Monday, December 2, 2013

In the News: NY Times

For Gay Community, Finding Acceptance Is Even More Difficult on the Streets

Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Bobbie Ingalls, 50, who is homeless and transgender, at St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco, where people lined up for breakfast.
Activists at City Hall in San Francisco.
But there were also days when he sat on the bench in the square and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” looking up at the flags atop the Westin St. Francis hotel and thinking, “That’s breathtaking, that’s my American dream.” Or when he mingled with tourists, giving them directions to the cable cars, or gazed through the windows at the shoppers in Macy’s and was saddened by how rich and healthy they looked. 

He scavenged for meals in garbage bins. He avoided the homeless shelters, where he had heard that gays were taunted, or worse. His “angel,” he said, was in the center of the square: the statue “Victory,” a trident in one hand, a wreath in the other. 

“I would look at it at night and think, ‘Oh my God, that’s my hope,’ ” he said. 

San Francisco is often viewed as a Mecca for gay people. But the warmth of the city’s welcome can quickly vanish for those who are poor. 

City leaders were startled this year when a survey revealed that 29 percent of the homeless population —about 2,100 of the 7,350 people counted — identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. 

Bevan Dufty, the director of the city’s homelessness initiatives, said he was surprised the percentage held true for all age groups, even adults and the elderly. “What was really staggering was to see that it didn’t change as you got older,” he said. 

The survey found that gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people who are homeless had higher rates of disability than homeless heterosexuals and were more likely to be homeless when they arrived in the city. Some of them were older gay men with AIDS who had been evicted from their apartments or people who had been cast out by their families in other states. Others, like Mr. Bolvito, a native of Guatemala who graduated from college in Hayward, Calif., with a degree in political science and once worked as a real estate agent, had good jobs that disappeared during the recession. 

In response to the findings, Mr. Dufty and Kara Zordel, a coordinator of Homeless Connect, organized an event in October that offered medical and dental services and other assistance to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who are homeless. And in August, the city’s planning commission approved permits for a 24-bed shelter with a focus on helping them. The shelter is expected to open in the coming months. Other cities have shown interest in San Francisco’s efforts, Mr. Dufty said. Officials from Santa Clara and Phoenix attended the Homeless Connect event.
Brian Basinger, a co-founder of the AIDS Housing Alliance in San Francisco, said the harassment of gays is common in the city’s shelters. 

People there “do not have a lot of status in society to begin with, and so the way they protect or generate status in these social environments is to step on the queers,” Mr. Basinger said.
Gay and transgender residents have their shoes stolen, he said. They are robbed or beaten up in line.
Mr. Basinger, whose partner was homeless for 10 years and who came close to being homeless himself after he developed AIDS, brought in an architect to design the new shelter. 

“I really wanted to think about how does the built environment impact people’s experiences,” he said. “So we spent a lot of time thinking that through and talking to people and designing something that was going to be functional and respect people’s dignity.” 

But the shelter will house only a fraction of those who are without homes. 

On a recent evening in the Castro District, Hjalmar Bjorkman, 48, sat cross-legged in a doorway. He has lived in the Bay Area for years. But two months ago, he said, he lost his job at a bar and his partner kicked him out. Since then, he has been sleeping on the sidewalk behind an old theater, he said, or at the home of a friend, who charges him $20 a night for the couch. 

“My ex-partner walks by me every day,” Mr. Bjorkman said. 

Bobby Spencer, 47, arrived in San Francisco from Atlanta in May, thinking he had a job as a nanny with a former co-worker at the company where he had worked as an executive assistant.
He was excited about the move. “Being gay in the South is still a lot different than being gay here, even in Atlanta,” he said. “I moved here to be queer, that was part of the plan.” 

But the job did not work out and, after having volunteered in soup kitchens in Atlanta, Mr. Spencer abruptly found himself without a place to stay. 

  He bunked for a while with people he had met, but then ended up on the streets. He was hungry and sick. He is H.I.V. positive, and his viral load rose from undetectable to high levels after his medication ran out, he said.

Brian Basinger, a co-founder of the AIDS Housing Alliance, said harassment of gays is common in shelters. 

Mr. Spencer said the gay community he had expected to open its arms to him had been less than gracious. 

“It’s a mad, cold world out there, even in your own family,” he said. “My own community treats most queers that are homeless as pariahs; they want nothing to do with them.” 

He eventually found a clinic where he can get his medication and moved to a shelter, where he has settled in for now, taking cooking classes and living on food stamps. 

But he said he is constantly alert for trouble. On his first night in the shelter, a man in the next bed became abusive. 

“It makes you anxious and it makes you nervous to have things like that going on and knowing that it’s absolutely being directed at you,” Mr. Spencer said. 

Supervisor David Campos, who held hearings on the shelter problem, said that even though the homeless population may not have grown, homelessness has become more visible in San Francisco recently, perhaps because of an increase in evictions. Mr. Basinger and other advocates held a “sleep in” in Dolores Park in October to protest a proposed ordinance that would close city parks, where many homeless people sleep, between midnight and 5 a.m. The proposal narrowly passed on Nov. 5.
For Mr. Bolvito, Union Square, with its tourists and constant stream of pedestrians, provided a sense of safety for the months he spent there. But he is happy now to have enough to eat and a roof over his head — in September he moved into a single-room-occupancy hotel that he found with the assistance of Mr. Basinger’s housing alliance. Mr. Bolvito earned a cosmetology degree while he was homeless and is looking for a job. His mother, who lives in Oakland, helps him out when she can. 

“I wanted people to know that poverty is not just the addicts,” he said. “It’s people who are educated like me. It is so many.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In the News: The San Francisco Chronicle

Bay Area food banks need help ahead of holiday

Published 6:46 pm, Tuesday, November 19, 2013
 (This is reposted from SF

Ghaleb Milouda (left) helps her mother, Mahjouba Benabou, bag items for the food pantry at St. Francis Lutheran Church. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle 

Blame it on this month's cut in food stamps. Or stubbornly lean times for the poor. Or Thanksgiving coming later in the month this year.

They all boil down to this: Bay Area food banks and other charities that hope to lay out a traditional Thanksgiving feast for the poor next week are running well short of turkeys and other staples of a good holiday meal. And unless they get a heaping helping of last-minute luck and donations, there's going to be more grief than gobble this year for those struggling to get by.

As of Tuesday evening, the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks were short 800 turkeys. The Alameda County Food Bank still needed 4,000 turkeys, hams and chickens.

St. Anthony's Dining Room in the Tenderloin, one of the biggest meal providers in the Bay Area, is ready to start its annual drive for 1,000 turkeys on Saturday - and, with needs spiking higher every day, organizers are nervous.

Every year brings a call for more donations, but this year seems different, charity managers said. And not in a good way.


"Before this month, we'd go from serving 2,400 meals a day to about 2,600 around the end of the month, but now we hit that 2,600 mark right away," said Karl Robillard, spokesman for St. Anthony's. "People are feeling the safety net start to erode. Pay is flat, rents are up, and even though we always trust that people will come through, it's more nerve-racking than ever."

Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, said that not only is his nonprofit short hundreds of turkeys, but also donations are running about $1 million shy of where they should be this time of year.

"As we come out of the economic downturn, people are looking away from giving to food banks and more toward the arts, things like that," Ash said. "They kind of make the assumption that with the stock market being so high, and so much prosperity coming into San Francisco, that maybe people don't need as much as they used to. But it's just not true."

