Pride grand marshal
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee has announced its 2013 nominees for the public choice for community grand marshals.
Online voting began this week at http://www.sfpride.org/vote. Several polling places will also be available. The deadline is April 15.
Nominees' lives and work seem to be reflective of this year's theme, "Embrace, Encourage and Empower."
"We are excited to release to the public our 2013 slate of grand marshal nominees, whose work aligns with San Francisco Pride's mission and our LGBT community's values," Pride board President Lisa Williams stated.
Grand marshals typically appear in the Pride Parade and take part in other activities. In addition to individual community grand marshal there is an organizational community grand marshal. A pink brick prize also usually goes to a detractor of the LGBT community.
Individual community grand marshal
Individual community grand marshal nominee Mario Benton , 47, said he's produced the Soul of Pride float for five years, among other accomplishments, and describes himself as a community leader. His work has included helping high-risk and foster care youth.
His nomination signifies that one can be a leader "no matter what struggles or challenges you may face or you may have had in the past," Benton, who's gay, said.
Solange Darwish, who is part of the family that's owned the Cove Cafe on Castro since 1972, said she was "shocked" at her nomination.
"I don't think I do anything for the community that warrants this," said Darwish, 63, a straight ally who came on board at the 434 Castro Street eatery in 1988. "I just have had this restaurant for many years and felt part of the community."
She acknowledges the history she's seen, though, especially since so many in the neighborhood succumbed to AIDS throughout the 1980s and 90s.
"I've been here so long, and known so many people that have passed on, and people that are still around," said Darwish, who's donated to many LGBT causes and thrown several benefits over the years.
Veronika Fimbres, 60, a trans woman, said she'd like to have her parents ride down Market Street with her in the parade. She said it would show transgender people who don't have family "that everybody's not thrown out on their ear" because they're LGBT.
Fimbres, a licensed vocational nurse, was a veteran's affairs commissioner for several years and worked at San Quentin State Prison. As a member of the San Francisco HIV Health Services Planning Council, the 26-year HIV/AIDS survivor said in her bio that she allocated funding for the first educational symposium to train providers to work with trans patients.
Jason Galisatus, 19, is the executive director of the Bay Area Youth Summit, which is also an organizational grand marshal nominee.
The Stanford University sophomore, who is gay, hopes that if he were chosen as a grand marshal, "it would send a message to youth and hopefully encourage them and inspire them to get involved in the community."
Michelle Kim, who is 24 and identifies as queer, said she's "very passionate about queer youth activism and empowerment." At UC Berkeley, Kim co-founded a Queer Youth Alliance. Through that group, she founded a statewide youth leadership development program for low-income queer youth.
Nikolas Lemos, Ph.D., 42, is the forensic laboratory director and chief forensic toxicologist at the San Francisco Medical Examiner's office. He's also a clinical professor at the UCSF School of Medicine's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Lemos, an out gay man, says he's been promoting diversity and equality within San Francisco, UCSF, and the profession of forensic science for years.
"This is very thrilling for me," Lemos said of the Pride recognition. "Incredible, actually. It makes everything worthwhile to know that the community has honored me with this kind of nomination."
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
Amos Lim, who's 42 and identifies as gay, emigrated from Singapore to the United States in 1999 to be with his husband, Mickey. The struggle to stay in the United States and have his marriage recognized led Amos to co-found Out4Immigration, which works to raise awareness about the discrimination same-sex binational couples face in the U.S.
"If I am one of the grand marshals, I will be able to shine a light on immigration reform and why we need inclusive immigration reform," Lim said.
Bobbi Lopez, another nominee, shares similar concerns. Lopez is a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Mexico. She works with youth and families in the Tenderloin and Mission at La Raza Centro Legal, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, and Service Employees International Union Local 1021.
Lopez, who's 34 and identifies as queer, said in an email to Pride that as a community grand marshal, she'd want to highlight "the right to marry and the right to immigrate to the U.S. to find safety and love." She said these struggles in the LGBT community "are paramount for our equal rights."
