Political Notebook: Speaker Pelosi declines Pride invitation
by Matthew S. Bajko
Don't look for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at this year's Pride Parade and festival. The San Francisco Democrat and congressional leader declined an invite to speak at this year's celebration on Sunday, June 24.
Pride Executive Director Lindsey Jones said Pelosi, the first woman to be elected speaker of the House, received the most votes from Pride's membership as the person they most wanted to hear speak at this year's event.
"We asked Pelosi to come speak," said Jones. "Our membership voted her as the number one requested speaker."
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told the Bay Area Reporter that the speaker's schedule does not allow for her to return to San Francisco during Pride weekend. Due to her duties as speaker, Hammill said Pelosi's ability to attend community events is limited, and her absence should not be seen as a slight against the LGBT community.
"Last week, the speaker celebrated her 20th year in Congress. I think it is important to note when she came in 1987 one of the first things she spoke about on the floor her very first day was the need for Congress to take leadership to fight AIDS," said Hammill. "Her commitment to the community has not wavered in those 20 years."
Joining Pelosi in citing a scheduling conflict as to why she, too, must decline Pride's invite to speak is Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D), who also was selected by the Pride membership as someone they wanted to give an address this year.
"She is sending a proclamation and hopes to come next year," said Jones.
AIDS Housing Alliance founder Brian Basinger said he is unfazed over Pelosi's inability to attend Pride and prefers that she focus on her work in Washington D.C., particularly as the city copes with a $9 million cut in federal AIDS funding.
"It would be lovely if she were here but I don't feel slighted or hurt by it. Right now things are so bad with HIV and AIDS funding, we need to have her spend every single waking moment on stopping this slow motion disaster we are going through," said Basinger. "I don't need her at the Pride Parade."
Last year, as the Democrats waged a national campaign to take back control of Congress, Pelosi also skipped out on the parade. But she did release a statement to mark Pride, in which she said, "As House Democratic Leader, I promise to continue to fight by your side for non-discrimination and other protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community."
The last time Pelosi took part in the Pride parade was 2001, and her doing so came back to haunt her last fall amid the congressional page scandal involving former Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley . After lurid Internet chats between Foley and underage male pages leaked out to the press, and news hit that senior Republican leaders knew of the online chats but did nothing, Pelosi called for an investigation into the matter.
Conservatives fired back, calling her a hypocrite because, of all things, she happened to march in the 2001 Pride Parade several contingents behind Radical Fairy and gay rights icon the late Harry Hay. On MSNBC's Scarborough Country on October 5 last year commentator Pat Buchanan made the audacious claim that "Pelosi marched in gay pride parades with ... NAMBLA â€“ who are pedophiles who are trying to get the laws repealed for sex between men and boys!"
Never mind that Hay was never a member of the North American Man Boy Love Association â€“ although he did protest the group's exclusion from Pride parades in the 1980s, according to his Wikipedia entry.
David Brock, president and CEO of Media Matters for America, criticized the mainstream media for not challenging the lies being told about Pelosi.
"Members of the media should be on notice ... the right has embarked on a full scale campaign to undermine Nancy Pelosi using baseless claims, stereotypes, and misinformation in an effort to influence this fall's elections," said Brock on his group's Web site last fall.
Speaking about politicians in general, and not Pelosi specifically, LGBT Community Center Executive Director Thom Lynch said it is time for elected officials and candidates to do more than just attend private fundraisers with LGBT supporters.
"If people want our money, they should not be afraid to be seen with us. We are not the downstairs staff of the campaign," said Lynch.
Despite having strong backing from the gay community in her election campaigns, Pelosi may have good reason to avoid this year's Pride. At a town hall meeting about HIV funding cuts two weeks ago, HIVers took out their anger over the city's $9 million drop in federal AIDS funds on Pelosi, whose leadership they criticized. They have called on Pride organizers to make the HIV funding cut a focal point of this year's parade.
The gay community is also closely watching to see if Pelosi can deliver on several major pieces of gay rights legislation in the current session of Congress. The House has already passed a trans-inclusive hate crimes bill, and as soon as July, could take up ENDA, the trans-inclusive employment non-discrimination act.