More poor

U.S. census data show that while great wealth has accumulated at the top end of the economic scale in the past few years, the number of Americans living in poverty rose from 13 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2012.

The Public Policy Institute of California, using locally tailored numbers, said a more accurate figure for poor people in California is 30 percent overall - and 39 percent for children.

Federal figures also show that 20 percent of the nation's children go hungry every night, and in San Francisco the total is 25 percent, according to a city Food Security Task Force report due Thursday.
Those numbers are likely to rise because of this month's cuts in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Monthly benefits dropped by as much as $36 for a family of four. That may not seem like much to some, but it's huge for anyone scraping by on minimum wage or welfare, said Mike Altfest, spokesman for the Alameda County Food Bank.

Worse this year

"That cut in food stamps means missed meals, as simple as that," Altfest said. "People's benefits typically run out every month after about three weeks, but this year is much worse and we are seeing it right now."

He said that in November last year, his nonprofit had received 18 emergency calls for food help by this time of the month. So far this month, it has received 51.

"And those are just the ones we are hearing from," Altfest said. "The fact that the volume has nearly tripled is extremely telling. We knew these food stamp cuts were coming at a bad time, but this is validation."

Waiting in line at the food bank giveaway at St. Francis Lutheran Church on Church Street in San Francisco, 58-year-old Calvin Cole glumly totaled up his prospects Tuesday for next week's holiday meal.

"They used to have the Salvation Army come in and serve us a meal, but that ended a while ago," said the resident of the Graystone Hotel supportive housing complex near Union Square. "I'm going to stay at home and listen to some music and be glad I'm alive.
"Not much else I can do. These are very hard times."

Looking forward

For Anthony Alfone, 47, and his family of four, the holiday looks a little brighter - if St. Anthony's manages to snare enough turkeys.

"We'll be back here on Thanksgiving and feel blessed to have the meal," Alfone said, taking in lunch with his wife and 2-year-old son. "We're in a shelter saving money right now to be able to move out, so we can't afford a holiday meal on our own. But this is a great place, and I'm sure they'll come up with something."

His son, Zeus, took in a forkful of curry chicken and laughed.

"For us, it's really about family and being grateful for what you have," Alfone said. "That's all you really need for the holiday."

He smiled at his son.
"But it does help to have turkey," Alfone said, patting the boy on the head.

How to help

Among those accepting donations for Thanksgiving meals:
-- San Francisco and Marin Food Banks: 900 Pennsylvania Ave., San Francisco. Call (415) 282-1907 for hours.
-- Alameda County Food Bank: 7900 Edgewater Drive, Oakland. Call (510) 635-3663 for hours.
-- St. Anthony's Dining Room: Turkey drive begins Saturday,150 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco. Call (415) 241-2600 for hours.
-- Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, 330 Ellis St., San Francisco. Call (415) 674-6000 for hours.
-- Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, 4010 Nelson Ave., Concord. Call (925) 676-7543 for hours.
-- Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties: Call (866) 234-3663 or e-mail for locations and hours.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In the News: San Francisco Chronicle

High schoolers react to fire attack on bus

Updated 10:43 pm, Saturday, November 16, 2013

If you squint, you can see Pastor Megan Rohrer's clergy collar under the "get well" sign.

(reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle)

They are two teenagers from two different worlds in Oakland - one a straight-A student from the hills who identifies as neither he nor she, the other a struggling student who lives in the bullet-riddled flatlands and considers himself a jokester.
On Nov. 4, the jokester, 16-year-old Richard Thomas, lit the skirt of the agender person, 18-year-old Sasha Fleischman, on fire as they rode an AC Transit bus. Fleischman has been in a hospital ever since, undergoing skin grafts for second- and third-degree burns to the legs, and Thomas is in custody, having been charged as an adult with what prosecutors call a hate-motivated assault.
But this has turned out to be much more than a crime story.
In the days since the attack, those who know Fleischman and Thomas have agonized over how to express their sorrow, anger and compassion. Even as the discussions turn to the differences between privilege and underclass, they circle back to one main point: Despite this violent act, acceptance among the young of kids of varying gender orientations is spreading across demographic lines.

Similar reactions

Agender, or nonbinary, identification may be a lesser-known concept at the sprawling Oakland High School, which Thomas attends, than at Fleischman's private Maybeck High School in Berkeley, but after the attack students at both campuses reacted with similar horror and sympathy.
Youths at Thomas' East Oakland campus have raised hundreds of dollars for Fleischman, made posters, held support rallies and helped friends of the family tie rainbow-colored ribbons to poles along the bus route on which the teenager was attacked. And when a community march was held Thursday night in support of the burned youth, students from both campuses carried banners together.
"One thing I would hope can come of this, a silver lining of some sort out of everything everyone is talking about and doing, is a greater awareness of genderqueer issues," said the burned youth's father, kindergarten teacher Karl Fleischman. "Sasha has a very strong sense of justice, and I know they would like that."

They, not he

The younger Fleischman prefers to be referred to as "they," rather than he or she. The teenager was born male and named Luke, but at 16 announced he was agender and took the name Sasha.
"It seems like I should be angrier at what happened to Sasha ... but I keep holding out the possibility that the kid just thought it would be something funny to do and didn't know the consequences," Fleischman said. "I just know that 16-year-olds are not fully formed yet."
Even Thomas' edgier friends at Oakland High, who have drawn raised eyebrows by thrusting their fists in the air on occasion and yelling, "Free Richard!" say there was no good defense for what happened. It was just something bone-headed, not something hateful, they said.
"Doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, black or white, you can't be hating gay people, or people who don't think they're he or she," Bert Marshall, who like his friend Thomas is a 16-year-old junior, said the other day as he waited for a bus at the campus. "What Richard did was a prank. It had nothing to do with race or money or hate. He doesn't hate gays.
"He just did a prank that got out of hand."
Another friend, a sophomore who said he goes by X, shook his head. If Thomas, who is black, "was a white person like the one who got lit up, he'd be out of jail the next day," he said, then yelled, "Free Richard!"
Marshall snorted and shot his friend a look.
"That ain't right and you know it," he said. "It's not black or white. It's not antigay."
"Yeah, OK, I know," X said. "But Richard told me it was just a joke."

Heightened sensitivity

Oakland High's test scores are well below the state average, according to the GreatSchools ranking organization, and the racially diverse student body draws significantly from lower-income neighborhoods. Those factors only serve to strengthen an understanding attitude toward Fleischman, said several educators there, by creating a heightened sensitivity toward violence, diversity and adversity.
Earnest Jenkins III, who teaches manhood development at Oakland High, said what happened on the bus has "been the subject of discussions in my classes for days." And Amy Wilder, adviser to the Gay Straight Alliance on campus, said the incident has reinforced for students the notion of "upstanding" - standing up to intervene when something wrong is happening, such as a skirt being worn by someone who looks like a man being set on fire aboard a city bus.
"A lot of kids say they understand what could prompt such a thing - a prank, peer pressure, maybe some homophobia," Jenkins said. "But following through by actually lighting a human being on fire? That's unacceptable, and everyone understands that. The kids really get that more than ever."

