Strong opposition to Wiener plaza plan

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More than 20 prominent LGBT activists, including eight former presidents of the Harvey Milk Club, have signed a letter opposing legislation by Sup. Scott Wiener that would put some restrictions on the use of the two plazas near Castro and Market.

Harvey Milk Plaza and Jane Warner Plaza are both in an odd legal situation -- they aren't city parks, and they aren't city streets or sidewalks, so they don't fit under any existing codes. The park code, for example, bars camping; the sit-lie law applies to sidewalks, but not to these plazas.

So Wiener is seeking some clarity -- but his proposal has drawn the ire of the Coalition on Homelessness and the ACLU -- and now a group of people who trace their political roots back to Milk, and who say that restricting the use of a plaza with his name is a terrible idea: Here's their letter:

We, the undersigned members of the Harvey Milk Club, write in opposition to the proposed new regulations for Harvey Milk and Jane Warner Plazas.

We are writing because Harvey Milk’s name is attached to one of the two plazas for which this legislation was written and is a historic space that for decades has been a site of free speech. In the 1970s, Harvey Milk fought against that era’s sit/lie law—a law that had been written to target the hippies of the Haight-Ashbury, but was, in Milk’s day, used as an excuse to attempt to drive gay men out of the Castro. Those of us who have been around long enough, or who are at all in touch with our community’s history, are familiar with the image of Harvey Milk and his megaphone at the plaza which was eventually given his name. To propose to prohibit sitting in that very plaza is not just ironic, it disrespects our community’s legacy.

The interests of the LGBT community have always been united with the interests of public space. As a community that is forced—far too often and for far too long—to spend much of our collective lives “in the closet,” the ability to be free in public spaces has been tremendously liberating. Harvey Milk knew that liberation was only possible if we escaped the shadows of anonymity and invisibility. When we restrict these spaces—even when those restrictions are meant, initially, to be applied to another group of people—we damage ourselves.

We must also recognize that this law does not apply, in any very meaningful way, to another group of people: It applies to us. A great many—perhaps the majority—of homeless people who spend time in the Castro are LGBT San Franciscans, who came from somewhere else, but who came here seeking community and safety. This is most especially notable for the youth of LYRIC. Cuts to the City budget have reduced LYRIC’s drop-in hours to only a few every week. During the other hours, homeless LGBT youth are faced with the choice of either heading to drop-in services in the Mission or Tenderloin—services that are already so overburdened that they must turn clients away, and which likely feel to most youth to be outside of their own communities—or using open spaces in the Castro. With Collingwood Park fenced in, Harvey Milk and Jane Warner Plazas are the last open community spaces in the neighborhood. They are the last places in our community where our community’s most marginalized youth can be.

We have read and share the grave concerns expressed by the ACLU.  Much of the law infringes on important constitutional freedoms, and as they noted, cannot be cured.  We respectfully ask the Board of Supervisors to vote no.

Sincerely,

Tom Ammiano, Assembly member
Harry Britt, Co-Founder, Harvey Milk Club,  Former Supervisor who replaced Harvey Milk on the Board of Supervisors
Cleve Jones, Co-Founder, Harvey Milk Club, Human Rights and AIDS activist, Co-founder of SF AIDS Foundation and AIDS Memorial Quilt
The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club
Stephany Joy Ashley, President, Harvey Milk Club
Gabriel Haaland, Former President, Harvey Milk Club, Former Commissioner
Laura Thomas, Harvey Milk Club member, AIDS activist
Anna Glendon Conda Hyde, Harvey Milk Club member, Commissioner
Esperanza Macias, Former Vice-President, Harvey Milk Club
Eileen Hansen, Harvey Milk Club member, Former Commissioner
Rafael Mandelman, Former President, Harvey Milk Club, Former Commissioner
Gwenn Craig, Former President, Harvey Milk Club, Former Commissioner
David Waggoner, Former President, Harvey Milk Club
Nate Albee, Former President, Harvey Milk Club
Tamara Ching, Harvey Milk Club member
Lisa Feldstein, Harvey Milk Club member, Former Commissioner
Suzanne Rueker, Harvey Milk Club officer
Carol Stuart, Vice-President, Harvey Milk Club
Kim-Shree Maufus, Vice President, Harvey Milk Club, Commissioner
Matt Dorsey, Harvey Milk Club member, SFDCCC
Brian Bassinger, Former President, Harvey Milk Club
Debra Walker, Former President, Harvey Milk Club, Former Commissioner