Issue:  Vol. 45 / No. 9 / 26 February 2015
 

Person of interest identified in SF gay man’s August death

San Francisco police released this video image of a person of interest in connection with the death of Bryan Higgins. Photo: Courtesy SFPD

San Francisco police released this video image of a person of interest in connection with the death of Bryan Higgins. Photo: Courtesy SFPD

San Francisco police have identified a person of interest in the August 2014 death of Bryan “Feather” Higgins, 31, the gay man who died after being attacked in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood.

A source told the Bay Area Reporter the name of the man he believes hit Higgins near 100 Church Street August 10. Higgins died three days later at San Francisco General Hospital after his family had him taken off life support.

In an email exchange, San Francisco Police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza confirmed that the man is a “person of interest” in the case but expressed concern that naming the man might compromise the investigation. The man is “not a suspect,” said Esparza.

Bryan Higgins in an undated photo. Photo: Courtesy Bryan Higgins' Facebook page

Bryan Higgins in an undated photo. Photo: Courtesy Bryan Higgins’ Facebook page

“We are waiting still on the results of the medical examiner’s autopsy to see if it’s a homicide,” he said. “We have to wait for the cause officially.”

It could be months before the medical examiner’s office publicly releases its report on Higgins’ death.

Several days after the attack, police released a video that they say shows a man chasing Higgins across Church and starting to assault him. John Stone, who said he witnessed the attack, told the B.A.R. in August that Higgins had been antagonizing people nearby just before the incident.

Facebook photos of the man identified as a person of interest appear to match the man in the video footage.

Brian Busta, 50, a friend and neighbor of Higgins, has said hours before he was attacked, Higgins had been dealing with “medical issues.”

The day before the incident, Higgins had been “getting too out of hand” and “running around like a cat in a cage.” He said police were called twice “so we could get Feather into General [Hospital].” However, he said, police had said they couldn’t do anything unless Higgins was a danger to himself or others.

Higgins was part of the Radical Faerie community and was also known as Feather Lynn.

Jerry Deal, 38, a friend of Higgins’, said shortly after his death, “He was the kindest, gentlest, freest spirit I’ve ever met, and I’ve been blessed to have amazing friends.”

Anyone with information in the case may call the police department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, or text a tip to 847411 and type SFPD, then the message. The incident number is 140 665 807.

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, February 26, 2015 @ 1:09 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Ex-SFPD officer investigated in embezzlement case

Gay former San Francisco police Officer Mike Evans allegedly embezzled more than $16,000 from the department’s Pride Alliance for LGBT cops, an email from one of the group’s members this week said.

According to the message from Andy Shakur, which was shared with the Bay Area Reporter, Evans had paid back $15,000.

(Former SFPD Officer Mike Evans. Photo: Pete Thoshinsky)

(Former SFPD Officer Mike Evans. Photo: Pete Thoshinsky)

Evans, who had been the group’s treasurer but left the police department several months ago, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lieutenant Chuck Limbert, a longtime gay cop and the alliance’s president, said in an email to the B.A.R. that the case has been referred to the district attorney’s office.

Max Szabo, a spokesman for the DA, said his agency has received an embezzlement case, but he wouldn’t confirm it was connected with Evans.

In his email, Shakur, said Limbert had ordered others not to go to the police department about the allegations, which had originated with an audit.

Limbert, who wasn’t immediately available by phone, didn’t respond to emailed questions regarding that part of Shakur’s message, which was sent to Pride Alliance members Tuesday, February 17.

However, in his emailed statement, he seemed to contradict Shakur’s account.

“As president of Pride Alliance I requested a review of our finances when I took office in 2014,” said Limbert. “The outcome showed some irregularities and we as a board forwarded our findings to the SFPD criminal investigation unit. The criminal investigation unit completed an investigation and it is being reviewed by the district attorney’s office. After the district attorney’s office review is complete, an administrative investigation will start.”

Limbert said he couldn’t answer other questions because of the “ongoing investigation.”

Shakur didn’t immediately respond to interview requests.

In a brief interview, lesbian former police commander and Pride Alliance founder Lea Militello, who’s retired, called the allegations “heartbreaking.”

The B.A.R. will have more on this story in the Thursday, February 26 edition.

