Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Planning body expected to approve new Castro coffeehouse Thursday

A new coffeehouse fronting Jane Warner Plaza in the city’s gay Castro district is expected to win approval from the Planning Commission this week.

Courtesy SF planning department.

Courtesy SF planning department.

The oversight body will vote on approving Hearth Coffee Roasters’ permit application to open in a nearly 1,500 square-foot storefront on 17th Street that had been a tanning salon. (Seen in photo at right.)

“We strive to select coffees with characteristics we find to be genuinely special — coffees with distinctive, unique appeal that do justice to the uncompromising hand of the grower and the skill and dedication of the roaster and barista,” states its website.

The San Francisco-based coffee company plans to house coffee roasting facilities at the site, 3985 17th Street, and serve organic, specialty coffee, food, beverages, and related retail merchandise. According to its planning application, the coffee shop also intends to seek a liquor license for beer and wine sales.

The proprietor, Ariana Akbar, is seeking conditional use authorization to be defined as a restaurant in order to secure the liquor license. Planners are recommending her request be approved after determining the business “is desirable for, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.”

Akbar, who previously operated Brown Owl Coffee, intends to operate the Castro space as a casual cafe and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The location’s hours are proposed to be 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

If approved it will be the latest coffee-based business to open in the Castro, coming on the heels of nearby coffee purveyors Eureka! Cafe (451 Castro Street), Espressamente Illy (2349 Market Street), and Reveille Coffee Company (4076 18th Street).

They joined long established Castro coffee houses Spike’s Coffees and Teas (4117 19th Street); Peet’s (2257 Market Street); Starbucks (4094 18th Street); Philz Coffee (4023 18th Street) and the Castro Coffee Company (427 Castro Street).

Also looking to open is Weaver’s Coffee & Tea in a storefront in the same building as Fitness SF at the corner of Market, Noe and 16 Streets.

As of last week, city planners said they had received no public comments for or against Hearth Coffee Roasters.

The planning commission meeting begins at noon Thursday, April 3 at City Hall in Room 400, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco.

 

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 31, 2014 @ 2:24 pm PST
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LGBT activist Michael Petrelis to kick off SF supervisor bid April 5

Michael Petrelis (right) and his life-partner Mike Merrigan outside the city's elections office last November. Courtesy Petrelis campaign.

Michael Petrelis (right) and his life-partner Mike Merrigan outside the city’s elections office last November. Courtesy Petrelis campaign.

AIDS and LGBT global rights activist Michael Petrelis will officially kick off his campaign for San Francisco’s District 8 supervisor seat this Saturday.

Petrelis, 55, a longtime critic of local politicians, health officials, AIDS agencies and gay rights groups, plans to start fundraising in order to cover the $500 filing fee to run for supervisor.

The deadline for local supervisor candidates to file and pay the fee is June 10.

Petrelis’ kick-off event will begin at noon, Saturday, April 5 near the public toilet at Jane Warner Plaza. The location ties into his wanting to represent the “P-Party,”  a play on the first initial of his last name and an allusion to an incident that occurred between Petrelis and the incumbent, gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, in a City Hall bathroom.

“I want to get the League of Pissed Off Voters’ endorsement,” said Petrelis, who has been with his life partner, Mike Merrigan, for 18 years.

The early kick-off event for the fall campaign is also because “I have to build name awareness for Petrelis,” he said.

Writing on his blog, Petrelis further explained that the “P-Party” moniker also ties into many of the issues he wants to focus on as part of his campaign platform.

“Increasing the number of public toilets, addressing safety issues for transgender people in lavatories, opening public bathhouses for homeless people and freeing the libraries of patrons bathing in sinks, decreasing the risk of disease and unsanitary conditions from human defecation and urination on City streets,” he wrote. “We must also remember not to waste water during times of drought or when we are flush with rainwater in reservoirs.”

In November Petrelis pulled papers to seek the supervisor seat, which represents the gay Castro district, Noe Valley, Diamond Heights, and Glen Park. Wiener also filed last year to seek re-election this November.

Earlier this month the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club voted to early endorse Wiener’s re-election bid. The endorsement of Wiener, the club’s former co-chair, had been expected; in January Alice’s political action committee recommended the club early endorse Wiener as its sole endorsee.

“I’m very grateful for the support,” Wiener wrote on his Facebook page last week.

