Volume 45 Number 38

The Queer Issue 2011


Every year we bring it for Pride — attempting to represent the incredibly varied and creative community we call queer. This is an impossible task, of course, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try! We really try. So strap on those rainbow knickers, hop on a unicorn, and let’s dive in. 


Queer youth and you

By Marke B.





Events, parties, art, action and more



Oakland rap phenom Kreayshawn reps a casual Bay sexuality

By Amber Schadewald



Dyke porn pioneer Susie Bright opens up with Big Sex, Little Death

By Mattilda Sycamore Bernstein



A 40-year retrospective highlights the Bay Area Reporter’s heroic AIDS coverage

By Oscar Raymundo



Cat Perez’s Lesbians in San Francisco blog captures queer hotness

By Amber Schadewald



Second annual This Is What I Want performance extravaganza plumbs the nature of desire

By Robert Avila



Queer youth art from the Roaddawgz homeless youth program

Go with the flow



QUEER “I don’t like titles. I’m an open-minded person. I’m not going to shoot anybody down based on gender or color,” Kreayshawn told me over the phone. “I’ve dated girls. I’ve dated guys. And I’ve felt the same way for both.”

It’s only been about a month since the 21-year-old East Oakland native’s “Gucci Gucci” video blew-up, gaining both props and criticism for her label-bashing, be-yourself approach — designer-addicted “basic bitches” are her favorite target, and everyone from college-campus Adderall addicts to crass Barbie wannabes gets a dig. She’s generated a lot of hype and the immediate backlash has been harsh, but Kreayshawn’s rambunctious persona has kept things fresh. She’s an adorable little stoner with mad style, a naughty mouth, and a cartoonish sexual vibe. Her “White Girl Mob” is a swagged-out version of the Spice Girls and her collection of work (including a hilariously over-the-top, girl-on-girl makeout session in the video for “Online Fantasy”) immediately gave the press a reason to cry “lez.”

That’s usually the story when a woman steps up in the rap game, though — in a genre marked by macho preening and degrading insults, most women in hip-hop usually play the boys’ game and highlight their masculine side or market a hypersexed sluttiness, both of which can easily play into stereotypes of lesbianism. (Recently, rap — and pop — women have found one escape hatch: straight-up out-of-body weirdness, à la early Nicki Minaj.)

For actual gay or bi ladies who want a piece of big-time rap’s pie, the odds so far have been stacked against them — out lesbian rappers like super-talented Yo Majesty only seem to get so far, although there is, at least, a still-flickering homo-hop circuit that promotes queer talent. Major label artists are pressured to stay in the closet, despite all the rumors and paparazzi shots of “companions.” This last approach can be psychologically disastrous, as I found out one night in Minneapolis when a devastated and drunk Lady Sovereign, who had repeatedly rejected the lesbian label at her management’s request, crashed on my futon after her ex-girlfriend refused to let her stay over. Sov finally came out last summer. You could tell that her bottled-up feelings had taken their toll, however.

But hey, it’s 2011 and it’s nice to think the rap game has matured along with the rest of pop culture. Ellen is wifed up. Lohan dated Ronson. Lambert should’ve won American Idol. Everybody seems “Born This Way.” As celebrity homos become more visible, the “openly gay” tag seems old-fashioned. But that doesn’t mean we still aren’t curious — and if you don’t tell, people will keep asking.

Yet while Kreayshawn hasn’t denied being a lady-lover, questions regarding her sexuality have garnered a wash of fuzzy responses, only fueling curiosity and more sound-bites. My personal favorite was her quote in Complex Magazine, in which she stated she isn’t a “raging lesbian” but an “occasional lesbian.” Should I be insulted? This needed some clarification.

“I say occasional because I go with the flow,” Kreayshawn told me over the phone, while relaxing on what she considers a “chill day:” hours of interviews and business related to her recent $1 million deal with Columbia Records.

She could easily claim the “B” in LGBT, but says she’s not comfortable with that label either. If anything, she’d go for an “A.”

“Sometimes I tell my friends I’m asexual because I don’t feel like I seek out guys or girls.” Kreayshawn lets interested parties approach her and would just rather let things happen organically. “A girl and I could start talking and I could think, ‘Hey, she’s cool, we should be friends’ or I could think ‘This girl is hot, we should hang out on another kind of hype.’ And it’s the same with guys.”

She’s like the indie-rap version of Lady Gaga — another young woman in the public eye who isn’t afraid to declare her undeclared sexual status. This isn’t a phase and she’s not on the fence. Nor is she checking just one box. She could be the poster child for that nebulous term, “post-gay,” if we’re at a point in our culture where we can move beyond the importance of mainstream representation. (Many would say we’re not.)

“I wish everybody was open-minded so we wouldn’t have to have any labels — no bi, straight, gay. We wouldn’t have to have these titles that separate people.”

Her spirited musician mother helped shape Kreayshawn’s flexible ideas on sexuality. Mom even worked in the warehouse of Good Vibrations, San Francisco’s sex-positive one-stop shop.

“I’d go visit my mom and bring my homework. That place is really diverse, you know what I’m sayin’? I saw some crazy dildos and shit, but I was taught that it’s normal. That’s why I’m open and accepting of everything.”

She admits her lyrics are consistently more lez-oriented, but not necessarily raging. “It’s not like I say I’m gonna eat this girl’s koochie — it’s on a different hype.” This way, she says, guys can sing along too.

It’s appropriate that Kreayshawn keep one eye toward her male audience and supporters — she rolls with a lot of buzz-worthy industry dudes, most notably the guys of Odd Future. As nice as their beats may be, members like Tyler, the Creator have been known to deliver some nasty, homophobic lines. Does she just bite her tongue?

“I know those guys personally, but I’m also not someone who goes off and listens to their music every day. I don’t like homophobe stuff, not in music and not in my friends,” she says, maybe hinting that the Odd Future guys just like to ruffle rainbow feathers for effect. Kreayshawn herself is no stranger to playing dirty, although she often takes on a mocking male persona when doing so — calling other girls hos and Twittering lines like “I need a bitch on my lap.”