Prank gone wrong

Thomas' lawyer, William Du Bois, said at a court hearing Friday that his client feels the same way.
He said the boy lit Fleischman on fire only as a "prank, which went terribly wrong," and was not motivated by hate. Police said Thomas has conceded that homophobia was an element, but Du Bois said investigators "browbeat" the admission out of Thomas during interrogation.
Thomas is "extremely remorseful," Du Bois said, and has written "heartfelt" letters to Fleischman's family.
The defendant's mother and grandmother expressed similar sentiments at an earlier court hearing, and a cousin who relatives said is transgender attended Friday's hearing. But after those first comments more than a week ago, the family has rebuffed requests for interviews.
Thomas' neighbors in the Castlemont area of East Oakland, where pit bulls and iron window bars proliferate, said the family is mortified and sorrowful.
"Richard is a good kid and they may not be rich, but his people raise him right," said Leroy Goode, a close friend of Thomas' grandmother, Juliette Stern. "But that's Juliette's call to talk about if she wants to talk."
Several adults and students at Oakland High said Thomas struggled academically - Du Bois said he had "educational challenges" that led him to be a "class clown" - and he spent too much time in the street, but not with gangs. His nickname is "Pretty Boy" because of his attention to clothes, and he's admired on the basketball court for his smooth outside shots.

A different place

Fleischman's home is only a mile uphill from Oakland High, but the teen's world is very different.
The senior is editor of the magazine and founder of the computer club at proudly progressive Maybeck High, where tuition can run $28,000 a year. The family chose Maybeck because of its small class size and reputation for academic excellence. Fleischman is a National Merit Scholar semifinalist and has applied to go to MIT next fall.
When Fleischman came out as agender to family members and teachers two years ago, it caused few ripples.
"The idea of not wanting to choose a gender was pretty brand new to us," Karl Fleischman said. "But there was never any question that we'd be supportive. We love Sasha."
The announcement was also received warmly at Maybeck, said school Director Trevor Cralle.
"We've always been an incredibly accepting community where nobody is going to be made fun of for wearing a funny hat or a skirt," Cralle said. "And Sasha - well, Sasha is an amazing student who just blossomed after coming out.
"I think if anyone can come through this attack OK, it would be Sasha. They are very smart and very strong."

Fleischman's friends have frequently visited or texted their classmate in the hospital, and profess more desire to understand Thomas than be angry with him. A few days after the attack, half the school showed up in skirts to display solidarity with Fleischman - and then on Thursday, many chatted with their Oakland High counterparts at the community rally.
"The only person who really knows why that happened in the person who did it," said Sarah Levine, a 16-year-old junior who also identifies as agender. "Anything we think would be speculation."

'I'm feeling alright'

Levine showed a text Fleischman sent last week that read, "I'm feeling alright, a little sore though." Levine added that when friends visited the hospital, Fleischman was more eager to talk about their upcoming zombie post-apocalypse role-playing game than the attack.
"Sasha is the most fundamentally good person I know," said Levine. "We can't wait for Sasha to get back here to school."
The attack happened less than a mile from Fleischman's home in the Glenview hills neighborhood of Oakland, where median incomes of those in the craftsman homes are nearly double that in the city overall. Fleischman's father said it was doubly sad that Sasha was burned on a bus, since the 18-year-old is a fan of all things transit.
"I don't think this attack has shaken Sasha's sense of self, but it did make me sad when they said the other day, 'When I go back to school, can you give me a ride?' because riding buses is really a passion for Sasha," Fleischman said.
He paused to gather his thoughts.
"What's most important here is that Sasha recover fully, and the doctors say that will happen," Fleischman said. Doctors have told the family the 18-year-old may be able to go home by Thanksgiving.
Fleischman said the next steps, beyond continuing education, are less clear.
Sasha Fleischman has always had a passion for social justice - "when the Trayvon Martin ruling came out, they were yelling at the television about how wrong it was," the elder Fleischman said - and last spring the youth gathered 27,000 signatures on the Internet asking President Obama to address agender issues. But how the attack will affect that passion is an unknown, Fleischman said.
"Sasha has thought in the past about being a spokesperson for these gender issues, but they are shy," he said. "And we've talked about the light this incident has thrown on agender issues and respecting different ways of being.
"But I'm not sure where that will all go. The future? We'll see."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

New food program helps people with HIV

Megan Rohrer allots donated groceries to food boxes to be distributed to those in need as part of Welcome Ministry's HIV+ Grocery Project.(Photo: Rick Gerharter) 
A new program in San Francisco aims to help people who are living with HIV and need help getting food but want to cook for themselves.

The HIV+ Grocery Project started last weekend.

"I was really inspired to think about ways to feed individuals who are vulnerable because of the way their immune systems are built," said pastor Megan Rohrer, who is transgender and is executive director of the Welcome Ministry, which provides food, housing referrals, and other services. "The idea of feeding vulnerable populations in large food groups, like where you have to gather and eat with people during cold and flu season just because you don't have enough food to take your medicines, felt like a disservice."

The first day was Saturday, October 5 at St. Francis Lutheran Church, 152 Church Street. Rohrer said organizers plan to continue the giveaways through the end of 2014.

Rohrer said that she is not looking to "take over or move aside" what other food-related agencies are doing, but she wants to offer more choices.

Participants should have access to cooking facilities and a refrigerator or freezer.
Signing up for the program is simple.

Each participant is asked to fill out a form of what food they like, and what they don't like.

"We won't be requiring any medical information from people," said Rohrer. "We're doing it on the honor system. We don't want to have any records of people's HIV-positive status."

Participants don't have to be San Francisco residents to receive food.

Additionally, "People can pick any first name and last initial they'd like," said Rohrer.
There shouldn't be any lines.

"People will RSVP and they'll have a half-hour window where they can pick up their box," said Rohrer, who added that people may also volunteer to sort food "and take a box home with them."

Gabriel, who's 63 and didn't want his last name published, went to the church Saturday and picked up meat, bananas, apples, bread, and other items.

"My Social Security check does not cover everything. It only covers my rent," said Gabriel. "At times, I don't have enough to get by with what I'm getting." He said he'd "absolutely" return for more food.

Until a couple months ago, Gabriel was homeless, but he now lives in a Mission district apartment.

He declined to say whether he has HIV, but said he is a bone marrow cancer survivor.

Organizers have done outreach through Project Homeless Connect and other venues.

Two people have signed up so far. Rohrer said the plan is to start with 12 to 25 participants each week and get other church congregations involved.

Donors include supermarkets that provide food that's set to expire within a week.

People interested in participating can contact the church at (415) 621-2635 or email Rohrer at

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Connect event draws crowd

Volunteer Troy Brunet, left, helps Kendra Dunson select the right pair of reading glasses during the first LGBTQ Connect event. Looking on is Megan Rohrer, another volunteer with the project.(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Jackie Ybarra, 50, was one of the hundreds of people looking for assistance that would usually require visiting several different agencies to find.

Ybarra, a gay homeless man, came for housing and employment assistance, as well as reading glasses, a flu vaccination, a haircut, and other services. He found the Monday, October 7 event "extremely helpful."

"This would've taken me six months to get through all this stuff," he said of t
he services available.

All four floors of the center, at 1800 Market Street, were crowded with people seeking services. Dozens of volunteers were also on hand. Even the street behind the building had a fair number of people waiting for dentistry and other assistance.

Bevan Dufty, a gay man who serves as director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement for Mayor Ed Lee, said the event had been "wildly successful."

"The building is pulsating with excitement," said Dufty. "People have felt for so long" that disparities facing LGBTs, who make up a disproportionate part of the city's homeless population, need to be addressed, he said.

Dufty and other Connect planners have been influenced by local statistics. In late June, the biennial San Francisco Homeless Point-In-Time Count and Survey was released and, for the first time, included statistics on LGBT people. The report found that out of a total of 7,350 homeless people, more than one in four (29 percent) identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or "other" for a total of 2,132.
Based on the homeless report's findings and estimates that at least 94,234 LGBT people live in San Francisco, LGBT housing activists estimate that 2.3 percent are homeless, compared to less than 1 percent for the general population.

