Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Landmark fight – 1 year later

Guest Opinion

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This week marks the one-year anniversary of the city's finding in the Badlands discrimination case. Now that a year has passed and a mediation agreement has been reached, it seems appropriate for all of us in the Bay Area LGBT community to reflect, with greater distance, on the occurrences of the past 12 months, as well as set out some aspirations for the future. Where have we been, where are we going, and what will it take for us to achieve our shared vision of equity and justice for all LGBT people?

On April 26, 2005, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission released a 23-page finding condemning a pattern of racial discrimination at SF Badlands, and the controversy spread like wildfire, sparking a dialogue and debate that stretched around the world, as news of the city's report was picked up by major media outlets including the Advocate, the New York Times, and the Guardian (U.K.).

Here in San Francisco, community response was overwhelming. National, state, and local groups – from the National Black Justice Coalition and Equality California to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Lesbians and Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action, and SEIU Local 790 (to name just a few) – joined together, many for the first time, to protest the troubles in the Castro, challenge our community to "think before you drink," and make a strong and hopefully lasting statement that discrimination is unwelcome anywhere in the Bay Area.

That statement was reinforced when the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed Supervisor Bevan Dufty's resolution of condemnation. Ultimately, Mayor Gavin Newsom added his weight to the call for long-sought mediation, which was successfully negotiated by Mayor Willie Brown in January of this year. [Badlands bar owner Les Natali has consistently denied the allegations against him.]

One year later, signs of progress abound, as does worrying evidence that the fight for true inclusion is far from over. Of the successes, most notable are changes at SF Badlands itself – pro-active outreach, hiring, programming, accountability, and more – not only since the settlement agreement, but beginning nearly two years ago, when the allegations of discrimination were first made public. As a result of the mediation process and our shared commitment to inclusion and equity, we have every expectation that these changes will be real and lasting. [Terms of the mediation remain confidential.]

Likewise, And Castro for All has formed a new partnership with the Horizons Foundation, increasing support and funding for African American LGBT organizations and leaders in order to ensure that African Americans always have a seat at the table and a prominent voice in community decision-making.

But other, larger changes abound. Many of the same community leaders who forged new friendships on the Badlands picket line seamlessly continued their collaboration in the fall, mobilizing the highest voter turnout in the city during the November special election, and helping to defeat the governor's cynical, and divisive, political agenda. In the past year, African American LGBT leaders like Calvin Gipson and Zwazzi Sowo have risen to tremendous positions of leadership, receiving an appointment to the HRC's LGBT advisory committee and founding the Northern California chapter of the National Black Justice Coalition, respectively. And the HRC's LGBT Advisory Committee has chosen to make inclusion and discrimination its focus for the year, hopefully spurring more data gathering, analysis, dialogue, and progress in the months and years to come.

However, significant work remains if we are to fulfill our vision of a truly equitable, just, and inclusive LGBT community that embraces all of us – in all of our racial, ethnic, gender, age, ability, and HIV status diversity.

The Pendulum is still closed after nine months, and its future seems uncertain. So far, no other business has emerged to take its place as the main social space for LGBT African Americans in the Castro. We continue to call on Castro business owners and elected officials to follow through on their commitments to ensure that LGBT African Americans and their friends always have a place to call their own in San Francisco.

We also recognize that this is part of the larger pattern of displacement of African Americans from our city, a problem highlighted by African American LGBT groups in a 10-point "call to action" issued last summer to City Hall and to the city's LGBT business community. So far, no one has heeded that call.

And then there is the onerous task of "fixing" our local and state civil rights infrastructure, ensuring that everyone, from Bryant Street to City Hall to Sacramento, actively enforces our civil rights laws.

Addressing these and other challenges will require strong leadership of the Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Rafael Mandelman, Laura Spanjian, and Scott Wiener variety, and even more community engagement of the And Castro for All variety. If the Badlands case was a sprint – a short but intense campaign (if you call two and half years short) – then the greater task before us is a marathon. Thankfully, we're starting to run together.

Paul Mooney is a member of And Castro For All.

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