“Growing up in the hood and shit, I would hear all kinds of that shit walking down the street,” she explains. Now she wants to turn sexist speech on its head and play with it. “When guys say that stuff in music, like, uh girl, your pussy is so wet — what? Ew — nasty!” She wants girls to be able to sing along and participate instead of feeling attacked or uncomfortable.

“But I wouldn’t say you should read into every single lyric,” she says. With all the attention she’s receiving, she may yet turn her girl-love outward with some solid lyrics. She’s already hard at work on a mixtape and her first full-length, which she hopes will be released by the end of the year. Predicting where Kreayshawn will be by next summer isn’t so easy.

“I’ll probably be touring like something crazy. Maybe directing a music video. Or maybe I’ll be knitting socks. You never know with me. It could get completely out of control.”

And as for advice at this year’s Pride: “Everyone be safe. Have fun. And just make sure you have fun and be safe while doing it.”

I told her she sounded like a mom. “I know,” she giggles in her squeakiest voice. “I just care about my people.”

She’s got the look



QUEER Apparently being a lesbian is the hottest new trend — so much so that middle-aged white dudes are posing as gay ladies, writing famous blogs and filling entire websites with lesbian content. (Yes, I’m talking to you, “Amina” and “Paula.”) Really?

Fortunately, there are plenty of actual queer women who can blog for themselves, thank you very much. Catherine “Cat” Perez, is one of those real-life queer women — verified by an in-person chat at the Wild Side West bar — posting real-life depictions of other actual lesbians on her blog Lesbians in San Francisco, a tribute to girls who like girls in America’s gay capital.

The layout is simple: each featured lez gets one photo and three fun facts of her choosing (“She won a s’mores eating contest as a Girl Scout.” “She doesn’t know how to whistle.” “She is related to Chuck Norris.”) Perez started LISF last summer with the intention of giving queer women of the Bay some flattering but honest representation.

“I just think in terms of the queer community, women can get bypassed and overlooked,” she told me, flicking her cigarette. “I want to educate people about what queer women look like, what they’re interested in, what they do. It may not always be what people assume.”

Perez began by photographing her friends, then opened it to anyone in the Bay Area, aiming for an accurate depiction of the city’s diversity. She swears there is no screening process. Although the aim is inclusion, the final product looks pretty tailored. Beauty may reside in the eye of the beholder — but it’s undeniable that these super-fashionable, adorably hipster girls are hot.

“Yes, there is definitely a ‘scene’ element to it. But that’s not the point,” Perez shakes her head and throws up her hands. “I’m only one person and I work a nine-to-five. People need to actively pursue a shoot with me.”

And it’s that simple — send Perez an e-mail, brainstorm your idea for the shoot, and show up. It’s an offer she often won’t refuse. So why are only a specific type of lezzies contacting LISF? Vanity? A need for self-promotion? Has LISF become a showcase of our local celesbians? Maybe it’s time for the rest of the community to get our faces up there, too.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a celesbian — I don’t know how I feel about that term,” Perez said with a laugh. “If I had to choose a label, I would identify as a queer woman,” embracing the broader, more inclusive mode of thinking. The title of the blog has discouraged some women from participating, but Perez says she has no plans to change it anytime soon.

“Growing up, I always wondered what queer communities looked like outside of my home in New Jersey,” she says. With its general-interest name, her blog comes up pretty high on Google searches. “I just want to shed some light on the people who live here. That’s it.”

Through the end of the month at the Lexington Club (www.lexingtonclub.com), Perez is exhibiting a collection of blog-inspired photos called “Stereo,” which simultaneously celebrates and debunks lesbian stereotypes. Perez selected 15 queer women and photographed them each twice: once in a stereotypical role (softball player, gym teacher, high femme) and once as themselves. As one might imagine, there’s a lot of overlap.

“Some girls were dressing up as other’s stereotypes,” she says. “Stereotypes don’t have to be negative. These photos embrace that, because, yeah, sometimes we are the stereotype.”

Bright on



QUEER Heady, hilarious, heartbreaking: Big Sex Little Death explores legendary sex writer, educator, and instigator Susie Bright’s coming of age from the 1960s to the present. Bright’s memoir focuses on her involvement with The Red Tide, a radical high school newspaper in Los Angeles in the 1970s, and her subsequent membership in a socialist sect that sends her halfway across the country. Her union organizing stint lasts until the Party leadership expels her for “joining or leading a cult of personality.” Personality is certainly one of Bright’s strong points, so perhaps we should be grateful for this particular falling out. It eventually leads to Bright’s role in founding the first lesbian porn magazine, On Our Backs, in San Francisco in 1981, as well as her pioneering work as a fiery spokesperson for free speech and sexual liberation. I spoke with her over the phone about sex and memory and writing.

SFBG You do such a great job of talking about your sexual coming of age as a teenager: describing your sluttiness without shame, your curiosity about bodies and pleasure and the intricacies of sexual positioning.

Susie Bright I think it’s because I wrote my memoir like a storyteller, like a poet — not a polemicist. I wasn’t ashamed; it never occurred to me. Margaret Mead would have found my little teenage tribe to be quite poignant.

SFBG There’s a tendency for many sex-positive spokespeople to glamorize even the most annoying, mundane, or gross sexual experiences as somehow — well — positive. Sometimes this sex-positive rhetoric ends up making those of us who don’t always succeed at having a wonderful sex life feel like failures …

SB I think bad sex — obnoxious, absurd, BIG FAIL sex — is funny, nostalgic, and more endearing as you grow older. It also goes hand in hand with adventurous, rapturous, mind-blowing sex. You actually know the difference. You’ve spanned the spectrum, you’ve lived. The big bummer with American sex right now is the unrelenting banality and flat-out scarcity.

SFBG The most striking part of Big Sex Little Death for me is the way you describe betrayal in the social and political realms you choose to inhabit — places that initially give you so much hope. Like when you helped to start On Our Backs, the first lesbian porn magazine, in the early ’80s. Feminist bookstores refused to carry it, claiming that you were aiding the patriarchy.

SB It was more than that. The whole mainstream feminist movement was calling for our heads. Or, as Barbara Grier of Naiad Press put it, “Everyone I know thinks y’all should be assassinated.”

