Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gay 9/11 Hero Mark Bingham Remembered: An Audacious Gay Jock Became a Hero

With the ten-year commemoration of one the most horrible tragedies in American history being marked on Sept. 11, 2011, a remarkable gay hero is also being honored. Mark Bingham was a passionate San Francisco rugby player and a charming public relations executive who found himself on hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 over the state of Pennsylvania. He led three other men into the cockpit to prevent the plane being used to attack a target in Washington, D.C. His cell phone conversation with his mother Alice Hoagland, the flight data recordings, and the calls of other passengers confirm that Bingham rose to the occasion. He had wrested a gun away from a criminal who was threatening his boyfriend on the street, and he used his 6'-4", 220-pound physique to play a determined and aggressive rugby game. Shouts of “Let's roll!” are heard on the cell phones from the doomed flight, as it is heard when a rugby team charges at a game.

Bingham played for the San Francisco Fog rugby team, and they are well known as formidable, but also as uninhibited and fun-loving. They barely blinked when emcee Donna Sachet cut off their jockstraps and they danced naked with their soccer balls at a Big Gay Fraternity House charity benefit in the Castro. The international gay rugby championship is named in Bingham’s honor, the gym at the Castro’s Eureka Valley Recreation Center features a large plaque honoring him, and his mother is adored for questioning any family’s separation from their children because of their sexual orientation.

"With You", a fascinating documentary film about Bingham, was screened to great acclaim at this year’s San Francisco Int'l LGBT Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. It was heart-rending to hear Bingham’s mother speak about her loss and to see multiple videos of Bingham with her, his boyfriends, his team, and his relatives. More than 1,200 people rose to their feet and applauded as Alice Hoagland walked down the aisle to ascend the stage.

Mark Bingham's mother Alice Hoagland on stage after the screening of "With You" at the Castro Theatre

The film’s message and the knowledge of Bingham’s actions have been a notable answering point to bigots who question the lives and morality of the LGBT community. Members of San Francisco’s congressional delegation and Senator John McCain have credited Bingham for possibly saving their lives. This journalist (and his extended family) is thankful because Flight 93 flew over his family’s farm 20 miles from the crash site when it was swarming with young relatives, and his father was at the U.S. Capitol that morning.

For more information on the Mark Bingham Foundation, visit markbingham.org.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Crescendo Fundraising Gala: A Unique Musical Artistic Event

Conductor Timothy Seelig, Grand Duchess Kylie Minono, and executive director Teddy Witherington

A unique brunch was hosted by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at the Four Seasons Hotel on Oct. 9:  The annual Crescendo fundraising gala in one of the city’s most stylish hotels started at noon, a time of the day on Sundays when many are nursing hangovers at home. The chorus drew an amazingly large turnout for a quiche and fruit parfait brunch, with accomplished musical performances and awards for the organization’s supporters.

Chorus guests who arrived early enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the hotel terrace that overlooks the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s huge tilted blue cube. The chorus’ two ensembles, the Lollipop Guild and the Vocal Minority, performed to kick off the party and they projected the positive mood of the party and enhanced the admiration of the gathered donors.

Board president Michael Tate, executive director Teddy Witherington, and honoree Stuart Milk

The chorus’ new Human Rights Champion Award was given to Harvey Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk by chorus board president Michael Tate and executive director Teddy Witherington for his advocacy of LGBT rights worldwide. Milk’s day job is working with at-risk youth and he founded the Harvey Milk Foundation to fight hate and discrimination. From his base near Ft. Lauderdale, Milk researches and then visits communities where he can do the most good—from Spain to Turkey to San Jose Pride.

The new link between the Chorus and Harvey Milk was revealed when a “Dear Harvey, We’ve Got Hope” project video was screened, and then described by Witherington. Young people are being asked for their feelings about Milk and their submissions will be formed into musical creations for the Chorus’ upcoming 35th anniversary season. Impressive board president Tate then spoke about funding for the organization for the future.

A unique talent, counter-tenor Jacques Snyman, then performed, and the expressions of surprise on faces around the ballroom has been seen before, when other blatantly masculine looking countertenors reach high notes. Diageo Americas’ Phillipa Jones (of subsidiary Sterling Vineyards) said that their commitment to the LGBT community is sincere when she accepted a Corporate Champion Award. The Bay Area Reporter (BAR) received a Media Champion Award, though the decade-long LGBT press boycott of the Chorus led by the BAR’s publisher after a controversial Chorus dinner incident was not mentioned.

