Editors' note:Toshio Meronek is a writer and aspiring voiceover artist living in San Francisco. He blogs on disability news and pop culture at Where's Lulu.
On October 15, the queer radicals of Gay Shame turned their lens on the loss of public health services in America with an action centered around the recent closure of New Leaf, a San Francisco organization that provided free mental health care to the LGBTQ community.
A small army of 30 gas mask-sporting, Tyvek-suited queers doled out white and pink pills (Good & Plenty candy) to bystanders on SF's Market Street, as corporate security guards tore down the collective's banners and caution tape marking "ground zero" of the Emergency Kuarantine. One flier proclaimed:
Sick of the limits of your life being dictated by doctor's degrees, 501(c)3s, and 5150s? Society is suffering from a serious "disorder." GAY SHAME invites you to relocate the diagnoses off our bodies and minds and onto the structure of the system:
EMERGENCY QUARANTINE! STOP THE OUTBREAK OF SYSTEMIC INFECTION
...Do you recognize these symptoms?
- CLOSURE OF NEW LEAF LGBTQ COUNSELING CENTER - Medicalized regulation of life; criminalization of illness; alienation, trauma, despair - Growth of the prison-military-medical-non-profit-industrial complex
YES?!?! Your health is in imminent danger, TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY!
This action is a culmination of our many experiences negotiating with mental health institutions, both on the inside and outside of the system, as people who provide and people who receive, as people who attempt and as people who refuse, to access mental health care in the sick system. We'd like to envision mental health support systems that do not pathologize us, that relocate the site of the disorder back onto society and actually eradicate the social, political, and economic violence that makes us [sick].
New Leaf wasn't perfect. Members of Gay Shame said they'd been wait-listed for its services for as many as ten years. Its therapy model was based on psychiatry, with its reliance on institutionalization and the medicalization of different states of being (there's a decent chance that if you're reading this, you may suffer from Gender Identity Disorder). It was also running at a deficit (a relatively small $400,000, considering the Executive Director's $104,000 salary for part-time work). But it provided care to more than 1,300 queers each year, and was unique in prioritizing its services for people with low incomes.
The action's emcees spared few from verbal attack via megaphone. Among those called out:
New Leaf's Executive Director, Thom Lynch, and his six-figure salary for part-time work
Department of Public Health workers just tryna make a living
people who own vacation property in Lake Tahoe
the Board of Directors of New Leaf, which was largely composed of people from the business world, and was responsible for the decision to close the organization (it cited lack of funding, noting it had "explored every possible way" of keeping the place open)
a Ray-Ban-wearing passer-by behind the wheel of a new Ford Mustang
On a national level, this year's health care reform failed on more than a few levels, leaving out undocumented immigrants, barring subsidies for any health plan that covers abortions, and providing a fantastic financial boost to the insurance industry. And the pro-LGBTQ pieces that were included in early versions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, such as a prohibition on discrimination based on sex and gender identity in health care and Medicaid coverage for people with HIV who have low incomes, were jettisoned. Affordable mental health care resources for queers, who are disproportionately affected by conditions like depression (see the big media spotlight on recent gay suicides) are few and far between.
The action was Gay Shame SF's first since last June's Goth Cry-In, protesting the corporatization of Gay Pride. It ended with the contagion claiming a crowd of victims who fell to the ground, dying, outside the doors of the Department of Public Health.