It’s been a part of every civil rights and social justice movement that I’ve been a part of. We know it — we talk about how the powers that be would prefer to let the weak fight among themselves. We see how divide-and-conquer tactics are so effective, but it’s very hard to resist.

What kills me is the blindness, even years after the fact. Sometimes it’s comical. I got a letter from an ambitious writer the other day who told me that in the ’80s she fought the sex-positive On Our Backs types tooth and nail, no tactic too dirty. “We” were pimping the patriarchy and she was on point to take us down. She asked me if I found it amusing that she’s now in a submissive relationship with a man — no! Then she asked me if I would blurb her new book.

Someone asked me on this tour if I ever got an apology, and I was startled. No, not for the bombings or the death threats or the bannings or the locked doors or the bizarre libels and slanders. No way.

SFBG When the feminist movement refused to support you, you found several surprising allies. Among them were John Preston, at the time the editor of the gay leather magazine Drummer; cult filmmaker Russ Meyer of Faster Pussycat fame; and even the Mitchell brothers of that legendary exploitative straight strip club on O’Farrell Street.

SB Well, those were strange bedfellows, eh? They were all mavericks, iconoclasts, outlaws, film buffs, and we shared that in common. Aside from public librarians and ACLU lead attorneys, these guys were probably the most eloquent defenders of the First Amendment you ever met.

SFBG On Our Backs was started by two strippers who worked at various clubs in the Tenderloin and North Beach. One of the most heartbreaking chapters in Big Sex Little Death is where you show us how so many strippers worked to support their lovers financially, male and female, and then ended up strung out on drugs, homeless, or dead after their lovers used and abused them.

SB “Legalize it,” as Peter Tosh said. That is why these tragedies happen — because sex work is criminalized.

SFBG In your preface, you say, “I’m more preoccupied with people dying than with people coming.” And so of course you want to prevent these unnecessary deaths. Toward the end of the book, you also mention the deaths of friends, lovers, and confidantes to AIDS — but only briefly. It’s as if it’s still too painful to talk about.

SB The main deaths I talk about are my parents’, where I could fit more of the puzzle together; then John Preston, as a small example of what went on in early ’80s plague life; and the dykes I first knew at On Our Backs, some of who died too young. I am angry and too ragged to write about it all yet — I don’t have the distance from it. The last memorial I attended this past fall was [for] one of my greatest inspirations, a total ball-of-fire who ate a Fentanyl patch, choked to death on her vomit, and left a suicide note.

It was the exact one-year anniversary of the death of her father, a Southern fundamentalist preacher who beat and raped her as a child. She left him at 15 to come to California and made her way as one of the first generation of out dyke strippers and punk rockers. My redheaded friend was a leader of a local NA chapter by the time she was 20. What happened to her, all these years later, breaks the heart of everyone who knew her. She was a wonderful, wonderful, caring, radical feminist creative dyke who wanted to be a superhero who would vanquish all the abusers. It’s not fair.

SFBG Fairness is one of the central issues of the book — who lives and who dies, which cultures disappear and which remain. At the end of the book, you talk about deciding to give birth to a child, Aretha, and raising her. I’ll admit I got a bit worried that you would suddenly talk about this trajectory in a way that erased your sexual and political history, the histories of people like the friend you just mentioned.

SB My daughter has a trajectory of her own, now!

SFBG But somehow you’re able to talk about your love for Aretha while making it clear that child rearing certainly isn’t for everyone, and still articulating an anti-assimilationist queer world view focused on sexual liberation and radical politics.

SB I’m just drawn that way.

SFBG Why do you think gay assimilationists emphasize marriage, military inclusion, and child-rearing as the only choices for respectable queers, narrowing the options for everyone and rejecting sexual liberation as something dangerous from the past?

SB They’re squares — what can I say? They’ve always been around. Square used to be a synonym for straight. We’re constantly caught in the middle on this, the boho bunch. Of course we want civil rights for all, duh. I defend anyone’s right to let the state be their pimp, to fight the wars, be the cannon fodder, acquire family assets like a stamp-collecting hobby. Bully for you. But as Peggy Lee said, “Is that all there is?” Christ, I hope not.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is most recently the author of So Many Ways to Sleep Badly.





DINE Amid the restaurant babble of Ninth and Irving streets (UCSF’s answer to Harvard Square), there is one restaurant that stands out as a spot for people who already have all the degrees they’re ever going to get, and that is Pasión. The name suggests both the high energy of the place and the style of its cooking, which draws many of its influences from Latin America and, in particular, Peru. The young chef and owner José Calvo-Perez, a native San Franciscan whose father Julio launched what was to become the highly successful Fresca enterprise, describes the style as “modern Latin.”

The space was the longtime home of P.J.’s Oyster Bed (Pasión moved in late last year), and because it’s in the middle of a cluttered block, it doesn’t stand out as a physical fact as much as it does as an idea. You could walk right by without noticing it, or you might notice it but think it’s just another one of the sort of food emporia you so often find near large university campuses. But once you’re inside, you find that Pasión feels a little like Miami: twinkles and gleams here and there in the suggestively dark lighting, a sense of human warmth, a dramatic open kitchen with two faces at right angles, and a main dining area doubled around the back of the bar like a horseshoe. The restaurant is on the loud side, and no doubt that’s in large part because it’s busy. Clearly there was an unmet demand for this kind of destination in the neighborhood.

Pasión might not be that innovative — pan-Latin cooking was unexpected 10 years ago; it is less so now. Still, it can’t be a bad thing to claim descent from Fresca. Some of the more prominent signifiers of that lineage on the menu are the pollo a la brasa ($18), a beautifully roasted half-chicken with Peruvian-style spices and fine french fries, and a broad selection of ceviches.

As someone who likes ceviche without loving it, I was pleasantly surprised by the exquisiteness of the Pasión version ($10), which brought together cubes of ahi tuna and salmon, kernels of purple corn, and bits of cilantro, red onion, and yellow pepper — I haven’t seen so much color in one place since looking into a box of Crayola crayons — in a marinade softened and deepened by passion-fruit purée. Too many ceviches seem to me to be joltingly salty-sour, salt and lime being a pair of alpha ingredients that will fight if there is no mediator. (Morty Seinfeld: “You’ve gotta have a buffer zone!”) A little sugar, a little sweetness, brings a necessary balance, and all the better if the sweetness comes, as here, from a natural source, a sweet fruit, instead of a sack of C&H.