The guests were thanked by event co-chairs Paul Olsen and Sean Livingston, and there was talk from table to table about the Chorus’ altruistic tours through small California cities that also finance their local LGBT groups. Providing role models and self-esteem is an important side benefit to areas of the state where that can be lacking.

The Gay Men’s Chorus has managed to prosper during a time of financial uncertainty and much of the credit is due to not only the staff and board, but also the advisory board which includes Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, Dr. Betty L. Sullivan of Betty's List and the San Francisco Bay Times, Devesh Khatu of the Horizons Foundation, and Cecilia Chung of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Hardworking artistic operations manager Mike Holland also deserves credit for presenting professional light and sound in spaces where it never existed previously.

Artistic director and conductor for the last ten years Dr. Kathleen McGuire was remembered fondly, and her replacement Dr. Timothy Seelig has been embraced by the chorus after changes were made to the repertoire.

The Chorus is also thriving thanks to the monumental talents of Paul Saccone, the music director of the Lollipop Guild ensemble and Carl Pantle, the Chorus' associate artistic director, principal pianist, and the musical director of the Vocal Minority ensemble.

A wonderful event ended with musical interludes from the Lollipop Guild and the Vocal Minority.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Berlin and Beyond Film Festival: A Daring, Shocking, and Lyrical Film Festival


Berlin and Beyond Festival President Sabine Erlenwein and Festival Director Sophoan Sorn

The 16th annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival is opening Oct. 20 at the Castro Theatre, and this  celluloid gift has been eagerly anticipated by film fans. San Francisco has always had a vibrant German-American community, and the Castro District was the home and business site for dozens of ethnic German families from the late 1800s to the post-WWII era.  When homes and garages on Collingwood Street are renovated, German-language newspapers used as insulation are found in the walls. San Francisco boasts some of the Bay Area’s best array of German restaurants, including the high camp decorated East German restaurant Walzwerk that has catered the festival with its superb goulash.

The media was invited to a Sept. 29 promotional press conference where conversations with Festival Director Sophoan Sorn and Festival President Sabine Erlenwein developed over pastry and coffee. Erlenwein is also the Director of the San Francisco branch of the Goethe Institut, the German Cultural Center that is located in large cities worldwide. Sorn and Erlenwein then mounted the movie palace’s stage to discuss the films, lead a Q&A, and introduce the excellent festival closing night film “If Not Us, Who (Wer wenn nicht wir).”

That closing night film is an inspiration to activists as it introduces the intense, young, disenchanted characters who would become members of the Baader-Meinhof Group, an urban terrorist gang also known as the Red Army Faction that was active in the 1970s. Their dysfunctional personal lives are on display, and the movie complements the numerous other films about the gang, such as the award winning “The Baader Meinhof Complex” of 2009. Germans are still confounded by the gang, since its members were privileged youth who did not just attack government and business officials with handguns, they attacked relentlessly with machine guns. The message of the film and its title is to not be complacent, but to be become activists and form groups to make changes, though not necessarily as extremely as the subjects of this cinematic expression.

The festival is about films, but it also is well known and admired for its high-energy parties. The mezzanine of the silent film era Castro Theatre is the venue for the opening night and closing night soirĂ©es where Blue Angel Vodka and Spaten beer will be served with treats from the Castro’s Hot Cookie and The Sausage Factory (where this journalist shared meals with Harvey Milk).

The festival depends on volunteers, its publicist Jackson Scarlett, and on gay lovers Alex Randoph and Trevor Nguyen, who solve problems and enhance the event using their experience with government service and group dynamics.

The consulates of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have generously supported the festival since its founding, and their gatherings throughout the year advertise the festival and its rich cultural significance. German culture is celebrated in San Francisco and a central focus of that culture is philosophy, art, and music. That essence is captured by the festival film “Young Goethe in Love.” Unfortunately that film will only be screened in San Jose because the filmmakers and distributors have restricted its viewing to theaters of 500 seats or less so it can remain eligible for awards. Controversy may emerge after the film is mass released because recently discovered letters suggest that Goethe was gay or bisexual.

The other unique and stimulating film only being screened in San Jose in the festival is “3 (Drei)” which is a rarely shown scenario of a man and his wife sharing another man, and it was a hit at San Francisco Int'l LGBT Film Festival this year.

