Friday, April 23, 2010

Protest Against Hornblower Cruises: LGBT and Union Activists Join to Fight Bigotry

Vincent Atos and Josue Arguelles

On April 19 more than 50 activists from the LGBT and labor communities joined to protest alleged bigotry and anti-union organizing by Hornblower Cruises at Pier 33, the landing for voyages to and from Alcatraz. Members of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Pride at Work, the San Francisco Labor Council, and Unite Here! Local 2 gathered with friends to wave signs, hear speeches, and picket on the Embarcadero. It is an area with heavy foot traffic since it is near The City’s number one tourist attraction — the Pier 39 complex. Dozens of visitors dressed for Southern California weather stopped to look and listen and distracting athletes ran by every couple minutes.

Rafael Mandelman in the picket line

The focal point of the event, Vincent Atos, spoke to the throng about his comfort at being openly gay while working for Hornblower Cruises and how much he enjoyed his duties as a deck hand. Then he alleged that suddenly he was fired for “acting too gay” and for attempting to organize a union for boat employees. Atos spoke with emotion and made it clear that he is assertive and angry, and that his filing of a discrimination complaint with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission is meant to make his case public. The Milk Club’s letter about the situation to Hornblower Cruises with a suggestion to meet has not been answered, and the company denied that it discriminates.

Josue Arguelles and David Waggoner

MC Josue Arguelles held the bullhorn for eloquent speaker David Waggoner, who is the co-president of the Milk Club. And Rev. Jorael Alvaran spoke about Flipinos working in the U.S. to help their families and how much they need unions to protect their rights. Among the prominent LGBT’s who joined the picketing were Milk Club co-president Denise D’Anne, former Milk Club president and District 8 supervisor candidate Rafael Mandelman, union and housing activist Robert Haaland, and agitator Jack Fertig.

Some of the many activists at the protest

The Milk Club is presenting "A Fierce Alliance For Justice: The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club's 32nd Anniversary Dinner With Keynote Speaker Professor Angela Davis" on May 27. The Milk Dinners are a traditional gathering of progressive politicos that draw LGBT and labor activists to discuss cases like the one of Vincent Atos and honor individuals and groups that have excelled in the spirit of Harvey Milk and his demand for equality.

Activist Chris Emerson

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lambda Literary Awards Finalists: A Cornucopia of Queer Literary Talent

Event hosts Tony Valenzuela and Katherine Forrest

A lucky 13 finalists gathered for the Lambda Literary Awards reading at the San Francisco Main Library on April 13. More than 60 connoisseurs of fine queer writing filled every seat, where they were welcomed and thanked for attending by Karen Sundheim of the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center. The event was a presentation of the Hormel Center and The Lambda Literary Foundation, which is based in Los Angeles. The Lambda Literary Awards will be happening on May 27 in New York City. Information is at

Co-hostess Katherine Forrest is the Lambda Literary Foundation board president, and she is the award-winning author of 15 works of fiction, including the fascinating novel "Daughters of the Coral Dawn," about an all-woman utopian planet where propagation is by parthenogenesis.

Her co-host was the one-time infamous Tony Valenzuela. Valenzuela is the newly appointed executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation, and his experience working at non-profits makes him a good fit for the vital position, according to Forrest. He is a social issues writer who knows how to get to the focal point and push buttons.

Lamdba Literary Foundation executive director Tony Valenzuela

Valenzuela is best known for posing naked on a horse on the Feb. 1999 cover of POZ Magazine. The photo illustrated an article on his speech at the Creating Change Conference about performing unsafe “bareback” sex as an HIV-positive sex worker. This caused an uproar that has not ended at some AIDS-fighting organizations and clinics. Male attendees at the reading seemingly murmered in tongues when they locked eyes on Valenzuela’s smoldering good looks, as he alternated the introductions with Forrest.

Finalist Minal Hajratwala

Minal Hajratwala is the charming author of the nonfiction epic "Leaving India" that is nominated also for a California Book Award. The book is a best-seller in India and it has been highly praised by Alice Walker. Hajratwala, dressed in a shimmering green outfit, had the audience’s full attention when she read about a man who lived as a woman for decades in her parents’ village, and was accepted. She is also a part of "Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry," and her website features that amazing phenomenon — a promotional video for a book.

Finalist Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo read from her nominated novel "Ash," a lesbian makeover of the Cinderella story, and she has a popular blog that delves into the continuing allure of lesbian vampires and newscaster Rachel Maddow’s appeal to a broad range of excited women.

Finalist Patrick Letellier

Striking Patrick Letellier is a part of the "My Diva: 65 Men on the Women Who Inspire Them" anthology that brought a couple other writers and fans to the event. Letellier wrote about Queen Elizabeth I, a sickly unwanted child who maneuvered herself onto England’s throne and became one of the most powerful women in history. Letellier is also known for his acclaimed "Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Men and Domestic Violence.”

Finalists Randall Mann and Ron Palmer

Ron Palmer is another contributor to "My Diva," and he is the author of "Logica-logics." His next project is a is a porn thriller that includes Hart Crane’s ghost.

