Bil Browning

Solution to HRC taking over Harvey Milk's store?

Filed By Bil Browning | December 16, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: camera store, Harvey Milk, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, San Francisco, Trevor Project

I was surprised to find myself quoted in a recent Associated Press article about HRC leasing Harvey Milk's old camera shop in the Castro. I banged off a quick rant, used my wal-mart-mona-lisa.jpgmassive Photoshop skills to whip up the graphic, and forgot about it. Apparently including a doctored photo of the Mona Lisa gets you an AP quote! *grins*

"It's spitting in the face of Harvey's memory," said AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones, who received his political education at Milk's side in the 1970s.

"What's next? Removing the Mona Lisa's face and replacing it with the Wal-Mart smiley face?" asked Bil Browning, the founder of a popular gay issues blog.
"He was not an 'A-Gay' and had no desire to be an A-Gay. He despised those people and they despised him," [Dustin Lance Black] said. "That, to me, is the crowd HRC represents. Don't try to wrap yourself up in Harvey Milk's mantle and pretend you are one of us."

Seriously though, it really does irritate me that HRC will be taking over the space. Cleve called me after the post went up and left a message about how irritated he is over the blatant commercialism and I wholeheartedly agree. It smacks of riding an assassinated man's memory all the way to the bank.

Still, this suggestion for a compromise on the issue intrigues me.

Some folks on Facebook have started a group urging HRC to give the space to Trevor Project. The Bay Area Reporter tells some of the backstory:

This week a Facebook page was launched to urge HRC officials to rethink their use of the storefront at 575 Castro Street. As of Wednesday, more than 300 people had said they "like" the idea of allowing the Trevor Project operate a call-in center at the store.

Openly gay state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) told the Bay Area Reporter he thinks it would be an ideal compromise that Milk would also like.

"Harvey would be pissed and amused and then try to leverage it. This might be the common ground solution," said Ammiano. "He would want for us to not be fighting in public as much and come to some solution that would be really beneficial."

Over 400 people have joined the group as I write this so they're gaining momentum. (I joined.) The article says that HRC has been approached about the possibility but rebuffed the possibility. The Trevor Project didn't respond to media inquiries - including mine.

I don't know how the Trevor Project utilizes space currently. Would they even be interested in moving? Do they have their own facilities now? Would HRC also operate in the same location?

There's a lot of questions still left - and this is only an idea generated online - but still, it's intriguing. If Trevor could use the space, it would mollify my grumblings quite a bit.

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8PM DEC 16

The only comment that HRC will make on this, according to Fred Sainz, Vice-President of Communications & Marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, to journalists including myself & apparently also Matthew S. Bajko at The Bay Area Reporter newspaper, is that HRC will not, emphasis on NOT, sub-lease any portion of 575 Castro Street to any other organisation.

"That location will be an HRC action center and store," said Sainz.

Interestingly enough, the owner of the building who founded was was to become one of San Francisco's wealthiest and most prominent Gay Owned Real Estate companies, Paul Langley, had forced Harvey out of that location nearly nine months prior to his death, by raising Supervisor Milk's rent exorbitantly as a result of a dispute over tenant rights.

Langley is also notorious for being directly responsible for raising the rent on the famed Elephant Walk bar at the corner of 18th & Castro just up the block, ultimately refusing to renew or negotiate a lease forcing that business to close & then within a year opening up a bar named Harvey's which he still owns to this day nearly 18 years later.

Langley, wealthy white old establishment Gay guy was precisely the type of individual that Supervisor Milk disliked and frankly avoided interaction with if at all possible. To an old Milk campaign hand like Cleve Jones or former employee Dan Nicoletta, who has also voiced his opposition to HRC's leasing the location, HRC represents the "Gay Inc." that Supervisor Milk couldn't abide.

Look, that location in succession after Supervisor Milk's tenancy has included a clothing boutique, a shop that sold bath soap & beauty care products, and finally a unique housewares business as its last tenant. Then it had stood empty as a testament to the recession for nearly the past year.

An argument cannot be made about 'historic' preservation as that would be ludicrous. Yet, an argument could be made that what needs to be located in that storefront is a business or even a non-profit that echoes Supervisor Milk's vision and idealogical stance on the community of THE CASTRO. Caps & emphasis is intentional as from my research and interviews conducted since this news broke has shown that above all Harvey Milk loved the Castro-it was home. He believed in businesses that served all of its residents in an inclusive manner, something U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein verified in a phone conversation earlier this week. The Senator had no comment in regards to HRC's plans by the way.

So what is an equitable solution? At this point it damn well be moot as HRC has a track record for ignoring or simply dismissing its critics.

I have to agree with Bil, I find that this move across the street is not well thought out nor necessary as considering the financial resources HRC has, it would have been by far better to have an ad hoc group or other service oriented non-profit in that storefront which would have been more in keeping with the spirit of Supervisor Milk's ideals.

I fear though that HRC will simply not listen and bull doze through further alienating itself from the greater LGBTQ community and retaining its role as Gay Inc. which has raised the ire of the greater LGBTQ community.

How about a drop-in social services center for queer/homeless youth? Desperately needed around there. Could the lobbyists peel off a few bucks to actually help people? But that probably wouldn't be very popular with some of the gentrifying business owners on the Castro commercial corridor. Another rainbow-theme chotchke shop is more in keeping with what the old nabe has become.

Yeah, I don't see why a call center has to be in prime real estate that would probably come with huge rent and property taxes. I know the Trevor Project is the only gay org that we're supposed to like because they don't engage in politics, which can be frustrating and incite disagreement, but this compromise doesn't make much sense. Would they be able to afford it anyway? Why do phone calls have to go to downtown SF?

Harold's idea sounds much better. And get Ammiano to propose government funds for it instead of just whining and asking a non-controversial nonprofit to make him look like he cares while not pissing off the surrounding businesses/campaign funders.

Kathleen O'Neal | December 17, 2010 8:04 AM

My problem with HRC isn't ideological. Some people assert they're too left-wing and others assert they're too right-wing. The truth is that both of these criticisms don't matter as long as HRC is ineffective. In all of its years of existence, what of value has HRC truly done for the LGBT community or LGBT individuals? I would love to support a mainstream LGBT rights group. Alas all of the ones that currently exist are completely ineffective and therefore undeserving of my support.

Dustin Lance Black talking about Harvey despising A gays- I think I hear that pot calling Dustin, they are asking for you....

It should be 1 part history center and 1 part community space. Period. Why can't a few LOCAL orgs ban together and share the space - an AIDS org and Lyric for example.