Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Fundraising Party for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano: Great Fun and Food at a Political Party

California State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who served with distinction and humor on the San Francisco School Board and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the center of attention at a fundraising party in North Beach on June 17. Ammiano was one of first teachers to come out in San Francisco, and he and other out teachers became an activist core for future progressive change.

His other career as a comic—from the days of the Valencia Rose Nightclub in San Francisco, around the Bay Area, and across the U.S—comes through when least expected, and it is appreciated in the legislatures where he has served.

The event’s big draw was the hors d’oeuvres by gourmet chef Esther Marks, an Ammiano campaign operative and co-host of the event. There were suspected Republicans at the event, and donor Hank Donat said that “when  Esther Marks is catering, even Republicans will turn out for Tom Ammiano.”

It was also Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin’s birthday, and there was a large, heavily-scented dome of a cake being hungrily eyed by guests. Neighborhood women at the party spoke in reverential tones that it was from Stella Bakery, and even in the North Beach area of excellent bakeries, it stands out. The Sacripantina birthday cake is a fine, vanilla rum, sponge treasure, inducing a couple guests to ask for a second slice of the award-winning specialty of dessert pleasure.

Ammiano spoke about the Governor’s lack of communication before his budget veto, and co-host Dick Grosboll drew laughs when he said that the money raised may be needed for food and transportation for Anmiano, since the budget battle may lead to legislators being cut off from their paychecks. And a week later Ammiano was in fact cut off financially by the State of California.

Most of the guests were from the North Beach area, and others included Women’s Building founder Roma Guy, former Democratic Party Chair Jane Morrison, attorney Paul Melbostad, Sparc Club’s Erich Pearson and David Owen, Maurice Belote, and Joe Grubb.

Ammiano acknowledged that he can be seen in the online and TV video showing a near-fist fight in the California  State Assembly chambers, and he said he yelled out “Now girls!” to cool them off. Openly-gay Assembly Speaker John Perez is also shown on the video doing much of the persuading for the men to cool off and sit down.

There was a thrilling view of Alcatraz and Marin from the condo windows at the party and Ammiano welcomed guests, going from room to room at his happy fundraiser.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bevan Dufty’s Mayoral Neighborhood Gathering: A Pancake Breakfast Rally in the Castro

A large crowd that rivaled the mass rallies against Proposition 8 that met in the same former Tower Records site space near CafĂ© Flore welcomed San Francisco mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty on June 11. It was promoted as a pancake breakfast that was prepared by Don Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant, which is highly regarded by many of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club members at the Saturday rally from the days when Robert Barnes was the club president and he presented meetings and parties at that popular South of Market venue.

Dufty wore an apron to join City Treasurer Jose Cisneros, activist Roberta Achtenberg, and the BART Board’s Lynette Sweet to serve a pancake treat to hungry precinct walkers. Many of the people who gathered to hear community leaders announce their support for Dufty knew each other from Dufty’s two supervisor campaigns and were happily greeting each other. Dufty’s communications director Roby Chavez coordinated the event and there was a smooth transition between the introductions and stage events.

Treasurer Cisneros acted as the event’s MC and introduced Achtenberg and Sweet, who glowingly spoke of their approval of Dufty as San Francisco’s next mayor, mostly as a hands-on people pleaser who has had the necessary experience while working for Mayor Willie Brown and also as a City Supervisor.

Dufty was then introduced to loud applause and he expanded on his years of service and his expectations as the city’s chief executive. He said that the event was a chance for his supporters to meet the campaign team. He introduced communications director Chavez and a dynamic young man named Joseph Rocha, who is working on the campaign. Rocha had a critically important job with the military and he was relieved of his duties because of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). As he told his story, the audience was moved when they realized that he was an explosive detection canine handler, but his positive message that drew smiles was that he expects to return to service when DADT is ended. Astute audience members realized that a canine commando like Rocha was the first of the Navy Seals team to enter Osama Bin Laden’s lair during a recent incursion into Pakistan.

Prominent activists who attended the event included Cisneros’ partner Mark Kelleher, Audrey Joseph, Rafael Mandelman, Bob Dockendorff, Rebecca Prozan, Rebecca Goldfader (the mother of Dufty’s child Sidney), Michael Costa, and Bob Mitchitarian.

There were discussions in the crowd about Dufty’s chances for victory. As mentioned in a Dec. 30 San Francisco Bay Times article, Dufty has new traction in  the race for mayor because State Senator Mark Leno likes his commission appointment in Sacramento and chose not to run for mayor. Since then, however there is chance that his Senate position will be eliminated and that decision is just a few days away from the deadline filing for mayor.

Candidate Dufty is know for his June Pride party floats which are more of an outrageous traveling dance party than the usual sight of a politician progressing slowly down Market Street in a car. A hint of how extreme this year’s Dufty Experience will be were the huge masses of blue and yellow balloons mounted in doorways, the kind that are worn at carnivals.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The RADAR Reading Series Eighth Anniversary: Michelle Tea Gets What She Wants

The RADAR Reading Series, which for eight years has presented a cavalcade of literary artists for the enjoyment of their fans and the curious in search of new writers, is the wondrous creation of unique writer Michelle Tea. Tea is best known not only for hostessing the queercore RADAR Series, but also as a co-founder of the famous Sister Spit traveling spoken word tour and also her novels "Valencia" and "The Chelsea Whistle."