- reported by Seth Hemmelgarn

— Cynthia Laird, February 20, 2015 @ 11:17 am PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Breaking: Kaiser takes HIV drugs off ‘specialty tier’

Kaiser Permanente will stop charging people more for HIV drugs and offering refunds beginning Friday, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener told the Bay Area Reporter.

The health care provider was criticized after it came to light that it was charging people about 20 percent of the cost of their medications, rather than a flat copay. Larry Hickey, chief financial officer of Berkeley’s Steamworks bathhouse, said earlier this month that an employee came to him after being “hit with a $900 bill for one month’s supply” of HIV drugs.

(Kaiser will remove HIV medications from its "specialty tier." Photo: Rick Gerharter)

(Kaiser will remove HIV medications from its “specialty tier.” Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Wiener said at a meeting with Kaiser officials Thursday morning, February 19, “they informed me they are moving all the HIV drugs off the specialty tier effective [Friday] and they will be refunding people” for the higher amounts they paid.

Wiener offered strong praise for Kaiser’s move.

“Kaiser is a good actor in our community,” said the gay supervisor. “Kaiser is an institution that’s always been a core part of public health efforts in San Francisco and the Bay Area,” and the corporation “cares about community health. I think they took a step back and realized this was the right thing to do.”

Wiener noted “the broader issue” remains of Kaiser and other companies having a more expensive classification for any drugs.

“The whole issue of a specialty tier of drugs is a growing problem, that drugs that people need to be healthy are turning out to be exorbitantly expensive for people who can’t afford a $600 or $800 copay,” said Wiener. Kaiser’s move today is “an important step forward, but a broader step remains.”

He said he still plans to have a board committee hearing on specialty tiers within the next month.

It’s unclear whether Kaiser would have made the decision to take HIV medications out of the special category without the criticism generated by a B.A.R. story on the issue.

Wiener suggested giving the company the benefit of the doubt.

“This just started last month,” he said. “It’s not like this has been going on for years and years and it was somehow secret. It became public immediately.”

Kaiser “took a step back and realized this is not the way to go,” Wiener said. The health care provider “made the right decision here, and we should acknowledge that.”

Updated: Kaiser spokesman John Nelson said that the specialty tier was a new part of Kaiser’s coverage this year.

“We did not previously have a specialty drug tier in our commercials plans (we only had generic and brand tiers),” Nelson said in an email. “So in designing this benefit, we decided to adopt the model used by most Medicare plans (ours included) to determine which drugs would be placed in the specialty tier.”

Unfortunately, he explained, “the change resulted in the vast majority of drugs used to treat HIV being included in the specialty tier, meaning patients would be exposed to new cost-sharing requirements.”

“We will be moving quickly in the next several days to move the HIV drugs that we currently have on the specialty tier to the brand tier, effective immediately,” Nelson said. “This means these drugs will no longer require a coinsurance payment with each prescription, but rather will return to the fixed copayment already included in each members’ plan for brand tier drugs. Further, we will also develop a process to send refunds to those patients who received these drugs since January 1 and paid the higher, coinsurance amount, instead of the brand tier copayment amount. It may take us a few weeks to research, arrange and deliver the refunds to each affected member. We will contact members to let them know of this change.”

- reported by Seth Hemmelgarn

— Cynthia Laird, @ 7:00 am PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Vacant SF eatery begins hiring staff ahead of planned spring opening

Staff is being hired for the long vacant Patio Cafe space in the Castro. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Staff is being hired for the long vacant Patio Cafe space in the Castro.
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

The owner of the long vacant Patio Cafe eatery in the heart of San Francisco’s gay Castro district has begun hiring staff ahead of a planned spring opening.

Whether the restaurant will be a franchise of the national Hamburger Mary’s chain as proposed is unclear.

Owner Les Natali took out an ad in this week’s Bay Area Reporter asking for resumes from people interested in being hired as chefs and a kitchen manager.

According to the job posting, the hires are to help “open and manage full-service kitchen at Patio Cafe location” with an “anticipated opening April-May 2015.”

Nowhere in the ad does the name “Hamburger Mary’s” appear, raising questions on if the restaurant will become a location of the fast-casual burger chain. Natali has not responded to emailed questions on if he still plans to operate the restaurant as a part of the chain that had its start in San Francisco back in the 1970s.

An email to the corporate headquarters of Hamburger Mary’s about the status of a franchise in the city has yet to generate a response.

