SF board chair picks, entertainment vote raises LGBT concerns
by Matthew S. Bajko
The rejection of a Castro bar owner for an Entertainment Commission seat and the snubbing of the Board of Supervisors' two gay male members in important committee chairmanships are raising alarms among LGBT leaders.
The decisions have also brought to the forefront the paucity of LGBT people serving on the city's high profile citizen advisory commissions.
Board President David Chiu released his picks for committee chairs Tuesday evening, and neither District 9 Supervisor David Campos nor District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener was named the chair of policy setting committees. Chiu, who represents District 3, did name Campos the chair of the City and School District Committee, which is only an advisory body.
Campos, who is now in his fourth year of his first term and up for re-election this fall, is a member of the powerful Rules Committee, which oversees appointments to oversight panels.
Wiener, who is now in his second year of his first term, was shut out completely from any chair or vice chair positions. He is a member of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee and will serve as a temporary member of the Budget and Finance Committee once it turns its attention to the upcoming budget talks.
Newly appointed District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, who is bisexual, was named vice chair of both the Public Safety and city/school committees. She is also a member of the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee.
Openly gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) told the Bay Area Reporter he believes the decision not to name the two men chairs of high profile committees "is a slight" to the LGBT community.
"I am questioning why two gay supervisors, whether you agree or disagree with them, who are both highly intelligent and hard working haven't really received their due in terms of committee assignments," said Ammiano.
A former supervisor himself, Ammiano recalled when he was on the school board being passed over for the presidency when tradition would have seen him serve in the leadership post. He said community members spoke up then and he felt the need to do so now.
Ammiano stressed, though, that he had not spoken to either supervisor about the issue.
"I feel for all they contribute and, particularly as members of the LGBT community, I feel that is a slight," he said. "People do pay attention to all these things. Being a chair is a big deal when on the Board of Supervisors. You can still make a difference there."
Chiu told the B.A.R. he was surprised to hear grumblings about his committee assignments, saying he expects both Wiener and Campos to play key leadership roles this year. In particular, he said later this month he will be backing Campos to be the next chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
"Supervisor Campos will be playing a key role on rules and leading our schools committee, and I will be supporting him as the next chair of the transportation authority," said Chiu. "Supervisor Wiener will continue to have a strong role on land use and for the second year will be on the expanded budget committee to make sure the services we all care about for the LGBT community are funded."
He added that the assignments reflect what both Campos and Wiener requested.
Wiener told the B.A.R. that, committee-wise, he is remaining where he wanted to be this year.
"I am happy with my assignments. I asked David to keep me where I was on budget and land use. For me it is extremely important to be on budget, particularly with the Ryan White cuts," said Wiener, referring to a $1.8 million loss in federal AIDS funding the city received this year. "It will give me an opportunity to play a key role in filling those cuts locally."
His serving on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional oversight body, requires a great deal of his time, said Wiener, so he has not sought a chairmanship at this time.
"Of course it would be great to chair a major committee. I hope at some point I will," said Wiener. "But for me it was more important to be on those two key committees."
Campos did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
LGBT community leaders contacted by the B.A.R. said they share Ammiano's view that it is important to have LGBT people be given positions of leadership at City Hall.
Brian Basinger, AIDS Housing Alliance/SF director, said it is odd that Campos doesn't have more leadership roles considering that his district is home to a large number of city-funded service providers.
"The families, seniors, youth, people with HIV/AIDS, immigrants, LGBT, and other poor folks who rely on these life saving services need and deserve their supervisor to be a leader in the budget making process. It seems logical that David Campos would be appointed to the Budget Committee," Basinger, a former Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club president, told the B.A.R. "I can only assume that political considerations are taking precedence over the needs of the community."
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club Co-Chair Reese Aaron Isbell said he doesn't believe Chiu deliberately set out to diminish the gay supervisors' roles.
"I haven't spoken with President Chiu, but I wouldn't hazard to say in any specific way it was something he meant to do in a negative way," said Isbell. "It's always helpful to have our LGBT leaders in leadership positions. I hope we move forward with new leadership positions in the near future."
Drag queen Anna Conda, whose given name is Glendon Hyde and is set to become the Milk Club's new president, cautioned against jumping to any conclusions about the picks, noting that Chiu hosted a sit-down last year with LGBT leaders upset with Supervisor Jane Kim beating Debra Walker, a lesbian artist, in the 2010 District 6 race.
"I think any kind of dialogue around this can only lead to better things. But I would have to know more of the story before I actually said how I feel about it," said Conda. "I don't think he is harboring any anti-gay sentiment from my experience."
Some have speculated that Chiu, who is also up for re-election this fall, could deliberately be keeping Campos out of the limelight should he opt to seek Ammiano's Assembly seat in 2014. Campos is seen as a top contender for the seat.
Chiu said such talk is "ridiculous," and added, "I gave that zero thought."
