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SF Shuts Down Right-Wing Protesters

by David Elijah-Nahmod

A sea of people marched down Market Street August 26 during a day of protesting hate
A sea of people marched down Market Street August 26 during a day of protesting hate  (Source:Gooch)

At first Marc Huestis, a longtime gay activist and entertainment promoter in San Francisco, wasn't sure he could support the demonstrations against the white nationalists and Donald Trump supporters. Huestis, best known for his classic film screenings at the Castro Theatre, felt that the LGBT community was giving the far-right advocates attention they do not deserve.

Originally, the Patriot Prayer group received a permit to hold a "free speech" rally at Crissy Field Saturday, August 26. But organizer Joey Gibson, who has held similar rallies in the Pacific Northwest, abruptly canceled the event last Friday, sending counterprotesters and police scrambling as he shifted his plans, saying he would instead hold a "press conference" at Alamo Square Park.

In the end, thousands of LGBTQ people and allies flooded the streets of San Francisco in peaceful protest against Gibson, neo-Nazis, and other fringe white supremacist elements that sparked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Gibson eventually went to Crissy Field to briefly speak to reporters after he held a media availability at a Pacifica apartment. But he never held the right-wing rally that sparked sustained criticism from city and community leaders.

"I have to admit I went to the march begrudgingly," Huestis told the Bay Area Reporter as a huge crowd marched from the Castro down to Civic Center Plaza. "I think we have given way too much energy and power to a small fringe group of losers. Yes, there are small pockets of Nazis that exist. And they did show up in Virginia. But from the posts I'm reading people are projecting large groups of roving Nazis taking over San Francisco. They became a brain worm, creating a fear vortex. That said, the march was fabulous. And not a Nazi to be seen. Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets."

People were indeed dancing joyfully as they marched, with classic tunes such as Lionel Richie's "All Night Long," Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walking" and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" blaring over loudspeakers. As the Castro marches made their way toward Civic Center, another contingent merged in from Dolores Street. Across the street from the LGBT Community Center, the It's Tops coffee shop displayed two rainbow flags, one with the traditional six colors, the other with black and brown colors added to represent people of color.

The march followed a one-hour rally at Harvey Milk Plaza, where hundreds had gathered - the crowd spilled past the Castro Theatre. Organized by drag icon Juanita More!, the rally's speaker's included More!, Honey Mahogany, interim LGBT center Executive Director Roberto Ordeñana, and Rabbi Katie Mizrahi, among many others.

The speakers called for unity, for an end to the Trump presidency, and for community members to support the trans community - Trump had issued a directive late Friday spelling out his July tweet banning transgender people from military service.

"I'm here to reclaim prayer, which has been co-opted by the alt-right," said Mizrahi, speaking from the podium.

There were also calls to support undocumented immigrants, an end to Islamaphobia, and to never back down in the fight for full LGBT equality.

"We stand against hate, violence, anti-immigrant and anti-black policies, and all forms of oppression," said Ordeñana as the crowd cheered. "We are here to ensure that we are our most fabulous selves - we will not tolerate hate speech - we come together with love and perseverance."

Those who attended the rally were critical of the president.

"It was an immensely horrible experience to see the president defend Nazis and white supremacists," marcher Elizabeth Houseman, 53, told the B.A.R., referring to Trump's much-criticized response to Charlottesville, where he first said "many sides" and later said "both sides" contributed to the unrest there. "I can't be silent while he does that. I'm happy to see so many people here - it's wonderful. I hope we're sending a message."

George Woyames, a 73-year-old gay man, was marching with the San Francisco Labor Council. "Because it's our lives, our rights," he said. "If we let the hate and the Nazi flag fly again, then there go our rights. When I saw what happened in Charlottesville, that's when I said no."

Woyames noted the millions of people who died in World War II concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis. "Now we have a president who openly encourages every kind of racism and prejudice," he said. "We are all at risk."

Kristian Martinez, 42, who is also gay, said he was "disappointed" with the Trump presidency.

"It's one thing after another," he said. "We're unified against him - it makes me feel good to see this."

For her part, Mahogany was thrilled by the turnout.

"There are many ways to protest and show solidarity," she told the B.A.R. "We need all of them. I'm really excited to be hosting this event with Juanita that allows people the option of actively participating in a demonstration that does not engage the white supremacists and further their agenda."

Others urged the community to continue speaking out.

"More than ever people need to stand up and speak out," said Manny Sanchez, who works with More! "As a gay Latino man I know that silence equals death and consent. The louder our voices the more powerful we are."

For her part, More! was pleased at how the rally turned out.

"I'm happy about all the protests," More! said. "We're all angry about the same things: hate and bigotry. This event is my way of expressing love, power, and diversity."

The marchers reached Civic Center Plaza around 2:30 p.m., where they joined an already-in-progress rally that remained peaceful. According to a San Francisco Police Department news release, only one person was arrested Saturday for public intoxication.

Other marchers, including many LGBTQs, went to Alamo Square Park in anticipation of the Patriot Prayer group's news conference, but Gibson and his supporters never showed up. Police closed the park but those who came to protest did so.

Longtime queer activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca was one of those at the park and told the B.A.R. in an email that the "queer resistance had huge rainbow banners that made us very visible."

An anti-Marxist rally Sunday in Berkeley turned violent at times, with anti-fascists clashing with Trump supporters and police. A peaceful counterdemonstration nearby seemed to go well, according to social media posts.

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