The reopening of a restaurant at the 531 Castro Street space will bring to an end a 13-year saga that saw the storefront sit vacant as Natali battled city planning officials over a number of zoning issues throughout the years. The most recent skirmish involved Natali’s objections to needing to seek a conditional use permit to open a Hamburger Mary’s.

He had argued it should not be considered a formula retail use and thus not need to be signed off by the planning commission. After planning officials rejected his arguments, the oversight body approved the necessary permits in December.

Natali, who also owns 18th Street gay bars Badlands and Toad Hall, bought the Patio Cafe in the late 1980s. It closed in 2002 as Natali sought to make structural improvements to the interior, work which included expanding the restaurant’s footprint and revamping adjacent storefronts.

According to a planning staff report issued late last year, the restaurant space is divided into three areas allowed to operate under different conditions.

The entrance area near the sidewalk features a bar and seating that can remain open between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. seven days a week. A smaller dining area near the kitchen can be open during the same hours.

The outdoor patio seating and a second bar in the back of the space, where a retractable roof is located, can be open from 6 a.m. until midnight all week. Due to concerns about noise in the apartments nearby, Natali agreed to close the roof each night by 9 p.m.

Two other outside seating areas not under the retractable roof can only be used between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Natali had also proposed having live entertainment at the restaurant, including DJ/VJ performances, emceed television-watching nights, bingo, karaoke and live drag performances. The live music has to be restricted to the inside area of the restaurant, as stated in the staff report.

— Matthew S. Bajko, February 18, 2015 @ 7:00 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Assault, robbery incidents reported in Castro

San Francisco police are investigating an assault that left a man unconscious in the Castro district early this morning (Wednesday, February 18) and a robbery that happened Sunday, February 15.

The 1 a.m. assault started when two men got into an argument in the 400 block of Castro Street and one man punched the other in the face.

The victim, 27, fell backward “and hit his head against a parked vehicle,” leaving him unconscious, Sergeant Monica MacDonald, a police spokeswoman, said in a summary. He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital with a non-life threatening abrasion to his head.

The suspect, described only as a 30-year-old Hispanic male, fled.

The robbery occurred at about 2 a.m. Sunday in the 4000 block of 18th Street. In that incident, said MacDonald, the victim, 27, ” was walking home” when the suspect approached him “and asked what he had. [The victim] got scared and handed over his phone.” The suspect, described only as a 20-year-old Hispanic male, fled.

The victim wasn’t injured.

No arrests have been made in either case.

Anyone with information related to either case may call the SFPD anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444. People may also text a tip to TIP411. Type SFPD in the subject line. The incident number for the assault is 150148843. The incident number for the robbery is 150139331.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 1:06 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


LGBT Democratic club on Peninsula elects new board

Peninsula Stonewall Democrats Chair Jason Galisatus. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Peninsula Stonewall Democrats Chair Jason Galisatus. (Photo: Elliot Owen)

Members of the Peninsula Stonewall Democrats, a political club for LGBT people in San Mateo County, elected new leadership Tuesday night due to the departure of the group’s founding chair.

In January Jeffrey Adair, of Redwood City, was elected chair of the Democratic Party in San Mateo County, marking the first time an LGBT person has held the position. Due to his becoming chair, Adair had to resign from his leadership position with the Stonewall club.

Succeeding him as chair is Stanford University senior Jason Galisatus. The Redwood City resident, who was an early member of the Stonewall club, also serves as co-chair of the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission.

“I am so honored to have been granted the esteemed privilege of serving as your chair. PSD is a club I am proud to be involved in, and I simply cannot wait to begin to get to work,” Galisatus wrote in a message to the club’s members sent today (Wednesday, February 18). “I’d like to thank Jeffrey Adair for his tireless efforts in bringing this club to fruition and serving as its chair from the very beginning. We wouldn’t be here without you! We wish him the best of luck serving as the chair of our central committee.”

The club also elected Pam Salvatierra as its vice chair, Noveed Safipour as secretary, and Jason Seifer as treasurer. Adair plans to remain involved with the club.

