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The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza; preliminary design revealed

“The balance between Harvey’s history and the movement’s history feels correct- Harvey would have liked it”

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Harvey Milk in front of his 'Castro Camera' shop (Photo by Dan Nicoletta)

SAN FRANCISCO – The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza (FHMP) revealed a new vision for the Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza Thursday, which is located at the iconic intersection of Castro and Market Streets  commemorating the visionary civil and human rights leader.

“The balance between Harvey’s history and the movement’s history feels correct to me. Harvey would have liked it,” shared photographer Dan Nicoletta, who was close friends with Harvey and worked at his Castro  Camera store on Castro Street.  

In alignment with San Francisco’s Pride Month celebrations, the design is being shared with the  public for feedback via two virtual town hall meetings on June 23 and 24 and via a broader continued online  engagement effort available here, [Link].

“We believe the redesign captures the public’s desire to better honor Harvey Milk and creates one of the United  States’ first ‘next generation’ memorials: one that will continue to represent the values of the local community  through growth and change. The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza will interweave the past and the present so that  it serves as a call to action for generations that follow,” explained FHMP Interim Executive Director Brian  Springfield. 

Included in the design are features dedicated to visibility and representation of the wide spectrum of people  encompassed by the LGBTQ+ community. Public art and interactive elements celebrate LGBTQ+ culture and  history while also promoting a call to action in support of social justice movements, making the Memorial at  Harvey Milk Plaza a place where hope and action live on forever.

The design is anticipated to be finalized this year, and the project’s initial phase of transit station improvements  is expected to break ground in 2022. Springfield emphasized that the new design being shared is still  preliminary, and that FHMP and SWA continue to seek input from the community – at the two upcoming design  presentations and through ongoing input gathered through an interactive online community engagement portal available.

Four core elements will characterize the renewed plaza: The Pedestal, the Beacon, the Grove, and the Gallery. More details about each design element, along with high resolution images, can be found here. 

Public feedback collected since 2017 has been incorporated into the new design, reflecting the community’s  desire for an unconventional and inclusive design process and assurance that Milk’s qualities and legacy remain  front-and-center. Discussions among FHMP, local landscape architecture firm SWA, local Castro-based  organizations, and the general public will continue as the designs are refined.

“Harvey Milk Plaza can be a space that both honors the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and lifts up the  voices and struggles of today’s queer community, all while functioning as an inviting gateway to the Castro and  Muni,” said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro neighborhood and is currently  the Board of Supervisors’ sole LGBTQ+ member. “The concepts being shared today are an exciting step forward  in achieving that vision.”

Initial funding for the project has been provided through private and public sources, including a $1 million grant  from the State of California, earmarked specifically to “support construction of LGBTQ space in Harvey Milk  Plaza.”

The project team’s next steps include continued design refinements in response to ongoing community  input, coordination with various city agencies, and progress through the approvals process, with a goal of being  prepared to begin construction in Summer/Fall 2022.

The new design is inspired by Harvey’s words, intersectional activism, and community input, with a keen eye for current and future transit needs. California State Senator Scott Wiener said, “Harvey Milk Plaza is at the heart of the  Castro community — a place to gather, to go about our lives, and to remember Harvey’s many contributions.  Our community deserves a plaza worthy of Harvey’s memory — one that educates and allows us to organize and  enjoy our amazing neighborhood. The Harvey Milk Plaza redesign is a long overdue effort to make this great plaza all it can be.”

To see the new design and provide your input, please visit the website.

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San Francisco

Lesbian educator Sally Gearhart dies- a pioneering LGBTQ activist

Ms. Gearhart was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984), having been a friend and colleague of Milk

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Sally Miller Gearhart (Photo Credit: Melanie Nathan via SF Pride)

By Cynthia Laird | SAN FRANCISCO – Sally Miller Gearhart, the first out lesbian to receive a tenure-track position at San Francisco State University and a beloved LGBTQ rights advocate, died July 14, according to Jean Crosby, who sent out an email to friends. She was 90.

