Letters to the Editor

  • Tuesday July 11, 2006
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Castro's 'Queen of Mean' strikes again

Les Natali is a man without shame ["Natali sues HRC," July 6]. For years he leaves his former Patio restaurant empty and abandoned, a blight in the very heart of the Castro. Then he purchases the Pendulum, the city's one and only bar catering to LGBT African Americans, only to shut it down without notice and inflict another empty storefront on our community. The Detour bar also died in the midst of a Natali spat. And of course, there's Badlands. You remember Badlands, the crown jewel of the Natali empire, that spot on 18th Street where gay boys drink and cruise, and Natali rakes in the millions.

In 2004 Natali's raking in of the millions was interrupted by allegations that he and his businesses had discriminated against African Americans. Dozens of victims and witnesses courageously came forward, the city investigated and found their evidence to be credible, and the community responded. For months and months, every Saturday night, we shouted and marched, even as Natali's customers and employees hurled epithets at the women, trans people, and minorities among us. Finally Natali and his accusers entered into mediation, and after much delay and dissembling on Natali's part, they reached a settlement. The protesters disappeared, the crowds returned, and Natali's cash registers rang again.

But now, in a show of chutzpah that truly boggles the mind, Natali has decided to sue the city for daring to document the ugly pattern of racial bias and harassment in which he had engaged. The pettiness of his lawsuit shows that Natali's heart has not changed. He remains the same pernicious figure he always has been, profiting from our community and giving back strife and blight in return. Natali does not seem to be going anywhere, but those of us who are paying attention should remember and remind each other that the Castro deserves much, much better.

Rafael Mandelman

San Francisco

Natali built own reputation

Les Natali believes that the Human Rights Commission's finding last year that he has discriminated against African Americans has harmed his Badlands business and his reputation. Natali's reputation as a racist against black people was well-established years ago and I directly told him so on January 8, 2004 at Mayor Newsom's inauguration party at Catch. I offered that if his reputation of being racist against African Americans was not true then we should meet with members of the African American community to resolve the complaints and change his reputation. He refused. Les Natali has successfully built his own reputation that has been a topic of discussion in the black community since we were receiving slow service or no service at the Patio Cafe that he operated more than a decade ago. Natali is also aware that I referred a black Badlands customer to the HRC as the first official complainant in 2001 after Les personally kicked him out of Badlands, stating that it wasn't "costume night" to Kaya, who was wearing Afro-centric clothing. The HRC report validates Kaya's experience and because of his death, Kaya can no longer tell his story.

But there are plenty of black people that have told their stories and will continue to tell our stories until Les Natali takes responsibility and publicly explains how he's changed his business practices and treatment toward African Americans. How dare Natali file a lawsuit against the HRC when he's had well over a decade to positively impact his own reputation and has not done so? Isn't it ironic that a gay man would be the first in the 42-year history of the HRC to file a lawsuit to overturn its findings?

The HRC exists to ensure our civil rights. Why would he sue and potentially decrease the HRC's mandated power when so many before us in the LGBT community have worked to insure that LGBT people and our civil rights would be protected in San Francisco through the HRC? Queer people around the world are receiving same-sex partner benefits through their employers because of the San Francisco equal benefits ordinance that was introduced through the HRC. With Natali's wealth and influence he personally may not need the HRC, but most queer people in San Francisco do not enjoy this privilege and need our civil rights to be insured at the maximum extent possible. Most in our community can't hire lawyers on demand to fight community groups and file lawsuits against the government agency that ensure our rights. We need the HRC. We don't need it weakened, in fact, we need to strengthen the powers of the HRC as our community, and our freedom and our civil rights are continually coming under attack. Now is the time for our community members, our leaders, our elected officials and distinctly our mayor to stand up to Natali and say enough is enough.

Calvin Gipson

San Francisco

Natali should mend fences

We are outraged to learn that the Castro bar owner found to have discriminated against African Americans is now suing the city for uncovering the truth. Instead of attacking and blaming everyone else, we suggest Mr. Les Natali try mending fences with the community and his former patrons and would-be customers. His legal nitpicking doesn't change the fact that black visitors to his establishments were subjected to discriminatory treatment.

It isn't pretty but racial divisions are alive and well in LGBT communities across the country. Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending it isn't so won't cut it.

We applaud the Human Rights Commission for standing up for fairness and calling it like they see it – after all our freedom as gay Americans depends on all Americans achieving the promise of equality.

Zwazzi Sowo and H. Alexander Robinson

National Black Justice Coalition, Northern California Chapter

Supports DA's symposium

We're writing in recognition of the hard work of the San Francisco District Attorney's office in planning the upcoming symposium "Hate Crimes: Combating Gay and Transgender Panic Strategies." Building on the work started by the Fulton County District Attorney's office in Atlanta in 2005, this symposium expands on that effort by adding cutting edge training on transgender panic strategies.

We believe that the July 20-21 symposium, an excellent learning opportunity for criminal justice professionals, is another sign of advancement for transgender civil rights. While the too often justifiable tension that many transgender people feel regarding law enforcement is not solved by this symposium, the work of SF's DA Kamala Harris and her staff is a large step in the right direction.

For that reason, we strongly encourage all community members and allies to attend the free town hall meeting that the organizers of the symposium have planned for the evening of July 20 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center. It will be a great opportunity to talk about violence against LGBT communities and share thoughts about what law enforcement professionals need to know about us in order to better protect our communities.

Cecilia Chung; staff of Community United Against Violence; Nikki Calma a.k.a. Tita Aida; Robert Haaland; Transgender San Francisco; and 23 other individuals and organizations, full list available at www.transgenderlawcenter.org

Dufty and tenants

Dozens of senior citizen tenants, many facing potential eviction, along with many supporters picketed the Bank of America at Powell and Market streets on July 3. They are alarmed that the bank is proposing to grant loans for creation of tenancies-in-common in large apartment buildings and wanted the bank to agree not to. Until now, only small buildings have been sold as TICs, and the result, even with small buildings, has been an epidemic of evictions of tenants, often elderly, disabled, or of low incomes, unable to purchase the exorbitantly priced homes.

In attendance at the picket, it was good to see, was Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the supervisorial district where the picket took place and who has been a leader on the board of supervisors in crafting tenants' rights legislation.

This brought back to mind a previous picket, held several weeks ago at Church and Market streets, protesting evictions and alleged thuggery by CitiApartments, a major landlord in San Francisco. This picket happened in District 8, represented by Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whom it was noted by picketers, was nowhere in attendance, nor has he been a leader on the board in helping tenants. So much for the rather selective interpretation Dufty has given to the slogan he ran on, "All About the Neighborhood." Perhaps considering Dufty's campaign contributions, his record of pro-downtown and pro-landlord voting, and his foot-dragging when ethical issues confront him, it is no surprise he has such a selective interpretation about who constitutes his "neighborhood."

Alan Collins

San Francisco

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