“I will continue to help lead the group, but as chair of the Dem Party in the county, there’s a lot on my plate,” he wrote in a note to the club members announcing the new slate of leaders.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 12:29 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Sisters vote not to do Pink Saturday

Pink Saturday in 2011 (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

Pink Saturday in 2011
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence announced today (Friday, February 13) that they have voted to suspend production of Pink Saturday, the annual street party that occurs every year in San Francisco’s Castro district.

Concerns about safety have dogged the street festival, which draws thousands of people, for years, and in June 2014, one of the charitable drag nuns and his husband were attacked.

In an interview Friday, Sister Selma Soul said the Sisters voted “overwhelmingly” this past Tuesday, February 10 at their general membership meeting against doing the event this year. She didn’t know what the final tally was. This year’s event would have been June 27.

“We all feel awful about it, but the reality is, at this state, with no clear vision for the event,” the Sisters didn’t want to be involved, said Soul, whose legal name is James Bazydola.

“We said last year we would not continue it unless we could change it significantly,” said Soul. There had been “a lot of great ideas, but there was no clear leader and no clear vision coming together, and at this late date, we don’t feel the [Sisters'] order should continue with it without that vision.”

Soul, who coordinated the event from 2012 through 2014, said, “We’ll support anyone who wants to do street closure,” but they would “possibly” oppose another group using the name “Pink Saturday.” She said it would depend on “our confidence” in whether others could make the event “safe and successful for the community.”

In a news release, the Sisters – an all-volunteer group – said they “may explore new manifestations of ‘Pink Saturday’” in the future.

The party has helped raise thousands of dollars for charities, but Soul said her group has “diversified our funding a lot,” so it’s not as dependent on the annual pre-LGBT Pride event.

With rising costs over the years, “as a fundraiser, it’s really not very effective anymore,” she said.

Gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose District 8 includes the Castro, has been one of the city officials working with the Sisters to try to make fixes to the event.

In a text exchange with the Bay Area Reporter Friday, Wiener said he’s talking with the mayor’s office, police, transportation officials, and others about what to do next.

He said he’ll be talking to other officials “Over the next two weeks,” and they’ll consult with the Sisters “to determine how Pink Saturday will be managed and by whom. I’m optimistic that we will have a path forward.”

Over the last year, many have talked about starting and ending the festival earlier in the day in an attempt to cut down on rowdier crowds, who tend to show up later in the event.

“We very much want Pink Saturday to continue, likely as an event that begins and ends earlier than before,” said Wiener, who the Sisters informed of their decision Wednesday, February 11. “We believe an earlier start and end time will address a number of the problems the event has experienced in recent years.”

The supervisor pointed to the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule around the time of this year’s Pride celebrations whether same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Attendance at Pride is likely to increase, especially if the justices rule in favor of marriage equality.

“Pride weekend is likely going to be even bigger than normal,” said Wiener. “We have to be prepared, and that means prepared for Pink Saturday as well.”

Although different groups organize Pink Saturday and the Pride parade and celebration, many people think of the events as being related.

Wiener expressed support for the Sisters.

“I completely respect the Sisters’ decision, which they made after thorough community outreach and thoughtful deliberation,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful for the many years of hard work the Sisters put in to Pink Saturday. The Sisters managed the event through some very trying years, and they did it solely because of their passion for the community.”

The B.A.R. will have more on this story in the Thursday, February 20 edition of the paper.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, February 13, 2015 @ 6:51 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Man knocked down, robbed near Dolores Park

A man was knocked down and robbed late Thursday night, February 12 near San Francisco’s Dolores Park, police said.

The incident occurred at 11 p.m. at 18th and Church streets when the suspect approached the victim, demanded his property, then shoved him to the ground and stole his cellphone and laptop, Sergeant Monica MacDonald, a police spokeswoman, said in a summary.

The suspect, who MacDonald said “fled the scene,” was described only as a black male and hasn’t been arrested.

The victim, 38, suffered abrasions to his hand but refused medical treatment.

Anyone with information related to the incident may contact the anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, or text a tip to 847411 and type SFPD, then the message. The incident number is 150133468.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 6:07 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Wiener calls for hearing on Kaiser’s HIV drug pricing

Supervisor Scott Wiener (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Supervisor Scott Wiener (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener is calling for a hearing on Kaiser Permanente making people who are living with HIV pay more for their drugs, Wiener announced today (Friday, February 13).