Entertainment vote also rankles
The committee leadership picks came on the heels of the board's vote for two seats to the city's entertainment industry oversight body that saw a gay Castro bar owner passed over for a straight bar owner who lives in San Mateo.
The hearing also brought to light comments had been made that appointing five openly LGBT people to the seven-member commission would make it "too gay."
The board did vote this week to approve Bryant Tan, a gay man nominated by the mayor to the urban planning seat. Tan, 31, is a staffer at the city's Department of Youth, Children, and their Families.
The Hayes Valley resident brings the number of out commissioners to four, as already serving are Audrey Joseph, Conda, and Al Perez, a gay Filipino. Tan took his oath of office Tuesday in order to take part in the commission meeting that night.
The board rejected, though, Tim Eicher, a gay man who is co-owner of the Castro's Edge, Midnight Sun and Q Bar. He had been recommended last month by the Rules Committee to serve in an industry representative seat.
But on a 6-5 vote, Steven Lee, whose holdings include South of Market nightspots the Glas Kat and the newly opened Azucar Lounge, was elected instead. Supporters within the city's Asian American community, including Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak, lobbied hard to see Lee be chosen.
Olague, who worked with Pak last year on the effort to get Mayor Lee to seek a full term, voted with the majority, as did Chiu, in backing Lee.
It was the second time in seven months that a person with ties to the city's LGBT neighborhood who had won approval from the Rules Committee for an Entertainment Commission seat was later rejected by the full board. In July the board chose Conda for a neighborhood representative seat over Castro resident and lawyer D. Gill Sperlein.
Olague's vote, one of her first as a new supervisor, raised eyebrows among LGBT officials. She did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Chiu said he voted for Lee because he has worked with him in the past.
"He is someone I have known for years who has worked very closely with a number of us on the Board of Supervisors on entertainment issues," said Chiu, whose district includes North Beach and the Broadway strip where nightlife concerns have festered for years. "Having worked with him on legislation, I know he is extremely knowledgeable on the need for balancing issues involving the entertainment industry, neighbors, and public safety concerns."
During the board meeting Wiener expressed concerns that those lobbying on behalf of Lee had suggested that selecting Eicher would result in "too many gay people on the commission."
Joseph, who was in the audience for the vote, said she "was furious" to learn of the comments.
"It is small minded people who think that way," she said.
While Wiener told the B.A.R. that he believes Lee will be a good commissioner, he nonetheless saw no reason for the board to reject Eicher. He noted that, despite the Castro being an internationally known entertainment destination, the neighborhood has never had a representative on the Entertainment Commission.
And the talk of too many LGBT commissioners overlooked the fact that many of the city's more powerful oversight panels have either one LGBT person or none.
"That is why it got under my skin a bit," he said. "God forbid a few LGBT people are on the Entertainment Commission when we are still under-represented on major commissions," said Wiener.
The Alice Club's Isbell also raised concerns about the outcome of the vote and suggestions that there should be limits on the number of LGBT people serving on oversight bodies.
"I didn't know there was a quota for how many queers can be on a commission. And if so, I don't think we have reached that quota on any commission," he said. "Everyone should be brought in based on their own unique background and ability and not based on some quota system. I think that is the wrong road to go down."
Lee did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Both Eicher and Tan told the B.A.R. they were surprised Tuesday to hear about the concerns of too many LGBT commissioners.
"It was actually really disheartening to me. I identify both as a gay man and Asian American or a person of color. I felt caught in between these two perspectives," said Tan. "I don't think there are enough of either on our city commissions. It was unfortunate they had to pit the two against each other."
Eicher said he doesn't believe Lee himself "said anything about their being too many gay people on the commission. If anyone supporting him said that, it is unfortunate and inappropriate."
Disappointed as he is in not being chosen, Eicher said he is glad to see Tan serve. And he has already exchanged contact info with Lee and expects him to be an ally for bar and club owners throughout the city.
"Certainly, I can't argue with him as a candidate," said Eicher. "I have no qualms about Steven Lee being on the commission. I think he will be great."
If anything the fight over the commission seat has brought to the forefront the dearth of LGBT people serving on city commissions. With Olague being named a supervisor, it means there are no out members currently on the Planning Commission, where she had been president.
Other key commissions such as port, police, and redevelopment only have one out member. No LGBT people are on the fire, airport, or ethics commissions.
Finding a queer replacement for Olague is expected to be a top concern. As it is a board appointed seat she vacated, it is Chiu's responsibility as board president to nominate someone.
His spokesman, Judson True, told the B.A.R. "I'm sure there will be LGBT candidates who are seriously considered."
Seeing more LGBT people named to the oversight panels is a key concern for Alice's Isbell and its new female co-chair, Martha Knutzen, who was elected Monday night. The club has a working group it created last year with the sole task of finding LGBT nominees for vacancies.
"We are continuing that effort, as we have done over our last 40 years, working with elected leaders at City Hall to find our community voices and those within our club interested in being on commissions," said Isbell.