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Castro to see more LGBT honor plaques

Assistant Editor

Mock-ups of Rainbow Honor Walk plaques were unveiled Monday and recognize, from left, Marie Equi, Freddie Mercury, Gerry Studds, Lou Sullivan, and Chavela Vargas. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko
Mock-ups of Rainbow Honor Walk plaques were unveiled Monday and recognize, from left, Marie Equi, Freddie Mercury, Gerry Studds, Lou Sullivan, and Chavela Vargas. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Come late July, the next batch of plaques honoring LGBT luminaries should be installed along Market Street between Castro and Noe streets.

The group includes lesbians Chavela Vargas, a Costa Rican-born singer of Mexican music, and American physician and political activist Marie Equi; bisexuals American singer Josephine Baker and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury; gay men ballet dancer Alvin Ailey, English poet W.H. Auden, and Congressman Gerry Studds; and trans pioneer Lou Sullivan.

Part of the Rainbow Honor Walk, organizers hope to see the sidewalk markers added to the streetscape by July 20. The eight deceased LGBT icons were among the second group of 24 people to be added to the walk that were announced in 2016.

The 3 foot by 3 foot bronze plaques cost roughly $7,000 and feature the visage of the person, a short bio, and their signature. Four each will be installed along the sidewalk on either side of Market Street, a main commercial corridor through the city's LGBT district.

The new plaque designs were unveiled Monday, June 3, at an event hosted by Google that netted more than $3,300 in donations. Organizers are looking to raise $55,000 by this fall to cover the costs for the additional markers still to be installed.

"I think we help beautify the city," said Sonoma attorney Charlotte Ruffner, who has served for six years on the project's board. "We also educate the people who walk down the streets and see the plaques."

A straight ally who used to live in Noe Valley, Ruffner pushed for both Vargas and Auden to be included.

"I love poetry," she explained for why she advocated for Auden, noting that one of his poems is featured in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and recited by a gay character at the funeral of his partner.

Since 2014 the honor walk has seen 28 plaques be installed along the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street, a portion of 19th Street, and the 2300 block of Market Street. The most recent plaques were installed last November.

The remaining eight plaques from the second group of people should be installed this fall by October 11, which is National Coming Out Day. They are lesbians American pianist and singer Gladys Bentley and radical feminist and political activist Audre Lorde; gay drag queen actor Divine; transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, who co-founded the Gay Activist Alliance and was among those protesting at the Stonewall Inn riot 50 years ago this month; and gay men Air Force veteran Leonard Matlovich, American film historian Vito Russo, English writer Quentin Crisp, and American illustrator and author Maurice Sendak.

Eventually, promoters of the project would like to see it extend north along Market Street to Octavia Boulevard, where the LGBT community center is located. David Perry, a gay man and public relations professional who helped conceive of the project, expects the next group of people to be honored will be announced in early 2020.

"We are already getting ideas on whom to select," he said.

For more information about the Rainbow Honor Walk, as well as a list of all of the honorees, visit http://www.rainbowhonorwalk.org.

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