Letters to the Editor

  • Tuesday May 2, 2006
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The 'invisible' man

News reports on the accident and resulting fire on Castro Street leaves me examining my own behavior and lack of compassion.

You see, I know Dane, the homeless man who, according to reports, was the first on the scene to help pull the victim from the burning car.

A year or so ago I had carried on a couple of conversations with Dane, and during those conversations I found him to be articulate with a wicked sense of humor. But the third time I attempted to speak with him, he freaked out, acting extremely irrational. I subsequently saw him acting "crazy" on several occasions. He would wander up and down the streets of the Castro yelling and intimidating visitors to the neighborhood.

My reaction to his behavior was to start acting as if he was invisible. Whenever I saw him in my frequent visits to the neighborhood I would look away, or look through him as if he wasn't there. We eventually came to an unspoken truce. I would pretend I didn't see him, and he wouldn't try to engage me in conversation or as the target of one of his rants.

Now I read that he rushed to the aid of a stranger, one that just as likely would treat him with the same lack of respect that I am guilty of doing.

Makes me feel like a real asshole. You know?

Paul Barwick

San Francisco

Heroes in the Castro

For all those who witnessed or saw pictures of the explosion and fires soaring into the air on Castro Street last Thursday it is clear that those who rushed in to help are heroes. One Sister of Perpetual Indulgence recalled thinking, "Oh, I hope I see her again" as she watched Sister Gladys Pantzarhoff (a.k.a. Tony Koester) run toward the explosions to try and save a driver as gas tanks burned and dark smoke filled the neighborhood. There are no words to convey the respect and admiration I have to the many people who could run toward such a horrific event in the hope of saving lives and putting out the fire. I only know the names of a few of these heroes: Dane, Sister Gladys, Albert, Simon Glinsky, Michael Allen, Ken Stockwell, and Michael Gamble. I know there are more whose names we haven't heard yet, however, each of them truly embodied the spirit of community and humanity that evening. Their actions that evening make me proud to be a part of this community.

Jason Riggs

San Francisco

Helping amid the chaos

The facts leading up to the April 27 accident and the ensuing fire in the Castro District are without dispute from my eyewitness experience.

The white Buick moved across the yellow lines shortly after passing the crosswalk heading south down Castro Street. With increasing speed, the Buick plummeted into the BMW waiting on pedestrians in order to park. I slowed my van to avoid direct impact with the oncoming vehicle. The subsequent explosion reverberated through me. I got out of my vehicle and found utter chaos.

I moved closer to the BMW and noticed the unconscious driver already pushed into the passenger seat and moved through debris to retrieve his body, I pulled him up by his shoulders toward the steering wheel. A young man by the name of Dane Johnston helped me. I grabbed the man's belt and lunged him forward. We both noticed, however, that his feet were caught. I lost my glasses and watch at this point. I could do no more. The driver was left hanging over the door away from the flames until his final extrication by others.

I was proud of the response of the community and those who came to our assistance as the horror unfolded that warm evening. The fire extinguishers came out of every business and volunteers diverted traffic out of the area until the fire department arrived. Citizens attended to the wounded. The young man who helped me that day should be awarded a medal for his gallantry under fire.

I'm calling on the members of the Golden Gate Business Association to better equip their businesses with fire extinguishers and buckets of sand to combat future vehicular calamities. Businesses also should have evacuation procedures posted and regular drills as part of their routine.

Mario Benfield, Commander

Alexander Hamilton Post 448

American Legion

Logic missing

In regard to immigration's impact on LGBT rights, I guess I just don't get Tom Busse's logic [Mailstrom, April 20] . If 40 percent of Hispanics voted for Bush, that means 60 percent voted against him. So the problem with Hispanic immigrants in relation to LGBT rights is what? Imagining antigay sentiment from immigrants seems to me a fanciful bit of antiimmigrant paranoia. Hispanics have consistently and overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party since Roosevelt. Mexico has adopted a nationwide antidiscrimination law, though it has yet to be tested in practice. Does the U.S. have a nationwide antidiscrimination law? And as for Catholicism, the ambivalent attitude in Mexico toward the Catholic Church is not well understood by North Americans.

