SF police investigating reported bomb threats to LYRIC as hate crime

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday May 24, 2022
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San Francisco police are investigating two bomb threats to queer youth organization LYRIC as possible hate crimes. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko<br>
San Francisco police are investigating two bomb threats to queer youth organization LYRIC as possible hate crimes. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko

San Francisco police are investigating two recent telephoned bomb threats against queer youth organization LYRIC, located in the Castro LGBTQ neighborhood, as possible hate crimes.

LYRIC received the first bomb threat April 29, forcing the organization's youth clients and staff members to leave the Purple House building in the Castro that serves as its offices. A second threat, 24 days later, followed at 3:30 p.m., May 23, as after-school programs were underway, said Adam Michael Royston, communications director for the nonprofit, in a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

Royston, a gay man who joined LYRIC in November 2021 when new Executive Director and President Laura Lala-Chávez took the helm, said the two calls "definitely were related. The second one built on the first one."

Monday's call was a recording of a man quoting Leviticus 18:22, Royston said, the notorious biblical passage that states, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." The line is typically quoted by fundamentalist Christians as a warning to LGBTQ people. A second call followed afterward, with a man's voice stating, "This time it's for real. You all are going to burn." That was followed with 15-20 hang up calls.

Staff and youth evacuated the building, said Royston, but rather than dispersing, they continued their work and activities at other locations around the Castro. At the time, he added, the young people — LYRIC serves youth ages 24 and under — were told it was simply a drill and everyone evacuated within two minutes.

While the calls and evacuations were "very disruptive to our programming," said Royston, the day's programming continued nonetheless. "It's really important to continue the programming," he added.

Royston said SFPD has told him the threats are being treated as hate crimes and, as a result, the SFPD Special Investigations Unit is looking into the matter. Investigators did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Lala-Chávez called for community support, urging members to work together to help the organization in its work for queer youth.

"I am deeply committed to keeping our LGBTQQ+ community safe not only as executive director of LYRIC but also in my identity as a nonbinary leader of color and resident of San Francisco," they said in a statement to the B.A.R. "We can't do this alone and I need everyone in this city to collaborate together for queer youth not only in the city but nationwide. We are under attack. We are still battling the effects of a pandemic and now we have these threats to our physical safety. I am asking for our community to rally behind LYRIC, while also staying vigilant in protecting ourselves and each other."

Following the threat Monday, Lala-Chávez thanked LYRIC staff in a note for their work and urged them not to be deterred.

"Thank you for your bravery, your dedication, and for working every day in the face of those who would spread hate," the note read. "This will not deter us, it only motives us to do more to build a diverse and just society."

Despite the decision to maintain their regular programming and urging staff to continue with their mission, the group is taking safety precautions as a result of the threats, said Royston, including plans to remove staff biographies from the organization's website.

LYRIC serves 3,000 youth each year in San Francisco and the Bay Area with youth advocacy, workforce development, housing, and health and wellness support, and has been welcoming youth fleeing anti-trans legislation in their home states. The organization is currently fundraising "for a massive capital campaign to renovate and expand the building to increase programmatic space by 44%," Royston stated in the release. The organization has also just learned it was included in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-San Francisco) appropriations bill earlier in May for $2 million toward its renovations.

"We expect to break ground on January 2," said Royston. "We are going to bid for contracts in the next 30 days."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved LYRIC's expansion plans in the fall of 2020. They call for enclosing a portion of the purple-painted building's driveway by pushing out the ground floor facade to bring it flush with the rest of the building.

In front would be a courtyard area, while the interior will be remodeled and an exterior outdoor area between the main building and a rear-yard structure will also receive a refresh. LYRIC expects to continue providing its services during the course of construction, which has not yet started.

"This is a critical time for the organization and our growth. We are resolved to keep going despite these threats," stated Lala-Chávez.

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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.