People living with HIV/AIDS and advocates are concerned about increased costs for medications since Kaiser has begun requiring people to pay a percentage of the cost of their drugs, rather than a copay amount. Other companies are reportedly doing it, too, but Kaiser has received the most attention.

“It’s very troubling to me to hear that Kaiser is dramatically increasing what people have to pay for HIV medications,” said Wiener, who’s heard it “may not be limited to Kaiser,” and there may be a “broader trend of reclassifying HIV meds as ‘specialty drugs.’”

Either way, “it needs to end. People need to have more access to HIV medications, not less,” said Wiener.

One local company that uses Kaiser to provide health care coverage to employees is Steamworks, which runs a bathhouse in Berkeley and has an office in San Francisco. Larry Hickey, Steamworks’ chief financial officer, said recently that an employee came to him after being “hit with a $900 bill for one month’s supply” of HIV drugs.

Wiener referred to the city’s “Getting to Zero” efforts, which is aimed at ending local HIV transmissions altogether.

“The affordability of HIV medications is a core part” of the initiative, he said. Among other concerns, “people who are positive need to have access to HIV medication so they can stay healthy and so they can suppress their viral load,” since that makes people “much less likely to transmit the virus to anyone else.”

“In San Francisco, we can’t have it that the cost of HIV medication is exploding. …We can’t allow that to happen,” said Wiener.

John Nelson, a spokesman for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, recently said in an email exchange with the Bay Area Reporter that Kaiser made the change “in order to align more closely with the standard plan designs offered in California.” He said, “This means that outpatient specialty drugs will be subject to a coinsurance payment,” which is “a percentage of the total cost” paid after deductibles.

“Coinsurance amounts range from 10 percent to 40 percent of specialty drug costs, depending on a member’s plan,” said Nelson

Wiener said that he’s “a big fan of Kaiser” and called the company “a terrific organization.”

“Kaiser does so many great things around patient care and broader issues of public health, so I look forward to working with Kaiser to try to resolve this,” he said.

Officials from the company will be invited to the hearing, which will likely be heard at a supervisors’ committee “within the next month,” said Wiener. He doesn’t know yet which panel that will be.

Kaiser is one of two insurance providers for city employees. Blue Shield is the other. Wiener said he’s inquiring whether Kaiser’s specialty tier is impacting city workers.

Asked whether it would affect Kaiser’s status as a provider for the city if the company doesn’t change its policy, Wiener said, “It’s very premature to say anything about that. I’m a big fan of Kaiser, and I really want to work with them to resolve this.”

Anne Donnelly, health care policy director for the San Francisco-based Project Inform, said other large plans “have most of the HIV drugs tiered at a reasonable level.”

A concern is if that Kaiser leaves the pricing change in place, others may follow.

“What’s worrisome about Kaiser is they’re a pretty big plan,” said Donnelly. “If they’re doing this, it does seem like a race to the bottom.”

Donnelly noted Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, has a working group looking at specialty drugs.

“We’re looking at several classes of drugs,” including those related to HIV and hepatitis C, said Donnelly. “What we’re trying to determine is if there’s something we can come to as a group that we can recommend or require in the 2016 plan offering” through Covered California.

“I am hopeful that we can come up with something that is less discriminatory than what we currently have,” she said. Donnelly and others are hoping to meet with Kaiser, but “I just don’t know how much leverage we have. … The decision was made at the national level.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 2:19 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Lee marks 11th anniversary of same-sex marriages in SF

Almost 11 years ago, on February 15, 2004, the line of same-sex couples waiting for marriage licenses at San Francisco City Hall stretched around the block. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Almost 11 years ago, on February 15, 2004, the line of same-sex couples waiting for marriage licenses at San Francisco City Hall stretched around the block.
(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee today (Thursday, February 12) recognized the 11th anniversary of the day when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom directed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“San Francisco today remains as deeply committed to the fight for marriage equality today as we were 11 years ago,” when Newsom “led the charge on one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation to ensure equal protections and rights for all,” Lee said in a statement.

Same-sex marriage is now recognized in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide by June whether all states should allow such marriages.

“We are hopeful and optimistic that the pursuit of happiness, liberty and equality will prevail, and that Supreme Court justices will affirm the right to marriage for all Americans,” said Lee. “Never have we been more committed, and more united, as a city and a nation, behind marriage equality in our country.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, February 12, 2015 @ 1:15 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


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