GAPA pulls out of LGBTQ APEC event as protests flare

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 15, 2023
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Protesters took to the streets of San Francisco Tuesday night as part of demonstrations against the APEC summit. Photo: John Ferrannini
Protesters took to the streets of San Francisco Tuesday night as part of demonstrations against the APEC summit. Photo: John Ferrannini

GAPA, the GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance, abruptly pulled out of an event for LGBTQs tied to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit currently taking place in San Francisco. Dubbed GAYPEC, it is set to take place Wednesday night in the city's LGBTQ Castro district.

The weeklong international summit, which has brought much of downtown to a standstill, features political and economic leaders from 21 Pacific Rim countries, including President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

GAPA board chair Justin Sha. Photo: Courtesy GAPA  

Justin Sha, the chair of GAPA's board, told the Bay Area Reporter that the reason behind his organization switching course on co-hosting GAYPEC is due to the complaints it has received regarding its participation in it.

APEC has also brought protests — one held November 14 in the Financial District outside the Israeli consulate was adjacent to a fundraiser featuring Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Hundreds marched demanding Biden call for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Another November 15 demonstration led to Muni reroutes around town. In San Mateo County, where Biden and Xi are meeting at the historic Filoli estate, protesters are calling for the end of communist rule over China.

Sha did not want to be quoted directly, saying he is currently sick, but said that GAPA doesn't agree or disagree per se with any complaints, but received them for a number of reasons. These included the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the displacement of people in San Francisco due to the summit, the impact on small businesses in the city, climate change, and allegations that agreements made at the summit will negatively impact queer, transgender and Asian Pacific Islander people, among other reasons.

A statement posted to GAPA's Instagram page Wednesday morning did not give a clear reason for pulling out. The statement, attributed to GAPA's board, states the decision was based on "thoughtful consideration after learning about the various protests surrounding APEC, and we stand in solidarity with other queer and API organizations."

"GAPA was excited by the opportunity to support queer- and API-identifying summit delegates originating from countries whose record on LGBTQ+ rights still needs substantial improvement," the statement reads in part. "It was GAPA's hope to foster connection, dialogue and support for these delegates."

Rainbow lights lit up downtown San Francisco during the APEC summit. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

APEC's members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

The GAYPEC event had been billed as a way to reach out to LGBTQ attendees who are persecuted in their homelands.

While neither Israel nor Palestine are among the 21 member countries of APEC, Israel's war with Hamas and Biden's support of it have been the focus of protesters of the confab. The U.S. provides Israel with $3.8 billion annually in military assistance. Biden is asking Congress to pass a $105 billion aid package for Israel, Ukraine (which is at war with Russia) and Taiwan (whose government and the government of the People's Republic of China are in a longstanding territorial dispute dating to the Chinese Revolution of 1949).

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, GAYPEC is scheduled to occur Wednesday at the Castro neighborhood nightclub Beaux. Among its co-hosts are gay leaders District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), plus statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California.

Wiener told the B.A.R. that he respects GAPA's decision.

"I have a lot of respect for GAPA and respect its decision," Wiener stated. "I also appreciate GAPA's recognition in its statement of the value of engaging with LGBTQ people from APEC nations that don't have good records on LGBTQ equality. This kind of international engagement is really important for our community."

Low told the B.A.R. he "didn't know" until the paper reached out to him that GAPA had pulled out.

"Just learned from you," he stated via text. "If so, I respect their decision."

Mandelman did not return a request for comment.

Mandelman previously told the B.A.R. that "with more than 30,000 people expected to visit San Francisco for APEC, we wanted to provide an opportunity for APEC attendees to meet our local LGBTQ+ community in the very best gayborhood in the world."

When initially reached for comment, Sha said there were many reasons people oppose APEC. He cited Palestine but no other specific reason; he later called to provide the reasons listed above.

He also said people should not change their opinions of Mandelman, Wiener, or Low on account of APEC.

As the B.A.R. also previously reported, after the APEC confab wraps up, gay District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio Friday, November 17, will be hosting a "Summit to the Sea" bike ride to show off his oceanside district. As the B.A.R.'s News Briefs column in the November 9 issue noted, the event will include happy hour followed by a sunset viewing at the beach.

Updated, 11/15/23: This article has been updated with comments from Assemblymember Evan Low.

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