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On Our Backs, Mr. Newsom?

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Market Street looks different from between the lanes: The buildings that impose jagged geometry from above, dominating the vista, are marginalized into stanchion and chassis of a sky that the 9-to-5 would have us forget. You can’t walk casually from lane to lane, sliding past cars, in “normal” times in San Francisco. This is not a “normal” view of Market Street. But November 7 was not normal in any sense. In response to California’s decision to define queer love differently under the state Constitution, tens of thousands of queers—without permission, without license, without approval—took over San Francisco’s central business street. At Octavia, I looked back toward the Faerie Building and saw that we had filled all lanes of Market Street as far as could be seen. Ahead, toward Twin Peaks, the view was no less—and I mean this in the Biblical sense—awesome. I don’t know how each of us would have articulated our hearts that night, but I’ll venture a rough translation: When one portion of a society arrogates to itself and delimits the native rights of all human beings, business cannot continue as normal.

We marched to Dolores Park. We danced. We marched back. We danced. We hollered. We screamed so loud our souls threatened to shake free of our bodies. At Civic Center Plaza, a dozen of us danced in the middle of Carlton B. Goodlett to the Brass Liberation Orchestra, knees and fingers screaming, “Bella ciao!” to the moon.

As we dispersed, I stumbled into a straight married couple I know who have been selling the Street Sheet for the past two months. I attempted to give them my greetings, but had left my voice on the steps of City Hall. We exchanged hugs, and the next several hours faded into night.

I don’t know if this is intelligible. The first week of November was a major loss for queers in California and the United States. We learned that yes, indeed: They really do hate us that much. But if I could teach straight people—if I could teach the privileged—just one thing about oppression, I think I would make it a gift rather than a lesson: I would give them the bodily electricity of communal realization. I would let them know that survival is the ecstatic refusal to die. I would given them the surety that we were dancing amid brimstone while Sodom burned. I wish, readers of privilege, you could feel that.

The queer movement has always been about community. We’ve had our share of princesses, sure, but we’re not really about the heroes. We’re about the riots—Stonewall, Compton Cafeteria, White Night—and we’re about the moments of community care—like the wellspring of responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco in the ‘80s—more than we’re about getting Mosesed out of Egypt.

When Gavin Newsom, shortly after ascending to office, instructed City employees to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he bumped himself immediately to the forefront of queer rights advocates in the US—perhaps the only heterosexual to hold so prominent a role. Since then, he has very successfully enhanced his celebrity among the Castro clique.

Strangely, Mayor Newsom did not join us in the takeover of Market Street on November 7. Perhaps he was too busy making healthcare cuts that will cause the deaths of queers with AIDS, and many other low-income people.

Our lives are part of the Mayors’ economic stimulus plan. When Barack Obama talks about “economic stimulus,” he means the creation of jobs and the expansion of services. When even George Bush talks about “economic stimulus,” he means the return of money to taxpayers. But when Gavin Newsom talks about “economic stimulus,” he means the dismantling of core human aid and the asphyxiation of oppressed peoples.

This isn’t the first time queers have been betrayed by liberal politicians who have, when convenient, let our interests fall by the wayside. But this time, we are not alone:

For the people of the Bayview, economic stimulus will mean the loss of the Bayview-Hunter’s Point Health and Wellness Initiative. People with mental health issues will lose vital outreach services, and many will lose service altogether. Shelter residents will lose basic hygiene supplies. Low-income families in single-room occupancy hotels will lose much of their access to municipal government. Disabled homeless people will lose access to psychiatric medications and care with the closure of Caduceus Outreach Services.

In a time of crisis, Mayor Newsom is telling queers, people of color, people with mental illnesses, and low-income people in general: You are the first to go. The budget is being balanced on our backs. One example among many: While Mayoral pet projects like the $2.9 million homeless court will remain funded, nearly $1.4 million is to be cut from HIV prevention and care. The image of championing our rights is politically useful; our lives, however, are apparently expendable.

I don’t like budgets. Few of us do. When I write about taking over the streets, about fighting to change the laws that govern my body and would attempt to define my love, I want to spit lines from García Lorca and Hughes. When I write about the budget, I want to fall asleep. But the fact of the matter is this: Legislation is nothing but a piece of paper and equality nothing but an idea without something material to back it up. We must continue to fight for our rights, but it is equally important that we fight for the lives of a newly embattled portion of our communities.

I see hope, though: Fire and joy in the face of oppression come from the realization of community. On November 7, that community was some 10-20% of the total human population. But now, that community is not just queer people alone, but all of us who are people of color, who are poor, who face long-term physical or mental health problems.

The view, for me, from Octavia Street, proved that we were massive and powerful. How much bigger is that “we” now?

Keep tabs on how you can be involved in saving oppressed people’s services through the Street Sheet’s blog at http://www.cohsf.org/streetsheet/

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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