A formidable campaigner, Wiener at this point is widely considered to be a shoo-in for re-election, despite vocal critics of his upset with his push to ban public nudity in the city and what they see as a lack of attention on the city’s affordable housing crisis, among other issues.

His detractors’ efforts to recruit a high profile progressive to run against him have, thus far, failed to yield a candidate. Gay attorney David Waggoner, a former leader of the city’s progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, has sent mixed signals on whether he will enter the race.

A match-up between Wiener and Petrelis this fall would present logistical challenges for political clubs and neighborhood groups wishing to host a forum with the two candidates. Due to Petrelis’ photographing Wiener in a City Hall restroom, he is under a restraining order that requires him to remain 150 feet away from the incumbent lawmaker.

“The pee issues I plan to address. I can’t escape them, so let’s deal with them head on,” Petrelis said of his P-Party campaign theme.

It remains unclear how, or if, he would be able to take part in forums and debates in the race. One possibility raised by the Bay Area Reporter is having Petrelis Skype into them, something the candidate says he is repeatedly asked about by people he meets.

According to the city’s Ethics Commission, the only other person to file to run for the District 8 supervisor seat is nudist activist George Davis.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 12:46 pm PST
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Key hearing in stylist’s murder delayed

Steven 'Eriq' Escalon

Steven ‘Eriq’ Escalon

The long-awaited preliminary hearing in the murder of Steven “Eriq” Escalon, a gay San Francisco hairstylist whose body was found bound and gagged in 2012, has been delayed for about three weeks after his public defender called in sick and the judge and prosecutor didn’t get the message.

James Rickleffs, 47, who’s been charged with murder and robbery in the case, and Escalon’s family both expressed dismay Thursday, March 26, when the hearing was supposed to have begun in San Francisco Superior Court. A preliminary hearing is when the prosecution presents key material and witnesses and a judge determines whether there’s enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

Rickleffs allegedly met Escalon, 28, at the bar 440 Castro and took a cab with him back to Escalon’s home early on the morning he died.

A roommate found Escalon in a bedroom at their Diamond Heights area apartment in June 2012. The medical examiner’s office determined that Escalon had died from GHB and nitrate intoxication.  A twisted piece of cloth that “smelled strongly of apparent amyl nitrate” and had reportedly been in Escalon’s mouth was near his head.

As Judge Brendan Conroy and attorneys made their way through several other cases Thursday, Public Defender Niki Solis, who’s represented Rickleffs since shortly after his arrest in September 2012, couldn’t be found.

About an hour after court started, Conroy asked Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia, who’s prosecuting Rickleffs, about Solis’s absence. Garcia noted members of Escalon’s family, who were sitting in the gallery wearing buttons with Escalon’s photo, had driven from Fresno to be there.

“Ms. Solis did not call me or tell me” what was going on, said Garcia. Besides the family, others involved in the case, including a witness and his Russian interpreter, were present, she said. “We’re ready to go.”

After Solis was reached during a recess, Conroy said Solis was ill. He soon ordered the hearing continued to April 16.

James Rickleffs (Photo: SFPD)

James Rickleffs (Photo: SFPD)

Rickleffs, who’s been in custody since his arrest, sounded upset.

As Deputy Public Defender Greg Goldman stood by his side, Rickleffs said, “Where’s my attorney?” and “Who is this?”

Defendants rarely speak much unless they’re on the witness stand and are usually silenced by their attorneys when they do try to talk. Conroy encouraged Rickleffs to speak with Goldman, but Rickleffs went on to complain about his jail conditions.

He said he needed a court order to access the law library, and his access had been “ignored.”

“It’s made me angry,” he said.

Conroy told Rickleffs Solis could take up the matter with the judge and he would review it.

But Rickleffs continued, even after Conroy again told him to consult with Goldman before addressing the court, and said, “is there anyway to get a court order? I need to go to the law library.” Conroy repeated that he’d talk to Solis.

Finally, the judge said, “I understand people traveled a great distance to be here,” and he apologized. However, he said, if Solis couldn’t provide a “constitutionally adequate defense,” the court would “just have to do [the hearing] over again.”

Outside the courtroom, Esmeralda Escalon, 48, Escalon’s mother, said, “I’m just angry and upset.”

Escalon added, “We all have muscle spasms and go to work. It’s ridiculous. It’s too much.”

