Guest Opinion: Occupy the Castro!

  • by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
  • Tuesday November 22, 2011
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Valerie Coshnear carries a sign during Occupy San<br>Francisco's march Saturday, November 19. (Photo: Danny Buskirk)
Valerie Coshnear carries a sign during Occupy San
Francisco's march Saturday, November 19. (Photo: Danny Buskirk)

I did it. I occupied the Castro. I walked into my bank and withdrew my money. That was after I opened an account at a local credit union.

The woman behind the desk wanted to know why. I explained that I can no longer justify having my money in an institution that helped caused the country's current financial crisis and the epidemic of foreclosures claiming millions of people's homes. Recently, in one block of Bayview, there were 11 foreclosures.

"This bank got bailed out, the homeowners didn't," I said, "and it gave bonuses to its executives with that bailout money."

"But you live in the neighborhood," she replied, "we're your neighborhood bank. Haven't we been good to you all these years?"

I didn't want to get into a long discussion. I just wanted my money wired to my new credit union account. There was no convincing me to change my mind. The emergence of Occupy Wall Street and the call for a Bank Transfer Day on November 5 had finally spurred me to do what I should have done years ago.

Banks are not allies to the queer community. They may give money to local mainstream gay groups (Gay Inc., as activist friends call them), but that doesn't make them our friends. Many of these banks provide loans to real-estate speculators to buy buildings, evict the tenants, and sell the units as tenancies-in-common.

I saw lots of gay men with AIDS, long-term tenants in rent-controlled apartments in the Castro, evicted by these speculators during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. In some instances, whole buildings were cleared of men who had lived in their apartments since the 1970s. They survived the AIDS epidemic only to become victims of the one thing they can't make a cocktail for: greed.

I can't stop banks from giving loans to speculators. But I can make damn sure it ain't with my money.

Occupy Gay Inc.?

The Gay and Lesbian Straight Education Network recently honored Wells Fargo, a bank that has been in the forefront of the foreclosure epidemic. In its press release, GLSEN described the bank and other awardees as those "who serve as exemplary role models." Do role models kick people out of their piece of the American Dream?

California State University trustee Roberta Achtenberg, an out lesbian who once sat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, voted a little over a week ago in favor of a 9 percent tuition hike. Nothing like keeping students, including queer ones, in debt for the rest of their lives. Achtenberg used to say, "I will never sell you out." Too late.

As seniors and people with AIDS in his district are forced to live on less and less, thanks to regular cuts in their benefits, Castro Supervisor Scott Wiener expends his energy legislating against male nudists who sunbathe at Jane Warner Plaza and pushing initiatives to strike down ballot measures passed by the voters. But don't worry, he's giving out free towels.

Poverty is rising in our community at an alarming rate. Four years ago, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition on Homelessness found in a joint study that 20 percent to 40 percent of homeless youth in America identify as LGBT. Here in San Francisco, studies show that 40 percent of homeless kids identify as queer. Two years ago, a Williams Institute research project found that the LGBT community is as poor as, and in some instances poorer than, other communities, despite the prevailing stereotype that gay men have more disposable income than straight men.

We are among the millions of the unemployed who pound the pavement every day and can't pay the rent. We are among the 43 million Americans without any form of health insurance. We are among the day laborers forced to take low-paying work and live in constant fear of la migra. We are among those standing in the long lines outside Glide Memorial Church, Martin de Porres, and other soup kitchens.

You wouldn't know that to look at Gay Inc.'s agenda.

Occupy the Castro!

Join us, a coalition of LGBT groups, December 3 at noon at Harvey Milk Plaza for a short rally, then a little march through the neighborhood to demand "no more evictions or foreclosures for profit." We need jobs, housing, and health care, not tuition hikes, bans on nudity, or plaques for big banks. The action is part of a daylong protest called by local tenants groups and Occupy SF. After neighborhood actions in the Castro, the Mission, Bayview, and the Tenderloin, protesters will gather at 3 p.m. at Occupy SF at Justin Herman Plaza for a mass march against banks and others who make big bucks from evictions and foreclosures.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime radical queer activist, performer, and writer who edited Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation (City Lights).