OPINION Common wisdom says that Mayor Gavin Newsom has forever endeared himself to the LGBT community by issuing marriage licenses to queer couples shortly after coming into office in 2004. Even though a state court later declared those licenses invalid (the city is appealing), Newsom’s popularity among queers doesn’t appear to have diminished. This is despite the fact that the Newsom administration has actually done little in terms of some of the major issues facing the community.
Let’s take a look at a few of those issues:
• Housing for people with AIDS. A couple months after the "winter of love" at City Hall, Newsom appointed Jeff Sheehy as AIDS czar. An AIDS activist and former hate-crime-victim advocate in the District Attorney’s Office, Sheehy was supposed to help the mayor formulate AIDS policies. But it was a volunteer position, and the major concern of people with AIDS affordable housing was never addressed. Two years later Sheehy resigned the post. Meanwhile, the city’s affordable housing crisis still leaves many low-income people with AIDS desperately scrambling for a place to live after they are evicted by real estate speculators looking for a quick buck in the tenancy-in-common market. The situation is so bad that the AIDS Housing Alliance dubbed the Castro "the AIDS eviction capital of the world."
• Liaison to the LGBT community. Apparently, former mayor Joe Alioto initiated this position in 1973. Newsom’s appointment was not a community activist but someone who worked in advertising. Founder of Gays for Gavin in the 2003 mayoral election campaign, James "Jimmer" Cassiol served for almost two years before he too resigned. His major duty seemed to be representing the mayor at LGBT functions.
• Homelessness among queer youth. While Newsom is quick to tout his Care Not Cash and Operation Homeless Connect programs as solutions to one of the city’s most enduring and heartbreaking problems, he failed to mention youth in general and queer youth in particular in his recent state of homelessness address. To date, only a handful of queer youth have received city-sponsored housing in a hotel on Market Street, which Castro supervisor Bevan Dufty secured. More hotel rooms are supposedly on the way.
• Affordable housing for seniors. A proposed Market-Octavia Openhouse project for queer seniors won’t actually provide housing for those who need it the most: people with incomes below 50 percent of the area median income. The Newsom administration has done little to alleviate the lack of affordable housing for seniors, especially queer ones.
As the old woman in the ’70s commercials used to ask, where’s the beef? When it comes to queer issues, there is none. There’s certainly a lot of talk, many public appearances by the mayor and his representatives at queer functions, and the general promotion by Newsom and his staff of the idea that in San Francisco the LGBT community matters.
But if you’re poor, a senior, or homeless, it’s a different story altogether. *
Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, southern Italian, working-class queer performer, writer, and activist whose work can be seen at www.avicollimecca.com.