Solis’s absence was “very unprofessional,” she said.

Gloria Gaucin, 57, Escalon’s aunt, said, “Whatever happened to victims’ rights? That’s what I want to know.”

In a statement emailed to the Bay Area Reporter Thursday, Solis said, “I sympathize with the family’s frustration and offer my sincere apologies for the delay. I worked very hard to prepare for the preliminary hearing and my client and I were ready to go forward today. Unfortunately, my chronic back condition flared up this morning and the acute pain forced me to stay home. I alerted the court immediately and well before 8:30 a.m.”

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 28, 2014 @ 1:23 pm PST
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Harvey Milk stamp unveiling petition fails to draw support

A painting by Jim Leff shows one example for a Harvey Milk stamp. Courtesy Jim Leff

A painting by Jim Leff shows his concept for a Harvey Milk stamp. Courtesy Jim Leff

An effort to pressure U.S. Postal Service officials to unveil the planned Harvey Milk stamp in San Francisco in May has yet to draw widespread public support.

A check of the petition today (Thursday, March 27) found that just 15 people had signed it. It can be found online here.

As the Bay Area Reporter reported last week, local gay philatelist Branton Burke, 48, created a petition on the White House website asking the postal service “to do the right thing” and schedule the issuance ceremony for Milk’s stamp in San Francisco on May 22, which is annually designated Harvey Milk Day in California.

Because the petition has yet to reach 150 signatures, it is not yet publicly viewable on the White House website’s petitions section. Nor does it show up when typing “Harvey Milk” into the search feature for the petitions.

Burke has until April 2 to get 100,000 signatures in order for his petition to be reviewed by the White House.

“I am not upset but I am disappointed,” Burke told the B.A.R. about the lack of support his petition has netted so far.

Based on conversations he has had with officials at the postal service, Burke believes the ceremony will take place May 22 at the White House during the Harvey Milk Champions of Change event when President Barack Obama honors LGBT Americans who have made significant societal contributions.

The post office has not announced any details about the location or date for the ceremony, though postal documents do list the issuance date for the Milk stamp as being May 22. In a story last week in the Washington Blade, Susan McGowan, director of USPS Office of Stamps and Corporate Licensing, acknowledged that the ceremony will occur sometime in May.

“And we hope people will turn out to experience a very special release ceremony,” McGowan told the gay newspaper in D.C., which did not report any location information for the event.

Representatives of the Harvey Milk Foundation, which has worked with the postal service on the design of the stamp, have also yet to disclose any information about when or where the Milk stamp will be unveiled.  Stuart Milk, the gay nephew of Harvey, told the B.A.R. last week that he had not been told anything by the postal service to date but had asked he and his family be given at least a month’s notice so they could make the necessary travel arrangements to attend.

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in both California and San Francisco when he won a seat on the city’s Board of Supervisors in November 1977. A year later he was assassinated inside City Hall along with then-Mayor George Moscone by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White.

He will be the first person celebrated on an official U.S. stamp specifically for their connection to the fight for LGBT rights.

A Milk stamp idea has been kicking around since the late 1980s, when San Francisco artist Jim Leff, a gay man who knew Milk, painted a mock-up of what such a stamp could look like. In 2005 San Francisco’s 11-member Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling on the U.S. postmaster general to issue one for the gay rights leader.

Momentum for a Milk stamp began building again after the B.A.R. reported in March 2009 that Ohio resident Daniel Drent had created a Facebook page in an effort to see one be issued in time for Milk’s 80th birthday on May 22, 2010.

After the B.A.R. interviewed Leff and ran a photo of his Milk stamp in April 2009, the Imperial Court Council picked up the cause. The Harvey Milk Foundation also joined the Harvey Milk National Stamp Campaign. Politicians from across the country sent in letters of support as did ordinary citizens.

Four years ago the B.A.R. broke the news that the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee had contacted Milk’s family about a potential stamp. And last May the paper disclosed that leaked documents obtained by a stamp news outlet showed the advisory committee had voted to release the Milk stamp in 2014.

 

 

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 27, 2014 @ 3:54 pm PST
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Out candidate enters race for Oakland City Council seat

Courtesy Abel Guillen

Courtesy Abel Guillen

Peralta Community College Board of Trustees member Abel Guillen will seek a seat on the Oakland City Council this fall. Should he win the race, he would be the second person from the LGBT community in recent years to be elected to public office in the East Bay city.

