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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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San Francisco

San Francisco attorney Richard Zitrin on Harvey Milk & lost AIDS history

The Castro was beginning to be the center of gay life when Harvey opened his camera shop- We brought our slides to him that’s- how we met him 

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Courtesy of Richard Zitrin

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – For almost half a century, Richard Zitrin has been steeped in the tumultuous fight against injustice as a trial lawyer, professor and legal ethics expert.

He’s a walking vault of California progressive history, some of which he talks about in his new memoir Trial Lawyer: A Life Representing People Against Power. But there are many gems in that vault that are not in the book — stories about gay icon Harvey Milk and Larry Long and Gerald Martin III, for instance, two gay men with AIDS apparently lost to history. 

Zitrin is a storyteller. His vivid chapter about representing Johnny Spain, the only one of the infamous 1970s San Quentin Six convicted of murder – convictions that were eventually overturned – should be made into a movie.

The chapter on the luridly false tabloid McMartin preschool cases where he represented a doctor accused of child molestation by a 15-year-old girl includes the parallel story of how Zitrin learned to talk to juries by revealing an emotional truth about himself. The story about his poor Latina client who lost steering control over her Dodge van on Mission Street in San Francisco and crashed into a building in the late 1980s included an epiphany.

Through discovery during litigation, Zitrin found that Chrysler Corporation knew about the defect in their 2 million Dodge vans and had hidden that knowledge through secret agreements. 

“What you don’t know will hurt you,” Zitrin told Public Justice. “It just seems like it’s extraordinarily unethical for anybody to keep that information secret from the public.” He’s now dedicated to exposing overly broad court protective orders and secrecy agreements that hide information important to the public’s health and safety. 

Zitrin’s latest fight against court secrecy has been his tireless advocacy for the Public Right to Know Act (SB 1149), a bill he wrote with California State Senator Connie M. Leyva, co-sponsored by Public Justice and Consumer Reports. SB 1149 passed in the Senate and recently passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It is expected to hit the Assembly floor in August.  

With five decades of frontline experience combating injustice, civil rights icons are longtime friends. After George Floyd’s murder, Eva Paterson of the Equal Justice Society asked him to write an essay for her newsletter that turned into “Why being anti-racist is not enough” that the ABA Journal published as an open letter to Zitrin’s white progressive friends. 

But a straight ally casually referencing a gay icon is still strange. “I knew Harvey Milk when he first came to San Francisco — in the same neighborhood at the same time that I went to San Francisco,” Zitrin said unexpectedly while talking about how much he hates injustice. 

Wait, what? Harvey Milk in the Castro in 1973?

“Well, Harvey was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, as I am — though he was a bit older.  My wife and I were living between Noe Valley and the Castro, which was then called Eureka Valley. The Castro was just beginning to become the center of gay life when Harvey moved in and opened his camera shop. He was local so we just brought our slides to him. That’s how we met him. 

“It was before he ran for supervisor,” Zitrin recalled. “I remember going to a very, very early meeting about people going door to door and handing out pamphlets and doing precinct walks for Harvey Milk. We were at his shop with a fairly small bunch of people — maybe 15 or 20 — gay people, straight people, couples like my former wife and myself. He was just a super nice guy. I didn’t know him well. But I sure like going to his shop and talking to him. I liked his politics a lot.

“Later on, between 1980 and 1986, which was during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, our office was on 18th Street, one block from the Castro Theater,” Zitrin said. “We were right in the center of the gay community, right next to Hot and Hunky Hamburgers, if you can believe that!”

Would the response to AIDS have been different if Milk had not been assassinated in 1978?

“I think that’s very possible,” Zitrin said. “The AIDS crisis came on suddenly for all of us and it was going to have a huge consequence, regardless. San Francisco was in the forefront medically but while Cleve Jones, for example, was around and was Harvey’s disciple and was a great leader, he wasn’t Harvey. Harvey was so powerful and charismatic that had he been around, I’m sure it would have helped focus attention on the issue. He would have helped bring it to quicker national attention.”

Zitrin also shared about two gay men who almost lost their jobs when they became ill with AIDS.  

“In about 1982, I joined the San Francisco Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service Committee and soon became Vice Chair. The service’s director, Larry Long, became ill with AIDS. He was hospitalized and I remember in those early days, there was nothing we could do other than wish him well or go visit,” said Zitrin.   

“Shortly thereafter, Long’s second in command, office manager Gerald Martin III, a gay African-American man, also became sick with AIDS and was also unable to work. And at that time, the hierarchy of the Bar — even in liberal San Francisco — was being run by a bunch of old white men….and their view was that since Larry wasn’t at the Bar anymore, he should be fired. The folks on the Lawyer Referral committee didn’t like that much. And we were concerned about Gerald, too. I kind of led a palace rebellion.”

The old executive director of the Bar Association was on his way out and was looking for a successor who would “cut Larry and Gerald loose,” recalled Zitrin, who was enraged by the immoral and unethical effort. “I was able to organize the committee, with help from the woman who took over as the supervisor — Carol Woods — and the committee just stood up and said, ‘we’re not going to allow this. If you’re going to do it, we’re going to be yelling and screaming about it.’ Almost every member of the 15-person committee was on our side. We got them to back down until the executive director retired. The Bar’s new director was Drucilla Ramey, whose expertise was in equal pay for women and who understood full well what the right thing to do was. Dru led the Bar for 18 years and she and I became good friends”. 

Long died in 1985, followed by Martin in 1986. “They were missed,” said Zitrin. The California State Bar Association subsequently gave out annual Larry Long Awards to notable leaders in the Lawyer Referral field. “I’m actually one of the early recipients of that Award, which I’m very proud of.”

