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    Donna’s Chronicles, “Those of our readers who know us well can vouch for our love of history…”

    By Donna Sachet–

    Those of our readers who know us well can vouch for our love of history. Knowing where we came from is a valuable tool in moving forward with purpose. In the LGBTQ Community, we have learned that if we don’t participate in the recording of our history, it is often written incorrectly with key figures omitted or mischaracterized. Therefore, we are committed to supporting the work of the GLBT Historical Society, the Rainbow Honor Walk, and the various neighborhoods in the City that are seeking or have already received specific designation as historically significant areas.

    So, when the San Francisco Board of Education voted recently to rename 44 of its 121 schools (more than 36%), removing the names of any that had ties, no matter how isolated or remote, to racism, sexism, the institution of slavery, etc., it gave us pause.  At first, our biggest concern was the criteria used by the committee formed by the Board of Education for the express purpose of considering which schools needed renaming. Evidently, a single demonstrable act determined by them to show racism, colonialism, sexism, or other characteristic is enough to disqualify an individual from the honor of having a school bear that name. The entirety of a person’s life work would not be used to outweigh any number of negative acts.

    The ancient Egyptians believed that after death a person’s heart would be weighed by the gods against the weight of a single feather. If that heart was loaded with hurtful and disreputable actions, therefore weighing it down and throwing off the balance of the scale, that soul was consigned to eternal punishment. If that heart was found lighter than a feather, in other words without perceived sin, that soul ascended to live with the gods in eternal pleasure. Perhaps that seems a remote reference, but the parameters of the Board of Education’s decision run counter to most civilized systems of justice, including our own in the United States. When determining an appropriate sentence, doesn’t a judge review the criminal’s past history of arrests? Isn’t early release from prison and the whole parole system based on weighing a person’s criminal behavior against current life patterns? Isn’t a first offense usually looked upon more favorably when considering the offender’s entire life history?

    Much has been written in the local press about this issue and we have devoured it voraciously, but recent articles in The New Yorker (2/4/21, Nathan Heller) and The Atlantic (2/2/21, Gary Kamiya)drew our attention as well. Unlike those who disregard outside criticism, when such storied publications on the opposite coast of the country take note and state strong objection to actions in San Francisco, we read their remarks with interest. The New Yorker article took an intriguing stance, chalking up many of the committee’s decisions to a fascination with celebrity, not documented history. They even pointed out that “the city’s mayor, London Breed, has wondered publicly whether it doesn’t, perhaps, have some more important stuff to do.” The Atlantic’s evaluation of the process by which the Board of Education formed a School Names Advisory Committee and then the questionable and at times error-prone deliberations of that committee are covered more thoroughly than in any local publication we’ve seen. Promised engagement with the community was ignored, historical research was limited and sometimes erroneous, and final decisions were made after only seconds of discussion, even contradicting the committee’s own standards. Given these complicated questions of process, standards, and priority, what names will replace those of politically astute Senator Dianne Feinstein, beloved writer Robert Louis Stevenson, and widely revered Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln?

    So, why would this columnist be so concerned about the renaming of San Francisco schools? Because this single action reveals a seriously flawed process, recognized and ridiculed by many locals and a host of national observers. San Francisco has long held a reputation for compassion and taken a leadership role on progressive issues, but decisions like those of the Board of Education threaten to trivialize this city’s very deep roots in progressive politics and historical commitment to civil justice for all. Is the decision to strip names from 44 schools final? That remains to be seen. But if we had the chance to address the School Names Advisory Committee or the Board of Education, we would concentrate on three topics. First, honor your original promise to welcome community input. The very topic of certain school names appearing inappropriate evidently arose from public comments and inquiries to the Board of Education; why not use public input before putting a plan into place? Second, take the time to set clear parameters before making sweeping changes. What actions should disqualify a name from gracing one of the schools of San Francisco? How many adverse actions should result in elimination and are those actions taken in context of the person’s entire life? How can today’s accepted standards of right and wrong be effectively and justly applied to people living in entirely different times? And third, once those parameters are established, research into the lives of those involved must be thorough and broad and any decision must abide by those parameters fully and without exception.  

    Let’s hope the announcement of these school name changes is not a fait accompli and that wiser heads will rule. San Francisco has often led the way in defining civil rights, pointing out inequity, and taking decisive action when needed, but let’s not become a national laughingstock before doing some painstaking homework and balancing calls for change with common sense. We live in a flawed nation with a history of mistakes made by well-intentioned, but misinformed or unenlightened people, but in our continued effort “to form a more perfect union,” let’s not expunge significant contributions by remarkable people. We in San Francisco are better than that.

    Donna Sachet is a celebrated performer, fundraiser, activist and philanthropist who has dedicated over two decades to the LGBTQ Community in San Francisco. Contact her at empsachet@gmail.com

    Calendar a/la Sachet

    Saturday, February 13

    Imperial Crown Prince & Princess Ball; Matched
    Hosted by ICPs Andrew Munrose & The One and Only Rexy
    Imperial Council virtual fundraiser parody of TV’s Match Game
    Performances by Baby-Shaques Munro, Olivia Hart, & more
    5 pm
    Contributions accepted
    www.imperialcouncilsf.org

    Saturday, February 13

    All You Need Is Love: REAF’s Virtual Valentine’s Spectacular
    Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation cabaret show on YouTube Live featuring Leslie Jordan, Bruce Vilanch, Spencer Day, Petula Clark & more
    11 am
    $25 & up
    www.reaf.org

    Saturday, February 27

    Snack Bar
    Reigning Emperor William Bulkley & Reigning Empress Mimi Osa
    Monthly fundraiser with the current Monarchs
    4 pm
    Contributions accepted
    www.imperialcouncilsf.org

    Published on February 11, 2021