Guillen, who identifies as two spirit and dates both men and women, officially entered the race this afternoon (Wednesday, March 26).

“I need a new pair of running shoes! I plan on talking to every voter in the District 2. Yep, I’m running for Oakland City Council! I hope you will join me to make Oakland work for Oakland!” Guillen announced in a Facebook post.

His announcement was hardly a surprise, as rumors of his candidacy had circulated for weeks. The pressure for him to run became public last month after gay Oakland Port Commissioner Michael Colbruno admitted that he had pulled papers himself for the race in order to convince Guillen to run.

Guillen appeared to foreshadow his intentions in a March 11 Facebook posting when he wrote, “Feeling fortunate to have served my community through the Peralta Colleges over the last 7 years as a trustee representing parts of central, West and North Oakland.”

Guillen, whose term on the college board is up this fall, added, “I have served with great colleagues on my Board and as a team we’ve managed very difficult budget and personnel decisions over the years because we’ve worked as team.”

In 2012 Guillen lost a bid for a state Assembly seat. While his college board district overlaps with the city council seat, Guillen had been living in a different council district.

In order to seek the District 2 seat, which covers Oakland’s Chinatown, Grand Lake, San Antonio, and Trestle Glen districts, Guillen needed to move.

He told the Bay Area Reporter today that, “Yes, I live in the district.”

The current officeholder, Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, opted not to seek re-election. She was appointed to the seat when her boss, gay City Councilman Danny Wan, resigned in 2005 to care for his elderly parents.

The only LGBT person currently serving on the council is lesbian Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who holds the at-large seat.

Two other candidates are also seeking the District 2 seat: former KPIX news anchor Dana King and Sokhom Mao, a foster youth advocate who sits on the Oakland Citizens’ Police Review Board.

 

 

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 26, 2014 @ 3:46 pm PST
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Barilla pasta company sponsors fundraiser with SF gay chorus

Still struggling to overcome a boycott call after its chairman disparaged gay families last fall, Italian pasta company Barilla sponsored a fundraising event with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Monday night (March, 24) as part of its ongoing outreach to the LGBT community.

chorus picThe company underwrote the fundraiser for the Tyler Clementi Foundation so that all of the $125 suggested donation went to the nonprofit named after the Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010 after his college roommate posted online video of him kissing another man in their dorm room. The foundation’s event featured a sneak preview of the chorus’ new production Tyler’s Suite that celebrates Clementi’s life and is based on the memories of his family.

It is part of the chorus’ spring concert “Luster – An American Songbook” that premieres tonight at Davies Symphony Hall and will be performed again Wednesday night.  Eight different composers created the music for the work, co-commissioned with six other gay men’s choruses across the country, to accompany lyrics written by Pamela Stewart, who spent a weekend with the Clementi family at their home in New Jersey to draw inspiration for the songs.

Following the firestorm last fall after Guido Barilla told an interviewer that he would never feature a “homosexual family” in a commercial for his pasta “because we don’t agree with them, ” one of the groups company executives met with was the Tyler Clementi Foundation.

The Clementis formed the Tyler Clementi Foundation to combat anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools, workplaces, and faith-based environments.

Courtesy Georg Lester

Barilla executive Laura Birk with Brian and Joe Clementi. Courtesy Georg Lester

Representing Barilla last night was Laura Birk, vice president for human capital at Barilla America. She noted that the company has hired its first diversity officer, created an internal diversity committee, and is working with the Human Rights Campaign to be included in its annual equality index for companies.

Pledging that the company is committed to diversity and promoting a safe work environment, Birk acknowledged that, “We too have been on our own journey to remember” those ideals.

And despite its recent moves to make amends with its LGBT critics, Birk added, “we recognize we have more work to do.”

In an ad in the program for the chorus’ concert – Barilla is also a sponsor for the chorale group’s spring performances – the company forms a musical note out of pasta and says it is “proud” to support Tyler’s Suite.

“And we’d like to thank the people of the Tyler Clementi Foundation for the important work they do in advocating acceptance and appreciation for all,” reads the ad copy.