With the response to Monday's event, Dufty said, "The number one question is, 'What's next?'" He said many of the service providers who came Monday want to stay involved, and he predicted more LGBTQ Connects in the future. Officials also plan to organize a policy forum to share insights from the gathering.

Taja DeJesus, who's 34 and identifies as a transgender woman, said Monday that she had found referrals for food pantries and a volunteer position at a local food bank.

LGBTQ Connect was "excellent," said DeJesus. Providers were "very sensitive and very considerate to our needs," she said.

Sammie Rayner, a volunteer with Project Homeless Connect, the program after which LGBTQ Connect was modeled, was helping people check out and distributing surveys on behalf of the mayor's office. Through their questions, officials are hoping to find "better ways to serve the population," said Rayner, a straight ally.

She said that so far, people had indicated, "a lot of their challenges are mental health-related, so finding better ways to create better mental health services is big."

Lee's staff would aggregate the data so they could use it to "create more targeted services," she said.
Volunteer Stanley Lovelace, 51, was standing at a table covered with grocery bags that had been filled with bread, cookies, and other items.

"I love it," Lovelace, who's bisexual, said of the event. "I like seeing people happy. I like seeing people helping people." He said about 50 people had come to the table for help in the hour or so he'd been there.

At least one attendant was less satisfied than the others.

Robert Acosta, 52, who was standing near the "Tooth Mobile" parked behind the center, got reading glasses Monday and was hoping to see a dentist. However, he said, "It's pretty packed," and he wasn't sure he'd be seen.

Acosta, who's straight, said he'd tried unsuccessfully to find help at Monday's event getting disability benefits from the state's Employment Development Department. He's contacted that agency directly but thought he'd be able to get assistance at LGBTQ Connect. He said he was "disappointed" that he couldn't.

Organizers "have to be more specific" about the kind of assistance they can provide, Acosta said, but "other than that, they're working pretty good."

Monday's event even also drew elected officials from outside San Francisco.

In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter , Ken Yeager, the gay president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said he'd "like to explore if an LGBTQ Connect could work in Santa Clara County."

Tom Simplot, the only openly gay member of the Phoenix City Council, was also on hand.
In a phone interview afterward, Simplot said officials in his area are considering having an LGBTQ Connect there.

First, though, they have to collect baseline information from their annual homeless count. He said he's "already put in the request" that the next survey, planned for the spring, include whether people identify as LGBTQ. He said a Connect event would probably happen "not too far" after the survey.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In the News: Huffington Post