But, even in America, land of the sweet, sweetness isn’t always a good thing. The aioli that served as a dipping sauce for salt-cod fritters ($10) had been enhanced with lemon and honey (honeioli?), but for me it was too sweet and reminded me of Miracle Whip. The fritters themselves, presented in a small basket, were right at the edge of being too crisp. And yes, that is a kind of euphemism.

The duck empanadas ($10) were better, though of course they were very rich, made as they were with shreds of duck confit and smoked duck. Here the richness of the meat and the frying was moderated by a clever combination of currants and a sherry reduction — fruit to the rescue again.

Is there a good way to serve paella in a restaurant? Calvo-Perez was probably bound to try to figure one out, since he apprenticed in Spain. My thought would be to make a big, proper one every hour or so and serve portions of it, but Pasión appears to follow a made-to-order model. The kitchen’s vegetarian version, called arroz verde ($18), was made with cilantro rice and did have a green sheen, but it was as much gray as green, and this wasn’t reassuring. The dish, although presented in a small, cast-iron paella pan, lacked the crust of caramelized rice you hope will form on the bottom. It was also afflicted by a bitterness we finally traced to large chunks of celery, lurking in the murk like alligators in a bog among the green peas, shiitake mushrooms, pickled carrots, and green beans. It also featured an abundance of red onion slivers, which were methodically plucked out (not by me), like bits of shrapnel being removed from a wounded soldier. Obviously some people feel passionately about raw red onions.


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5–11 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

737 Irving, SF

(415) 742-5727


Full bar



Wheelchair accessible





CHEAP EATS I have already written a restaurant review, a poem, and a cheerful pop song about my anal abscess. I don’t know how else to celebrate the cursed motherfucker. I could curse … But I guess I’ve done that too.

I’ve already had it lanced twice. Those were the good times. Except that on the first occasion I missed a day of work, and on the second I missed a baby shower. I felt so badfully about the missed baby shower that I invited the moms-to-be, Pod and the Attack, to breakfast the following Saturday. Technically I guess maybe I invited myself to breakfast. At their house.

Bless them, they made my favorite: waffles! With fresh strawberries! They made bacon! They made eggs! They made roasted tomatoes! It was the perfect meal! It was a masterpiece! It was culinary genius! It was the time of our lives!

Problem: I forgot to go. I don’t know, I was looking forward to it all week and then I woke up on Saturday morning, went, “Dum-de-doe,” and decided — oh, I don’t know — maybe do a little recording, or something.

I record in my kitchen because it’s the quietest room in my apartment, if I turn off the refrigerator. My cell phone was in the closet. At the designated hour, Pod went to West Oakland BART and waited for me.

When she called to say what-the-where-the-fuck-are-you? I was in the kitchen. I had my headphones on, refrigerator off, and was laying some blistering electric ukulele tracks onto Garage Band, singing: “It’s a new day/ It’s a driving rain/ I’m gonna have anal surgery/ It’s gonna be OK/ Gonna feel no pain / Or if I do it will be good for me.” La la la la la la.

And so forth.


I saw my cell phone while I was getting ready for work. It was lit up like a Christmas tree: texts, voicemails, e-mails. What-the-where-the-fuck-was-I? Oh my sweet baby Jesus, you can imagine my horror, and self-hatred — nay, loathing — as it all sunk in. How did I do that? How could I? Was my head so far up my ass that … ?

Well, technically it was, damn me. Clobber me in the kidneys with a golf club. I felt as low as a horse’s hoof cheese. And that was before the Attack sent me a picture of their spread, Pod in all her pregnancy sitting down to eat those wonderful things I said, plus cantaloupe.

Minus me.

I’ve done some dumb-ass things in my day, but don’t know if I’ve ever hated myself more. I couldn’t imagine how I was ever going to forgive myself. I still kinda can’t. I mean, the bacon alone looked so good in that picture.

They were of course very gracious and forgiving, and I was of course determined to make it up somehow. I invited them over to Berkeley that evening for some of the chicken pot pie that me and the kids were making. They declined.

I invited them to breakfast the following morning. Out somewhere, on me, and they accepted. We went to the Sunny Side Café in Albany, which was alleged to be kind of fancy-pants, and great.

Never in my life, before this, have I wanted a meal to cost more than it did. But, alas, it didn’t. It was like normal weekend brunch prices, roughly $10 apiece. Less tragically, but more to the point, I didn’t think the food was that good. Let alone great. I may have malordered. Maybe I was still traumatized by my brain fart from the morning before, but my spinach-and-sausage scramble was bland city, even with salt-pepper-Tapatío. The roasted tomatoes … meh.

Pod’s pigs in blankets … that was better. And the Attack, she got it right. She hit the jackpot with the Alameda, a stack-up of good stuff — ham, cheese, french toast, eggs — and some other things I personally don’t go for, which is to say mushrooms and Hollandaise. Oh, and a balsamic reduction.

It’s her new favorite restaurant.


Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–3 p.m.;

Sat.–Sun. 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m.

1499 Solano, Albany

(510) 527-5383

Full bar



Cleaning up UC’s mess



By 7 a.m., when engineering students begin to trickle into Cory Hall at UC Berkeley, Arnold Meza has already scrubbed the floors, wiped clean the chalkboards, and emptied the trash of 30 offices and many of the classrooms and hallways of the six-floor building.

His early shift as a custodian is a gift, he says, because it is steady compared to his former swing-shift schedule, but Meza is still barely making rent. And he is a single father of four. Like many service workers in the University of California system, Meza wonders how the university can refuse to give him a 3 percent wage increase while top UC executives receive six-figure bonuses every year.

“It falls on broken promises,” Meza said while tying up a bag of trash, one of hundreds he would take out that week. Meza was referring to an agreement in 2009 between the university and its service workers unions, including Meza’s union, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). At that time, the administration established a minimum wage (currently $13 per hour) for the more than 7,000 service workers and agreed, if funding was available, to increase wages annually to bring their low-wage workers out of poverty.

