Longtime lesbian CA legislative aide Anna Damiani dies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Monday February 28, 2022
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Anna Damiani holds her resolution of recognition from San Francisco's Commission on the Status of Women that was presented to her on May 17, 2017. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Anna Damiani holds her resolution of recognition from San Francisco's Commission on the Status of Women that was presented to her on May 17, 2017. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Anna Damiani, who worked for many years as a district aide for gay former state lawmaker Mark Leno, died at her Castro district home February 25. She was 65.

Ms. Damiani, a lesbian, was well known to community members and others for wearing her trademark purple or lavender attire.

A memorial is scheduled for Saturday, March 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.

In a phone interview, Leno told the Bay Area Reporter that Ms. Damiani worked for him during his entire 14 years in the Legislature, first in the Assembly, and then the state Senate.

"She was a marvel," Leno said. "She had an indomitable spirit. She always represented our office with a big smile, huge hug, and was well-informed. She communicated her concern for the community in every action."

Leno said that the two became "dear friends."

"It was my great fortune to know Anna and work with her all those many years," he added. "She was an inspiration."

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) called Ms. Damiani "a wonderful person."

Ms. Damiani served on the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club board, which posted a message on Facebook.

"We loved Anna for her dry wit, exuberant laugh, warm heart, and passionate love of all dogs," the post stated in part. "Anna could almost always be found in the mornings at Spike's on 19th, usually surrounded by her canine fan base, and always wearing purple. She was the living embodiment of the poem that she had displayed in her office, 'When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple,' a warning of nonconformity."

Ms. Damiani, who at the time of her passing worked at San Francisco International Airport, had diabetes, but that didn't stop her, as Leno noted. While she spent much of the last two years working remotely due to the COVID pandemic, Leno said that Ms. Damiani used her wheelchair to get to the bus then get on BART to arrive at the airport.

Gay Castro business owner Patrick Batt wrote in an email that he had seen Ms. Damiani in passing a couple of weeks ago.

"I knew Anna by sight and, having worked for Mark, we always chatted and said 'Hello' when we encountered each other on the streets of the Castro," Batt wrote. "She, always in some shade of purple, and fearlessly navigating the streets in her wheelchair. This is sad news."

Before working for Leno, Ms. Damiani worked for former assemblymember Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) for a year, according to a resolution presented to her in 2017 by the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, commending her many years of service to the community.

Ms. Damiani also served as board president of the Golden Gate Business Association, an LGBTQ chamber of commerce.

As president of GGBA, Ms. Damiani helped to publicize the organization. In a 2001 essay for the B.A.R.'s Pride issue, she wrote that LGBTQ business owners weren't always welcome at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. "Twenty-seven years ago, a group of LGBT business owners and professionals were looking for ways to increase business and market their products to a broader audience," she wrote. "When they attempted to join the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the reception was far from cordial."

These LGBTQ business leaders went on to form GGBA, which became the world's first LGBTQ chamber of commerce. Today, many queer business owners also belong to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

"The formation of GGBA was significant for several reasons," Ms. Damiani wrote. These included economic empowerment and support.

Terry Beswick, a gay man who's executive director of GGBA, said the loss of Ms. Damiani was heartbreaking.

"I'm personally deeply saddened at the loss of Anna Damiani, who has been a ubiquitous presence in my life and in the Castro for many years," Beswick stated in an email. "She was president of the board of the Golden Gate Business Association in the early 2000s during a time of great change and growth for the organization, and while also serving on the board for San Francisco Pride.

"She was a community leader for many causes who did not seek the limelight, but was the best kind of leader, the kind who sought to be of service to others," Beswick added. "Clad in her trademark purple, Anna could be counted on to show up and to lend support where it was needed most."

According to the city resolution, Ms. Damiani made San Francisco her home over 40 years ago, "at a time when Anita Bryant led a political coalition to repeal anti-discrimination measures protecting the rights of the LGBT community in South Florida." She soon became a strong advocate for women's and LGBTQ resources while working at Pacific Bell, where, as a technician and later operator, she served as shop steward for the Communications Workers of America and rose through the ranks.

The resolution noted that Ms. Damiani's advocacy work at Pacific Bell led to strong support for domestic partner benefits "throughout Pacific Bell's family of companies, an expanded marketing strategy for the LGBT community, and several statewide and local conferences designed to increase the power of women and members of the LGBT community."

Ms. Damiani also held leadership positions in Bay Area Career Women, the UCSF Women's Health Patient Advisory Committee, San Francisco Pride, and the Golden Gate Flyers.

Updated, 3/7/22: This article has been updated with memorial information.

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