For more information: www.BerlinBeyond.org

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Bare Chest Calendar Auction: A Night of Restrained Debauchery

Mr. February Michael Rubinstein with hostess Donna Sachet

"Visual splendor" and "fine altruism" best describe the array of handsome men, generous donors, and resourceful party coordinators who enjoyed the 2012 Bare Chest Calendar Men auction benefit for the AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) and the Positive Resource Center (PRC) at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on August 23.

Distinctive men included handsome filmmaker Philippe Gosselin, whose movie "The Rescue" was a hit at this year’s San Francisco Int'l LGBT Film Festival, and the devilish young Seth Watkins, who has overcome numerous obstacles to reach a new healthy point in his life.

Mr. December Philippe Gosselin

Guys chosen for the Calendar must agree to spend an enormous amount of time and effort at events where they promote the sale of the Bare Chest Calendar. Some guys such as Christopher Humphreys and Jay Laude have had extensive experience volunteering with non-profits. Humphreys is famous for going shirtless to make quick sales of Jello-O shots for charity.

Each of the men was lavishly presented by emcee Donna Sachet, who wore a golden goddess gown. Then masterful tuxedo-ed auctioneer Lenny Broberg pitted fans and the besotted in the audience to bid on the guys. They appeared first in hilariously boyish ensembles donated by Citizen/Body. And then Kira Stachelek, Anya Montiel, and Gerri Beauvais—helpful women who were beautifully gowned and accessorized—stripped off the Calendar men's shirts. There was a moment for the yelling-and-applauding crowd to run their eyes across the expanse of gym-toned muscles before a red bow tie and a leather vest from sponsor Miller Beer were slid onto the men's sweating bodies.

Lance Holman, Troy Anicete, Darren Bondy and friend

The competition was fierce, but also fun. Last year it was guided by the blinding fear that a magnificent and predatory Mr. SF Leather was trying to “buy” non-single studs. It went smoothly this year until the overtly primal Will Swagger assumed an athlete’s pre-pounce position and a seemingly mesmerized Sachet mounted the stage in response, but she was expertly led back to her seat by auctioneer Broberg. Stunning Andy Cross’ friends, a straight couple, astounded the other donors with a $10,000 winning bid, the highest of the evening.

The event featured two stylized climaxes. The first was when the winning bidders were joyfully invited onto the stage to join the Calendar men. The second climax shocked and pleased the audience, and only a glamorous Donna Sachet could seize the moment so well when she glided down the runway to Broberg in a luxurious satin bridal gown and veil.


Mr. October Will Swagger and Mr. December Philippe Gosselin

It was the best of San Francisco with the professional fundraising talents of Donna Sachet and Lenny Broberg and the expert guidance of coordinators Thom Grant (Mr. December 2007) and Mark Hollenstein (Mr. June 2006), along with the good-natured and alluring 2012 Calendar men in the historic and accommodating Sir Francis Drake Hotel, all for two wonderful charities.

For more information, visit barechest.org.

The 2012 Bare Chest Calendar men with hostess Donna Sachet (center) and host Lenny Broberg (right)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club’s Three Commemorations of Their 40th Anniversary

There was a historic meeting of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and the San Francisco Police Department on July 11 during a forum at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center.

Alice’s founder, Jim Foster, partially conceived of the political club as an activist group to oppose police raids and threats. Foster got an eyeful of what less affluent gays faced at the Society for Individual Rights (S.I.R.) headquarters on 6th Street in San Francisco, and he thought that a more political organization would help when he founded Alice 40 years ago. Raids on gay bars and hang-outs such as Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin were common. A lesbian bar named Peg’s Place was attacked by an inebriated bachelor party that included police officers as late as 1979. The Alice Club was quick to denounce these outrages and local politicians heard loud and clear that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated.

Club co-founders included lesbian pioneers Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in 1955, and their house party guests feared a police raid every time the doorbell rang. Lyon and Martin were active with the Council on Religion and the Homosexual which hosted the “Meet the Lesbian and Gay Community Weekend” events at Glide Memorial Church. Social workers, physicians, psychiatrists, attorneys, priests, family planners, and police officers met lesbian and gay couples and were invited to join them in their homes and restaurants. In the early 1970s a passionate gay teenage couple was introduced to the Weekend conference attendees, and this journalist and his boyfriend were that couple.