Mitch Kellaway

Beyond Transition: Documentaries Capture Rich, Complex Transgender Lives

 Mass media have a history of erasing transgender people's complexities and lived experiences. It happens whenever there's an act of misgendering or misnaming or a reliance on social assumptions that trans existence is essentially tragic or reducible to medical procedures. Thankfully, this year has seen a steady stream of trans-focused independent documentaries to offer a counterpoint, illuminating how nuanced, flawed, individualistic, and human trans lives are.
I spoke via email with several filmmakers to learn how they worked toward capturing rich portraits of trans folks that evoke resilience, humor, history, and joy. A common theme emerged from our conversations: Gender transition, while a significant milestone, is not the only, or even necessarily the defining, part of every trans person's life. It's an ongoing process that informs and interacts with other roles and identities, albeit one that is too often rendered tragic by medical and legal stumbling blocks and social stigma. And, like any major change, it's worth celebrating -- even as life goes on despite and because of it.
What's the T?
"It started when I saw Dannan, a young trans girl on [TV]," says Cecilio Asuncion, the producer and director of What's the T? "As a gay Asian man, I barely saw any Asian faces on TV or film." Inspired, Asuncion decided to make a documentary on women, mostly women of color, whom Dannan could look up to.
2013-10-01-WhatsTheT5.jpg 2013-10-01-WhatsTheT4.jpg 2013-10-01-WhatsTheT3.jpg
Rakash, Vi, and Mia of What's the T? (photo credit: Enrico Dungca; click to enlarge)
"While we all have our trials, I wanted to highlight [the women's] more resilient and positive aspects," he explains. What's the T? features interviews with five trans women in their everyday environments: at work, out with friends, performing in shows and balls, at school, with partners, or at home preparing meals, getting dressed, or relaxing. The women talk about the ups and downs of their varied lives, veering toward and away from discussing transition as it relates to employment, friendship, and love.
2013-10-01-WhatsTheT1.jpg 2013-10-01-WhatsTheT2.jpg
Nya and Cassandra of What's the T? (photo credit: Enrico Dungca; click to enlarge)
Asuncion is particular about what he shows and what he doesn't. He relates how documentaries about trans women seem to usually be about "how sad or how hard a trans woman's life is" and "would always end with the SRS," referring to sex reassignment surgery, also known as gender confirmation surgery. While undue suffering is real and genital reconstruction is important to many transitioning people, Asuncion purposefully avoids drawing the conclusion that transition or womanhood is "incomplete" without surgery (or hormones).
"To me, it was not important what is in between a person's legs," he explains, "but what a person stands for."
(Catch What's the T? at Cinema Diverse! The Palm Springs Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, the Pensacola LGBT Film Festival and the Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Learn more here.)
Finding Kim
Though What's the T? tells vital narratives, no film can capture the breadth and diversity of trans people's experiences. While Asuncion's documentary finds its subjects happily employed and socially accepted and visually celebrates their youth and success in a filmed fashion shoot, Aaron Bear and Consuelo Crow's Finding Kim offers an interesting contrast.
"Kim's situation is pretty extreme because of his age, his very conservative parents, and his financ[es]," explains cinematographer Gabriel Bienczycki. "[His] is a story of overcoming substantial obstacles ... in the name of internal harmony."
Adds Bear, "While there have been other films that have documented people going through transition, Kim is doing this at almost 50 years old."
Photo credit: Gabriel Bienczycki (click to enlarge)
As personal friends of Kim, a Seattle-based, middle-aged trans man, Bear, Crow, and Bienczycki are filming his journey in hopes of helping younger trans folks find themselves.
While they report substantial support from trans viewers and say that the project has had a positive impact on Kim himself -- a highlight being meeting his hero, trans pioneer Jamison Green, during filming ("the best day of my life!") -- Bear also describes facing valid resistance from some viewers over the fact that he's a (queer) cisgender man creating a documentary about a trans person. In response, he states, "I'm closely connected with Kim on a friendship level. This is Kim's story. ... Simply put, I'm documenting what is presented to me."
Currently, filming is a work in progress featuring a "very cinematic and polished approach" and aiming to "create a cohesive language that communicates the longing for completion and a sense of journey."
(Finding Kim is intended for release in Fall 2014. Learn more here.)
Zanderology, like Finding Kim, is a story of a trans man that emerged out of a deep friendship. Its subject, Zander Keig, and its director/producer, Rev. Megan Rohrer, are two transgender community advocates who previously co-edited Letters for My Brothers (2012), an anthology of "transitional wisdom" by trans men for trans men.
"I was moved by all the support from individuals who said that that book had transformed their lives," says Rohrer. Zanderology is a way to extend the healing act of storytelling into a different medium.
And different it is. For the film, Rohrer uses animations "hastily drawn to look like chalk board illustrations." He explains that this tactic was employed as much to avoid using photographs ("I don't want people watching the film to be looking for clues about Zander's identity by focusing on ... the flaps and folds that others get to keep private") as to issue a "double-dog dare for other filmmakers, particularly the trans ones, to tell their stories" without feeling pressure to present a "perfect" product.
2013-10-01-Zanderology.JPG 2013-10-01-Zanderology2.JPG
Megan and Zander of Zanderology (photo credit: Megan Rohrer; click to enlarge)
In summary, Rohrer describes how "[gender] transition may be one of the least interesting parts of Zander's story." A slew of health issues; stints in a gang, the Coast Guard, and as an undercover drug officer; a varied education; and a career in social work help Zander's story go "beyond telling people that 'it gets better,'" according to Rohrer. "[This film] shows you how."
(Zanderology will begin touring at film festivals and queer conferences in 2014. Learn more here.)
Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger
"I was working on various portraits and found out that there wasn't a film on Kate yet -- and the world needs a film on Kate," says Sam Feder, director of the critically acclaimed 2008 documentary Boy I Am. In their latest project, Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, Feder turns the lens toward a trailblazing trans elder.
Importantly, Kate Bornstein is, according to Feder, a "film about a trans person that's not just about her being trans." While they express gratitude for documentaries that educate (like their own first film), they state that "it's time that films with trans people are also about the amazing work we do in the world." Bornstein, an author and performance artist known for being a "gender outlaw," certainly does amazing work. Feder agrees, stating, "Kate is brilliant, beautiful, and her work saves lives. It saved mine."
Kate Bornstein (photo credit: Sam Feder; click to enlarge)
There's clearly many out there who wish to hear more of Kate's story, as evidenced by the incredible sum of $24,500 that Feder was able to raise through a Kickstarter campaign. They partly attribute this to Bornstein's universal message: "Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Just don't be mean." Bornstein's work, including Gender Outlaw, My Gender Workbook, and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide, gives trans people "space and language to figure out where [they] fit in the world," says Feder. "This film is my attempt to get her work to an even larger audience than she [already] has."
(Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger will premiere in early 2014. Learn more here.)
Sticks and Stones and The Golden Age of Hustlers
Silas Howard's inspiration for Sticks and Stones, his new short documentary on transgender performer Bambi Lake, echoes Feder's: "Bambi's story isn't one I've heard yet in film, and [I] feel attached to it personally as a trans person and musician." Howard -- who, as a member of pioneering '90s queercore band Tribe 8, holds a place in queer history in his own right -- feels compelled to preserve Lake's narrative for future generations. "Her story is such a part of my story, one I fear is left out of history far too often," he explains.
Bambi Lake (photo credit: Ann Grillo; click to enlarge)
Howard, who's known the "notorious" San Francisco artist since the early '90s, reconnected with Lake when he heard one of her songs, "The Golden Age of Hustlers," being performed by trans artist Justin Vivian Bond in New York. Struck by "the depth of Bambi's voice as a songwriter," he decided to document Bond's contemporary revival of the soulful tune, its "larger-than-life" originator, and the feel of pre-AIDS 1970s Polk Street, where Lake once worked as a street hustler. Sticks and Stones is a short film featuring the now-62-year-old Lake, who continues to entertain crowds in small bars.
The Golden Age of Hustlers is a music video featuring Justin Vivian Bond's performance, artistic recreations of Lake's hustling heyday, and archival footage that evokes her "West Coast world" for uninitiated audiences.
Justin Vivian Bond (photo credit: Janis Vogel; click to enlarge)
"[Co-director Erin Greenwell] and I wanted to make it easier for the next generation to not hunt for images and art from their community the way we did," Howard states. The result of their efforts is a lush music video documenting both an untold history and the history happening today -- what he refers to as an "intergenerational lovefest." Audiences can look forward to a unique piece that represents the "collective consciousness of [Bond's] music" and features cameos by predecessors Kate Bornstein and Flotilla DeBarge, as well as "young artists" like Bryn Kelly, Untitled Queen, and Merrie Cherry.
(Sticks and Stones and The Golden Age of Hustlers will premiere this winter. Learn more here.)
TransMedian is a one-woman show. Directed by, produced by, and centered on stand-up comedian Jordan Wieleba, the film approaches transition with a gutsy emphasis on "comedic content." Wieleba elaborates,"Not too many people in transition would be willing to be so open about it, let alone express it through humor."
While parts of the film are inevitably dramatic, TransMedian zooms in on how "comedians work out their often personal struggles on stage." Although this can leave her vulnerable to judgment, Wieleba reports that comics "are ultimately rewarded through laughter and understanding." Her descriptions suggest a much-needed flip of the social script: Rather than be the butt of someone else's joke, the trans woman is the agent.
Photo credit: Jordan Wieleba (click to enlarge)
As an artist, Wieleba refuses to fit the norm of what, in her experience, "people perceive transgender, specifically male-to-female, people to be -- i.e., hyperfeminized, always cautious, [or] socially awkward." Spending parts of her youth homeless and touring the U.S. with a punk rock band shaped her into the brash woman she is today: "not shy, very outspoken, occasionally abrasive, confident, and strong." She says that's what helps her tell her story to a new audience night after night.
Her unabashed approach will extend to her documentary debut. "Like with [my] comedy, the film will not 'softball' any issues," she summarizes. "[It] will most likely be targeted to a mature audience."
(TransMedian is intended for release in late 2014. Learn more here.)
For more fascinating trans- and gender-nonconforming-centric stories, check out Crossing Over, Kumu Hina, Assigned Sex, Performing Girl, Las Muxhes de Mexico, Drag Dad, Passing Ellenville, and MAJOR!.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Latest Living Lutheran Blog: Here I Stand... Humbly

“Here I stand …,” declared the Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin during his installation at California Lutheran University, an ELCA university in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where he became the first American Indian and first openly gay synod bishop in the ELCA.
His words brought a slight chuckle from the crowd of almost a thousand, who heard the words as a sign that despite his fancy new clothes and firm place in Lutheran history, Guy would continue to be a bookish, Lutheran history scholar with a kind face and pastoral heart that was much bigger than the response to his joke.

Read the rest at

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

 Former Polk sex worker mourned

Published 09/05/2013

A man once known as "the most beautiful" sex worker on San Francisco's Polk Street has died.
The death of David Royal Lundy Jr., 43, also known as Corey Longseeker, serves as the latest mark in the passing of the Polk neighborhood, which was once crowded with gay bars and hustlers, as a queer mecca.

Mr. Lundy, who's also being remembered for his kind, gentle nature, was found dead August 21 in his Civic Center apartment. The San Francisco Medical Examiner's office, which confirmed his death, won't publicly release the cause or manner for months, but a 2009 San Francisco Bay Guardian story told of Mr. Lundy's struggles with AIDS, schizophrenia, and methamphetamine use (

Joey Plaster, who wrote the Guardian piece, was also behind the documentary Polk Gulch: The story of Corey Longseeker.

Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Fire Department, said in an email that a paramedic unit responded to a report of an approximately 40-year-old dead man at Mr. Lundy's building at 365 Fulton Street the day he died, but she couldn't confirm that Mr. Lundy was the deceased person.

Pastor Megan Rohrer is executive director of the Welcome Ministry, a group based in a church near Polk Street that provides food, housing referrals, and other services. Rohrer, who knew Mr. Lundy for years, said he'd been known as "the most beautiful" sex worker in the Polk neighborhood after his arrival more than 20 years ago, and that his death symbolizes "an end of the generation of sex workers and gay culture on Polk Street," where there's now only one gay bar.