Ms. Gearhart had been in poor health for several years. She had lived for many years in Willits, California but had moved recently to a care home in Ukiah.

The GLBT Historical Society posted on Facebook about Ms. Gearhart’s passing, of which they were informed by her good friend, Ruth Mahaney.

“Losing Sally is like a huge tree falling. She was very tall, and she was so important in the world,” stated Mahaney. “She had been saying she wanted out of here, to be ‘up in the sky.’ She was ready to go.”

In 1973, Ms. Gearhart received the tenure-track position at SF State. She established one of the first women’s and gender studies programs in the country while at the university, and was a leading LGBTQ activist throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

The San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee recognized Gearhart for her work in 2016 when she received the Heritage of Pride, Pride Freedom Award. She was unable to attend the parade.

Ms. Gearhart was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984), having been a friend and colleague of Milk, the late gay San Francisco supervisor. Ms. Gearhart worked with Milk on the 1978 defeat of Proposition 6, a California ballot initiative that sought to exclude gay men and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Ms. Gearhart was also an acclaimed author of feminist science fiction.

During the Prop 6 campaign, Ms. Gearhart and Milk debated then-state Senator John Briggs, the author of the anti-gay initiative. It is a clip of that debate that is featured in the documentary.

“Harvey Milk and I did wonderful things together. We looked like mom and pop,” Ms. Gearhart recalled of their work on the ballot measure campaign in Deborah Craig and Veronica Deliz’s 2018 short documentary “A Great Ride.”

The film showcased the lives of a number of senior lesbians living throughout Northern California. The filmmakers followed Ms. Gearhart as she drove her beat up jeep with her dog, Bodhi, by her side through the Women’s Land all-female community she helped establish in Willits.

With the camera rolling, the relatively reclusive Ms. Gearhart at that point in her life discussed her fears about aging. In her later years Ms. Gearhart had declined media interviews, while her friends raised funds to cover the cost to care for her.

“I am scared to lose my ability to drive and my independence,” she told the filmmakers.

Ms. Gearhart was also featured in “Last Call at Maud’s,” a 1993 film about the former San Francisco lesbian bar. Carrie Preston portrayed her in the 2017 TV miniseries “When We Rise,” which was partially inspired by gay activist Cleve Jones’ memoir of the same title.

Craig has been working on a full-length documentary solely about Ms. Gearhart, which she had told the Bay Area Reporter she hoped to release this year. She found her to be “charismatic” and “a quirky hero.”

“She has this whole arc to her story that is really kind of … hopefully we can make a great American story of transformation. She was this small town Southern girl and becomes a character and leader and icon,” Craig had told the B.A.R.. “A lot of people, women especially, felt she hasn’t gotten her due. She was written out of the ‘Milk’ film. I try not to pass judgment, but that is what happened.”

Terry Beswick, a gay man who’s executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, talked about the significance of Ms. Gearhart’s life in a Facebook post.

“Sally’s contributions to LGBTQ history and culture were immeasurable,” Beswick stated. “She was a courageous fighter for equality at a time when it made an indelible difference then and now. So many people do not know her story, and I’m so glad that there is a documentary in the works to honor this unsung hero.”

In the mid-1970s, Ms. Gearhart was co-chair of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. This organization offered a variety of speaking events and literature to educate followers on the Judeo-Christian tradition. It also educated legislators about LGBTQ people and the issues that they faced.

Ms. Gearhart was born in Pearisburg, Virginia, on April 15, 1931 to Sarah Miller Gearhart and Kyle Montague Gearhart. According to her Wikipedia entry, Ms. Gearhart attended an all-women’s institution, Sweet Briar College, near Lynchburg, Virginia. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in drama and English in 1952.

At Bowling Green State University, she obtained a master’s degree in theater and public address in 1953. She continued on at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, getting her Ph.D. in theater in 1956, with the intent of pursuing a life of academia.

Cynthia Laird is the Editor-In-Chief and News Editor of the Bay Area Reporter. Laird is a long time journalist in the SF Bay Area having studied Government-Journalism at California State University, Sacramento. She and her wife live in Oakland.