Randall Mann is enthused to be nominated for his poetry collection Breakfast With Thom Gunn, which is also nominated for a California Book Award.

Finalist Matt Dean

Country writer Matt Dean read with a South Carolina twang about guys looking for someone to settle down with among a mass of guys into one night stands from his novel "The River in Winter."

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, wearing his ubiquitous white cap, read from his coming out story in a conservative Italian-American neighborhood in south Philly. He is nominated for his "Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation."

Z Egloff wrote about primal lesbian fantasy in her book "Verge," about the nightmare of a woman finding out that the co-worker that she desires is a nun.

Jon Ginoli has performed with the San Francisco queer punk band Pansy Division for two decades and his memoir "Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division" delves into his bacchanalian sex and rock-and-roll tours.

Finalist Dexter Flowers with writer Katherine Forrest

Sister Spit veteran Dexter Flowers is nominated for her contribution to "Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City," and her blue gown drew admiring glances from the alert guests.

Elana Dykewoman is happy that her novel "Risk" was nominated for the Lesbian Fiction category, and Karin Kallmaker’s "Stepping Stone" is nominated in the Lesbian Romance category.

Kevin Killian is a celebrated short story writer whose "Impossible Princess" is nominated for a Gay Erotica award. He is the author of four novels and is known for his experimental gay fiction.

The event ended as Katherine Forrest praised two writers who could not attend, Lynn Breedlove and Rhiannon Argo, and she spoke lovingly about the overwhelming, vivid talent that been heard. Then writers and fans interacted as the remnants of the generous buffet were devoured, and some guests paired off to discuss the event in cafes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Strong Presence of Lesbian and Gay Political Power at Goodbye Party for Laura Spanjian

State Senator Mark Leno with Laura Spanjian

There was a strong presence of lesbian and gay political power at the goodbye party for Laura Spanjian of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on April 8 at Don Ramon’s Restaurant. Not since the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club’s large meetings during the times of Mayor Willie Brown had Don Ramon’s seen so many lesbians and gays in positions in power enjoying quesadillas and margaritas with their straight allies and co-workers.

Spanjian’s family and friends joined together with her charming partner Susan Christian and her PUC co-workers, her supervisor campaign staff and volunteers, and various LGBT and non-LGBT activists. It was a tribute to Spanjian that the restaurant was packed with people who mingled and politicked, and then were attentive when the speeches started. Spanjian has been receiving a lot of attention lately because of her run for San Francisco District 8 City Supervisor, and some consultants gave her a chance of winning due to the ranked choice voting system. Her new job takes her to Houston to work for the newly-elected lesbian mayor Anise Parker. And Spanjian is also moving for love since her partner lives in Houston.

The honors for Laura began when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff Steve Kawa took some time away from running The City to proclaim “Laura Spanjian Day” in San Francisco. Kawa, with his lover and two children, was an inspiration to Mayor Newsom for the surprise same-sex marriages at City Hall. Spanjian was also honored with plaques from her co-workers at the PUC, who spoke about dams, water, and reclaimed grease and sewage, and then CA State Senator Mark Leno had some complimentary things to say when he gave her a large framed state proclamation.

Spanjian’s expertise in the greening of San Francisco as the Associate General Manager for External Affairs at the PUC has led her to the new job in Houston, a city that wants to catch up with other locales in recycling and energy conservation. Spanjian also worked for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and before that she worked as a legislative aide to lesbian Supervisor Leslie Katz.

Former lesbian San Francisco City Supervisors Roberta Achtenberg and Susan Leal spoke fondly at the microphone about Spanjian, and Leal told some funny work stories from the days when she was PUC General Manager and Spanjian’s boss.

Roberta Achtenberg with Laura Spanjian

Among the lesbian and gay guests were PUC Secretary Michael Housh, a longtime activist at the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and an important aide to legislator John Burton. He was also the campaign manager and aide for Supervisor Tom Ammiano. Former Supervisors Leal and Katz worked with Ammiano to pass the first domestic partners law in San Francisco. Paul Hogarth, the attorney for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, was seated near the front of the event. He is also a marriage equality activist and managing director of A former aide to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Catherine Dodd socialized at the event. She is a now Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Gavin Newsom and she is active as an RN in national and local health issues. The PUC’s gay General Manager Ed Harrington was out of town, but all of the other ranking PUC managers attended the sad and happy occasion.

Activist/philanthropist Jody Cole and her partner Katherine Cole of Wild Rainbow African Safaris were there happily sporting Dallas Cowboy jerseys. And Pam David, who worked for San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and is now the executive director of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, made the rounds.

The exertion of lesbian and gay power that started with Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin with their Daughters of Bilitis, and The Society of Individual Rights in the ’50s and ’60s, and with the Tavern Guild and Jose Sarria running for supervisor in 1961, to Harvey Milk’s election in 1977, all culminated in events like the one for Laura Spanjian. The lesbian and gay presence was strong and the political descendents of the founders are accepted for their professionalism and experience.

The event ended with hugs and handshakes and messages of good will for Spanjian.