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 25, 2014 @ 11:01 am PST
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Obama appoints PLWH as Office of National AIDS Policy director

President Barack Obama on Monday (March 24) announced a man who’s living with HIV as the new director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

Doug

Douglas Brooks (Photo: Justice Resource Institute)

 In his new post, Douglas Brooks, who’s gay, will lead the Obama administration’s work to reduce new HIV infections, improve the health of people living with HIV, and eliminate HIV health disparities nationally.

 “Douglas’s policy expertise combined with his extensive experience working in the community makes him uniquely suited to the task of helping to achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach,” Obama stated. “I look forward to having him lead our efforts from the White House.”

Brooks, a licensed clinical social worker, most recently served as senior vice president for community, health, and public policy at the Justice Resource Institute, a health and human service agency based in Boston.

In a statement Monday, the head San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the city’s largest HIV/AIDS-related nonprofit, praised Obama’s selection.

“Douglas is an inspiring leader who will capably guide our nation closer to the end of the HIV epidemic,” Neil Giuliano, the AIDS foundation’s CEO, stated. “He effectively uses his clinical social work expertise to tackle the many challenges facing all Americans at risk for or living with HIV/AIDS. Beyond his wealth of expertise and his proven track record of results, the fact that he is openly HIV positive sends an important signal to all people living with the disease that they have a voice at the highest level of government.” 

Ernest Hopkins, director of legislative affairs at the AIDS foundation, also expressed support for Brooks.

“As new infections increasingly concentrate in the African-American community, and especially among black gay men, it is more important than ever that our young people see a future for themselves in the face of someone like Douglas so that they can harness their innate resilience to create healthy and successful lives,” said Hopkins.

The AIDS foundation worked with Brooks recently when he chaired the board of AIDS United and when he was on the executive committee of the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition.

Brooks has urban and rural programs and served as a consultant to U. S. and international governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, helping them serve people living with and at the greatest risk for HIV and AIDS, according to the White House.

Among other previous posts, in 2010, Brooks was appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

The previous director of the Office of National AIDS Policy was Dr. Grant Colfax, the former director of San Francisco’s HIV Prevention Section. Obama appointed Colfax to the position in March 2012. He left in January 2014.

The Office of National AIDS Policy coordinates the ongoing implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the HIV Care Continuum initiative. The agency also works with the National Security Council,  the State Department’s Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, and other bodies to address HIV and AIDS around the world.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 24, 2014 @ 3:38 pm PST
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SF AIDS Foundation CEO being honored with park naming in Arizona

10003715_10153942876040603_990506569_oSan Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Neil Giuliano is being honored with his very own public park.

The city of Tempe, Arizona, where Giuliano served as mayor from 1994 to 2004 and continues to own a home, is dedicating a lakeside open space in his honor on May 10.

The date coincides with the twentieth anniversary of his first election as mayor. As the poster announcing the dedication ceremony explains, Giuliano oversaw construction of the city’s Tempe Town Lake and its waterside amenities while mayor.

It adds that Neil G. Giuliano Park is a “vital link” in the park system that surrounds the lake. Prior to his stepping down as mayor, the city council had voted to christen the south side of Tempe Town Lake between Rural Road and Mill Avenue in honor of Giuliano, according to the East Valley Tribune.

“Humbled, honored, grateful. Hard to fathom it’s been twenty years since ‘Bridging to the Future,'” Giuliano wrote on his Facebook page. He added that, “I did nothing by myself and many people deserve thanks.”

He maintains close ties to his former hometown, where he not only owns property but is also registered to vote. In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter in 2012 to discuss his memoir, he explained that he saw no need for him to cast ballots in California elections.

“No one needs me to vote in northern California. My political influence is pretty nil there,” said Giuliano, who was a Republican while an elected official in Tempe but later switched to being a Democrat.

In 1974, after graduating high school in New Jersey, Giuliano moved west to attend Arizona State University. Later he ran for and won a seat on the Tempe city council in 1990 at the age of 33.

He came out of the closet as a gay man while serving as mayor. After leaving public office, Giuliano landed the job of president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in 2005, in which he served until 2009.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation hired him as its CEO in 2010. He is one of the city’s highest paid executive directors overseeing an LGBT-focused nonprofit; his total compensation was $319,933 in the 2012-13 fiscal year, as the B.A.R. disclosed this week.

