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Political Notebook: SF says strike up the LGBT band

by Matthew S. Bajko

The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band marched in the 2016 Oakland Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band marched in the 2016 Oakland Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

When it comes to having an official city band, San Francisco's leaders say strike up the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.

At their meeting Tuesday, December 4, the supervisors voted unanimously 10-0, with District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer absent, to designate the world's first LGBT musical group as the city's official band. Once the board votes on the designation a second time next week, the ordinance will be sent to Mayor London Breed, who has already told the Bay Area Reporter she will sign it into law.

"The unanimous support for naming the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band the official band of San Francisco demonstrates just how important the band is to our city," gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the B.A.R.

As the B.A.R. first reported last month, Mandelman introduced the ordinance to make the LGBT band's designation official and legally binding.

"For 40 years they have been a cultural mainstay in San Francisco and have proudly represented us and our commitment to LGBTQ equality at events across the country," stated Mandelman. "I'm looking forward to Mayor Breed, who is a huge fan of the band, signing my ordinance and making this designation official."

Doug Litwin, the band's board president who has played both clarinet and percussion in it since 1985, said, "I couldn't be happier."

The group plans to celebrate its forthcoming municipal recognition this weekend during its annual "Dance-Along Nutcracker" concerts.

"It is very exciting; it is validating; it is affirming; it is a million percent positive," said Litwin. "It has never been done for a group like ours as far as I know."

The marching group, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has for 20 years referred to itself as the city's official band. The honorific is even stitched onto the back of the band members' baseball caps they wear at certain functions.

It began saying it was the official band of San Francisco in 1998, when gay former supervisor Tom Ammiano deemed it as such in a proclamation he authored in honor of the LGBT musical group's 20th anniversary. He did so again in 2003 on the occasion of the band's 25th anniversary.

When gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) served on the board, he too referred to the group as the city's official band in a resolution he introduced that all 11 supervisors adopted. But the honorific remains purely honorary at the moment.

As Mandelman explained at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hearing November 30, the designation won't be finalized until the city adopts the ordinance.

"It has been operating, in a sense, as our city's unofficial official band," noted Mandelman.

The rules committee voted unanimously 3-0 to recommend that the full board affirm the special designation for the LGBT band. Self-described "band geek" District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a tenor saxophone player in a jazz band in junior high school, made the motion to support the ordinance.

"You do bring joy into so many hearts," Stefani told the band members in attendance that afternoon.

The LGBT band has a storied history, with its first public performance pegged to when it marched in front of the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk in the 1978 Pride parade. Originally called the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corps, its founder was the late Jon Sims, who also formed the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus that year.

(The choral group's first public performance was on the steps of City Hall at a vigil the night Milk and then-mayor George Moscone were killed inside the building the morning of November 27, 1978.)

As much a part of San Francisco history — having performed at the inaugurations of mayors Art Agnos, Willie Brown, and the late Ed Lee — the LGBT band has taken part in seminal moments in both U.S. and LGBT history. It marched in the 1979, 1987, and 1993 marches for LGBT rights in Washington, D.C. and performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton (on the sidelines) and Barack Obama (as an official parade contingent).

In 1982 it was one of the seven founding member bands of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, which now numbers 37 musical groups from around the world. For years it has performed during the San Francisco Giant's LGBT game; last month it was invited for the first time to the Golden State Warriors' LGBT night.

"I am pretty sure we participate in more city activities and events than any other musical group, so I urge you to support this ordinance," said Linda Werner, a member of the band since 1979 who plays percussion, at last week's hearing.

The last time the city officially declared anything, according to the city attorney's office, was in 2000 when it made the California quail San Francisco's official bird, 21 years after black and gold were made the official city colors. City leaders have also declared the dahlia as San Francisco's official flower (1926) and "San Francisco" with music by Bronislaw Kaper and Walter Jurmann and lyrics by Gus Kahn the official song (1969).

In 1984 the city made "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" with music and lyrics by deceased gay couple George Cory and Douglass Cross its official ballad.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the trio of out CA leaders advising Governor-elect Gavin Newsom on his gubernatorial transition.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ .
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail

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