But Mr. Lundy, who was gay, had more than looks going for him.

"He was a poet, and he was known for being very gentle and being a good listener and being a good friend," said Rohrer.

However, as the neighborhood changed, so did Mr. Lundy.

"I think what happened is that when HIV and AIDS decimated the Polk Street culture, that had a big effect on his ability to get tricks," said Rohrer. "His life started to deteriorate at the same time the sex work culture on Polk Street started to deteriorate."

Mr. Lundy had suffered side effects from HIV medications when they first came out, and in later years, still wouldn't take the drugs he had been prescribed, said Rohrer.

"He lost himself in San Francisco," said his mother, Wendy Lundy.

Although she usually hadn't known how to reach Mr. Lundy after he left the Midwest when he was about 18, Wendy Lundy, 62, of Menahga, Minnesota, knew that he had lived on the streets for most of his time in the city. The last she'd heard from him was a letter he sent about a year and a half ago. Besides his other health issues, Lundy said her son also had cancer.

During a phone interview last week, Lundy wept often as she recalled the "very soft-spoken and kind-hearted, very, very well-behaved" artistic child she still calls "Davey."

Mr. Lundy's father, David Lundy, 66, recalled Mr. Lundy as "so kind."

"When the cat scratched him, and I went after the cat, he defended the cat and said it was his fault because he scared the cat," said David Lundy.

"I miss him," he said. "He didn't let us know how sick he was."

Dan Diez, who knew Mr. Lundy for decades but hadn't yet been told of his death, recalled him as "the most gentle soul one could know" who "had phenomenal male beauty second to none." But knowing Mr. Lundy in his last years could be tough.

"I am not sure if he is still alive as he was in a very weak state when I last saw him months ago," said Diez in an email last week. "After knowing and helping him for about 20-plus years, I just could not any longer take the unfortunate state he was in health-wise as it brought me to severe sadness for him."

Rohrer said Mr. Lundy had come to California from Minnesota "because his parents and him had disagreements about the fact that he was gay."

Asked if she'd had trouble accepting her son's homosexuality, Wendy Lundy said, "I guess you could say that." However, she said that they had never had a conversation about him being gay before he left for California.

"He never showed signs," she said.

During a Christmas visit to Minnesota around three years ago, "he said he'd tried it," she said. "At that time he had decided that that wasn't for him, but I guess he didn't really know, so to me he was probably back and forth."

"I guess I could have accepted anything if he would have been closer," said Wendy Lundy, who added, "I always hoped that he would come back to live in Minnesota."

In San Francisco, there will be a memorial at 3 p.m., September 14, at Old First Presbyterian Church, 1751 Sacramento Street. Services in Minnesota are also planned.

In addition to Mr. Lundy's parents in Menahga, other survivors include brothers Jeramiah, of Park Rapids, Minnesota, Joshua, of Blaine, Minnesota; and several nieces, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

For a link to information about Plaster's documentary, visit

Monday, August 19, 2013

Homeless Vision Project Needs Your Help

Support The Project Here

Moved by biblical stories that restore sight and the ways the vision can improve the quality of life, work prospects and health of homeless and low income individuals, the Homeless Vision Project will create vision events in 10 cities across the United States and enable at least 400 individuals to obtain prescription glasses by the end of 2014.

This project not only helps fix a tangible barrier between many individuals and employment, it enables homeless folk to hear "yes" and have a good experience with local service agencies. Often times this helps individuals who have been chronically homeless for a decade to learn about the ways that support systems have approved and accept the help they may have previously rejected.

One of our events will take place on the Big Island of Hawaii where native Hawaiians are 4x's a likely to have diabetes. Our vision care will not only help 40 individuals obtain free prescription glasses, but also screen for ocular diseases and degeneration.

Locations will be chosen based on the need in the area, the ability to partner with congregations and non-profits who will follow up with the individuals after the event, alignment with other programs led by Welcome and the locations of donors (any city or region with donations of $2,000 or more will become a site of a vision event).

Click Here to Support the Project

Zanderology Film Get's Exceeds Funding Goals on Kick Starter

$1,810 was raised on Kickstarter to fund Zanderology!

Zanderology is a study of transitions. Born dead, this former gang member, mental patient and undercover cop becomes a social worker.

A project by the co-editors of Letters For My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect (a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award).

Zanderology is for anyone who has ever wondered if people are capable of changing in profound ways.  Zander was born dead, woke up from a coma and recovered from partial paralysis, was a juvenile delinquent, lived in a residential mental hospital, has been a sailor, an undercover cop, a social worker and is a transsexual.

This film seeks to empower others to live into their fullest potential, by telling Zander's story.

As I was looking over the footage from Zander's story and trying to decide what to share,  I thought about sharing the tales of his professional psychic mother's illegal side projects,  how Zander transitioned spiritually, or Zander's heartwarming reflections about how he inherited his drive from his father.

The clip above is a small part of the story of Zander's almost decade long transition from a self professed dyke who participated in the Lesbian Avengers to a trans man.  If you want to hear all the details of that transition, you'll have to wait for the film.  But, for now, I wanted to share with you a bit of the end of the story.

The joy Zander expresses in talking about the experience of being a man is palpable.  Certainly, it's a familiar "it get's better" kind of tale.  More importantly this film never apologizes for or tries to rationalize any of Zander's transitions. 

In the News: The Washington Post

What transgender people teach us about God, and our humanity

A same sex marriage advocate waves a rainbow flag at a protest in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP )
(Jae C. Hong/AP )
“Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human.” – Russell D. Moore, On Faith, Aug. 15

There are certainly more egregious quotes from Moore’s recent essay, but to focus on them would miss the larger point – that there is no transgender question. The question is about how people of faith continue to grow in their understanding of our transgender brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, teachers and pastors.  And it’s a growth that, make no mistake, Mr. Moore wants to shut down.

In order to grow, one must leave the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ framework behind. Mr. Moore relies on this narrow, tired and, frankly, dangerous argument to denounce transgender experience as sinful.

Now I don’t think Mr. Moore or the Southern Baptist convention lacks caring or compassion. In fact, I work Southern Baptists in our shared efforts to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in faith communities and beyond. But Moore’s argument is dangerous because it discourages a curiosity about the actual lived experiences of trans people. He’s shutting down any deeper conversation and, in the process, dampening our understanding of how the spark of the divine exists in all of us.

What would happen if rather than depicting transgender people as “fac[ing] a long road of learning what it means to live as God created them to be, as male or female,” we actually took seriously the question of what it means to be human and, more expansively, what it means to live into our full humanity? What if rather than saying that biology is destiny we actually explored the ways in which we all experience our own gender identities and expressions? What if we learned about the lived experiences of our transgender peers?

I remember riding my bike with my brother on a family outing as a child. It was hot and I took off my shirt. My mother’s face turned beet red as she loudly declared, “Little girls do not take their shirts off.” I was 11-years-old.  Just the year before, I ran around impervious to such rules. No one cared. It was then that I learned gender had rules with consequences. I think often of that moment when I think of my transgender friends and colleagues.

My friend and colleague Jay Brown, a transgender man, remembers going to bed each night as a 5-year-old child. He remembers clenching his little hands and praying that he would wake up the boy on the outside that he felt on the inside. He remembers keeping that secret because, even at 5, he knew there’d be consequences.

I would wager to say we all had such moments when our gender identities were defined not by our biology, but by the dictates of our culture – whether or not we are transgender.

