Political Notebook: SF gay GOP leader opposes changing city park name

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 1, 2023
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Log Cabin San Francisco Vice President Edward Bate, left, and President Jason P. Clark hope to have the chapter permanently chartered by the California Republican Party. Photo: Courtesy Jason P. Clark
Log Cabin San Francisco Vice President Edward Bate, left, and President Jason P. Clark hope to have the chapter permanently chartered by the California Republican Party. Photo: Courtesy Jason P. Clark

The president of a group for LGBTQ Republicans has come out in opposition to changing the name of a San Francisco park site that honors the city's last GOP leader to be elected mayor. Recreation and park officials are expected to take up a formal request to rename George Christopher Playground later this year.

As the Bay Area Reporter first reported in early February, Park, Recreation, and Open Space Advisory Committee member Ken Maley announced in January his plans to seek a new name for the park site in the Diamond Heights neighborhood. Adjacent to a shopping center with a Safeway grocery store, the hilltop greenspace has trails connecting into Glen Canyon Park.

Maley's reason for doing so stems from Christopher supporting police raids on gay bars in the city during his mayoralty in the late 1950s. At that time such establishments were clustered in the North Beach neighborhood, attracting customers among the Beatnik residents and personnel stationed at the nearby military bases in Fort Mason and the Presidio.

But during a recent interview with the B.A.R., Log Cabin Republicans of San Francisco President Jason P. Clark said he didn't see a valid reason for jettisoning Christopher's name from the park site. He added that the local chapter was also unlikely to support doing so should it vote on the matter.

As for why, Clark pointed to Christopher's record of support for several initiatives that benefited not only LGBTQ residents of the city but also people of color.

"Mayor Christopher was behind the effort to build the Diamond Heights neighborhood, and crucially, it was one of the first integrated housing developments built in San Francisco, and indeed, the entire Bay Area. Many Black and Asian citizens who were previously redlined were able to purchase in this neighborhood," noted Clark, the Bay Area regional vice chair for the state Republican Party. "Mayor Christopher also oversaw the establishment of the Human Rights Commission here in San Francisco, whose work has helped many members of the LGBTQ+ community over the decades."

Maley, 77, a gay man who has called the city home since 1964, had learned about Christopher's hiring police chiefs to crack down on gay nightlife venues while doing research for a history article. It ran in the Spring 2022 edition of The Semaphore published by the Telegraph Hill Dwellers neighborhood association.

"I think it is a shame to have a park, particularly any park in the city and particularly in District 8, that is named after George Christopher," said Maley, due to the supervisorial district now being a main nexus for the city's LGBTQ community as it covers the Castro neighborhood.

He expects to have filed by April a formal name change request with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. It would be up to the agency's oversight commission to either reject it or approve it.

Late last month Maley, who lives near North Beach, spoke for the first time with gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman about changing the name of the park. For him to support doing so, as he had told the B.A.R. earlier this year, Mandelman wants to see community support behind renaming the 6.8-acre park site.

Clark told the B.A.R. that he finds it problematic to remove the names of the city's political leaders from civic sites, whether it is a city park or a public school, decades after such naming honors were approved. He pointed as an example to calls two years ago by a school board advisory group to take down the name of Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a former city mayor, from one of San Francisco's elementary schools, in addition to scores of other school names honoring past political and civic leaders. (The school board shelved its school renaming plans amid intense public backlash.)

"I think it is problematic when we apply 21st century lenses back onto things that happened more than 50 years ago," said Clark. "It makes us forget some of the progress we have made and only focus on the negative."

Christopher, who died in 2000 at the age of 92, had attended the dedication of the new park named after him on April 7, 1971, seven years after he had left office. Accessed from Diamond Heights Boulevard, it includes picnic areas, baseball and tennis courts, a public bathroom, and a clubhouse for a nursery school. In 2021, city officials unveiled a $5.2 million renovation that vastly upgraded the playground but kept a few of its historic structures.

Maley in recent weeks has been in touch with the female leaders of the park's booster group and the neighborhood association in the area. As the women told the monthly Noe Valley Voice newspaper for a story in its March issue, they want to ensure park users and nearby residents are consulted about the name change proposal prior to it being taken up by parks officials.

"I agree with Supervisor Mandelman that there needs to be a community process in the decision making about the removing of George Christopher's name and the renaming if needed," Betsy Eddy, president of the Diamond Heights Community Association, told the paper.

Log Cabin seeks permanent charter from state party

At the California Republican Party's statewide organizing convention next weekend in Sacramento, Log Cabin leaders will be seeking to become a permanently-chartered organization. Since 2015, the affinity group for LGBTQ GOPers and their allies has been a chartered volunteer organization with the state party.

The California Log Cabin affiliate is believed to be the only one to have such official sanctioning by its state Republican Party, Clark told the B.A.R. But it requires the organization to seek being rechartered every two years and file paperwork confirming that there are at least 10 Log Cabin chapters throughout the state with each having a minimum of 10 members.

"If we get a permanent charter, it means we've been around and put in the work for a while. It also means we will no longer have to go through this reapplication process," said Clark, who sits on the party's statewide executive board.

He plans to be at the convention to press Log Cabin's case with the upward of 1,000 delegates in attendance. A simple majority vote among the attendees is needed to approve the permanent charter.

"We haven't started counting the votes, but the state party board supports it and the party chair supports it," said Clark. "But as they say, never count your chickens before they hatch."

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 annual scoring of California legislators based on their votes for LGBTQ bills.

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

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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