SFPD LGBTQ forum talks safe havens and hate crimes at meeting

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday October 26, 2023
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San Francisco Police Department Officer Jose Canchola, left, and Captain Christopher Del Gandio listen to a presentation by Graham Hinchcliffe, M.S., right, on Pride flag pins he introduced at UCSF during the SFPD's LGBTQ+ Advisory Forum meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus October 25. Photo: John Ferrannini
San Francisco Police Department Officer Jose Canchola, left, and Captain Christopher Del Gandio listen to a presentation by Graham Hinchcliffe, M.S., right, on Pride flag pins he introduced at UCSF during the SFPD's LGBTQ+ Advisory Forum meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus October 25. Photo: John Ferrannini

An LGBTQ group that advises the San Francisco Police Department is seeking new members. That was one of the messages delivered at the department's LGBTQ+ Advisory Forum meeting October 25 that the Bay Area Reporter was invited to attend.

The forum is made up of civilians and department personnel. It is looking for a more diverse array of participants as it works on updated posters to let victims of crime know where they can go for safe haven in the event they are victims of a crime, officials said.

The group is also planning a community symposium on hate crimes.

"The purpose of this forum is not to represent the Castro," Greg Carey, a gay man who is the chair of Castro Community on Patrol and community co-chairperson of the forum, said during the group's meeting, held at the UCSF Mission Bay campus. "It's to represent all of San Francisco, all genders and ethnicities. ... There are other places in the city that have populations of queer people who also should have a voice in the conversation."

The forum was established in 2010 by then-San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón as a way for the LGBTQ community to address concerns directly to SFPD command staff. Gascón went on to become the city's district attorney before relocating to Los Angeles, where he was elected that county's DA in November 2020. (He is running for reelection next year.)

Christopher Del Gandio, the first out gay SFPD captain and the department's co-chairperson of the forum, said that there are eight similar advisory bodies for other groups and communities throughout the city, such as for Asian American Pacific Islanders and small business owners.

The LGBTQ+ forum, which currently has 20 members, was recently renamed from the San Francisco Police Department Chief's LGBTQ+ Forum because the forums are being restructured, Del Gandio explained. The proliferation of chief's forums has made it hard for Chief William Scott to attend all of them, and so one representative selected by Scott from each forum will comprise a new chief's forum, and the existing forums will become department-focused forums.

"This is new to us and it remains to be seen how it will work out," Del Gandio said. "His schedule is seven days a week, like the mayor. ... [Gascón] attended each meeting but there weren't so many groups at that time."

One of the efforts the forum is currently undertaking is updating the pink triangle "Stop the Violence" signs posted in many Castro-area businesses. Carey said that the purpose of the signs is to let crime victims know that they can go to the merchant for safety before law enforcement can arrive.

The original signs included the words "Safe Space" beneath the triangle, but this eventually became "Stop Hate," which obscured the purpose of the signs, Carey said.

"The idea is those signs are to mark a safe haven for victims of crime," Carey said. "The new signage is not self-explanatory that the merchant is a safe haven."

Carey said that when the new signs are done, the forum will try to "get those up in as many businesses as possible."

"The wording is not specific to the Castro so it can be put up anywhere in the city," he said. They were last replaced in 2017 when the right-wing Patriot Prayer group threatened to come to San Francisco (it later canceled the planned gatherings, which had been approved by the National Park Service to be held at Crissy Field).

Del Gandio suggested adding a QR code to the signs with a "link to resources or a resource guide," he said. He also stated that posting the signs will require more merchants to agree to use their businesses as a safe harbor and to commit to calling 911 if a crime victim shows up.

Terry Asten Bennett, a straight ally who is the co-owner of Cliff's Variety on Castro Street and is the president of the Castro Merchants Association, told the Bay Area Reporter, "I don't know that changing the words is as important as getting out the message that there are places for safe harbor and people willing to help."

"If changing the words and refreshing the signs gets the word out there, then I am all for it," she stated. "I love the idea of a QR code linking to resources."

The forum members also discussed having a larger symposium about hate crimes after a successful event featuring the SFPD and the FBI drew a crowd in the Castro on August 30, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

"It went very well," said Del Gandio, who was there. "I got a lot of positive feedback about it from the community. Our command staff put the [B.A.R.] article up the chain of command to the chief and everyone was super happy with the turnout on one of the hottest days of the year."

That event had been by invitation-only. Carey said that there was a larger symposium, open to the general public, on the subject "about 10 years ago" at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, and suggested having a similar event again.

"It's very important to get people up to date on what is a hate crime and to get a local focus," Carey said. "The FBI is often not needed in San Francisco because we have such good laws here in California."

Del Gandio said that event should happen in 2024.

Traffic stops and foot beats

Officer Jose Canchola, who's on the SFPD's Castro foot patrol beat, said that the department has been conducting more vehicle stops in the area after a pedestrian was hit in the intersection at 19th and Castro streets.

"It was pretty bad," Canchola said, referring to speeding in the area. "Some people going 15-miles-per-hour through the stop sign, not even doing that little bit of hesitation."

Canchola said that there aren't more foot patrols in the Castro because of the police staffing shortage. Mission Station, which covers most of the LGBTQ neighborhood, has one of the lowest numbers of available officers in the city, according to Dave Burke, the SFPD District 8 liaison. A proposal to move the Castro into SFPD's Park Station's radius wouldn't necessarily improve things, because Park Station is among the least-staffed stations in the city, Burke added. Park Station does include some of the upper Market Street area.

During the recent Lesbians Who Tech confab that took place in the Castro, Canchola was on foot patrol and said "a lot of people were shocked" to see officers on the street after dark.

Canchola said police morale is up because public attitudes toward the police have become more positive in recent years. As the B.A.R. previously reported, the nation has seen a crime spike in recent years; in 2022 reported violent crime finally fell by 1.7%.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed recently unveiled a ballot measure that she says would free up officers to be on the streets more, increase the use of modern tools like surveillance cameras, and loosen policies on police pursuits.

With the recall of former DA Chesa Boudin last year, new DA Brooke Jenkins, who has a more traditional philosophy than the progressive Boudin, has also worked to charge various criminal cases, though her tenure has been marked by some controversies, such as her decision not to file charges against the store security guard who shot unarmed Black trans man Banko Brown at a downtown Walgreens in April.

Also at the meeting, Graham Hinchcliffe, M.S., gave a presentation about Pride flag pins and a related pledge he introduced at UCSF. A gay man himself, the HIV researcher has passed out hundreds of pins since he started the project earlier this year.

"It was around the time there was a lot of news coverage about anti-LGBTQ bills," Hinchcliffe said, referring to hundreds of bills that have been debated in state legislatures across the country, some dealing with trans students and drag performances.

"It was really to get support for folks at UCSF, our LGBTQ community here, for everybody," he added.

Since then, Hinchcliffe has handed out the pins at the AIDS Walk and at the Pride parade in June. Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) wore one of his pins there, he said.

"People seem to love a pin — they really do," he said.

The forum did not decide when it is going to meet again; two months out from October would put the meeting around the holidays, so the idea of an early January meeting was floated. Forum community co-chairperson Ken Craig said that the chairs would be in touch.

People interested in becoming part of the forum can contact [email protected]

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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