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 20, 2014 @ 2:46 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Construction of street project at full speed in Castro

Castro Street constructionConstruction on the long-awaited sidewalk-widening project in San Francisco’s gay Castro district is steaming along at full speed.

Workers have begun digging up the west side of the 400 block of Castro Street. Parking has been eliminated on both sides of the block, as the traffic lanes have been down-sized to one lane in each direction.

A pink marking along the sidewalk shows just how little room will remain for pedestrians over the next three months as the sidewalks are extended out into the street. Ramps are to be installed along the street to allow for access in and out of businesses.

Writing about the construction work commencing on Facebook Tuesday, March 18, Cliff’s Variety co-owner Martha Asten warned shoppers to consider taking public transit and avoiding driving through the Castro altogether.

“Driving on Castro will be challenging, so have patience. Check the lot for parking but Muni may be the way,” warned Asten, referring to a public parking lot behind the Castro Theater. “Also try side streets for parking but remember they are two hours or S permit. Choose alternate driving routes if just traversing the neighborhood.”

On the 500 block of Castro Street, workers could be seen this morning (Thursday, March 20) “potholing” along the street. They excavate small holes to determine the location of underground utilities as a first step before ripping up the street.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted in an earlier blog post, city planners and the project contractor are planning an intense three months of work simultaneously on both the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street. The result is that parking on those blocks will be eliminated between March and early June during both the day and night.

Ghilotti Brothers, the Marin County-based company that won the bid for the nearly $6.7 million project, will be leaving five feet of walkway adjacent to the buildings on the 400 and 500 blocks to allow for pedestrian access while work is taking place.

Due to the city’s annual Pride festivities in June, work on the streetscape improvements will end June 18 and all construction equipment removed from the streets. The contractor will be back at work likely as soon as Monday, June 30 to finish the second phase of construction, which is expected to be completed in early October prior to the Castro Street Fair.

The project will result in colored lighting and historical facts in the sidewalk on Castro Street between 19th and Market Streets. A rainbow crosswalk will be installed at the intersection of 18th and Castro Streets.

New street trees, an upgrade to Jane Warner Plaza, and a new bulb-out for pedestrians in front of the Human Rights Campaign store, initially the home of the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk’s camera shop and campaing HQ, will be built.

For updates on the construction work, visit http://www.castrostreet.org/.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 1:32 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Anti-gay picketer Fred Phelps dies

The leader of a small Baptist church in Westboro, Kansas, who made a name for himself by traveling the country to hoist up “God Hates Fags” placards, is dead.

(Fred Phelps)

(Fred Phelps)

A spokesman for Westboro Baptist Church, whose website address is godhatesfags.com, told CNN today that Fred Phelps, 84, died of natural causes.

Although certainly appalled by Phelps’s tactics and tenacity, the LGBT community came to ignore the man and his family that referred to themselves as a church. But Phelps did manage to secure some historic notoriety for himself in 2011, when the church escaped millions of dollars in liability for picketing outside the funeral of a straight soldier killed in Afghanistan. The U.S. Supreme court ruled, in Snyder v. Phelps, that the free speech clause of the First Amendment protects public speech, which includes speech related to “any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community.”

Phelps’s targeting of LGBT people sprung into visibility in 1987 at the March on Washington for LGBT Rights in Washington, D.C. Phelps and a few followers stood on the curb along Pennsylvania Avenue waving giant colorful placards with their bluntly hateful messages. He and his family members picketed the 1994 funeral of San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts after his death from AIDS-related complications.

“Fred Phelps will not be missed by the LGBT community, people with HIV/AIDS, and the millions of decent people across the world who found what he and his followers do deeply hurtful and offensive,” said the Reverend Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Through his actions, he brought needless pain and suffering to thousands of families, including to military families, at their time of greatest pain and grieving. While it is hard to find anything good to say about his views or actions, we do give our condolences to his family members at what must be a painful time for them.”

In an interview with CBC Television March 18, Phelps’s son Nathan, who was estranged from his father, said he learned from a nephew who recently left the church that Fred Phelps was in hospice care and nearing death. His son left home at age 18, saying there had been considerable violence and dogma in the family.

Nathan Phelps, now 55, said he learned from other family members that the elder Phelps was kicked out of the Westboro church recently when a Board of Elders took control.

– Reported by Lisa Keen

— Cynthia Laird, @ 12:52 pm PST
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