This Thursday, May 17, San Francisco will honor the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) with an official recognition of the day by the city, and the lowering of both the United Nations and American flags at United Nations Plaza.
The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia is designated as a mechanism to draw attention to homophobia which, deliberately, can be expressed in different ways.
President Obama’s historic articulation of support for marriage equality along with North Carolina’s vicious enshrining of hatred and bigotry into their constitution is indicative of how far we have come and how far we have still to go when it comes to civil rights in the United States.
San Francisco’s recognition of IDAHO and flag lowering resulted in concerted efforts by Gays Without Borders (of which I am a member), whose primary focus over the last four years is shining a spotlight on both the setbacks and advances of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across our planet.
Our network spans Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. Our work, which involves raising awareness and driving action, includes cross-communication with embassies and governments, (goading them, if necessary), to issue public proclamations condemning or condoning actions occurring within their borders and beyond, and of circulating solidarity letters, staging street visibility actions and other awareness raising campaigns using social media.
The resolution was introduced by Supervisors Capos, Olague and Kim, following a meeting with their representatives Hillary Ronen and Chris Durazo, along with Mohammed Nuru from the Department of Public Works (DPW), John Updike of the SF Dept. of Real Estate and Greg Crump of DPW, the Mayor’s Office, Michael Petrelis and me.
From L to right: Hillary Ronen, Chris Durazo, Clinton Fein, Mohammed Nuru, Michael Petrelis, and John Updike. Photo courtesy Michael Petrelis.
Following its introduction, the lowering of the flag along with official recognition of IDAHO was voted unanimously by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It is an important and powerful gesture for which we are very grateful.
Efforts by Gays Without Borders also resulted in DPW waiving a hefty $1,467.90 fee to lower the flags.
The resolution is especially poignant this year, given recent verifiable reports of dozens of gay, emo and goth youth being targeted on lists and violently killed by having their skulls crushed with concrete blocks. And just this week, reports of the death sentence being given to four gay men come from Iran.
Our original request to lower the flags was not intended to mourn our own community, but rather to demonstrate solidarity with a broader, global gay community, many of whom are being tortured or killed this very moment for expressing who they are.
We believe lowering the flag sends a powerful and important message, portraying San Francisco as the inspirational city it is, in which diversity of its citizens is not only tolerated, but respected, celebrated and nurtured. A city where, with the blessing of our leaders, is able to demonstrate its solidarity.
Unfortunately, Harvey Milk Plaza will be excluded from participating on this important day. Attempts to lower the flag at Harvey Milk Plaza over the last couple of years have proven to be more of a battle with the control queens from Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) as well as Supervisor Scott Weiner, who appears too inexperienced to mediate a dispute over a flagpole or too beholden to business interest to lead. (Hopefully he doesn’t have any higher political ambitions.)
Gays Without Borders wanted to ensure a successful outcome, and thus resolved early on that working with a slew of bureaucracies including the Board of Supervisors to get a unanimous resolution, the DPW, the Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco Department of Real Estate, represented a more likely chance of success than navigating the backstabbing, bitching and stonewalling we’ve encountered with MUMC and Scott Wiener. It was a smart decision.
This is not about the city mourning on the day of this important victory for the LGBT community – indeed, the removal of homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses on a May 17 by the World Health Organization (WHO) finally set the stage to end over a century of homophobia in the medical field, and simply inspired the date, which has been taking place since 2006.
IDAHO is a rallying event taking place across the world, offering an opportunity for people, regardless of their sexual orientation, to counter homophobia and demonstrate solidarity — particularly with individuals unable to live their sexual orientation in the face of unspeakable violence, and frequently death, if they do.
On May 17 at noon, San Francisco will stage a ceremony at UN Plaza explaining why the flags are being lowered for 24-hours, with guest speakers still to be announced.The UN and US flags will fly at half staff to honor and remember all of the LGBT people murdered and maimed globally in the past year.
Gary Virginia of Gays Without Borders will serve as the emcee. Here are the names of confirmed speakers:
- Brendan Behan, Executive Director of SF Pride
- David Campos, Member of the Board of Supervisors
- Clinton Fein, Political artist and activist
- Veronika Cauley Fimbres, African-American trans advocate
- Michael Petrelis, Person living with AIDS
- Melanie Nathan, Lesbian blogger and activist
- Amy Whelan, Attorney for National Center for Lesbian Rights
In addition, community video documentarian will be taping the event and Heidi Beeler of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Freedom Band will play “Taps” as the flags descend.
Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoy.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, “a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.” Fein’s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.
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