The main enemies of LGBT rights, the ones we hear from ad nauseam, appear to me to be non-Hispanic, and quite proudly home grown. In fact, they mostly seem to be from the South, the Midwest, and Texas. I've got it! We should allow unlimited legal immigration from South Africa, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Thailand, and every other country that is open to or protects LGBT rights, but there will be the additional requirement that these immigrants can only live in Texas. This would solve a lot of problems all the way around. It would provide an incentive for countries like China to improve their standing on LGBT rights, and it would improve social relations in the most backward state in the U.S. Somebody should really put me in charge of something!

Alan Martinez

San Francisco

Situation dire at Laguna Honda

As a member of the LGBT community, I also find Joe O'Donoghue's transphobic poem highly offensive ["O'Donoghue poem takes aim at trans politico," April 20].

As a psychiatrist who worked at Laguna Honda Hospital for 13 years and a co-author of Proposition D, I also feel it is important not to let this issue distract from the dire situation at Laguna Honda. For over two years now, frail elderly and younger severely disabled residents of the hospital, including many members of the LGBT community, and including people with HIV/AIDS, have been harmed and endangered by the inappropriate admission of young, able-bodied patients with active substance abuse, severe behavioral problems, and/or criminal histories. Mixing these two populations does not work, and neither group then receives the care they need. Everyone loses. There is no justification for this whatever.

Proposition D began with a group of Laguna Honda physicians and staff who joined with concerned neighbors and family members of Laguna Honda residents to stop the inhumane policies of the health department – which neither the Health Commission, the supervisors, nor the mayor, despite repeated pleas, are willing to address – that continue to endanger hospital residents, as evidenced by the worst state citation in the hospital's history.

Proposition D does not belong to Joe O'Donoghue, and it is not about changing zoning laws to benefit real estate developers. A special use district is needed, via changes in the planning code, to ensure the safety of hospital residents, and to provide sorely needed checks and balances for an unethical, mismanaged, and law-disregarding health department. The planning code changes in Proposition D apply only to the site of Laguna Honda Hospital.

Hate speech of any kind is reprehensible. Allowing vulnerable patients who cannot speak for themselves to be endangered and harmed for over two years is also reprehensible.

Rene K.A. Thomas, M.D.

Oakland, California

Affront to sensibilities

While I often agree with Dale Carpenter that there's nothing inherently leftist or "progressive" about our sexual orientation(s), his April 27 column, ["In SF, the traditionalizing effect of gay families," OutRight] is an affront to our sensibilities and an insult to those of us who've fought long and hard to carve out a place for ourselves in this world.

His caveat that "parents tend to be concerned" about a community's moral environment" completely ignores the fundamental message of the sexual revolution that there's nothing "immoral" about sex (nor, hence, about our sexuality). In reading his description of a rule "requiring bondage classes (in our own community center!) to stay behind closed doors," who can fail to recall what it's like to be pushed into a closet?

And his quote from Judy Appel that "Our kids need a place in the community" has it backward. We need (and have struggled, in all-too-few places like the Castro, to create) a place that's safe for the unfettered, public expression of our sexuality – safe, perhaps above all, from those who'd invoke the presence of children as a pretext for squelching us. Please leave us what little we've got, and if you can't bear your kids' witnessing open displays of our sexuality, please take your conventionality (and live your lives) elsewhere. You have the entire rest of the planet to choose from.

Liberation is, among other things, about refusing to be domesticated. I've therefore long been wary of the implications of claiming domestication as a right, and I deeply resent (and will fight) those who claim that it's an obligation. With all due irony, I can only ask Mr. Carpenter – and those who share his notion of "morality" – "Have you no decency, sir?"

Mitchell Halberstadt

Oakland, California