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

Herrera to boycott HRC dinner


City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has confirmed that he will boycott the Human Rights Campaign's gala dinner scheduled for July 26.

Activists are organizing an HRC dinner boycott in response to the Washington, D.C.-based group's position on the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act; last year, HRC made the decision to support a bill that included sexual orientation – but not gender identity – protections. 

A post at the blog Left in SF announced Herrera's position last Wednesday, July 2.

"City Attorney Dennis Herrera just contacted Pride at Work to say that he will not be attending the HRC dinner," the post read. "This is particularly good news since HRC promised to award him for his work on marriage equality."

HRC is advertising the San Francisco dinner as a way to defend marriage equality for same-sex couples in California, since guests can stipulate that their ticket purchase go instead to defeat Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage amendment on the November ballot. Herrera filed suit on behalf of the city of San Francisco in 2004, seeking marriage equality for same-sex couples. His suit and others resulted in the now-historic marriage equality victory.

On Monday, July 7, Herrera's office told the Bay Area Reporter that the city attorney had already decided not to attend the dinner a while ago, and that he was not aware of any potential award from HRC. Herrera received an award from HRC several years ago, organization spokesman Brad Luna said.

"City Attorney Dennis Herrera has said previously he would not attend the HRC event, and his decision to skip the gala is an expression of his support for the transgender community, which he believes should not be excluded from the provisions of ENDA," spokesman Matt Dorsey said. "I think he is hopeful he will be able to attend the 'Left Out' party – and I will be there as well."

The Left Out protest party will take place outside the HRC dinner at the Westin St. Francis.

Robert Haaland, an organizer at Pride at Work San Francisco, said Herrera did inform him a few weeks ago that he would not attend the HRC dinner, but the difference is Herrera's position against HRC's handling of ENDA is now public.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) will also not be in attendance at the gala. Last fall Pelosi faced criticism for her handling of the ENDA debate and acceptance of HRC's national Equality Award at its dinner in Washington, D.C.

A spokesman for Pelosi told the B.A.R. this week that the speaker "regrets she can't attend due to a prior commi

Wayne Bender, right, discusses the work of the Human Rights Campaign with Adam Neufer at its booth at the San Francisco Pride festival last month. Photo: Rick Gerharter

She is scheduled to be in Missoula, Montana the afternoon of the San Francisco event, and is expected to attend the wedding that night of Mayor Gavin Newsom to his fiancee Jennifer Siebel at her family's Bitterroot River valley ranch.

Right now, said Haaland, every LGBT politician from San Francisco is refusing to attend this year's HRC dinner, along with many allies, including Herrera and several city supervisors.

"We are reaching out to all elected officials and asking them not to attend," said Haaland, who agreed that marriage equality should be defended. "Many marriage activists are doing significant work, and many of them are transgender. We get that there are connections between all of our issues."

Luna, who worked the HRC booth over San Francisco Pride weekend, said the boycott has not hurt the organization in the Bay Area.

"It was striking to me, the overwhelming support we received [at San Francisco Pride]. There were hundreds of people coming up to the booth to say 'Thank you for being there for us; you're our organization,'" Luna told the B.A.R., adding that HRC exceeded its membership goals, enrolling 700 new members that weekend, who were "overwhelmingly" from the Bay Area. The San Francisco HRC store also broke all sales records over the Pride and Fourth of July weekends, for every store HRC has ever had, he said.

"You hear quite often from a very vocal minority of people who do everything from hold rallies in front of our store to writing us letters saying they're boycotting this and boycotting that," said Luna, emphasizing that HRC's Pride and July 4 achievements are indicative of community support. "You don't hear a lot from the people who say quietly, 'Here's my $40,' but they're out there."

While exact figures were not available, ticket sales to the 2008 HRC dinner are "on par" with other years, said Luna. The organization expects more than 900 people to attend.

The Left Out protest also promises to be large in number, said Haaland, adding that activists are emphasizing its "party" appeal.

"We're telling people to come to the more fun, more interesting, more inclusive party. It's not just a picket," said Haaland.

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