The core teachings of Christianity are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love God fully if we don’t do the work of trying to understand who God is for each of us. When we look at the most moving and transformative religious writing – from Augustine to Thomas Merton – there is a sense of openness and curiosity to the experience of God.  We can’t love God if we don’t try to glean how God works in our lives.
Similarly, we can’t really love our neighbors if we cast off all curiosity about who they are and there experience of life in the world. And finally, if we remain uninterested in ourselves – about how we come to know our gender–then we can’t really love the difference that shows up in our neighbors.
The variation of transgender experience has much to teach us.  I was struck that in Moore’s piece he didn’t reference the experience of one transgender person.  He’s missing an enormous diversity both in the experiences of faith and of gender identity and expression.

Experiences like that of Joy Ladin, a  friend who transitioned while she was teaching at an Yeshiva University, or like Rev. David Weekley, a United Methodist minister who became one of the first openly transgender clergy members after coming out to his congregation about his transition decades prior. These experiences of faith and gender are different again from Rev. Megan Rohrer, an openly gay Lutheran pastor, whose own gender non-conformity provides a unique understanding of those on the margins, many of whom are the homeless community she pastors to in San Francisco.

To live our lives with true compassion and caring, we need to move beyond slogans and ask the deeper questions about gender and the diversity of experiences.   But to do that, one must ask the right question and be open to a multitude of answers.

Sharon Groves, Director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program.

Friday, August 2, 2013

New Living Lutheran Blog Post: Finding Grace in a New Way

Over the last year I have been working with Amanda Zentz, pastor of Central Lutheran in Portland, Ore., and Dawn Roginski, also a pastor, on a weekly, online Bible study. The project was created with start-up funds from the Domestic Hunger Project to provide weekly opportunities to talk about how the Bible readings each week could inspire people to respond to local poverty.

With 40-60 individuals participating each week, our online Bible study is larger than most congregational gatherings for Bible study that happen regularly at brick-and-mortar churches. Through social media, email and phone conversations, I’ve also been able to provide pastoral support, prayers and collegial support to the community participating in the study.

Last month I got to witness the literal fruits of our Bible study when my grandmother and I took a road trip to Chamberlain, S.D. There we visited Maria, one the most active participants in our online study, and visited the community gardens that Maria lovingly tends with other community members to grow produce for local food pantries and the domestic violence shelter.

Read the rest of the blog post at

Saturday, June 29, 2013

In the News: Buzz Feed

See original post and many more photos

The First San Francisco Weddings After The Fall Of Proposition 8

Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were the first same-sex couple to tie the knot at San Francisco’s City Hall on Friday. Then, these happy couples did the same.
Justine Sharrock BuzzFeed Staff 

At 4:45 p.m. today, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, the Proposition 8 plantiffs, tied the knot at San Francisco’s City Hall. State Attorney General Kamala Harris officiated their wedding. “They have waited and fought for this moment,” Harris said. “Today their wait is finally over.”

When the news hit that San Francisco officiants were going to start wedding same-sex couples, some people dropped everything and ran to City Hall. Jessica Becker and Jacqueline Bralostozky ran out of the house, discussing on the way there in the car whether they really wanted to do this or not. They realized after they got married that they had left their apartment door open. Some were in town visiting for pride — like Randy and Kurt Andrews, from Palm Springs, who serendipitously were celebrating their seven-year anniversary today.

Over the course of the evening, dozens of same-sex couples joined them. Officiants, including city supervisors, read vows to couples in the city hall’s main lobby under the rotunda. Each time a couple said “I do,” a cheer would ring out. Cameras were constantly flashing.

One straight couple brought cupcakes for newlyweds. Another guy brought flowers for brides and grooms, knowing people in their rush wouldn’t have bouquets. Two volunteer pastors came in case there was need for more officiants to join the judges and city supervisors.

There was not nearly the same frenzied excitement as in 2008 when San Francisco wed same-sex couples in an almost gueriilla fashion before the passage of Proposition 8 in November of that year. It also wasn’t like the first time, in 2004, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom began marrying same-sex couples in ceremonies that were eventually found to be invalid.

There isn’t the same fear this time around that this could end at any moment. People have a chance to plan a ceremony. Some even rushed down, got their license, and then decided to wait for a full ceremony. Others, however, didn’t want to wait one more day.

Here are scenes of love, happiness, and celebration from San Francisco’s City Hall on Friday.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the News: The Guardian

Obama applauds Supreme Court's Doma and Prop 8 rulings – live updates
link to the original article

Eoin Reynolds reports for the Guardian from San Francisco, where religious leaders held a press conference to celebrate the day's news. A small crowd gathered San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, Eoin reports:
Reverend Roland Stringfellow said that many church leaders believe gay marriage is an affront to their religious freedom, but he and many others do not agree.
"Many clergy of a variety of faiths believe it is our religious freedom to welcome anyone who wishes to live in the light of life and truth," he said. "Today we open our doors to all couples who want to be joined in love."
Reverend Charles Lewis, a Lutheran minister with the Society of St Francis, has been working with the gay community in San Francisco since the 1960s. At that time the struggle was to prevent police harassment and violence towards gay people.
"It has taken us 50 years to get to marriage equality," he said, "but we must remain vigilant. What we have won today has been won by law and it can be taken away by law."
His colleague Megan Rohrer is the first transgender Lutheran minister, having been ordained in [2006]. She hailed the day as a victory but warned there is much more to do.
"There are still 37 states where it is not legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married," Rohrer said. "There are still some rights that are denied to transgender individuals. In some states the courts have denied the right of transgender people to marry at all because they do not recognise their gender."
Representatives of the Jewish community also turned out in support of gay marriage.
Rabbi Doug Kahn, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said: "The organized Jewish community overwhelmingly supports gay marriage equality out of an abiding commitment to civil rights in our society and therefore applauds today's Supreme Court decisions as a major step forward."

Monday, June 24, 2013

In the News: San Francisco Bay Gaurdian

Did the Hayes Valley Farm occupation help or hurt the cause of liberating urban space?

Activists who occupied the former Hayes Valley Farm site held the space and posted this sign before being evicted by police.
Did the recent activist occupation of a temporary urban farming plot help “liberate the land,” as they claimed, or might it actually make property owners less likely to allow community-based temporary uses on land awaiting development? And did the farmers of this once-fallow land inadvertently provide a new toehold to challenge a proposed housing project?

Promptly after Hayes Valley Farm ended its three-year stint to make way for long-planned housing that would be built on the lot, a group of activists (many from Occupy San Francisco) calling itself Liberate the Land took residency for nearly two weeks, renaming it Gezi Gardens in solidarity with protesters at Gezi Square in Turkey. At 2am on June 13, Gezi Gardens was raided by police and the activists ejected.
The rise and fall of Gezi Gardens has had some people within the San Francisco urban agriculture community questioning whether or not the occupation was helpful in promoting the cause for more green space in the city. For some involved in the urban agriculture community, the end of Hayes Valley Farm reflects a not-so-distant future for other green spaces in the community.

Pastor Megan Rohrer is executive director of Welcome: A Communal Response to Poverty and project coordinator for The Free Farm, a community garden on St. Paulus Lutheran Church’s land on Gough and Eddy Street. That plot, temporarily turned into green space with permission from the landlord, St. Paulus Lutheran Church, is scheduled to end its three-year stint in December to make way for housing construction, much like Hayes Valley Farm.

The Free Farm’s land will sprout a housing project with all low-income housing units, whereas the project being built on the Hayes Valley Farm site will have 40 low-income units out of 180 total condos. Regardless, the possibility of a similar situation to what happened with Hayes Valley Farm has Rhorer on edge.

“I have a nervous feeling that what happened with Hayes Valley Farm may happen with my garden. I just want everything to end smoothly and peacefully,” Rohrer said. “I respect what the Occupy folks are doing in bringing awareness, but feel that what they did was a little disingenuous. Since the start of Hayes Valley Farm, there was an understanding that condos would be built over it. It was going to happen eventually.”
Longtime San Francisco activist Diamond Dave Whitaker was one of the people that occupied Gezi Gardens. He’s not sure if the occupation will be prove helpful to the urban agriculture movement in San Francisco.

“I’m not sure. What I do know is that Gezi Gardens was one of the few wild spaces left here,” Whitaker said. “Not everything has to be done within the law. Time will tell if what happened there helped urban agriculture here.”

Katy Broker-Bullick, a site steward at the 18th and Rhode Island community garden, told us the occupation of Gezi Gardens served to spark a dialogue about green spaces in San Francisco.

“I appreciate what the Occupiers are doing at Hayes Valley Farm in so much as it draws attention to innovative, community-based green spaces in San Francisco, and serves to foster a balanced, open discussion of the function and importance of such sites for community connection and innovation in urban spaces,” Broker-Bullick said.

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-SF) is also weighing in on the discussion of urban green spaces in the city. Although he does not have a stance on the occupation of Gezi Gardens, he has made strides in trying to make urban agriculture more accessible with San Francisco’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, Assembly Bill 551. It calls for property owners to sign a contract that would zone their land strictly for agriculture for 10 years in exchange for decreased property taxes.

Ting doesn’t necessarily support those who occupied Gezi Gardens, but said this: “What I do believe is that we should be doing what we can to keep green spaces in San Francisco.”

Some groups in the city may respect what the Liberate the Lands attempts at occupying Gezi Gardens, but the politically active Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association wasn’t one of them.

On June 7, nearly a week before the raid of Gezi Gardens, HVNA President William Bulkley penned a letter to Mayor Ed Lee, pleading to end the occupation of that land: “The HVNA board of directors feels that the current situation on Parcels O and P places a health and safety risk to both the participants and our neighbors. We respectfully request that, as mayor, you direct your staff to take appropriate action in a swift and timely fashion.”

Yet Rohrer also said Occupy activists are a much-needed part of San Francisco’s urban agriculture community. “It’s because of the hard work from people who have been connected to Occupy that spaces, like the Free Farm, are running,”  Rohrer said. “We have a lot of Occupy folk who volunteer that put their hearts and souls into the soil.”

There are efforts to halt building on Gezi Gardens, though many of the people who had occupied the lot have “scattered to the wind,” Whitaker said.

Mona Lisa Wallace, an attorney working with Liberate the Land, is attempting to halt construction based on the grounds that an accurate environmental impact report was not done because the land was found to be exempt from a more current report. Wallace said the last report was done five years ago when Parcels O and P were classified as “disturbed land.” Since then, plants and wildlife have flourished on Hayes Valley Farm.

She said an appeal to the exemption from a current environmental impact report will be filed at the the Board of Supervisor’s office on Friday. “Over the years a habitat has been created for hummingbirds, bees, crows, and quail,” Wallace said. “The exemption from the environmental impact report does not free them from being in compliance with federal and state law.”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

New Living Lutheran Post: The Mary Experience

The awkwardness of puberty is such a universally awkward experience that it is one of the first stories in the Bible. As they come of age, Adam and Eve’s self perception changes, they begin to rebel and Eve begins to experience the aches and pains that will soon give her the ability to have a child. If Adam and Eve’s story sets the stage, Cain, Abel, Rebekah, Isaac, Daniel, Esther, David, Michal and Solomon’s stories show some of the many ways teenagers explore, bend and shatter the lines between child and adulthood.

Yet, it is Mary’s story that most reminds me of the bravely awkward teenagers of today. Most scholars believe that Mary was a teen when she was told that she was pregnant, and some wonder (without resolution) if Luke’s description (1:35) of Mary being “overshadowed” is a code word for violence. While politics, science and faith may have different ideas about how Jesus was conceived, it remains a miraculous event that the Messiah is born to bring light to even the deepest, darkest shadows.

Read the rest at

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Living Lutheran Post: For the Children of God

Two hours before the members of St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco prayed for their own daily bread, they fed 140 adults and 16 children a casserole, green beans, fruit and dessert. Each week, members and volunteers from the neighborhood sort through excess food donated by Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Some of the food is made into a meal, while the rest is shared with food programs hosted by other Lutheran groups or given away as pantry items.

“Keep eating, it’s the only meal we’re going to be able to have today,” a mother told her oldest of four children under 8 that early Sunday morning. The mother was right; food programs in San Francisco are closed on Sunday afternoons and evenings so the volunteers can go to church. There were no other options for free food that day.

Read the rest at Living Lutheran.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In The News: SF Examiner

Starving out needy is no way to deal with homelessness

There is a constant chorus of complaints about homelessness in San Francisco, but it has reached a fever pitch in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood that ridiculously includes calls to shutter a church meal program for the needy.

Homelessness is a complicated matter that is the manifestation of myriad root issues — the economy, the lack of mental health services, and drug and alcohol addiction, among others. The most visible fragment of the homeless population, though not nearly the entirety of it, is the street homeless — the men, women and children whom ordinary San Franciscans and those visiting The City see spending their days and nights in public spaces.

Merchants and neighbors around Duboce Park have apparently had enough of the homeless people who traverse the area and, seemingly, stay there on occasion. The anecdotal stories from the neighborhood point to an upswing in criminal behavior from transients, though police and officials who deliver city services have not quantified any such trends in the area.
Even if there has been an influx there, one of the ideas that merchants and residents have proposed is mind-boggling.

The St. Francis Lutheran Church serves meals to needy people every Sunday morning. One key word there is “needy,” not homeless. The church does not differentiate between those who have residences and need meal assistance and those who are homeless. Dr. Raj Parekh of the Department of Public Health’s Homeless Outreach Team told The San Francisco Examiner that many people who visit the church for assistance are not homeless; they simply need help with food for reasons that include poverty.

The neighbors and merchants have unfairly targeted the church’s meal program, saying it should be shut down to see if that drives homeless people out of the neighborhood. While the effects of such a callous proposal would be debatable at best, since many other factors likely play into where people sleep outdoors, the impact on the economically struggling patrons of the church is undeniable. People who, as Parekh pointed out, may have to make choices between such critical items as medicine and food could be forced to pay for food above other urgent needs.

If the neighbors and merchants are truly interested in helping the homeless, and not just pushing them out of the neighborhood into other parts of The City, there are better, more constructive solutions.

For instance, there could be a pooling of resources to fund a dedicated social worker for the area, who could work with the transient population to connect people with housing or mental health services. The groups also could work with The City to bring the successful Project Homeless Connect to Duboce Park to reach the same goal of connecting people with services.

In short, the neighbors and merchants who are vocal about this issue should stop demonizing the transients and a church that is providing a social service to the community. Instead, they can start working toward projects through which the neighborhood can assist The City in tackling the larger issues around homelessness.

Shuttering a meal service program and pushing transients out of one neighborhood might improve the situation for the immediate residents and merchants, but it does nothing to get at the root issues that lead to homelessness.

There is no simple solution to homelessness, but the idea of booting the church’s meal service is a nonstarter that will only do harm.