The preceding article was previously published by The Bay Area Reporter and is republished by permission.

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San Francisco

SF Gay Men’s Chorus receives death threats after InfoWars article

The office of the SF Gay Men’s Chorus is closed “out of an abundance of caution” after receiving negative messages including death threats

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The offices of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, housed at its National LGBTQ Arts Center in San Francisco, closed out of an "abundance of caution" following harsh criticism of its video by InfoWars, a right-wing site run by Alex Jones. Photo: Jeff Zaruba

By John Ferrannini | SAN FRANCISCO – The office of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is closed “out of an abundance of caution” after members started receiving a barrage of negative messages, including death threats, in response to a mischaracterization of a song the group posted to YouTube, its executive director said Thursday.

Chris Verdugo, a gay man who is the executive director of the chorus, told the Bay Area Reporter July 8 that the website InfoWars — run by far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — called the song “A Message from the Gay Community” “pedophilic” in an online article July 7. That apparently unleashed the vitriol.

“The threat that stuck in my head,” Verdugo said of the harassing messages he fielded, “was, ‘We’re gonna put lead in your head.’ That was quite frightening.”

The chorus posted its video to YouTube last week.

Verdugo said that the song includes the words “we’re coming for your children” to evoke long-standing fears that gay men will convert children to homosexuality, for the purpose of exposing those fears. The real conversion gay men are interested in, Verdugo said, is teaching others to be “tolerant and fair.”

That message was lost on, or deliberately misrepresented by, InfoWars, Verdugo said.

“The song is tongue-in-cheek, satirical, and I’d say nuanced except it’s not even that,” Verdugo said. “Since Anita Bryant, there’s been people who think there is a gay agenda; that pedophiles will convert children to become homosexuals. That’s not true, but we do have a gay agenda — teaching children to be tolerant and fair.

“Yeah, we’re going to convert them to be tolerant, kind, justice-seeking people,” Verdugo said.

Anita Bryant, of course, is the anti-gay activist who in the 1970s ran the Save Our Children campaign to overturn equal protection laws nationwide. Bryant served as brand ambassador for the Florida Citrus Commission from 1969 to 1980. In 1977, during her successful campaign to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida, the gay community retaliated by organizing a boycott of orange juice.

Bryant once stated “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.”

Verdugo said that members of the chorus and administration have been inundated with phone calls and messages, which “span the gamut from just people being hateful, which we’re accustomed to, to people saying we should be killed, and more references to Hitler and the Nazis than I have ever seen in my life.”

Verdugo said that the office, housed in the chorus’ National LGBTQ Center for the Arts, will be closed until further notice. An investigator from the San Francisco Police Department is working on the case, he added, and the chorus has been in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Francisco field office.

The field office acknowledged that the incident was reported to it.

“I can confirm that this incident was reported to law enforcement, including the FBI,” the FBI San Francisco media team stated in an email. “We will be unable to comment further.”

The SFPD has been unable to confirm or deny that investigations into the death threats are taking place as of press time.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, GLAAD found that LGBTQs face more online hate and harassment than any minority group. Some of this is fueled by false equivalencies between homosexuality and pedophilia, as GLAAD found in a March study.

As the B.A.R. reported last year, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) was the subject of death threats for introducing a bill that InfoWars falsely stated would “decriminalize adult men having sex with boys.”

Wiener’s bill, which is now law, did not change criminal statutes. It allowed judges the option to not include on the state’s sex offender registry those over the age of 18 who have been convicted of oral or anal intercourse with someone between the ages of 14 and 17, provided that the individual so convicted is within 10 years of age of their consensual sexual partner.

This year, Wiener is aiming to secure $1.7 million in the state’s budget for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’s National LGBTQ Center for the Arts on Valencia Street. The funds would be used for a new air circulation and filtration system; Governor Gavin Newsom still needs to sign off on the final budget.

John Ferrannini is the Assistant News Editor, of The Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco, California

The preceding article was originally published by The Bay Area Reporter and is republished by permission.

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