SOMA leather decals defaced with anti-police rhetoric

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 3, 2024
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A leather flag banner was one of 19 that were defaced or vandalized in San Francisco's South of Market Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District. Photo: Courtesy SF Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District
A leather flag banner was one of 19 that were defaced or vandalized in San Francisco's South of Market Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District. Photo: Courtesy SF Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District

Nearly 20 leather pride flag decals wrapped around light posts in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood have been vandalized, according to the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District.

Robert Goldfarb, a gay man who is executive director of the cultural district, told the Bay Area Reporter January 2 that he thinks people mistook the leather pride flag image — which includes blue and black stripes — for the thin blue line flag of a similar design, which is intended to show support for law enforcement and is also used by a number of far-right groups.

The district first put up 112 decals around light posts within the district's noncontiguous boundaries — between the Central Freeway, Howard Street and the 101 Freeway, and between Bryant and Harrison streets, between Fifth and Sixth streets — in early August.

Between the two parts of the district is the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant, which contains the San Francisco County Jail, the county criminal courts, and the sheriff's department. The California Highway Patrol and the San Francisco Police Officers Association also have offices nearby.

"Within hours they were vandalized," Goldfarb said. "People wrote 'fuck the police' and the ACAB, an anti-police thing, those stickers, on them."

ACAB stands for "all cops are bastards."

"A number were scraped off," Goldfarb said of the decals. "Nineteen of them had been damaged. We had a few extras printed, not 19, so we'll be trying to get a few more printed and have them installed hopefully in the near future."

Goldfarb said the 19 damaged decals are still up. It's "too early to say anything definitive" about when they'll be replaced, and the total cost to do so.

"It seems to have stabilized at the moment," he said. "The most recent one was probably last month. ... We have to do another print run and I was waiting to see if the situation would stabilize, or if it'd be ongoing and we'd need an educational campaign, and in some places, like 10th Street, people were putting up event flyers all over them."

The leather pride flag was first designed by Tony DeBlase for the 1989 International Mister Leather competition in Chicago. It features a red heart atop blue and black stripes, with a white stripe running through the middle of the banner. The color scheme is part of an installation in Ringold Alley that the B.A.R. reported had been vandalized last year. A large version of the leather flag flies in Eagle Plaza, adjacent to the San Francisco Eagle bar, within the district's boundaries, visible from the 101 and Central freeways.

The most common variation of the thin blue line flag has a blue line running through a grayscale version of the United States flag. The thin blue line, representing police — the color is due to the uniforms of many law enforcement agencies — represents the division between law and order and societal chaos. It came to prominence after the 2014 killings of New York City Police Department officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. It has been used by former President Donald Trump; at the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021; and to protest Black Lives Matter.

The leather district was established in 2018 to help preserve the leather subculture's place in the SOMA community. Once known for its bustling bars and bathhouses, the community had been displaced first during the AIDS epidemic then due to gentrification and the expansion of the downtown business district south of Market Street.

Goldfarb told the B.A.R. that the district did not report the vandalism to the police.

Matt Dorsey, a gay man who represents District 6, which includes the leather district, on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and who prior to that was the San Francisco Police Department's head of strategic communications, stated to the B.A.R. that he had spoken with Goldfarb about the vandalism.

"I've committed my office to assist the cultural district with getting new pole wraps to replace the defaced ones as soon as possible," he stated January 2. "These are an important part of the neighborhood's identity and history, and it's disappointing to see them vandalized."

The San Francisco Police Officers Pride Alliance, an affinity group of LGBTQ police personnel, did not return a request for comment.

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