From a time when LGBT police officers had to be closeted to the present when open recruitment of out-of-the-closet officers has resulted in increasing numbers of police who have an insight into alternative lives. LGBT-friendly San Francisco Chief of Police Greg Suhr joined three lesbian police commanders at the Alice meeting: Lea Militello, Sandra Tong, and Denise Schmidt.

Alice member Terry Gauchet coordinated the panel and there was a lively Q&A. Over and over both Suhr and the commanders stressed that bring a police officer is the best job in the world because they can help people and see their positive impact on people's lives. Recruitment, maybe possibly from the ranks of the Alice members, was an ongoing theme of the evening. Another was the importance of police academy classes to add new officers that will replace retiring members of the department, and that the city budget should include funding for the classes.

The big news of the evening was that the SFPD will make an “It Gets Better” video to join the thousands that columnist Dan Savage and his lover Terry Miller inspired.

During a dialogue with Chief Suhr this journalist spoke about the early years in San Francisco when upfront gays were harassed by the police and when they were bashed by others, instead of helping them, law enforcement arrested them. The Frank Sinatra film "The Detective," which Suhr said he had seen, was cited as a view of that era. In contrast, now police officers are trained well in settling LGBT lovers’ and roommates’ disputes, and other sensitive situations.

Police deployment at Halloween in the Castro and Pink Saturday was discussed, and Suhr stated that he liked both events, but back when they were a few thousand neighborhood people and their visitors. Curtailment of publicity for Pink Saturday was mentioned as a logical action for 2012.

The Alice Club is also celebrating its “40 Years Together, 40 Years Strong” with a GLBT History Museum exhibit opening on August 1 which includes a visual history of the Alice Club and a recording of Jim Foster giving a lesbian and gay liberation speech at the Democratic Party convention that nominated George McGovern for president in 1972. Curator Nathan Purkiss’ phenomenal commentary about the Club’s history strongly affected the packed museum, and the people admired the event program which is crammed full of photographs and historical descriptions.

The following week there was a panel discussion about the Club’s history on Aug. 8, led by activist Phyllis Lyon, who spoke in detail about the founding of the Daughters of Bilitis, and about how its members were blue- and white-collar workers. She revealed that the group had been secretive during its early years,—they were more open later,—thanks to powerful political friends, some of the same friends that supported the Alice Club since its founding.

The courage of early lesbian and gay activists is astonishing, considering how much they had to lose, and Alice founders Foster, Lyon, and others deserve credit for their efforts.

For more information: www.alicebtoklas.org/

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The 2011 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: Uplifting and Serious Films for Discerning Fans

More than 58 films from 16 countries are being screened at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the variety of celluloid offerings is sure to please the most discerning film fans.

The festival opened in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre with "Mabul (The Flood)" which meshes the biblical story of a great flood with a modern-day dysfunctional family. Yoav Rotman, the young Isreali star of the film, was congratulated over and over at the opening night party at the Swedish American Hall, while his mother stood nearby beaming. The hors d’oeuvres were superb and the cocktails were stiff, and the large crowd moved from room to room for taste treats and to chat up fellow filmerati.

Executive Director Peter Stein was joined by his partner Brian Freeman, and Corey Tong, Jenni Olson, Dan Wohlfeiler, and San Francisco Pride Grand Marshal Aaron Belkin made up some of the LGBT film contingent.

Actor Kirk Douglas was honored with the festival’s Freedom of Expression Award on July 24 for his brave action in demanding that blacklisted "Spartacus" script writer Dalton Trumbo be given credit in 1960. Douglas’ philanthropy was praised, as was his brilliance at playing forceful characters in such films as "Out of the Past," "Paths of Glory," and "Lust for Life" which were on display on film clips. Douglas also played an over-the-top Viking in "The Vikings" that seethes with authentic violent excesses and bold histrionics.

What was largely missing from the ceremony is that Douglas not only re-learned to speak after a stroke 15 years ago, but he is also an inspiration to the tens of thousands who suffer strokes every year. Douglas seemed to be enjoying himself and he was buoyed by the 1,400-person standing ovations to and from the stage. Too many people do not pursue a life as a stroke survivor and isolate themselves in their homes. Douglas not only speaks in public, he was a witty and clever presenter at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He was equally witty and clever on the Castro Theatre’s stage at the Jewish Film Festival.

The festival ends on July 28 with the closing night film "100 Voices: A Journey Home" and live performances should not be missed. Think Al Jolson’s dramatic singing finale in the first sound movie "The Jazz Singer," and this will be ten times more intense with four singers and the Castro Theatre’s organ.

