Political Notebook: San Francisco LGBTQ advisory group begins to take shape

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 12, 2021
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Akira Jackson, left, Okan Sengun, and Nicole Santamaria are three of the 24 people expected to be approved for seats on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission's reconstituted LGBTQI+ Advisory Committee. Photos: Jackson, courtesy city of San Francisco; Sengun, courtesy Facebook; Santamaria, courtesy El/La Para Trans Latina
Akira Jackson, left, Okan Sengun, and Nicole Santamaria are three of the 24 people expected to be approved for seats on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission's reconstituted LGBTQI+ Advisory Committee. Photos: Jackson, courtesy city of San Francisco; Sengun, courtesy Facebook; Santamaria, courtesy El/La Para Trans Latina

The reconstituted LGBTQI+ Advisory Committee for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission is beginning to take shape, with the oversight body set to recommend applicants for all but one of the 25 committee members at its May 13 meeting.

Mayor London Breed will then need to sign off on the 24 appointees and swear them in before their selection becomes official, said HRC Vice Chair Joseph Sweiss, a queer man who has been working to revive the advisory committee.

It is expected that the new LGBTQI+ Advisory Committee members will hold their first meeting sometime in late June during Pride Month or early in July. As the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported, it has been more than three years since such an advisory group has met.

First established in 1975, the committee is tasked with advising the HRC on issues affecting the LGBTQ community. Under its previous configuration the committee's 12 members were expected to meet monthly except for December, due to the holidays, and June, in recognition of Pride Month.

Members had to be city residents and were not paid for their service. But in October 2018 the B.A.R. disclosed that the advisory panel's last meeting had been in March of that year, as it had trouble reaching the required quorum needed to hold its meetings. A HRC spokesman chalked up the reason for the panel going dormant to the city agency having to follow more rigid rules and regulations on how it conducts its meetings than what community-based LGBTQ organizations have to follow.

At the time Susan Belinda Christian, a lesbian then serving on the HRC, had told the B.A.R. that the advisory panel should be re-envisioned so that it worked closer with the full commission, the city's LGBTQ residents, nonprofits, and other queer organizations. And in fact, that is what has occurred under the reimagining of the panel that was adopted by the HRC in August 2019.

The COVID pandemic delayed the process to recruit members for the revamped advisory committee. Its seats will now be divvied up between community members, representatives from elected officials, and staff or leaders from city-based LGBTQ nonprofits and social service agencies.

According to the proposed membership list released by the HRC May 10, four of the five seats for elected officials will be filled by Joe Adkins, an administrative aide for gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman; Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) District Director Tom Paulino; Zahra Hajee, a Bay Area field representative for U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) who used to work for gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco); and city firefighter Keith Baraka, an elected member of the Democratic County Central Committee that oversees the San Francisco Democratic Party.

Adkins, Paulino, and Baraka are all gay men, while Hajee is bisexual. As the B.A.R. previously reported, Baraka is suing the fire department for alleged discrimination due to his being an out Black man. The person to serve in the fifth seat representing an elected official has yet to be named.

Six of the 10 seats for community groups are to be filled by gay men: LYRIC board member Michael Appel; LGBT Community Center community programs manager Timothy Hampton; Our Family Coalition education director Rick Oculto; GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Islander Alliance Chair Michael Nguyen; San Francisco AIDS Foundation Vice President of Behavioral and Substance Use Health Michael Discepola; and LGBT Asylum Project co-founder Okan Sengun. The other four seats will go to transgender leaders Nicole Santamaria, executive director of El/La Para Trans Latina; Juniper Yun, a program associate with the Transgender District; Akira Jackson, director of Trans Activists for Justice and Accountability Coalition; and Monica Paz, a caseworker with the San Francisco Community Health Center.

Among those to serve in the 10 seats dedicated for community members are Michelle Meow, a lesbian and former president of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee; intersex therapist Niki Khanna; USF university chaplain the Reverend Donal Godfrey, a gay Jesuit; therapist Roger Kuhn, a two-spirit man who is a member of the Poarch Creek Tribe; and Instituto Familiar de la Raza development director Noris Chavarria.

Also expected to be seated are Homeless Children's Network Executive Director April Silas, a Black LGBTQ leader; gay attorney Nick Clements; transgender advocate JoJo Ty, a former city youth commissioner who is now a certified community health worker; Hilary Burdge, who is queer and vice president of program, strategy, and impact at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco; and transgender Lebanese refugee Sophia Kass, program manager of the LGBTQ+ Aging and Abilities Support Network at the Shanti Project.

Roughly 100 people applied to serve on the advisory committee, which is now only required to meet at least quarterly, instead of 10 times a year. According to an HRC staff report, part of its vision is that "by centering the most marginalized, we are rooted in the collective liberation of all community members."

And the mission of the new HRC's LGBTQI+ Advisory Committee "is to help expand full freedom, justice and equity for all members in the LGBTQI+ community in San Francisco through: coalition building, advocacy, funding, policy, and technical assistance."

The San Francisco Human Rights Commission meeting begins at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 13. For information on how to watch the livestream of the meeting, click here.

LGBTQ API week proposed in SF

In light of the uptick in violent attacks and harassment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the COVID pandemic, local leaders are seeking to have the city declare May 22-29 as Queer and Transgender Asian and Pacific Islanders Week in the City and County of San Francisco.

Mandelman introduced a resolution during the Board of Supervisors' May 11 meeting in support of the weeklong observance. The supervisors are set to vote on it when they meet Tuesday, May 18. The city already celebrates May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

It is believed that San Francisco would be the first city in the country to declare a QTAPI Week. Leaders of the GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance, which recently held several rallies in the city's LGBTQ Castro district to protest the rise in AAPI hate, and the Bay Area QTAPI Coalition have worked with Mandelman on the QTAPI Week proposal.

During the observance, various QTAPI groups plan to host member meetings, networking activities, capacity building events, and supportive facilitated conversations to further their work. Its starting on May 22 coincides with the annual observances of Harvey Milk Day, a day of special recognition in California timed to the birthday of the late gay San Francisco supervisor.

"QTAPI Week is a time when organizers demonstrate the strength and resilience of the Asian American community in the face of continued violence as well as pride in identity as part of the LGBTQ+ community," states the resolution.

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 push to get more Bay Area cities than ever to fly a version of the Pride flag this June.

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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