Gay Shame in San Francisco -- Mary Wants You!

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(Photo courtesy of gayshamesf.org)

San Francisco doesn't have to put up with the anti-Pride protests seen in other areas of the world.

But the parade and PrideFest do have their detractors, with the most vocal being from the LGBT community. Activist group Gay Shame shares ideological goals with the mainstream LGBT movement, such as universal health care, equitable housing access, and social justice, but members are opposed to so-called gay marriage and military service. They are also virulently anti-capitalist, and for this reason oppose the involvement of high-profile corporate sponsors, such as Budweiser, Comcast, Delta Air Lines, Bank of America, and Macy's, as well as registration fees imposed to participate in the parade.

Gay Shame San Francisco -- an anarchist, direct-action collective indirectly related to the events held under the Gay Shame moniker in New York in the late 90's, as well as activist groups ACT-UP and Queer Nation -- has a history of conflicts with the City and SFPD since 2001. Members have annually tried to insert themselves and their anti-corporate messages into the parade, regularly conflicting with parade security and police. In 2003 several members were arrested on felonious charges of terrorism after coming too close to Mayor Newsom's float (charges which were later dropped, due to the support of the LGBT community).

Gay Shame has ongoing disputes with the city's LGBT Center on Market St., noting it's associations with conservative politicians (is there another type?) and the relatively exclusive fee imposed to be a member. A Gay Shame protest at the Center in 2003 ended with members being beat up on the sidewalk out front by a squadron of gay police as the "non-profit types watched through the windows" according to one member (who refused to be identified). The group has also criticized various neighborhood associations such as Lower Polk Neighbors and the Northwest Bernal Alliance for organizing with police and landlords to prosecute homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes (who are disproportionately LGBT, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force).

But the list of antagonists does not end there. At a joint panel last Wednesday at Modern Times Bookstore, which included members of Gay Shame and LAGAI -- Queer Insurrection, a group which shares similar ideologies, the city's Human Rights Commission, the Social Forum, and the local Communist bloc were all sarcastically derided, with one member mockingly calling them "festering sores" on the face of the radical movement. Unsurprisingly, when questioned on their recruitment and outreach programs, there was a collective shrug. Citing past disappointments, panel members admitted that their response in larger progressive and leftist circles is lukewarm, even hostile, while that of the LGBT community is largely indifferent.

Local activist Kate Raphael, speaking for LAGAI, summed up the difficulty. "For the most part, the [straight] progressive left is not interested in queer liberation, and LGBTs are not interested in [global] human rights."

"I have arguments with my own friends all the time," offered Mary Lucas of Gay Shame (all members refer to themselves as "Mary" in public), prompting the moderator to question how they "plan to have a revolution with no members."

I find myself asking the same question.

In short, Gay Shame SF's role resembles that of any anarchist group -- they challenge assumptions, and raise awareness of hypocrisy or injustice. Once in a blue moon, such stuff actually helps shift public opinion, and may generate a change in the status quo. Theirs is the same diligence of social deconstruction and insistence on political correctness which lobbied for the inclusion of bisexual, transgender, and queer identities into the debates and social issues shared by lesbians and gays, and introduced the term "LGBT" into the movement's lexicon (as well as the city's formerly "Gay and Lesbian" Pride celebrations, in 1994). However, this zealousness often leads to the inflexible dogma that repels people otherwise concerned with addressing these important issues from joining an active movement.

Efforts at cooperation, of course, work both ways, and Gay Shame members maintain that efforts to reach out through more networked progressive channels, such as Bay Area Indymedia, have been unfruitful. "If it doesn't concern Lebanese liberation, or Chiapas, they're not interested," said Mary.

With progressives in this town and across America at odds with the corporate-money friendly Democrats as well as conservatives, is there really cause for such fractious factionalism in the bloc?

--Matt Novak


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