Most of the best festival films will be screened after July 28 in Berkeley, San Rafael, and Palo Alto. Checking www.sfjff.org will help in locating these movies.

LGBT themes can be found in "Mary Lou" and "The Queen Has No Crown." Both films were endorsed by celluloid connoisseurs. One film that delves into the betrayal of French Jews by their fellow citizens who collaborated with the occupying Nazis is "The Roundup." There are films for young adult viewers and even Israel’s first horror film. Israel has achieved more Academy Award nominations for its films than any other Middle Eastern country, and now it can claim a cinematic experience of movie characters yelling for help in Hebrew while facing a mindless bloodfest.

Karen Larsen and her publicity associates Ani Klose and Leo Wong again achieved a successful festival, and the only cloud in the cinematic sky was that Executive Director Peter Stein is retiring and he will be greatly missed. Hopefully his sensational award winning documentary "The Castro" will now be followed by equally fine future film projects.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Jean Harris Memorial at Delancey Street: A Fearless Activist, and a Hell of a Friend


Lesbian activist Jean Harris speaking about Domestic Partnership legislation in October 1999

The cover of the Jean Harris memorial program featured an eye-catching portrait and a quote from California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton: “A fearless activist, and a hell of a friend.”
Burton joined more than forty political activists and friends of Harris at Delancey Street in San Francisco on July 21 to present a tribute to the tireless promoter of LGBT rights. Burton said that he received numerous complaints about Harris being a “pain in the butt” when she was working for the Democratic Party. He said that “A pain in the butt that gets the job done is better that someone who does not do the job.”

Harris lost her two daughters to an ex-husband in a custody battle. That set her on an activist course that would lead to other lesbians and gay men not losing their children to ex-partners, and multiple other rights now taken for granted. She co-founded Lesbian Agenda for Action, the first lesbian political action committee (PAC) in the U.S., steered San Francisco’s domestic partner legislation to victory when she was an aide to San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt, and co-produced the “Lavender Sweep” that elected several lesbian and gay candidates. Harris also instigated needle exchange while working for San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan, became the executive director of Basic Rights Oregon to take on homophobic bigots, and the first executive director of the organization that became Equality California (EQCA).

Harris was front and center at a Queer Nation marriage equality protest at San Francisco City Hall, and she shooed the San Francisco Police Department Tactical Squad away after a storming of the City Clerk’s office and a mock wedding for eight couples. Her small army of domestic partnership campaigners easily overwhelmed local and bussed-in fundamentalists who tried to stop her. She met her match during the Rodney King protests in San Francisco when she was clubbed along with many others, and a huge angry cry went up when her clubbing was screened at the Roxie Theatre. Harris was decked out in a tuxedo and thoroughly enjoyed herself as the host of an election night celebration when Harry Britt became San Francisco Board of Supervisors President with over 110,000 votes.

Notables who attended the event at Delancey Street included: Kate Kendell, Roma Guy, Eileen Hanson, Happy Hyder, Dianne Jones, Dana Van Gorder, Geoff Kors, Ken Jones, Rafael Mandelman. Leslie Katz, Sharon Johnson, Kate Monica Klein, Lea Militello, and Melinda Paras. The reception was coordinated by Carol Stuart, and the choice of space and catering was impeccable.

Democratic Central Committee member Carole Migden passionately and eloquently summed up Harris and she received sustained applause:


Democratic Central Committee member Carole Migden

“Jean Harris was an absolutely original person, a harbinger ahead of her time. Coming from an awful life, Jean blasted into town in the mid eighties with a fierce agenda and a razor focus. She quickly gained access to important people. She intuitively understood the levers of power and how to use them. She was intense and charismatic and she cared nothing about status or personal gain. She provoked and prodded, dressed like a man and took the bullet that came with that. She was cool, older than us, attracted women like a magnet and usually traveled in a pack. Jean was confident, and you knew when she entered the room. Many times over the years Jean would stop by my office unannounced. In came Jean, in came the most important issue of all time. To experience Jean Harris was like being caught in a tidal wave. You are awestruck and transfixed. You know you are witnessing something profound and encompassing. The force was stronger than you, you stopped resisting for the best and knew here there’d be a lot of mopping up later. Jean invented a social media way before Zuckerberg and way before texting and tweeting took hold.  I love Jean Harris. She made me shine and she gave me many good times. I hope her profound contributions to LGBT equality get the recognition they deserve.”