for LGBT history project
by Matthew S. Bajko
The group behind an LGBT history project in the Castro has selected the design for plaques it intends to install in the sidewalk.
Known as the Rainbow Honor Walk, the project aims to spotlight LGBT people who have made significant contributions to society. A volunteer panel has already selected the first 20 honorees to celebrate.
The initiative is aimed at educating the public about important individuals whose sexual orientation or gender identity is not always disclosed. The city-approved project is also seen as a way to drive more tourism to the city's gayborhood.
Earlier this year the project's steering committee launched a competition to select a winning design for the plaques. After reviewing 21 entrees, a blind jury of six arts professionals voted on the winner, who is entitled to a $1,000 prize, as well as two alternates.
Two members of the steering committee observed the selection process but did not vote. The full committee later finalized the jury's decision, which now must win approval from the city's Arts Commission.
The winning entrant is Venezuelan-born architect Carlos Casuso, 45, who lives in Madrid, Spain. His proposal calls for engraving the honoree's photo onto a bronze plaque that is divided into four quadrants.
Three would be dedicated to the image. The fourth section would be used to list the person's name, year of birth and death, and a brief bio about their accomplishments.
Each honoree's signature would be used instead of spelling out their name. Next to it would be an enamel square with the Rainbow Honor Walk's logo.
"I thought it was a really great design, first of all. It jumped off the page to all of us on the committee," said San Francisco Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny, a gay man who took part in the jury process. "It captured the real essence of honoring the individuals we would see on the walk."
Casuso did not respond to questions from the Bay Area Reporter by press time.
In a statement sent by the honor walk committee, Casuso stated that he is "greatly honored to have my work selected, especially by a jury of fellow designers and artists."
He added that he "look(s) forward to working with the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Department of Public Works to bring this tribute to reality."
As it turns out, Casuso is the brother-in-law of the project's co-founder, David Perry. His brother, Alfredo Casuso, and Perry married in San Francisco in 2008, and Carlos Casuso served as one of the witnesses.
During an interview with the B.A.R. to discuss the winning entry of the design contest, Perry disclosed his familial ties to Casuso. He said he was unaware that Casuso had entered until the jury's decision was presented to the honor walk's steering committee. (Perry did not sit on the jury.)
"When they were unveiled and revealed who they were I was excited but said, 'Oh my God,'" recalled Perry, who informed the committee members about his relationship to Casuso.
Due to the strength of Casuso's design the steering committee saw no need to reject his proposal because of his ties to Perry, said member Gustavo Serina, a gay man and longtime Castro community leader.
"It didn't make any difference in the selection to us," Serina told the B.A.R. "His design stood out far and away beyond the others submitted."
While the other entrees were "good," said Serina, Casuso's concept was "the best. It looked very beautiful and distinctive. It looked like it would be durable. Because this is going into the sidewalk, we need something that is going to survive a lot of foot traffic and the elements."
DeCaigny told the B.A.R. he was not aware about Perry and Casuso being related until a reporter asked about it for this article. He said all that the jury members knew about him was that he was from Spain and a few other aspects of his bio.
"We had no idea what the names of the people were," said DeCaigny. "There were a lot of really great designs; it was a tough selection process. We debated very long and hard about our finalists."
The Arts Commission could vote on approving Casuso's design as early as December, depending on how soon the honor walk submits it for consideration. Otherwise, the matter likely won't be calendared until early 2013.
"We will try to accommodate it as soon as possible," said DeCaigny, who reports to the commission but does not vote on matters before it.
The project's steering committee must also fundraise to cover the cost of producing and installing the first 20 plaques, which cannot exceed 3 feet by 3 feet in size. It is estimated it needs to raise at least $200,000 and so far has $6,000 in the bank.
Asked how soon the plaques could be installed, Perry said, "I think gay Pride next year is a real possibility if we are really aggressive."
For more information about the Rainbow Honor Walk, including the first 20 honorees, visit http://rainbowhonorwalk.org/.