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In short span, Farrell made LGBT mark as mayor

by Matthew S. Bajko

Mayor Mark Farrell, and his wife, Liz, wave to spectators as they ride in the San Francisco Pride parade June 24. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor Mark Farrell, and his wife, Liz, wave to spectators as they ride in the San Francisco Pride parade June 24. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Despite his brief tenure in Room 200 at City Hall, Mayor Mark Farrell leaves behind a lasting LGBT mark on San Francisco.

During his 170-day mayoralty, Farrell enacted first-of-its kind legislation protecting transgender residents of single-room-occupancy hotels in San Francisco and renamed a terminal at San Francisco International Airport after gay icon Harvey Milk. He also further cemented the city's role as a supporter of LGBT rights on the global stage during a visit by a delegation from Cork, Ireland.

"As a native San Franciscan, I am very proud to maintain the city's leading role in fighting for LGBT rights and moving that legacy forward as mayor," Farrell told the Bay Area Reporter last week during the dedication of a signpost heralding San Francisco's 19 sister cities around the world.

All three of the LGBT initiatives were begun during the administration of the late mayor Ed Lee, whose sudden death on December 12 led to Farrell's becoming the city's mayor on an interim basis January 23. That Tuesday a majority of the Board of Supervisors opted to replace District 5 Supervisor London Breed, who had been acting mayor due to being president of the board, with Farrell, who had been the District 2 supervisor.

He had opted not to run for mayor in the June 5 special election to serve out the remainder of Lee's term through early January 2020. Breed won the race and will be sworn in as the city's 45th mayor the morning of July 11.

Because Farrell was viewed as the most conservative member on the board, it had raised questions on if he would sign the two LGBT ordinances into law as mayor. The bathroom policy requires SROs to designate single-stall restrooms and shower facilities as gender neutral. The airport must now rename Terminal 1 after Milk, the city's first gay elected leader.

Yet, Farrell's decisions not only to support the local policies as mayor but also to hold public signing ceremonies for each came as hardly a surprise, said District 8 Supervisor-elect Rafael Mandelman.

"I think I would be surprised to look at his record as a supervisor and didn't find he was pretty consistently a friend to the LGBT community. His conservatism by San Francisco standards was not in that area," said Mandelman. "In part, it had to do with him being in the right place at the right time. But I do think Farrell had long been someone who reached out to the LGBT community."

Jordan Davis, a transgender woman who serves on the San Francisco SRO Task Force and worked with District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen to introduce the bathroom policy legislation, told the B.A.R. that while Farrell backed the LGBT policies, he also oversaw sweeps against homeless encampments and failed to properly fund transgender services.

"Oh sure, he did a few nice things, like give us a signing ceremony for the gender neutral restrooms in SRO legislation that I worked on with Hillary," wrote Davis in an emailed reply, adding that, "He only cares about trans and queer people when we are watching, and even though he signed the Milk Terminal legislation, he goes against everything Harvey believed in."


Mayor Mark Farrell looks up at the signpost at Powell and Market streets that designates San Francisco's 19 sister cities. Photo: Cynthia Laird  

As mayor, Farrell faced criticism for opting not to reappoint Leslie Katz, a lesbian and former supervisor, to her seat on the port commission. His decision left the powerful oversight body without LGBT representation on it.

But Farrell also received praise for back-filling federal budget cuts to local HIV services, continuing a precedent set by his predecessors, and for allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars toward LGBT homeless youth programs. His administration also increased the number of states with anti-LGBT laws that San Francisco will no longer pay for non-emergency travel to by city employees, or contract with businesses located there, when it quietly added Oklahoma to the banned list last month.

During the April visit by the Cork sister city delegation, led by Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald, Farrell committed San Francisco to working with its Irish counterparts on jointly seeking membership in the Rainbow Cities Network. They are seeking to be the first cities in their countries to join the global network of municipalities committed to protecting the rights of their LGBT citizens.

Siobhán O'Dowd, chair of the Cork City LGBT Inter-Agency Group, told the B.A.R. that Farrell's comments at the signing ceremony on the memorandum of understanding between the sister cities made clear he understands that LGBTQ rights are a critical civil rights issue.

"Cooperating together on LGBTQ issues and on our joint application for membership of the International Rainbow Cities Network brings a whole new social justice and inclusion element to our sister city relationship which is very exciting," wrote O'Dowd in an emailed reply.

Contact the reporter at m.bajko@ebar.com.


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