The special anniversary night at the San Francisco Main Public Library on June 1 featured performers that Tea had fantasized about introducing for years and all four were there, and they came on strong. Renee Gladman is a poet and professor, Chinaka Hodge is a playwright and poet, Jonathan David Katz was the co-curator of the recent National Portrait Gallery Hide/Seek exhibit, and Catherine Opie is a world-renowned photographer with a unique eye for high-impact images.

Karen Sundheim, of the library's James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center, warmly greeted the sizable audience and announced the upcoming events for June, then Tea invited the throng to pick up a piece of eighth anniversary cake.

Renee Gladman is highly regarded for her novel "Event Factory," which is the first in a trilogy about a city in a foreign land that is undergoing crises similar to what is happening in America today. She is the author of four books of prose and her goal of enlarging the definition of what is poetry and what is prose is admirable and is reaching national readership.

Chinaka Hodge is riding high since the East Bay Express awarded her a Best Poet title in 2008. Her most recent book "For Girls With Hips" is in its third publication, due to heavy demand. She read others works that had meaning for her, but then she stepped away from the lectern and performed one of her own spoken word confections, with great physicality and she was met with sustained applause.

Jonathan David Katz drew his former students, political operatives who have been following the censorship media coverage of the Hide/Seek show at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and activists who knew him when he co-founded San Francisco’s Queer Nation. Katz taught at Yale University and he is the first tenured faculty member of a lesbian and gay studies program in U.S. history. He showed slides of images that were in the D.C. show and he discussed their Sapphic and homoerotic symbolism. Tea interjected that the attentive crowd was being treated to a Yale-level art lecture and that it should be inspirational and enlightening.

Photographer Catherine Opie’s slide show raised the tension level measurably in the auditorium with images of what she said was her type of butch lesbian. S&M scars were another subject of the slides, and her new expansion into photographs of male high school football players made it possible for more of the diverse audience to appreciate the subjects of her work, which she said is influenced by the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. Opie is a professor of photography at UCLA, and it was evident that about half the crowd came by to see her when Tea announced that the June 17 benefit for RADAR at the Verdi Club will not have Good Vibrations sex toys as raffle prizes, since each audience member already owned all of them. There was a loud roar of laughter in a room with almost every one of the 200+ seats filled.

The event did not end when the library closed because a large number of the audience members crowded the sidewalk outside to meet and mingle and discuss what they had seen and heard, long after the RADAR anniversary was over. Coordinator Tea and the Hormel Center deserve multiple compliments for a superb event.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Racing to Benefit the Castro Country Club: Running in Heels for a Good Cause

Four hysterically screaming drag queens ran down Castro Street on May 30, Memorial Day, to the delight of locals, tourists, and a neighborhood street cleaning crew. It was a race from Jane Warner Plaza to the beneficiary, the Castro Country Club, which is a living sober space that has saved lives for more than 28 years. More than $2,500.00 was raised by contestant registrations, sale of raffle tickets, online donors, and barbecue contributions for the Keep the Steps in the Castro campaign to raise funds to make a downpayment on the building. There has been accelerating anxiety among members and supporters caused by the Club building being listed for sale in an economic downturn. The steps in the campaign title refer to the steps in front of the Club, which are known for an array of attractive shirtless men on sunny days.

Race contestants Hi Colonic Anderson, Landa Lakes, Randy Randi, and Olivia Heart are unique characters and each brought a special exuberance to the event. Anderson was the race winner and raised the most money and sported a large white wig, expressive makeup, cobalt blue short shorts, and a red shirt to complete an all-American look. Lakes is the organizer of the Brush Arbor Gurlz,
a Native American Two Spirits drag group, and an admired former Grand Duchess who came in second in the race in a rhinestone-studded black stretch dress inspired by Madonna. Randi wore a hot pink shirt, sparkle shorts, and a feather boa topped with a plumed hat. Heart, the race coordinator who came in last because of a broken heel, wore a red and white dress adorned by a Queen of Hearts sash, and heart-topped tiara.

In past races two large men ran alongside the runners, but this year the contestants simply signed a liability statement. One runner playfully mentioned that they should ask San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener if they should sign the statements, since he was nearby and he is an attorney. Lakes was clever enough to wear elbow and knee pads, and he had a cheering section led by his lover Hung Phan, who does drag as Miso Hornay, and Phan’s adorable young niece Emelie.

Charming barista Matt served Peet’s coffee, which is considered the best brew offered in the Castro, while a hot dog barbecue filled the distinctive garden. Notable guests included striking King of
Hearts Patrick Bondreaux, who found himself being enticed to share Hi Colonic Anderson’s hotdog after he had cast off his drag to become Jason. Grand Duke Jason Husted was there with his consort Christopher Humphries who is Mr. August on the 2012 Bare Chest Calendar that benefits the AIDS Emergency Fund and the Positive Resource Center. Comic Nick Leonard stopped by with his lover Sandra O, and photographers Mike Shriver and Michael Kerner captured images for club members.

Race winner Anderson and best drag winner Randi received generous gift bags with books and gift cards for Foot Worship, Payless Shoes, Orphan Andy’s and AMC Theaters.

For information about the Club: