|At the Castro For All Arbitration Party at the LGBT Center: Key members John Newsome, Paul Mooney, Derek Turner, Lisa Williams, Don Romesburg and Julius Turman. The group battled bigotry and indifference - and won. Photo by Rink
At long last, after a hard-fought, 19-month struggle (two years, if you count their planning before they went public), And Castro For All [AC4A] and its allies have brought accountability to the longstanding civil rights challenges brought by practices at the SF Badlands bar. AC4A has set a new bar for what people can expect to come out of mediation through the Human Rights Commission in these kinds of cases. So AC4A celebrated the long-anticipated mediation agreement between AC4A, the complainants, and SF Badlands bar owner Les Natali at the LGBT Community Centerâs 3 Dollar Bill CafĂ© on Jan. 23 with champagne. âThis is a time for us all to give a big cheer for a major accomplishment, honor the complainants for their courage and perseverance, and give thanks to everyone who has been part of this incredible movement,â said AC4A organizers. âIt was great seeing everyone from the picket line. We may have traded in our bullhorns for champagne glasses for a little while, but our work isnât done. In the next few weeks, weâll be sending out information about AC4Aâs next projectsâand ways we can all work together to build a more inclusive community.â
A large sign at the cafĂ© proclaimed, âAnd Castro For All wants to thank all the hardworking organizations and individuals who have supported us and made this day of celebration possible: The AIDS Housing Alliance; The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club; The Asian Law Caucus; Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Trans Coalition (APIQWTC); Bay Area American Indian Twin Spirit BAAITS; Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (SFâs LGBT legal association); Community United Against Violence (CUAV); Equality California/Marriage Equality California; The Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA); Global Exchange; The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club; International ANSWER; Lesbians and Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action (LGADDA); LGBT Black Rap; LYRIC; Mission Agenda; The National Association of Black and White Men Together; The National Black Gay Menâs Network; The National Black Justice Coalition; The National Center for Lesbian Rights; NIA Collective; Pride at Work, AFL-CIO; The A. Philip Randolph Institute; SEIU Local 790; The San Francisco Green Party; The San Francisco Labor Council; The San Francisco LGBT Community Center; The San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee; The San Francisco Peopleâs Organization; The San Francisco Tenants Union; The San Francisco Young Democrats; The Stop AIDS Project; and Transcendence Gospel Choir. The sign further stated: âAC4A recognizes the accomplishments and the courage the people have shown in combating discrimination within the SF LGBT community. These complainants, founding members of IsBadlandsBad.com, and allies took personal and political risks to shake the status quo and help foster lasting change in our city.â
Representatives from AC4A handed out âI [heart] inclusionâ stickers to celebrants.
Bay Times asked the question that many have wanted to hear an answer to, as to why in this caseâwhich was not a lawsuit but merely a mediationâthe details could not be published. Don Romesburg of AC4A told Bay Times, âIn a mediation, all parties have to agree to all terms of the mediation, and one party was reluctant to have the terms made public, so we all agreed that the terms of the mediation would be confidential.â When Bay Times further questioned who that party might be, we were told by many sources that such information could not be divulged. Of course, we all knew the answer but could not comment.
Complainant John Newsome acted as unofficial spokesperson for the event. âThis has been a community-wide effort and all of us can claim victory for the work that we have done and the values we have upheld,â said Newsome. He addressed the underlying issues of the battle: promoting inclusion and reducing discrimination and bias in The City. âWe have had a year and a half dialogue about racism and discrimination in the LGBT community, and the notion of being an ethics issue had been unthinkable prior to this. But we have pushed our community to think about this and do something about it.â He said the activists have managed to leverage these experiences to ensure the benefits will materialize for years to come. âAs a bonus, I personally know just about everyone in this room, and I didnât two years ago. Everyone here is doing amazing workâholding a set of beliefs and values that we all honor and respect.â He said that two years ago AC4A wanted to see a more diverse staff at Badlands and a more proactive outreach to communities of color. âThose things happened because this community applied pressure in the right places at the right time,â said Newsome. He called the settlement âicing on the cake,â because âmost of the work that has been done, we will leverage for years to come.â He said they got to the settlement because from the very beginning the group has insisted on being data driven, researching extensively and remaining at all times transparent about the proper remedy sought. He said that despite the fact that a delay would ensue, they insisted that community members would be present in mediation, resulting in lawyers for civil rights and activist organizations being present at the mediation table. His official statement follows: âWeâre happy to be able to say that the agreement that we signed off onâwhich is confidential and reflects the input of the people in this room and those who are not in this roomâis something we hope will help promote and further this community for years to come. Thatâs really all that we can say.â But he did speak about what is to come. âJust as we are able to use this tiny case about one bar in one neighborhood in San Francisco to engage in local and nationwide dialogue about discrimination and inclusion, weâre doing similar work with other organizations to ensure that this entire community is inclusive and there are programs and infrastructure so that the next time weâre in this place, there is a whole other web of support available to people.â
Newsome introduced lead counsel pro bono Julius Turman, who along with other lawyers has contributed many hours towards this end. âThere were a bunch of legal minds behind this,â said Turman. âWhen somebody wrongs you for no particular reason, it can be one of the most painful things in your life. And the process to rectify that wrong can be long and arduous, but itâs worth the fight.â
Complainant Derek Turner said that while he was working at Badlands he felt helpless âthat none of the people who should care would care; but what changed was that all these people that I thought didnât care and should care, did care.â He further clarified, âThe people who didnât have an immediate stake in this, which is most of you, were the ones who took a stand. That meant so much to me. It moved me from disillusionment to inspiration about what I can do and my community can do.â
Complainant John Weber and 12 others stood up for injustice. âWe took a lot of heat in this,â he said. âIt was a hard fight, but the fight in front of us is even harder.â Weber cited Nelson Mandela in his inauguration speech: âOur biggest fear is not that weâre inadequate; our biggest fear is that weâre powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, âWho am I to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous?â Actually, who are you NOT to be?â Weber said that Mandelaâs speech spoke volumes to current day issues and wanted to see a lot more inclusion of African Americans and lesbians in the Castro business community.
âWe have values of inclusiveness, but it takes a lot of hard work to accomplish thatâ, said Thom Lynch, executive director of the LGBT Center and an official sponsor of AC4A. âThis is a big, diverse community, and we donât always get along, but weâre more like a community of communities.â He said that part of the Centerâs job is to make the community stronger and to understand each other better. He commented that in the Centerâs economic development program [ECD], they helped an African American man open the first business in the Castro. He said that 45 percent of the people who have come to the ECD have been African American. âWe want to make sure that we are fighting these battles within our community economically, socially, politically, and educationally, and we are doing all the ways we need to do.â He added humorously, âIâm looking at this room, and we have this Irish potato right here, and some salt and pepper and cayenne pepper and caramel and everything else, and we make a really pretty dish when weâre all mixed together.â The mix of diverse people clapped heartily. To join the movement for greater inclusion in the Bay Area, visit AndCastroForAll.org.