Through the longtime bar Marlena's, which she recently sold, Marlena – also known as Garry McClain – has given many nonprofits a place to raise money and have fun.
"It truly is a special honor to even be considered for this," said Marlena, 73, whom many know as Absolute Empress XXV of San Francisco, Marlena the Magnificent. "I'm overwhelmed. I'm full of warmth from all the people who talk about it."
Paul Olsen, 58, has supported thousands of volunteers in raising funds and awareness for the HIV/AIDS and the LGBT communities. Among other positions he's held, Olsen is a former executive director of Under One Roof and board member of San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.
"In my mind, I represent the people that are behind the scenes," said Olsen, who's gay. "Most of my work in the community for the last 20 years has been with volunteers who want to make a difference but are largely overlooked. I think my role has been in supporting them."
A native San Franciscan, Randall Schiller has seen a lot of history in the city.
"As a gay man, I am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to work within my community for the past 40 years," Schiller, 64, said in a statement. "As a nominee for community grand marshal I hope to bring a first hand account of the evolution of the LGBT Movement and culture to everyone."
Among other achievements, Schiller, owner of Randall Schiller Productions, was an original member of Beach Blanket Babylon and fought against anti-gay zealot Anita Bryant.
William Walker, who's 33 and identifies as gay, has helped to spearhead numerous organizations and initiatives to support the livelihoods of youth and their civic engagement. He's also the student trustee for City College of San Francisco, which has been struggling to stay open.
"I think being queer and being a person of color demonstrates that we do have role models that are people of color doing positive things in our community," Walker said.
Organizational grand marshal nominees
Bay Area Youth Summit seeks to empower LGBT and allied youth to make the difference in their communities by taking a leading role in the fight against bullying.
Black Coalition on AIDS provides health education, advocacy, and services to San Francisco's black community and works to reduce health disparities. BCA didn't provide comment for this story.
Horizons Foundation aims to fuel the LGBT movement by increasing support for diverse Bay Area nonprofits.
"We're both honored and thrilled by the nomination," Executive Director Roger Doughty said in an email. "It's been Horizons' privilege to serve the Bay Area's amazing LGBT community for 33 years, and Horizons' board, staff, and volunteers are truly grateful to be considered for this special recognition."
For more than 25 years, Positive Resource Center has been responding to the community's economic and health care needs by providing services that address the current needs of individuals disabled by HIV/AIDS or mental health conditions.
PRC Executive Director Brett Andrews said in a phone call that the nomination is "very meaningful to us. ... We are here to serve the community, and we've always said we'll be here for the community for as long as the community needs us."
The Boy Scouts of America is nominated for banning gays.
Pope Francis could be recognized for describing same-sex marriage as the work of the devil and a "destructive attack on God's plan," according to Pride.
Rebecca Alitwala Kadagak, the Ugandan Parliament speaker, is being considered for a pink brick for vowing to pass Uganda's "Kill the Gays bill," which seeks to make acts of homosexuality punishable by death or life imprisonment.
Ballots may be cast at the following locations: 2 to 5 p.m., March 30 and April 13, Castro and 18th streets, San Francisco; 2 to 5 p.m., April 4, Ram Plaza at City College of San Francisco; and 7 to 11 p.m., April 5, Bench and Bar, 510 17th Street, Oakland. Additional Bay Area polling places will be announced soon.
Results from public polling will be reviewed and certified by Pride's board during the week of April 15. Winners in each of the three categories will be announced by the end of April.
In addition to the individual and organizational community grand marshals that the public selects, the Pride Committee's electoral college, which includes all past community grand marshals, selects a grand marshal. Pride's membership and board will also make their own selections for individual community grand marshals. There will be a total of up to five additional individual honorees.
The 43rd annual San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and celebration will be June 29-30. For more information, visit http://www.sfpride.org.