The city celebrates equality, but still leaves many behind
EDITORIAL The scene at City Hall on Friday, June 28 could have been a video rewind of 2004's Winter of Love: a surprise announcement granting same-sex marriage licenses; a breathless rush of couples to the civic altar, led by two brave, symbolic women (lesbian groundbreakers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in 2004 and anti-Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier in 2013), a city erupting with good will and cheer, dazed by the speed of luck and history. Earlier, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, teeth and hair and all, was making grand pronouncements, strutting about like he was mayor of the place again.
Back in 2004, the city was scarred and drained from the first great Internet bust, and still reeling from the losses of AIDS. San Francisco was a mess, but it was starting to recover. People who had been forced to move out by the city's skyrocketing rents and evictions in the early 2000s were beginning to trickle back in, and many of those beached by the boom's collapse were turning into the very freaks, artists, and innovators they had helped displace. When Newsom launched SF's same-sex marriage rebellion, it was an act of great civic uplift, burnishing SF's progressive image in the eyes of the world, while boosting the city's self-confidence. (Not to mention its economy, which benefited greatly from the wedding explosion.)
The act also burnished Newsom's own reputation. Previously reviled for his "Care Not Cash" policies that demonized the poor and homeless, a significant percentage of LGBTQ people among them, he was suddenly a posterboy for civil rights. Now of course, San Francisco is supposedly on the arc of an economic boom, skyrocketing evictions included, and not in the dregs of a bust. So it was with a regretful shudder that we noticed some more ominous similarities between 2004 and 2013.
A week before this year's Pride, and right before the wave of marriage elation overtook the festivities, the city's homeless census was released. Out of the total count of 6,436 homeless people, a figure emerged that stunned many: 29 percent of 1000 people specifically asked identified themselves as LGBTQ, and it's assumed that the actual percentage of queer homeless people is in fact higher, due to factors like closeting and mental health. A large portion of LGBTQ homeless are youth, still drawn here by San Francisco's promise of inclusion and shelter from abusive and rejective backgrounds.
While the city celebrates the achievement of grand ideals of equality, we are failing the very people for whom those ideals may be most valuable. Currently, Dolores Street Services, along with help from Sup. David Campos and the city's "homeless czar" Bevan Dufty, is working towards the building of a 24-bed shelter specific aimed to service LGBTQ homeless people. But that's just a drop in the bucket. We need much more.
Now that DOMA has been overturned and Prop. 8 kicked to the curb, there's a lot of discussion about what the powerful, energized "gay lobby" should take on next. Righting the horrible Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act and achieving marriage equality in 37 more states are valiant, necessary goals. But turning toward the actual problems in our own backyard is another imperative.
As the Pride celebration in the Civic Center was winding down on the evening of Sunday, June 30, a group of young women emerged seemingly out of nowhere among the trash-strewn streets and beeping trucks being loaded with the party's massive detritus. The women quietly dispersed among the leftover crowd, hauling sacks of bread on their shoulders. They made their way toward those lying on the street or huddled in doorways, distributing loaves in a matter-of-fact manner to people in need. It was a perfect reminder of the real spirit of Pride — an inclusivity that benefits all, empowered by actions on a one-to-one, human scale.