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Sunday, October 2, 2022

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News + PoliticsOpinionPride isn't a safe space with London Breed and the SFPD

Pride isn’t a safe space with London Breed and the SFPD

My hometown celebration now feels dangerous to me, with a cop-loving mayor who disregards her own COVID protocols

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So, just over a week after London Breed said she’d boycott Pride because they weren’t allowing cops, the organizers surrendered their principles and welcomed back Breed and her murder squad. I’m sure the mayor will enjoy this year’s parade. Why wouldn’t she? She’ll be among her people: cops, corporations, and COVID super-spreaders.

However, my SF-born Black bi ass will not be there, as it had been every year through 2019. Even at its most gratingly corporate, I’ve always enjoyed the pageantry of the parade floats and pixies marching down Market. Yes, I know it makes the activist founders of Pride cringe (hell, one reason I spent my 41 years on Earth low-key glad that Juneteenth wasn’t bigger deal was because I didn’t want it co-opted by drunk, white assholes like Cinco de Mayo). The former protest has become a showcase for rainbow-colored Wells Fargo logos on display for a mostly-straight/cis audience wearing fishnets and nipple-patches the way Disneyland visitors wear mouse ears.

That doesn’t remove the joy I felt seeing international travelers gathering in “America’s Gayest City”—my hometown—for the best party of the year. With friends or by myself, I’d happily head to the Civic Center booths to collect themed tchotchkes and condoms as overpriced churros were eaten in a suggestive manner. All respect to Leather Alley, but my personal fave was the corner (it always seemed to be a corner) dedicated to hip-hop, sometimes sponsored by KMEL or WYLD 94.9. Happiness is holding a cold drink and nodding my head to bass-heavy Yay Area beats as butch Black lesbos monopolize the dance floor to grind on their girlfriends (or girls they met five minutes earlier). Everyone in the world came out because everyone felt safe.

That’s not the Pride London Breed attended, one where she actually mingled with us. I’ve seen Margaret Cho there a million times (I never had the courage to introduce myself), but never Breed. To her, Pride is just like St. Paddy’s, Chinese New Year, or [insert event here]—it’s all just an excuse to bring corporate logos into our city as tourists make a mess that she’ll inevitably blame on city supervisors, and ride through on a questionable float. She doesn’t know the joy of being in that hip-hop corner—both before and after weed was legal—and walking through a cloud of chronic smoke because we could openly dance and indulge like that one time of the year without being harassed by the cops.

Again, even at its most corporate, Pride was great because it made everyone feel safe. Breed just stole that from us.

Another Civic Center memory I have is from June 9, 2020. I attended the socially-distant post-George Floyd rally Kneeling 4 Justice outside of City Hall. Breed was one of the speakers. She went on about how “This can’t go on”, how she’d implement several non-police responses, and how she’d be exemplary by holding SFPD accountable for the many, many, many deaths on their heads. That autumn, Pride organizers banned cops from the parade after they attacked protesters.

As with SF’s ahead-of-the-curve COVID response, it actually seemed Breed was responding the right way. And just like with COVID, she fucked it up royally. Two years later and we see that “holding [cops] accountable” means turning Union Square into a mini-police state and giving the cops a fat portion of The City’s new budget as she kicks up her heels and watches her district attorney—a guy who actually did hold cops accountable—get sacrificed on the altar of Koch brothers money.

If you’ve read, well, nearly anything I’ve written over the past two-plus years, you probably know how sick I am of Breed playing the victim when called out on her bullshit, using her Blackness as a shield as she backtracks on defunding the police. Like her, I was born here in SF, but the moment she ascended into Ed Lee’s still-warm mayoral seat, SF’s Black queer community has shouted to the heavens about the threat she poses. The one-two punch of marching in Pride and letting Chesa Boudin get recalled doesn’t merely continue Breed’s history of being a danger to us, it’s her actively painting targets on our backs. Breed’s Blackness doesn’t deflect valid criticism any more than when Tim Cook’s homosexuality deflects discrimination at Apple.

And yes, COVID is still a runaway danger here in SF. As someone who gets his scientific COVID info from the weekly Round-Ups as fellow SF-born bi Violet Blue, you know that numbers have not only been high for a while, but they’ve been steadily rising again—all under Breed’s watch. How does one intentionally go from being the science-loving mayor from Dante’s Peak (played by national treasure Linda Hamilton) to the greedy mayor from Jaws? Wait, I take that back—the mayor in Jaws actually signed safety measures once he saw the carnage with his own two eyes.

(Side note: if you’re not already following Violet’s weekly Round-Ups, do so now. They’re free to view without a Patreon subscription, and have consistently presented the most wide-ranging and scientifically-scrutinized aggregation of COVID stories for the last two-plus years.)

Another running theme of my writing of late has been attending and reviewing shows unexpectedly preceded by speeches from Breed herself. As press, I often sit pretty close to the stage, so I’ve gotten a first-person view as she frequently declared it was “time to open again” because SF boasted an 84% vaccination rate (despite only having an overall booster rate around 59%, which hasn’t changed in months). I was also there for the opening of Dear San Francisco, shortly after she’d been busted breaking her own COVID rules and called enforcers “the fun police” (the only police she dislikes).

That opening night, the mayor mocked us in the audience for taking the protocols so seriously. Yes, folks, London Breed mocked COVID protocols right to my face. Fortunately, my face was double-masked.

She continues to openly mock us. As non-corporate bars and restaurants continue to struggle, Breed attended the SF Nightlife Summit on June 7, hours before Boudin would be recalled. (Election results were delayed because 100 poll workers called in sick with COVID.) I wasn’t at the summit, but I did get the following e-mail from Marke B: “Watching the nightlife summit. Just now, Breed said ‘[A]s you know, I’ve been busted a couple times trying to have fun in some spots. So, to all of you bar owners who have no camera and no cell phone policies, I thank you.’”

That’s what London Breed thinks of us. It doesn’t matter to her that small businesses—some Black- and LGBTQ-owned—are in danger of vanishing forever; it doesn’t matter to her that supporting a notoriously corrupt police department endangers someone who looks like her; and it doesn’t matter to her that COVID is raging out of control in SF, including the very housing projects where she grew up. No, all that matters to her is smiling for the cameras at a potential super-spreader event.

In halcyon days, me and my friends would hoof it to either Polk or The Castro proper. We’d slink into bars like The Mix, where the short-short-wearing staff came from behind the counter to hand me free Jell-O shots “just because.” We’d head out to the patio to drink, chat, and/or make out with each other amongst sweaty, scantily-clad strangers. After the sun went down, some would break off to house parties, some of the ladies would head to The Lex (RIP), some of us would see what was playing on The Castro stage, some would head home. All the while, we’re laughing at shivering tourists who had no idea what “summer in SF” means.

That’s why we kept extra jackets. It’s also why we always had condoms and made sure the only people touching our drinks were one of us or the bar staff: We had the right to always feel safe.

I’ll definitely have my jacket this year, along with two masks on my face, but I’m staying far away from the parade. The city that was at the forefront of HIV/AIDS education and safety is run by an administration that likes being a COVID hot spot. With LGBTQ+ rights—especially trans rights—being chipped away like termite-eaten wood, I’ll be damned if a applaud a march by the notoriously homophobic police department that just shot two men dead in Mission Bay.

I love Pride and my hometown more than words can say, but I won’t take part in the former this year. I won’t do it because I’m angry. I won’t do it because I care about what happens to others. Most importantly, I won’t do it because it’s not safe.

Because of London Breed, it’s not safe.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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