While stories about gay men being fired for or while ill with AIDS have appeared in popular and LGBTQ culture — such as the movie “Philadelphia” — there does not appear to be a digital record of the battle that befell Larry Long and Gerald Martin III, until now. How many more stories of those lost to AIDS have yet to be told?

*********************

Karen Ocamb is the Director of Media Relations for Public Justice.

See her conversation with Richard Zitrin on YouTube where they discuss the book, racism, implicit bias, legal ethics and court secrecy. Professor Zitrin also gives good advice to young law students.

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San Francisco

Shooting on Muni Train in San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ Castro neighborhood

One victim was pronounced dead at the scene. The other victim was transported to a hospital The suspect fled from the train remains at large

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San Francisco police Officer Kathryn Winters speaks with media about shooting on the Muni Train (Screenshot/YouTube ABC7 News)

SAN FRANCISCO – A shooting on a Muni Train between the Forest Hill and Castro stations killed one person and seriously injured another Wednesday morning at around 10:00AM NBC Bay Area reported.

The gun violence, which occurred as Pride Week festivities are cranking up in the city rattled the LGBTQ+ community, however s spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department indicated that investigators do not believe that that the gunman was targeting the community.

“I also want to assure the community that this incident does not appear to have any connection to Pride events or does not appear to target the LGBTQ community,” San Francisco police Officer Kathryn Winters said. “We really want to make sure that our community members and visitors who are in town for Pride week understand that.”

According to Winters one victim was pronounced dead at the scene. The other victim was transported to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The suspect fled from the train at the Castro station and remains at large. Winters told NBC Bay Area the shooting appeared to be an isolated incident.

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) released the following statement regarding the shooting:

“The shooting that occurred on the Muni subway near Castro Station — a subway ride I’ve taken thousands of times over the past 25 years — is a horrific tragedy. It’s another reminder that as long as our country is awash in guns, shootings can happen anywhere, anytime. My heart goes out to the victims, and I know SFPD is working hard to apprehend the shooter. We must recommit as a nation to end the easy availability of guns. California has the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, and we’re continuing to strengthen them. But we need strong action from Congress to truly improve the safety of our community.”

It wasn’t immediately known if the suspect and victims knew each other. SFPD are investigating any potential connections and are also looking into what led up to the shooting.

Anyone who witnessed the shooting is asked to contact San Francisco police.

Muni subway service between the West Portal and Castro stations has been stopped, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said.

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San Francisco

Out State Sen. Scott Wiener receives death threat, police investigate

This is another example of growing attacks on LGBTQ people around the country & are a direct result of hateful, anti-LGBTQ political rhetoric

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State Senator Scott Wiener (D-SF) (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

SAN FRANCISCO – Police executed a search of California State Senator Scott Wiener’s San Francisco home Sunday and his legislative offices in Sacramento with bomb dogs after a senior staffer received a credible death threat targeting the openly gay Democratic lawmaker.

The threat against Wiener came during LGBTQ+ Pride month and on a weekend of threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community. The threat was sent in an email to one of the senator’s principal aides who in turn notified Wiener at which point the authorities were engaged.

WARNING: The following image’s language is graphic:

Screenshot of threat (redacted)

Both the San Francisco Police Department and California Highway Patrol are investigating the threat, the SFPD’s public information officer Officer Kathryn Winters told the Blade.

“This is an ongoing investigation which is being handled by the California Highway Patrol and the San Francisco Police Department Special Investigations Division, and we work with agencies such as the CHP in response to incidents such as this,” Winters said.

 “I’ve been getting death threats for years as a result of our work to advance the civil rights of LGBTQ people and people living with HIV. I’m not going to stop doing that work no matter what threats people make. This is just another example of the growing attacks we’re seeing on LGBTQ people around the country — including this past weekend in Idaho and San Lorenzo. These attacks are a direct result of the hateful, anti-LGBTQ political rhetoric coming from right-wing politicians and activists. Words have consequences,”  Wiener said in a statement.

The Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group whose membership espouse hate-filled anti-gay/anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric disrupted a Drag Queen Story Hour event at the San Lorenzo Library located on Paseo Grande in Alameda County, California Saturday afternoon.

Lt. Ray Kelly, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer said a that group of men described as members of the Proud Boys organization, entered the during library its “Drag Queen Story Time” event and made “homophobic and transphobic remarks against a member of the LGTBQ+ community who was hosting the event.”

Witnesses reported that the men began to shout homophobic and transphobic slurs at the event organizer, drag queen Panda Dulce. The men were described as extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety. Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the library and were able to de-escalate the situation.

Kelly indicated that there was an active hate crime investigation as a result of the actions of the five Proud Boys. According to Kelly, in addition to drag queen organiser Panda Dulce there were parents and minor children also present.

Senator Wiener tweeted Sunday:

In the second incident mentioned by Wiener in his Sunday tweet, at the end of last week heavily armed Coeur d’Alene police officers and Kootenai County Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear arrested armed anti-LGBTQ+ protestors, and a few self-labeled ‘street preachers’ who were attempting to disrupt the “Pride in the Park” in Coeur d’Alene City Park which returned after a two-year hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press reported that Coeur d’Alene police officers and Kootenai County Sheriff’s deputies arrested 31 people who had face coverings, white-supremacist insignia, shields and an “operations plan” to riot near an LGBTQ Pride event on Saturday afternoon. Lee White, the police chief of the Coeur d’Alene police department said those arrested were affiliated with Patriot Front, a white-supremacist group whose founder was among those arrested.

Patriot Front was once known as Vanguard America (VA), one of the main organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Authorities received a tip about a “little army” loading into a U-Haul truck at a hotel Saturday afternoon, said Lee. Local and state law enforcement pulled over the truck about 10 minutes later, White said at a news conference.

Many of those arrested were wearing logos representing Patriot Front, which rebranded after one of its members plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.

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