Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 49 / 7 December 2017
 

Activist Calvin Gipson to leave San Francisco

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Activist Calvin Gipson. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Longtime gay activist Calvin Gipson will leave San Francisco on Sunday after more than a decade spent fighting for social justice. Gipson is returning to his hometown of Denver to care for his father, who has a serious heart operation scheduled. He does not anticipate returning to San Francisco.

For 11 years, Gipson, 46, worked for the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church Foundation, serving as the food program director and as the director of human services. He helped serve over 6 million meals, give away 35,000 bags of free groceries, and 21,000 toys through the church's programs before being let go this spring.

He was the second African American president of the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee's board of directors, and in 2004, served as a grand marshal. During his tenure on the board he instituted the community "rap sessions" that were instrumental in broadening the diversity of the Pride celebrations. He was also president of the Frameline Film Festival during its 25th year.

In recent years, Gipson was an important leader of the movement to expose racism at the Castro bar Badlands. After a 10-month investigation that began in 2004, a report by staff at the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that the bar was discriminating against African Americans. The findings were never official because Human Rights Commission Executive Director Virginia Harmon never officially signed off on the staff report.

In February 2007, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Quidachay threw out a case against the HRC by bar owner Les Natali, writing in his ruling that Natali's request "that this court issue writ relief finding that respondents were unauthorized to issue the April 26, 2005 director's finding and directing that it be withdrawn, is moot."

Quidachay dismissed the suit "since the matter was subsequently resolved through mediation, and all claims pending before respondent Human Rights Commission in that matter be withdrawn, without the issuance of any further finding or determination by respondents."

Natali has always denied the charges. In January 2006 he signed a confidential settlement with the complainants.

"The rainbow flag is always waved, but how many people of color actually feel they are a part of that rainbow flag?" Gipson asked in a phone interview this week. "How many women feel part of that flag? It was very important to me that we stop talking about inclusion and start doing it."

Gipson was to have been the guest of honor at a reception last week organized by black gay activists, but he did not attend. Instead, he invites friends to a going away party this Friday.

Gipson said that he learned to crave integration and acceptance early on. He spent part of his childhood in the segregated South, and attended a newly-integrated middle school in Denver.

Still, "being black was my struggle, but it wasn't my secret," Gipson said. "My secret was that I was gay and knew being gay would cause problems." He didn't officially come out to his mother until he was 30 years old, and when he did she asked him not to tell the rest of the family.

"In African American communities, you can be gay as long as you don't talk about it," he said. "I realized by my coming out of the closet, I put my mother in the closet."

Now, Gipson said, he's ready to talk about it.

"I look forward to going home as a strong, black, confident gay man, and I'm looking forward to my conversations with my dad and family," said Gipson. "A few years ago ... [my father] turned around and said, 'Calvin, you know there are gay people in Denver.' That was the first time my father had used the word 'gay.' Ordinarily, he would use a word like 'sissy.'"

Gipson first came to the Bay Area to work for the Berkeley Church of Christ, later the San Francisco Church of Christ, as a campus minister. When he was 29, after five years in his position, the church decided to "cleanse" itself of its gay members. Gipson was forced to confess his "sins" before 300 people, and a second confession was read on his behalf to the full 2,000-person congregation. He was ultimately forced out of the church.

In time, Gipson found the strength to take pride in who he is: a confident, gay, black man who has successfully fought for diversity and tolerance for more than 10 years.

Gipson hopes to continue his work as a speaker, trainer, and consultant in Denver, and will always remember his time here. "I feel very blessed, privileged, thankful, and empowered," he said. "I became free in San Francisco."

Gipson invites people to attend his farewell party on Friday, July 20, at 8 p.m. at Jade, 650 Gough at McAllister, on the lower level.






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