Political Notebook: SF to celebrate Harvey Milk's 90th birthday

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 13, 2020
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Brian Springfield reworked Dan Nicoletta's iconic photograph of Harvey Milk for the COVID-19 era as part of this year's reimagined Windows for Harvey Display. Photo: Brian Springfield
Brian Springfield reworked Dan Nicoletta's iconic photograph of Harvey Milk for the COVID-19 era as part of this year's reimagined Windows for Harvey Display. Photo: Brian Springfield

With this May 22 being the 90th birthday of the late gay supervisor Harvey Milk, the first LGBT person elected to public office in San Francisco, local LGBT leaders had planned to host a block party in the city's Castro district.

They were exploring shutting down a portion of Castro Street, where Milk owned a camera shop back in the 1970s, in order to host the milestone birthday bash on what is now a day of special recognition in California. It stemmed from the successful event held last year that drew a large turnout to the neighborhood's Jane Warner Plaza to mark the state's annual Harvey Milk Day observance as well as the 40th anniversary of the White Night riots.

The violent protest in front of San Francisco City Hall on the night of May 21, 1979 was fueled by the rage of demonstrators incensed that former supervisor Dan White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder for assassinating both Milk and then-mayor George Moscone inside the municipal building the morning of November 27, 1978.

"I had wanted to harken back to the block party that happened in 1979 the day after the White Night riots," said Stephen Torres, a gay man who is secretary of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District. "There was a massive block party where the community came together in a joyous way after going through everything that had happened the night before."

Friends of Milk's had already been planning to hold the May 22, 1979 party when the jury reached its verdict the day prior. They decided to go forward with the event despite the violent clashes that had erupted, noted Torres, and 25,000 people showed up in the Castro that day, where they enjoyed a performance by the late local disco star Sylvester.

Torres and the others planning for this year's Milk day event had settled on using that party 41 years ago as a template for the 2020 celebration. Then the novel coronavirus outbreak emerged in late February to throw a wrench in their plans.

"Everyone was on board, but the specter of COVID-19 was already on the horizon. We were already asking what is this going to look like if we can't assemble," said Torres, adding that the organizers decided to pivot their approach rather than scrap their idea entirely. "We decided to do this virtually."

Thus, local LGBT community leaders will now be hosting the "Harvey Milk's 90th Birthday Block Party" online from 6 to 9 p.m. next Friday, May 22. People across the globe will be able to watch it live at https://www.twitch.tv/sfqueernightlifefund/ or https://zoom.queernightlifefund.org

Donations will be sought for the fund launched to assist employees of the city's queer entertainment venues that were forced to close in mid-March due to the health crisis and remain unsure of when they will be able to re-open. Castro business leaders are also asking that people who live in or near the neighborhood patronize one of the restaurants offering takeout and delivery, or pick up cocktails from the bars selling drinks to go, to enjoy while they watch the online party.

Local drag queen and chef Juanita MORE! will emcee the broadcasted event, which will feature performances by Persia and Bionka Simon and music spun by deejays Beck Knock, DJ Kidd, Jim Hopkins, and Paul Goodyear.

Collaborating on the party are the office of gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro; the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District; the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club; the Castro Community Benefit District; the Castro Merchants Association; the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza; LGBT senior services provider Openhouse; the GLBT Historical Society; the Tenderloin Museum; and the Golden Gate Business Association, the local LGBT chamber of commerce.

"I am grateful that people are making the effort to commemorate the day. Of course, it would be a lot better if we could do it in person," said Mandelman. "I think people are showing tremendous creativity. It is just a real bummer that this 50th anniversary year for Pride San Francisco and 90th birthday of Harvey Milk are happening to fall in this very strange and socially distant time."

Immediately before the block party, Openhouse and the Tenderloin Museum are co-hosting a live drag show for LGBTQ elders and others in conjunction with the SF Queer Nightlife Fund. It will take place from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. that Friday via https://www.twitch.tv/sfqueernightlifefund/

Also serving as emcee of the show will be More! It will feature performances by drag queens Dulce De Leche, Persia, Princess Panocha, Mary Vice, and Shane Zaldivar from the courtyard of Openhouse's offices and LGBT-welcoming senior housing development located at 55-95 Laguna Street.

"We're super excited. This is about bringing out life, love, and community for the seniors, who will be able to watch from their windows. It will be in the courtyard. We need to be centering LGBT seniors," said Openhouse Executive Director Karyn Skultety, Ph.D., a bi married mother of two. "If Harvey Milk were here today, he'd be 90, and he'd be one of the seniors now sheltering in place, and I'm sure we'd be rallying around him and so we really need to rally around them."

