Merchants endorse Frameline Juneteenth Castro Street closure

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday December 7, 2023
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David Warczak, left, Frameline's director of marketing and strategic partnerships, and Allegra Madsen, interim executive director, talked to the Castro Merchants Association about closing a block of Castro Street next June in commemoration of Juneteenth. Photo: John Ferrannini
David Warczak, left, Frameline's director of marketing and strategic partnerships, and Allegra Madsen, interim executive director, talked to the Castro Merchants Association about closing a block of Castro Street next June in commemoration of Juneteenth. Photo: John Ferrannini

One month after declining to support a broad Castro Street closure next year for a lesbian tech confab, members of the Castro Merchants Association overwhelmingly approved a much shorter one as part of Frameline's Juneteenth event.

The street closure was proposed by Frameline: The San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Frameline's 2024 event will be overlapping with Juneteenth, which falls on June 19 and commemorates the end of slavery. It was designated a federal holiday in 2021 following an act of Congress signed by President Joe Biden.

That got Allegra Madsen, Frameline's interim executive director, thinking.

"It would be unprecedented for a film festival to celebrate Black queerness at this level," Madsen said at the merchants' December 7 meeting. "I think that's a huge statement, particularly in the world right now where legislation is attacking LGBTQ people."

Frameline annually brings thousands of people to the Castro, anchored as it is at the Castro Theatre. But next year the theater will be closed for renovations and other changes being made by its management, Another Planet Entertainment. The film festival, which runs June 14-24, will be held in various theaters around San Francisco.

"In a year we cannot be in the Castro Theatre, we absolutely want to be in the Castro neighborhood," said David Warczak, Frameline's director of marketing and strategic partnerships. "For a lot of people, Frameline is part of their Pride, and so is the Castro. We do want that to be part of the experience."

Next year's San Francisco Pride is June 29-30.

Madsen's proposal is to project films onto the Castro Theatre's exterior. The closure would only affect the 400 block of Castro Street, from Market to 18th streets. Admission will be free and people will be able to bring chairs and blankets. The event would end "around midnight," Madsen said.

"Essentially, it's a block party focused on film and Frameline and Black queerness," Madsen said. "We're not bringing in food. We're not bringing in beverages. We are really hoping to work with the businesses."

The merchants voted to approve the street closure with zero no votes and two abstentions.

Last month's merchants' meeting also dealt with a street issue as members gave a rebuke to Lesbians Who Tech over a much more extensive, weeklong closure ahead of next year's conference after there were numerous issues this year, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. The merchants pulled its endorsement from the annual tech confab's 2024 closure of Castro Street, and Lesbians Who Tech is now considering a move to the Big Apple for next year.

Imperial Court raising money for charity

In another matter at the meeting, Cameron Stiehl-Munro and Michael Anthony Chua, reigning empress and emperor of the Imperial Court, respectively, came to entreat the merchants' participation in a new fundraiser.

The fundraiser was inspired by Joshua Norton, the aberrant Englishman who came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush but quickly lost everything. After a failed run for Congress, Norton declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States.

Before José Julio Sarria, a Latino drag queen and veteran, founded the Imperial Court he declared himself Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton. Sarria organized pilgrimages to Norton's grave in Colma — where he himself is now buried. Sarria died in 2013.

"He went from a rich, eccentric guy to impoverished, so one of the ways he kept himself fed was he printed his own currency, which the local businesses up in North Beach accepted," Stiehl-Munro said of Norton. "If he printed his own money, why can't we do it too?"

Enter the Imperial Notes Campaign. The Imperial Court has printed notes that people can redeem for discounts at participating businesses. The notes cost one for $5, or five for $20.

"The whole idea is for us to sell these notes to raise money for charity," Chua said. "This isn't something big and extravagant. Currently, we have the Lookout offering $1 off drinks."

Other participating businesses include SF Mercantile, 1698 Haight Street; Moby Dick, 4049 18th Street; Welcome Castro, 525 Castro Street; Welcome Haight & Ashbury, 1500 Haight Street; and Hot Cookie, 407 Castro Street.

Chua stated to the B.A.R. after the meeting that the fundraiser has added many other businesses, including Lobby Bar, 4230 18th Street; Last Call, 3988 18th Street; Hernandez Chiropractic, 550A Castro Street; Fabulosa Books, 489 Castro Street; Local Take, 4122 18th Street; and Eureka Sky, 3989 17th Street.

Additional participants are Skin on Market, 2299 Market Street; Queer Arts Featured, 575 Castro Street; Auto Erotica, 4077A 18th Street; and the artwork of Nicole Hanusek.

Benefiting charities include the LGBT Asylum Project, the Women's Building, Community Forward, the Pomeroy Recreation and Rehabilitation Center, the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation of San Francisco, and the GSA Network.

"Our plan is to have a list of the merchants along with their offers," Chua said at the meeting. "What you would get as merchants would be advertisement, promoting the business with our clientele. The hope is this will drive traffic to your business as well as this halo effect because the people who buy the notes, we noticed, haven't actually been using them, so you're kind of getting, in some respects, free advertising."

Chua stated after the meeting, "The notes can be purchased at any Imperial Council fundraiser where the Emperor or Empress is present. We expect to expand this to online orders in the future, but for now it's only direct."

People can find fundraisers where Chua and Stiehl-Munro will be in attendance on the Imperial Court's website.

Castro Street Fair officials, beneficiaries, and others celebrated the fair's raising $31,450 for nonprofits. Photo: Courtesy Dave Burke  

Castro fair raised $31K this year
Fred Lopez, a gay man who is the executive director of the Castro Street Fair, attended the meeting and said that the event held October 1 raised $31,450 for its community stakeholders.

These included Buen Dia Family School; Everett Middle School; Freedom Place Church; Haight Ashbury Community Nursery School; the Imperial Council of San Francisco; the Si a la Vida program at Instituto Familiar de la Raza; Queer Life Space; San Francisco Spikes; and SF Court Appointed Special Advocates.

The fair has raised over $1.6 million since the late 1990s, Lopez said.

The fair currently receives $18,000 from San Francisco's Grants for the Arts program, but that may be in jeopardy due to city budget cuts. San Francisco is staring down a $1 billion deficit, and Mayor London Breed has recently approved midyear budget cuts of 3% of the city's general fund.

The fair did not receive any money from the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development this year, Lopez said, asking the merchants themselves to make donations.

"Some of the money from the city might be drying up, and it's challenging, so even a couple dollars always helps," Lopez said.

The fair's board will be going on retreat in January, at which time it will contemplate making changes, but Lopez said that "the consensus is this year's footprint was really successful."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the fair expanded its footprint this year to include 18th Street from Diamond to Noe streets and Castro Street between 18th and 19th streets.

"If anything, we may not necessarily add square footage but we may add staging, et cetera," Lopez said.

Full disclosure: Reporter John Ferrannini works part-time at Moby Dick.

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