Editorial: Name new SOMA park for Sullivan

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday April 17, 2024
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Rachele Sullivan, center, cut the ribbon outside the old Stud bar on June 12, 2018 to celebrate the designation of San Francisco's Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District. Photo: Liz Highleyman<br>
Rachele Sullivan, center, cut the ribbon outside the old Stud bar on June 12, 2018 to celebrate the designation of San Francisco's Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District. Photo: Liz Highleyman

There's a final online public survey being commissioned by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and South of Market community organizations to determine the name of a new park at Natoma and 11th streets. This park will be an asset to the community, and it's fitting that one of the names suggested — and which finished first in the preliminary round — would honor the late Rachele Sullivan, a leatherwoman who died two years ago — and too soon at the age of 54. We support the effort to name the park for her.

Sullivan was an integral part of the city's leather community, as the Bay Area Reporter's obituary for her noted. She was active in the Folsom Street Fair and served on the board of Folsom Street, the entity that produces the leather and kink extravaganza every September, as well as the Up Your Alley Fair in late July and other events. One of the things Sullivan did in that capacity was help launch Venus' Playground, the women's space at the Folsom Street Fair, according to Demetri Sparks, a gay man who used to be executive director of the organization.

Sullivan identified as a cis straight ally, and her legacy is tied to the leather community, which is not exclusively LGBTQ, though queers are a big part of it.

Just as important as Sullivan's work with Folsom Street is the effort she put into helping establish the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District, which is adjacent to the new park. She believed in the power of community, and of the city recognizing the contributions of the leather folks. The Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District, the world's first, was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2018. It was incorporated in June 2019, according to its website, and has since become an active player in the SOMA neighborhood, along with several other community groups, as we have reported over the years.

Cal Callahan, a gay man who is the cultural district manager, noted other communities of which Sullivan was a part.

"We have proposed that the new park at 11th and Natoma be named after Rachele Sullivan, a prominent figure in the leather, Filipino, and Indigenous communities," he wrote in an email this week. "A born healer and bridge-builder, Rachele was instrumental in the formation of the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District. We believe it is a fitting tribute for a location at the intersection of those communities."

Gayle Rubin, Ph.D., who specializes in leather history, told the B.A.R. that naming the new park after Sullivan was an excellent idea.

"It would be wonderful and utterly appropriate to name this park for Rachele Sullivan, who did so much for the queer and kinky communities in South of Market," Rubin wrote in an email. "She worked tirelessly for many of our organizations, including the Folsom Street Fair and the Leather Alliance."

Rubin also noted that Sullivan "was a builder of institutions and a major force in establishing Eagle Plaza and the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District."

"Giving her name to the park would honor her extraordinary contributions and give her a permanent presence in the neighborhood to which she gave so much of her energy and her love," Rubin added.

At the community meeting about the park earlier this year, Sullivan's son, Sebastian Sullivan, talked about his mother.

"Rachele Sullivan was a beloved and respected traditional Filipino healer and community advocate born and raised in Ramaytush Ohlone land, San Francisco," Sebastian Sullivan stated in a comment that Callahan shared with the B.A.R. "Her lineage included traditional healers from the province of Aklan, Philippines.

"Rachele thrived at the crossroads of so many communities and stood as a beacon of humanity, compassion, and generosity for members of the disability, leather, and Filipino communities in the SOMA district and beyond," Sebastian Sullivan added. "It is so fitting that her communities have nominated her to be the namesake for the park that marks the intersection of the communities that she supported and loved."

According to the details from the SOMA West Community Benefit District, the final park naming decision will be based on survey results, input from community leadership organizations, and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. The decision-making process aims to consider broad community support and engagement, SOMA West added.

There is an online survey link. According to a Rec and Park spokesperson, the deadline to vote is Wednesday, May 1.

It would be a fitting and lasting tribute to name the new SOMA park for Sullivan. Her contributions have helped countless people enjoy freedom and community in San Francisco, a city she loved.

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