Summer has finally arrived in San Francisco!
After a June and July with many gloomy days of fog, grey skies, drizzle and cool weather, the sun and (some) heat has returned to the city. If it follows the script, from now through October, San Francisco will see some of its best weather of the year. And if you're in the Mission, the spot to hang out is Dolores Park, an oasis with sweeping views of downtown. Just a couple of blocks away is Valencia street with bookstores, thrift shops, art galleries. and restaurants.
"We kicked ass forty years ago."
For a couple of hours on the afternoon of June 3 it wasn't 2009 but 1969 and the years immediately following the Stonewall riot at the book launch for “Smash the Church. Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation.”
Ten Lesbian and Gay “old-school” radicals,* contributors to the anthology, along with editor Tommi Avicolli Mecca, appeared before a capacity crowd at the main library in San Francisco.
They read from their work, spoke about their early activism and voiced frustration with the direction of today’s Gay movement.
Mr. Mecca said the title of the book comes from an original Gay Liberation Front chant:
Two, Four, Six, Eight,
Smash the Church.
Smash the State!
“I got the idea for the book a year-and-a-half ago when Gays became fixated on Gay marriage to the exclusion of other concerns like social justice, affordable housing and health care,” he said. “Fourteen percent of the homeless in San Francisco have AIDS.”
As demonstrated in the book, the post-Stonewall years saw a more in-your-face Gay activism along with the rise of a number of left leaning groups such as “S.T.A.R.” Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries; “Radical Queers,” and the radical Lesbian group “Dyketactics.”
“We were anarchists from the outset,” Martha Shelley said of her activism.
But it would be New York City’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF), that would shape the politics of the Gay left in the early days. Its reach would extend across the Atlantic when a group formed in London in 1970. Several of the panelists said they were influenced by the organization.
“How antithetical is today’s movement from GLF?” one asked
The “Right to Marry” movement was criticized with a radical rhetoric not heard much today, assailing “assimilation” and unfavorable references to wanting to join the “status quo.”
But it was activist/poet Dajenya who asked, “Why is [Gay marriage] the only thing we are fighting for now?” then read a new poem that decried the “singularity of the focus” of today's Gay movement that brought the house down. (Do all revolutions begin with poetry?)
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos read an official proclamation from the city marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall and recognized Mr. Mecca for pulling the anthology together. Mr Campos called the post-Stonewall period, “one of the most dynamic” in the history of the Gay movement.”
“We kicked ass forty years ago.” Tommi Avicolli Mecca said.
—By Sidney Brinkley
*Pictured above left to right: Mark Freeman, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Richard Bolingbroke, Nikos Diaman, Pam Mitchell, Martha Shelley, Steven F. Dansky, Dajenya, Mara Math, Paola Bacchetta and Barbara Ruth.
In California marriage remains between a man and a woman, for the most part.
On Tuesday, May 26 California's state Supreme Court, in a near unanimous decision (6-1), upheld Proposition 8 the November 2008 ballot initiative that amended the state Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Justice Carlos Moreno, the lone dissenting voice wrote, "This decision says minorities do not matter."
However, it wasn't a complete loss. In a connected ruling the court said the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place before the November 4, 2008 vote were legally wed and would remain so.
Meanwhile Gay marriage proponents vowed to put the issue back before the voters once again, in November 2010 or possibly 2012.
Slides: Gays react to ruling:
BILLY STRAYHORN IN SAN FRANCISCO
On Saturday May 16, the 19-piece Junius Courtney Big Band performed their dramatic staged reading and jazz concert, "The Billy Strayhorn Session," at the San Francisco library.
The show is based on the life and music of Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967), the Black Gay composer best known for collaborating with Duke Ellington. The script was written by band member Pat Mullen and leaned heavily on David Hajdu's 1996 biography of Strayhorn, "Lush Life."
With vocalist Denise Perrier as Lena Horne (pictured above), Nat Courtney as Duke Ellington and George "jazzbeaux" Spenser as Mr. Strayhorn, the two-hour show featured all aspects of Billy Strahyhorn's life including his lovers, his civil-rights work, and, of course, his music: a mix of his well-known compositions such as "Take the A Train," with more obscure but haunting tunes like "Daydream," and his most famous song, "Lush Life."