Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

SF supes appoint queer woman to entertainment commission

Laura Thomas (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

Laura Thomas (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to appoint longtime activist Laura Thomas, a queer woman, to the public health seat on the city’s entertainment commission.

Thomas, 49, works as deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. In almost 30 years as a San Francisco resident, she’s been involved in numerous organizations related to HIV/AIDS and other causes.

She was a member of the city’s ACT UP chapter and is currently a member of the HIV Prevention Planning Council, which advises the health department on HIV prevention. Among several other posts, she served as co-president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and helped found the Dyke March.

In an interview today (Wednesday, February 10), Thomas said her priorities on the panel, which regulates and promotes the city’s entertainment and nightlife, would include “making sure that we maintain and support our LGBTQ entertainment venues.”

She pointed to the demise in recent years of bars such as Esta Noche and the Lexington.

Thomas said she wants to ensure “we’re doing everything we can to support our queer venues. They’re such an important part of what makes San Francisco great.”

The seat she’s taking became available after Demetri Moshoyannis, the gay man who serves as executive director of Folsom Street Events, had to resign from the commission when he moved out of San Francisco to the East Bay city of Castro Valley.

The supervisors’ rules committee recommended Joaquin Castillo Arana, a gay man who works at Genentech, to the seat, but at Tuesday’s full board meeting, Supervisor Jane Kim moved to appoint Thomas instead. Six other supervisors voted in favor of making Thomas the commissioner, with four voting against it. Once Thomas became the recommended candidate, all 11 supervisors voted for her.

In an email, Ivy Lee, an aide to Kim, said the supervisor “nominated Laura because of Laura’s qualifications and her passion … . Her life’s work has been dedicated to public health. She has multiple decades of experience on the ground and crafting policy and legislation around access and improvements to public health, including harm reduction initiatives and AIDS activism. When you have someone with the heart and the breadth and depth of expertise that Laura has, there was no question” in Kim’s mind that she’d be the right person for the seat.

Gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the four supervisors who voted against Kim’s motion to make Thomas the recommended candidate, said in an interview that Thomas is “extremely well-qualified,” but he noted she recently became a member of another city panel.

“Joaquin is a stellar candidate,” and there was “a missed opportunity to bring a new person with great energy into the process,” Wiener said. “He has a strong background in public health and a strong background in nightlife,” having worked at a nightclub.

The District 8 supervisor added, “We have a lack of Latino representation on commissions in San Francisco.” He said he recently spoke at the city’s Latino Democratic Club, and “they specifically raised this issue with me.”

“Here we had an extremely well-qualified Latino LGBT candidate for the entertainment commission, and to me, that’s a no brainer,” Wiener said. “… We fought to make that happen, and we came out on the losing end.”

Supervisors Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, and Katy Tang were the other three who voted with Wiener to keep Arana, who couldn’t be reached for comment.

Thomas said along with preserving queer nightspots, she also wants to look at protecting “healthy environments,” especially for “people who are attending and participating in entertainment and nightlife venues.”

That includes “reducing the harm from drug use, whether that’s alcohol and tobacco or illicit substances.” Thomas noted that California voters may soon vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

There’s an “opportunity in San Francisco to be really thoughtful around how we want to regulate marijuana use in entertainment venues, and I’m looking forward to those discussions,” said Thomas, who in December was one of a dozen people named by the supervisors to serve on the city’s Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, which is prepping local policy should state voters legalize marijuana use next year.

Along with Thomas and Arana, two other people had also applied to serve out the rest of Moshoyannis’ term, which expires July 1, 2017: Charles M. Stephanski, a nurse and retail clerk, and Sarah Sporik, a health care analyst. Stephanski is bisexual. Sporik’s commission application indicates she’s LGBT, but she didn’t respond to a phone message.

In an email to the Bay Area Reporter just before Thomas was appointed, Moshoyannis, whose group organizes the Folsom Street Fair and other events, said, “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Laura Thomas, and I think she’d make an incredible replacement”

He added, “I don’t know the other folks well enough to cast an opinion,” but “It’s certainly nice to see a competitive pool for this seat.”


— Seth Hemmelgarn, February 10, 2016 @ 5:24 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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