learn more about NBJC, visit www.nbjcoalition.org.
Founded in 2000 by Jeff Cotter, Rainbow World Fund's goal is to raise awareness about LGBT philanthropy in world humanitarian relief efforts. The fund puts LGBT dollars to work around the globe and provides visibility to the LGBT communityï¿½s participation in the world community.
The fund's work focuses on global HIV/AIDS, water development, landmine eradication, hunger, and disaster relief in Africa, Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States.
"I wanted to change public perception of the gay community as an insular community and [highlight] the specific contribution of LGBT aid and philanthropy in the world," said Cotter. "LGBT people know the tremendous power of coming out and the compassion to be seen and heard throughout the world."
To learn more about Rainbow World Fund, visit www.rainbowfund.org.
Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County (SMAAC) has been advocating for and providing services to queer youth ages 13 to 24 since 1998. It assists in their transition into healthy adults through a variety of support groups, programs, counseling, college preparation, health care information including HIV prevention, and social groups.
"We are very honored to be nominated as an organization for Pride," said Robert Williams, SMAAC deputy director. "We think that the work that we do at SMAAC is important and we think that people should know more about the work we are doing here."
To learn more about SMAAC, call 510-834-9578.
For more information about Pride grand marshal voting, visit www.loveexiles.org.