Dave Noble, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's director of public policy and government affairs, declined to comment about Pelosi's absence at Pride. He did give her favorable marks for her leadership on the passage of the hate crimes bill and work to secure more funding for AIDS services in next year's budget.
"We are serious about holding her and the Democratic leadership accountable. We certainly have a lot that we expect, however, we have seen progress in the House on hate crimes and expect to see progress soon on ENDA," said Noble. "Here in D.C., we will look at those major pieces of legislation for whatever judgment we make at the end of the year on how Congress responded to the needs of our community" this session.
Pride political events
District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has decked out his City Hall offices with photos of past Prides and other LGBT street protests for the June installation of his monthly art show. The exhibit is titled Takin' it to the Streets: Queer Photographers Capture Marches & Protests in SF.
According to an invite for the show, "The queer community has a long history of getting out in the street to protest or celebrate, reflecting San Francisco as a whole." The photos depict the White Night riot, anti-war protests, immigration marches, the Dyke and Trans Marches, as well as the Pride Parade. Contributors include Cathy Cade , Lynnly Labovitz , and B.A.R. photographer Jane Cleland.
An opening reception will take place between 5:30 and 8 p.m. Friday, June 15 inside City Hall, Room 282. The show runs through July 19.
Mayor Gavin Newsom will receive some queer help for his re-election campaign at a fundraising event next week. Pink magazine publisher David Cohen and Mark Rhoades , the quarterly's director of PR and marketing, are hosting a "pre-Pride reception" and fundraiser for the mayor Tuesday, June 19.
So far the mayor appears to be coasting toward re-election, as no serious contenders have jumped into the race and a recent "progressive convention" ended with most of the city's left-leaning politicians opting against taking on Newsom.
Despite his sex scandal and drinking problems, Newsom still enjoys high approval ratings from voters, particularly within the city's LGBT community, which has steadfastly stood by the mayor since he ordered city officials to marry same-sex couples in 2004.
Recently some signs have emerged pointing to a falling out between the mayor and some gay voters. Like Pelosi, Newsom received some harsh critiques from HIVers over the drop in AIDS funding. Behind the scenes some AIDS advocates are also raising questions about the mayor's budget priorities.
Basinger has publicly questioned the mayor's decision not to hire an AIDS czar, citing the lack of such a person as contributing to the city's AIDS funding problems. More recently, Basinger, who is president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, criticized the mayor for snubbing the club during its annual dinner. He added that his club was eager to see someone else enter into the mayor's race.
"We did invite Gavin Newsom to our annual dinner the other day and he did not come, so it seems to me that, Gavin Newsom is not interested in working for the endorsement of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club," said Basinger. "Well, I guess that's his political calculus. I am wondering exactly how he has supported the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community? I'm interested in knowing more of a tangible record of support that he's had other than the sort of publicity stunt of the gay marriages at City Hall."
Eric Jaye, Newsom's campaign manager, said the mayor intends to seek the Milk Club's endorsement and expressed regret that he could not attend the awards dinner.
"We are very sorry the mayor could not attend that night. He has worked very, very hard over the last three and half years, and over his entire career in political life, to earn the support of the LGBT community and all San Franciscans," said Jaye. "We hope that will be reflected in political support and electoral support."
Jaye said the mayor has taken many stands for progressive causes, from supporting striking hotel union workers to denouncing immigration raids.
"He is out there working on issues every day. He has a consistent history of fighting for civil rights," said Jaye.
As of now the Newsom campaign has not done any polling, so Jaye said he only had anecdotal evidence to support the mayor's ongoing high marks within the gay community.
"We have been in the position of waiting to poll until we have an opponent," he said. "The ones we've taken over the years, even before the 'Winter of Love,' Newsom was very strong in terms of support from the lesbian and gay community. Afterward he went from strong to atmospheric and he has generally stayed there."
The fundraiser for Newsom takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission Street, between 21st and 22nd streets.
Attendees are being asked to make $100, $250, or $500 contributions to the mayor's campaign. To RSVP, send an e-mail to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.