But the university is going back on its promise, refusing to increase wages with the funding dedicated for that very purpose, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the Partnership for Working Families (EBASE) notes in its recent report titled “Bad Budgeting, Broken Promises.”

As the UC Office of the President sees it, the 2009 discussion was not an agreement at all, but a “conditional memorandum of understanding” that would only be effective if state funding was available, said UCOP spokeswoman Dianne Klein.

“We’ve already taken $500 million in cuts. We’ll have to take another $500 million in cuts. Because there is no new money, the memorandum of understanding is moot,” Klein told us.

The state budget vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown last week would have set the UC system back $150 million in cuts on top of the $500 million in cuts approved by Brown in January. How much more will actually be cut from UC funding remains to be seen, but the forecast is not promising.

Despite the cuts, the proposed budget bill states that $3 million in distributed state funds should go toward the salaries and benefit of service workers in the UC system. In a March 24 letter to the governor, UC President Mark Yudof requested that the governor veto that restriction so the university could use the dedicated $3 million “to preserve our flexibility in dealing with the $500 million reduction.”

Compared to the total UC budget of $21.8 billion, that $3 million makes up only 0.014 percent — nickels and dimes to give employees a living wage.

Meanwhile, Meza and his fellow coworkers struggle to put food on the table, making ends meet by working two jobs. After his 4 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday shift, Meza works eight-hour shifts as a car mechanic on weekends. Similarly, many UC service workers collect cans to get a few dollars from the recycling center.

“When I started here 20 years ago, I was making close to $9 an hour. That wasn’t enough,” recalled Meza, who put his four children through public high school on that salary. Today, Meza brings home about $2,400 a month, barely enough to cover rent and a few bills at his El Cerrito home.

“I want my kids to go to college. But financially, I can’t afford it,” he said. “For me, it’s a sad reality.”

Meza’s union, AFSCME, is working with UC to lower the workers’ contribution to retirement pensions to 1.5 percent. The university proposes a 3.5 percent pension plan to go into effect this July and 5 percent in July 2012—the same amount requested from top UC executives. At their low wage, that would cost the service workers the equivalent of one biweekly paycheck a year.

Some UC executives, such as UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, receive additional retirement perks. Roughly 200 highly paid UC executives receive a supplemental retirement benefit of 5 percent of their annual pay, said Nikki Fortunato Bas, the executive director of EBASE. That’s a total annual cost to UC of $4 million.

“If UC gets its way in 2011, instead of getting to climb that next rung on the ladder out of poverty, [the low wage workers] will take a step backward through a combination of increased contributions to retirement and healthcare and UC withholding a 3 percent raise,” Bas said. “All the while, UC is showering already highly-paid executives with six-figure bonuses.”

In an infamous budget battle that has required the UC system to restructure its quickly diminishing funding from the state, more than 100,000 employees’ paychecks have been reduced while top execs like UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center CEO David Feinberg receive thousands of dollars in bonuses. In September 2010, Feinberg’s base pay was increased by 22 percent and he received a $250,000 “retention bonus,” for a total compensation of $1.33 million.

These astounding numbers, as part of a $3.1 million package in bonuses for 37 UC executives last September, were quoted in the EBASE report, using data from the UC Regents website (www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents).

UCOP says the retention bonuses are necessary “because we pay below market as it is [for top executives’ salaries],” said Klein, and the UC needs to offer huge bonuses to keep the executives from moving to higher paying universities. “You have two options: sayonara or we’ll match it,” Klein said. “You can’t recruit in the classifieds for these people … and you’ll have to replace them for the same money, anyway.”

The bonuses are not state-funded, said Klein, but are taken from research grants, patient care, and even federal funding. But Bas said the problem is with UC’s priorities: “Time and again, they have shown that they can find money to give bonuses or backfill sports programs,” she said. “UC may look at this as a matter of technicalities, but we cannot ignore the stories of employees and their families who are struggling to get by.”

As it stands, UC is short-staffed when it comes to service workers. “We’ve been short-staffed for the last 10 years,” said Meza, who estimates that UC Berkeley employs about 140 custodians, less than one-third of the 460 or so custodians the university employed in the 1980s. The result is that the students suffer, said Meza. “The students are getting the short end of the stick because we can only clean once a week in some classrooms because we’re short staff. We see the students pay a lot with tuition, and they’re getting less.”

Already, student fees have increased by more than 32 percent, and another 8 percent fee increase is pending, reported EBASE. As the state continues to make cuts, students and low wage service workers suffer the consequences.

According to the California Budget Project, a single-parent family needs to make $68,375 a year just to make ends meet in Alameda County. “UC workers have reduced-cost healthcare, so this number could be adjusted downward to $58,544,” said Bas. “For a custodian at UC Berkeley or UC San Francisco making $30,000 or even $40,000 a year, this means working two jobs and collecting cans just to scrape by.”

When his oldest was nine years old, Meza remembers, he used to drive his family to the recycling center to get cash for cans he had taken out of the garbage. “The kids were happy in the car because I was going to get money for food when I recycled cans,” which meant there would be dinner on the table that night, Meza said, apologizing for getting teary-eyed at the memory.

“I just don’t want people who work here to go through what I went through to raise a family,” he said.

No matter how many cars Meza fixes on the weekend, he never seems to have a break from the stress of trying to cover fuel, rent, heating bills, doctors’ bills, and other necessities. He’s only 43, but he feels much older after 20 years of working two jobs, seven days a week, providing for four children on his own.

UC workers, unions like AFSCME and other stakeholders have proposed $600 million in budget alternatives such as reducing the excessive 7-to-1 employee-to-management ratio (at UC Berkeley, the average is four employees to one manager). Yet UC does not appear to be seriously considering these alternatives; its current goal is to take back the $3 million dedicated to its low-wage service workers.

“We think this is a matter of finding the will within the UC administration to do what’s right by honoring their word to protect working families’ a path out of poverty,” Bas said.

Two months ago, Meza and his fellow union members marched into UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s office and asked him to spend one day in the life of a service worker on campus. He still hasn’t answered their request.