Mandelman told the B.A.R. that were Milk alive today, "I think he would be saying wash your hands and stay safe. He would want his queers to stay alive."

"Icon" is installed at Strut. Photo: Joseph Abbati  

Windows for Harvey downsizes display
The annual Windows for Harvey art showcase, which normally features Milk-inspired artwork displayed in storefront windows throughout the Castro's commercial district, will still take place this year but in a downsized format. Just three locations on the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street will have artwork on display.

This week Joseph Abbati installed his artwork "Icon," a portrait of Milk without his facial features, in the window of the men's health clinic Strut at 470 Castro Street. Abbati, who is queer, curates art shows hosted by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) in his district office in the State Building across from the Civic Center.

In his submission, Abbati explained, "even without his features being used, those who are familiar with Harvey Milk will instantly recognize him. He has become an icon to the LGBTQ+ community."

Muralist Josh Katz will be painting the boards covering the windows at the gay-owned Mudpuppy's Tub and Scrub at 536 Castro Street. Across the street at the store for the national LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, 575 Castro Street, will be the work of three artists on display as of this Friday, May 15.

One is from an artist who wished to remain anonymous, while the other two works are by Ian Price and Emma Brown. Price's piece is a print on aluminum celebrating Milk's service as a diving officer in the U.S. Navy in the early 1950s.

"As well as including a witty rainbow life-saver border, and looking back in time, the piece includes words that reflect later political motivators of the man, as well as hard-won freedoms that we endeavor to retain to this day," wrote Price in his submission.

Brown stitched together a twin-sized quilt featuring Milk's image from scraps of pink fabric she collected from friends and other people who responded to her request for the donated material.

"This quilt is made of pink triangles, a symbol that has transformed from shaming to empowering the queer community," explained Brown in her submission.

Put on by the Castro Merchants business association, the organizers switched the theme of this year's window displays from initially being centered on the importance of voting, in light of it being a presidential election year, to that of "Heroes" in honor of the frontline workers, emergency responders, and health care workers who are all risking their lives during the pandemic.

Also reimagined was this year's event poster by organizer and local designer Brian Springfield. He reworked photographer Dan Nicoletta's iconic image of Milk with his tie flapping in the wind to match these perilous times.

"Instead of his suit, Harvey is in medical uniform, a salute to the essential workers who are keeping our city functioning, and the medical personnel who are keeping us safe and healthy," explained Springfield about the image. "The face mask becomes a rainbow flag to represent our community's strength and resiliency that protect us. The untied strings of Harvey's mask are blowing in the wind, as Harvey's tie is in Danny's photo, which Danny has shared he sees as a reference to the winds of change swirling."

Images of this year's artwork can be found via the event's website at https://www.windowsforharvey.com/

Out candidates host online forums
Two out candidates mounting underdog campaigns in San Francisco this year are taking their efforts to connect with the city's voters virtual.

Queer democratic socialist Jackie Fielder came in a distant second place in the March 3 primary against Wiener to advance to the November 3 election for his 11th Senate District seat covering San Francisco and parts of northern San Mateo County. She has continued to reach out to voters by distributing hand sanitizer and masks to people in some of the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods as they shelter in place.

Fielder and her supporters are also calling thousands of voters each week. And each Thursday at 6 p.m. Fielder has been hosting weekly online forums called "Social(ist) Distancing with Jackie" that feature various political leaders from across the country.

This Thursday, May 14, she will be in conversation with gay former state Assemblyman and city supervisor Tom Ammiano, who recently published a memoir about his time in politics. To watch the live broadcast, go to http://www.jackieforsenate.com/live

Also launching his own online chat series is Spencer Simonsen, a gay man and startup executive who is running against District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin on the November ballot for his seat representing North Beach, Chinatown, Polk Gulch, and other neighborhoods in the northern section of the city. Called "Now & After Covid," the live talks will feature local leaders and highlight resources available for people struggling due to the health crisis.

The inaugural session will feature Adrian Tirtanadi, the founder and executive director of Open Door Legal, a San Francisco nonprofit that provides legal aid. It will take place at 4 p.m. Friday, May 15.

For links to watch it and the other upcoming chats, go to https://www.votesimonsen.com/events

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the effort to have all 20 cities and towns in San Mateo County celebrate Pride in June.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

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