SF LGBTQ cultural districts to skip Pride flag-raising

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 1, 2022
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Mayor London Breed and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman raised the rainbow flag at San Francisco City Hall in 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor London Breed and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman raised the rainbow flag at San Francisco City Hall in 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter

At a ceremony that is, typically, supposed to demonstrate unity, San Francisco Mayor London Breed might find herself raising the rainbow flag June 2 before a smaller audience than in years past because of the dispute over the decision by San Francisco Pride to halt the presence of uniformed law enforcement officers in the city's annual Pride parade.

The leadership of San Francisco's three LGBTQ cultural districts have announced they will not be sending representatives to the City Hall flag-raising event, a tradition begun under former mayor Art Agnos in 1988. The city's Transgender District announced last week that the staff of the cultural district in the Tenderloin would not attend the flag raising ceremony or any other official city and county Pride events and celebrations unless Breed changed course and issued an apology for her decision not to march in the parade.

Last week, Breed announced she would not participate in the parade, another tradition in which Agnos, who served from 1988-1992, was the first mayor to march in, stating, "I've made this very hard decision in order to support those members of the LGBTQ community who serve in uniform, in our Police Department and Sheriff's Department, who have been told they cannot march in uniform, and in support of the members of the Fire Department who are refusing to march out of solidarity with their public safety partners."

Newly appointed gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey announced the same day that he, too, would not march in order to show solidarity with LGBTQ law enforcement. Prior to becoming a supervisor, Dorsey was a high-ranking SFPD civilian, working on strategic communications with Chief William Scott and part of his command staff.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has said he will march in the parade, as has gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

The Transgender District's statement called Breed's actions "a betrayal of inclusive values and ethics" that have made San Francisco a safe haven for trans and other queer people for decades. Her decision "breeds," added the district, "of transactional allyship instead of promoting allyship without conditions."

"We urge Mayor Breed to reverse her decision, and to apologize to both San Francisco Pride and the broader LGBTQ+ community," stated the district.

It called on other transgender-serving and/or LGBTQ+ groups to do the same. The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District announced May 27 that it would follow suit and boycott any of the city's official Pride events in solidarity with the trans district. The Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District announced May 31 that it, too, would not participate in the flag-raising ceremony.

"Serving as the stewards of LGBTQ+ culture and preservation in our own district," stated the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District in its news release, "we agree that this is an affront to the memory and the bravery of our forebears in the Compton's Cafeteria riot, the Castro bars, and countless others who suffered near constant brutality and death at the hands of the SFPD."

Citing its own support of the actions of its sister districts, leather district board President Bob Brown added, "The Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District joins the Transgender District and the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District in refraining from participation in the Mayor's Pride Month ceremonial flag raising ceremony and all other City and County of San Francisco Pride celebrations until the mayor reverses her decision and instead shows support for the entire LGBTQ+ community."

Both the Castro and the leather districts pointed out the mayor's announcement arrived hot on the heels of the anniversary of a significant date in San Francisco LGBTQ history.

"The mayor's decision to time her statement immediately following the anniversary of the White Night riot and California state holiday commemorating Supervisor Harvey Milk who, along with Mayor George Moscone was gunned down by a former SFPD officer, conveys strategic flexing, menacingly familiar to our community," stated the Castro cultural district's announcement.

"There are still elders in our community that have enduring memories of being dragged from Castro bars and being viciously beaten by police officers — and that the mayor has chosen to ignore those atrocities is an affront to the entire LGBTQ community," the statement continued. "At a time when attacks — both physically and politically — are being perpetrated against the LGBTQ+ community (particularly the most vulnerable transgender youth), this seemingly politically-motivated action by the mayor is especially disappointing and disturbing."

The mayor's office did not return a request for comment.

City Hall Pride flag tradition

The tradition of flying the Pride flag at City Hall began in 1988 at the suggestion of two of Agnos' aides, Mike Housh and Larry Bush, a gay man who is currently serving as vice chair of the San Francisco Ethics Commission. While supported at the outset by Agnos, the proposal ran into opposition from folks the former mayor described to the Bay Area Reporter as "old-time people," who insisted that only national flags be flown from City Hall on their national days.

Bush said that he and Housh disagreed.

"We argued it was as significant as any country and, at any rate, we were adamant enough it was hard to resist us," said Bush in a phone interview with the B.A.R.

Former Mayor Frank Jordan, who swept into power in 1992 with the support of more conservative voters in the city who were tired of the growing influence of the LGBTQ community, continued to fly the flag at Pride, even after he was roundly rejected by the LGBTQ community itself.

Agnos said he didn't necessarily agree with Breed's decision not to participate in the parade.

"That's her decision to make," he said. "She has to explain it. I would not have done it."

The San Francisco City Hall Pride flag-raising ceremony takes place Thursday, June 2, at 1 p.m.

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