“People are really struggling here. We are committed to working and we give 110 percent — that should be accounted for,” said Meza. “Give us our 3 percent. We earned it.”

Beyond the Ford severance scandal


Supervisor John Avalos and state Senator Leland Yee, who are both running for mayor, picked up on a populist issue last week, blasting away at Muni for paying outgoing chief Nathaniel Ford a whopping $384,000 severance. “With $384,000,” Yee’s website lamented, “the entire city of San Francisco could park free of charge for three days. Muni could be entirely free for a whole day. We could stripe seven miles of new bike lanes.”

In reality $384,000 is a fraction of Muni’s budget — less than half of 1 percent. And it’s a trivial amount compared to what CEOs get in the private sector — Peter Darbee, whose firm killed eight people and wiped out a neighborhood, walked away with $35 million when he left Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in disgrace.

But this is exactly the sort of deal that infuriates the public. When the cost of parking meters and tickets keep rising, and Muni’s on-time performance lags, why is the guy in charge, who’s leaving in part because he isn’t doing the job, getting such a nice golden parachute, courtesy of the taxpayers?

In the end, there’s not a lot Yee or Avalos can do about it. For one thing, the decision was made not by the supervisors but by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Beyond that, SFMTA had only limited choices — Ford has an employment contract. And it’s hard to fire someone in the middle of a term of contracted employment without buying out at least part of the deal.

That’s the larger issue here, one that the mayoral candidates ought to be talking about. Why does the head of Muni get a special employment contract? The heads of the Police Department and Fire Department don’t get one. In fact, most department heads don’t get contracts specifying a term of office and including severance pay.

Those contracts can be expensive — Susan Leal got $400,000 when she was dismissed as head of the SF Public Utilities Commission. Arlene Ackerman got $375,000 when she left the San Francisco Unified School District.

No rank-and-file city employees get severance if they’re fired for cause (or if they negotiate a resignation to avoid disciplinary action). City department heads shouldn’t either.

We understand why school superintendents and Muni managers want those sorts of deals: If you work for a political agency, there’s always a chance that the people who hired you will be gone at some point and you’ll be working for people with different visions and political positions. But none of these department heads are paupers — they’re well paid, and, like anyone who takes a management job, they know that their job security depends on performance.

It’s akin, in a much more limited way, to what’s been happening in the private sector, where the top people get compensation that vastly exceeds what even the people immediately below them get. Muni’s assistant general managers don’t get employment contracts with golden parachutes.

San Francisco needs a city policy on special employment contracts — and rules barring excessive severance pay for management-level employees. The supervisors ought to ask the budget analyst for a report on which city employees have contracts, what they call for, and how they compare to what similar-level employees without contracts are paid. There should be hearing on this and legislation that clears up what is now an expensive — and disheartening — hodgepodge of private deals.


On the hook



Unique Roberts squared back her shoulders and recalled what it was like when she first moved to San Francisco from East Oakland more than a decade ago. A tall, 33-year-old African American transgender woman with piercing eyes and a charming smile despite gaps of missing teeth, Roberts said she performed as a showgirl at clubs like Harvey’s and the Pendulum in the Castro. In those exciting days, “I fell in love with this boy, and he was an addict,” she explained. “I thought that if I did it, it would keep our relationship together.”

She recalled how awful her boyfriend felt when he found out she was using, telling her, “You don’t know what you’re doing to yourself.” He departed for Texas several years later, but addiction stuck with her as a way of life.

She says she’s tried to kick the habit, but it’s wrapped up in a battle against depression stemming from the loss of loved ones. Roberts was wearing one of the bright orange sweatshirts issued to inmates at San Francisco County Jail. She landed there after being arrested in April for allegedly selling a tiny rock of crack, weighing just 9/100s of a gram, to an undercover narcotics officer. According to the police report, the cop offered her $20 for it — but based on National Drug Intelligence Center street-value estimates, that amount is only worth about $2.50.

Roberts may go by the first name Unique, but her lawyer Tal Klement, who works for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, is fond of saying her case is hardly unique at all. She was one of several people arrested in the Tenderloin that day after interacting with the same plainclothes officer.

It was part of a coordinated sweep known as a buy-bust, a common practice under which an officer may pose as a homeless person, a clueless outsider, or a dope-sick fiend to lure people into selling crack, pills, meth, heroin, or marijuana. Once a transaction is made, a team of officers awaiting the signal immediately closes in and arrests the seller.

As of June 20, there were at least 109 open buy-bust cases in San Francisco. Based on defendants’ rap sheets, 92 percent had prior drug-use histories, according to a tally conducted by the Public Defender’s Office.

The officers posing as buyers — who often earn overtime — use street lingo, know which drugs can be obtained at which intersections, and sometimes offer higher prices than the accepted street value. Attorney Anne Irwin, also a public defender, is critical of the practice, saying it’s an expensive tactic that’s makes for easy arrests — because the money is irresistible to addicts who think they’re getting an opportunity to convert a personal stash into more drugs.

In a lean budget year, “they’re cutting social services left and right, and these are the very services that could help the addicts get off the street,” Irwin noted. She’s skeptical that the strategy stems the flow of substantial quantities of drugs.

Police Chief Greg Suhr, who said he participated in buy-busts for years as a narcotics officer, credits the tactic for helping to eradicate a rampant open-air drug market on Third Street in the Bayview, and says it can help prevent drug-related violence.

Klement, however, condemns it as a “war on crumbs,” saying it ensnares far more addicts than serious dealers and often ends up unnecessarily pinning felony convictions onto low-level offenders.



Buy-busts usually involve around eight officers, according to an average calculated by the Public Defender’s Office based on open cases, but have involved as many as 14 and as few as three. There’s the decoy buyer, who sometimes dresses in grimy sweatpants, goes without shaving, or dirties his face to look like a street addict in desperate need of a fix. There’s a “close cover” officer who follows the decoy, plus an arrest team that is also sometimes in plainclothes. Beforehand, officers will photocopy cash — usually $20 bills — to document the serial numbers so that the same marked city funds can be used as evidence once recovered from arrestees. Busts can happen within minutes of one another, and a single shift may net five or six arrests.

Irwin says the people snared aren’t typical drug dealers — certainly not big-time players. But they’re charged as dealers — and in many cases wind up branded as felons, with severe legal penalties such as multiyear prison sentences.

While the police department is able to show on paper that it’s brought hundreds of drug dealers into custody — and the district attorney can point to a boost in the conviction rate thanks to the program’s efficiency — Irwin says the amounts being peddled are tiny.

“In traditional narcotics operations, they cultivated snitches, used surveillance, and obtained search warrants” to go after major dealers, Irwin said. With buy-busts, “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Everyone agrees that we need cops on the streets to help keep us safe … But do we want to be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for this?”

Sharon Woo, chief assistant of operations for the San Francisco District Attorney, told the Guardian that “we charge based on the conduct of the individual.” Woo went on to say that the DA tried to “exercise appropriate discretion” on a case-by-case basis when individuals are selling to support an addiction or due to being in dire financial straits.

Sometimes individuals are ushered into alternative programs such as drug court or a Back on Track program for first-time offenders, Woo said. And while the DA typically includes charges that make defendants ineligible for probation under state law if they have prior convictions for selling crack-cocaine — a discretionary practice that has drawn criticism from public defenders — Woo observed that “it doesn’t mean that’s how cases resolve.”

Police forces in nearly every major metropolitan area practice buy-busts, said Frank Zimring, a law professor at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law specializing in criminal justice issues. Yet he described the practice as costly and noted that paying overtime for it “makes what would ordinarily be a very expensive operation into a more expensive operation.”

Cost estimates for the entire program are tough to pin down. It costs $130 per day to house each prisoner in the county jail, amounting to more than $14,000 per day if all of the defendants with pending cases are in custody. If an average of eight officers per bust were paid $60 an hour each to spend six hours conducting a buy-bust, the current caseload represents more than $300,000 in officer pay — a conservative estimate — and that’s before lawyers in the offices of the public defender and district attorney are paid to prosecute and defend the suspects in court.

But no matter how you add it up, it’s a lot of money.

Suhr told the Guardian that apprehending street-level offenders occasionally leads officers to bigger fish. “Sometimes you get a low-level person, or a buyer if you will … if that same person would say, ‘But I know this guy and he has guns and he’s a big dealer and whatever.’ That is a good way to get to those bigger people.”

“We’ve never seen that happen in practice,” Klement countered.

One of Irwin’s clients, a homeless man, was charged with selling narcotics after he scraped out the contents of his pipe to sell 1/1,000th of a gram of crack to an undercover officer for $20. In a rare twist, the case was ultimately settled on a misdemeanor possession of narcotics.

Inspector Robert Doss, who served as the decoy in that case, has earned substantial amounts of overtime while going undercover to buy drugs, according to a court transcript. In 2009 Doss earned $35,488 in combined overtime and “other pay,” which includes time spent testifying in court, according to a San Francisco Chronicle database of municipal salaries.



The Tenderloin is frequently targeted for buy-busts, with 65 percent of open cases as of June 13 having taken place in that neighborhood. The Haight ranked second, with nearly 12 percent of cases, and the Mission followed with 10 percent. Shortly after District Attorney George Gascón was sworn into his prior post as police chief in 2009, he announced a concerted effort to clean up the Tenderloin, and Klement maintains he’s seen a surge in cases stemming from buy-busts there ever since.

Drug dealing in the Tenderloin often makes the news as a source of frustration to merchants and residents. “You try and explain to the people of San Francisco that it’s okay for people to have open-air drug markets right in front of their stores,” Suhr said.

Yet Klement maintains that what is essentially a quality-of-life crime should not be treated as a felony. “There’s a lot of pressure from people who are invested in businesses [in the Tenderloin] who would love to see that neighborhood become the next Hayes Valley,” he said. “But what they don’t realize is that people are paying with prison for that agenda.”

Once someone has been labeled a drug dealer in the eyes of the law, he said, it becomes more difficult for them to access drug treatment — not to mention get a job, qualify for a student loan, or find housing.

Roberts’ case nearly went to trial. If convicted, she could have been sent to prison for a minimum of three and a maximum of 17 years due to extra penalties from prior convictions. On the eve of the trial, however, the case was settled on a possession charge for a year in jail, a rare outcome. Klement was hoping to have her placed in a treatment program.

Asked if she knew of others swept up in undercover operations, Roberts gave a wry chuckle and gestured to the jail corridor behind her, indicating that nearly everyone there had been taken down in similar fashion. Klement noted that the targets of the buy-busts are almost exclusively people of color, saying, “You walk into the holding cell and you think you’re in Alabama or Mississippi, not San Francisco.”

In an editorial on the subject that he wrote a couple years ago, Klement noted that by contrast, predominantly white middle class people with a fondness for illegal drugs are rarely targeted because they aren’t the ones selling drugs on the street. “The hard truth is that the police ignore most of the middle class drug use and dealing occurring out of private homes in every neighborhood or other public venues in the city — bars, nightclubs, concert halls. More drugs are being transported to Burning Man as we speak than will probably be seized during Gascón’s entire crackdown.”

For Klement, it’s just another symptom of a broken system. “A lot of these people are repeat players because we don’t have the right interventions at the right time,” he said. “We don’t understand addiction.”


Yearbook of heartbreak and outrage



The giant commemorative AIDS ribbon that was up on Twin Peaks during the first half of June has been taken down, but the 30th anniversary of the epidemic, and how it changed San Francisco, is still reverberating throughout the city.

“It was like paradise,” Mark Ottman said as he guided me through the high-ceiling lobby, quiet as a library, of Union Bank on 400 California St. “For a few years. Then things got really scary.”

Ottman, the vice president of personal trust and estate services at the bank, recalled arriving in the city in 1981 as a 22-year-old Montana transplant. That year, the gay newspaper the Bay Area Reporter published the word AIDS for the very first time.

Although the paper has been at the forefront of reporting gay news for its 40 years — from White Night Riots of the 1970s through the Lavender Sweep of the 1990s, the Bowers vs. Hardwick decision through the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal — the way it straightforwardly handled the heartbreak of AIDS and the outrage that followed has become its lasting legacy.

“This was not stuff that was shown on the nightly news,” Ottman continued. “The B.A.R. was three or four months ahead in covering AIDS. In that sense, it was really the leader.”

This month, those with a thirst for history will need to look no further than newsprint. Union Bank’s LGBT Alliance has commissioned a retrospective exhibit highlighting the Bay Area Reporter’s coverage of the gay and lesbian community.

When the B.A.R. started in 1971, founders and friends Paul Bentley and Bob Ross had the intention of making it more than just a gossipy guide to bars and bathhouses. The newspaper focused on serious local news — even recruiting Harvey Milk as a political columnist.

“The founders weren’t journalists,” said Rick Gerharter, the longtime freelance photographer who curated the photo- and front page-filled exhibit at Union Bank. “But as the paper grew, it certainly became more professional.”

In 1981, when AIDS first appeared, the B.A.R. had no choice but to undergo a journalistic coming of age as it struggled to be first and be fair covering the mysterious disease that had begun to mow down gay men.



Yet the newspaper was not immune to the confusion and uneasiness that enveloped the community during the early days of the “gay cancer.”

“Me and my boyfriend both laughed — it must be another Anita Bryant plot against homosexuals,” said Robert Julian, recalling his first response to talk of the “gay-related immunodeficiency” or GRID.

“Gay people are united by sexual orientation, not genetics,” said Julian. Initially, the former B.A.R. entertainment editor and author of But the Show Went On: San Francisco 1987-1988 had his suspicions, thinking that a “physical ailment confined solely to gay people was a practical impossibility.”

It didn’t take long before the B.A.R. began reporting on the latest research, medical resources, and information about financial services available to the hundreds of gay men in San Francisco who had contracted the HIV virus.

Once researchers discovered that AIDS was being transmitted sexually, public opinion divided. Then-Mayor Diane Feinstein and Director of Public Health Mervyn Silverman wanted to close the bathhouses, but some members of the gay community considered this a violation of personal rights.

“There was this repression around gay people and sex, this hysteria around bathhouses,” said Gerharter. And the B.A.R. was hesitant to feed into that frenzy at first. “When it was clear what was really happening, how this thing was being spread around, then it clicked — and the paper really jumped to the forefront of covering what had tuned into an epidemic.”



The paper not only began to cover the AIDS crisis extensively, but did it with an editorial slant that fostered debate in the community. Paul Lorch, then-managing editor, became a prominent voice arguing to keep the bathhouses open. Bathhouses don’t give you AIDS; unprotected sex gives you AIDS, Lorch expressed in strongly-penned editorials. Sometimes he even answered back to Letters to the Editor.

“Lorch and the publishers didn’t believe closing the bathhouses would solve it,” said Wayne Friday, who took over the paper’s political column after Harvey Milk was assassinated and continued it for 27 years. “But no one had an alternative. Diane [Feinstein] would call me at 5 a.m. asking me what we should do about this thing.”

The community was split. Some, including Friday, believed that the bathhouses were a public health hazard while others accused Feinstein of scapegoating. “Those people were being selfish and foolish,” Friday said. “Closing the bathhouses saved lives.”

In 1984 the San Francisco Health Department asked for a court order forbidding renting out private rooms in bathhouses. Without the luxury of privacy, most closed within months. “San Francisco became a blueprint of how to handle AIDS on the city level for the rest of the country,” Friday said.



During this time, the B.A.R. was also keeping a more morbid type of tally: the obituaries. Each week the paper published two pages — 30 to 50 obituaries — until 1998.

“When you picked it up, it was the first thing you turned to,” Gerharter said. “It was just a name and a face. Maybe you recognized the person. Maybe someone you tricked with.”

In 1989, art director Richard Burt became so overwhelmed by the number of obituaries that had been turned in to the B.A.R. within the first 10 months that he wanted to convey the sinking feeling in the pages of the paper. The Nov. 16 issue included a four-page collage of everyone who had passed away due to AIDS that year. Just a name and a face.

“It was heartbreaking,” Julian said, “to see my friends and lovers pictured there.”

Through the efforts of Tom Burtch and the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society, a massive searchable online database of B.A.R. obituaries since 1979 was launched in 2009 (www.leifkerdesigns.com/olo/index.jsp).

During his tenure at the paper, Julian chose not to cover AIDS, feeling that the point of entertainment news was to distract away “from the soul-crushing presence of the grim reaper stalking our neighborhoods.”

Though AIDS was a heavily political newsbeat, Friday removed himself from covering it for different reasons. “I knew every elected official. I sat in on all the City Hall meetings about the bathhouses,” Friday said. “But I just couldn’t do it every week. It was too damned personal.”

“Thinking about turning the page to those obituaries even now is making me shiver,” Ottman said. “It’s like a high school reunion, except you don’t know which half made it.”



The B.A.R. was also instrumental in covering the various political and protest actions that accompanied the disease, including the bloody police sweep of ACT-UP protesters the Castro and the Stop AIDS Now or Else blockade of the Golden Gate Bridge, both in 1989.

Gerharter remembers the blockade. “They arranged it for the morning commute. And thank God it was foggy or else the surveillance cameras would have stopped us.”

Gerharter would often be trusted with information about an upcoming demonstration and be the only photographer allowed to tag along. “You can document history better when you become a part of it. You get closer to the people — they’re not posing,” he said. “It was our job to be advocates and watchdogs.”

After consistently seeing the tragedy of AIDS on the front page for almost a decade, the B.A.R. became more active itself, inciting its readers to action. “We’d read the B.A.R. to find out about the rallies were happening so we could skip work and take a road trip to Sacramento,” Ottman said. “The Chronicle would never cover that.”

When the fight against AIDS became a war, the B.A.R.’s writers often felt like they had become war correspondents, complete with all the outsize personality conflict and drama of the classic stereotype.

“[Bob] Ross was a nightmare boss, a pain in the ass, and complete rageaholic,” Julian said of B.A.R.’s often conservative cofounder, who died in 2003. “But he was committed to keeping the paper and us running.”


Through June 30, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Union Bank Main Branch

400 California, SF