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    Orlando Reflections

    Rafael Mandelman

    Rafael Mandelman

    “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door.”

    – Harvey Milk

    Sadly, the bullet that killed Harvey Milk nearly four decades ago has still not shattered every closet door. Had it done so, the horrible killing spree at Pulse nightclub in Orlando would never have happened, and the 49 souls gunned down there would still be among the living. As we all know, Milk’s assassination was not, as some feared at the time, the end of a movement; it was, we can see looking back, just the beginning of a civil rights struggle that has transformed our laws and our culture, bringing LGBT people closer to full legal equality than many could have imagined back on November 27, 1978.

    But as I have been reflecting on the Orlando tragedy, it has struck me that for all our progress since Dan White shot and killed Harvey Milk, far too many queer people are still getting beaten up, knifed, shot and killed for their queerness. On June 16, the New York Times reported that LGBT people have surpassed Jews as the most likely group to suffer hate crimes in the United States, with fully a fifth of all hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2014 targeting people because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. In San Francisco, our own LGBT Community Center last year commissioned a study on the experience and impacts of violence in the queer community, finding that more than two-thirds of LGBTQI people had experienced physical violence, and nearly four in five transgender people had experienced physical violence.

    We may have achieved the right to marry, but too many of us are still vulnerable to the same kind of violence that killed Harvey Milk. All these years later, we remain an especially vulnerable people in a violent and unsafe country.

    Notwithstanding the NRA’s claims to the contrary, it is clear that easy access to all manner of guns makes us less safe.

    The statistics on gun violence in this country are horrifying. In a June 16 New York Times op-ed, General Stanley McChrystal observed that between 2001 and 2010, 119,246 Americans were murdered with guns, a number that is 18 times the total American combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, horrific as the carnage at Pulse nightclub was, the deaths there represented less than half of the 121 people killed by gun violence in the United States that weekend.

    Violence is senseless; there is no meaning or higher purpose that can justify or explain the 49 deaths in Orlando any more than the 89 American deaths from gun violence that occur on average every day. But I have to hope that in time we will see that the Pulse victims did not die in vain, and that like Harvey Milk, they will live on through a righteous struggle carried forward in their name and memory, to continue shattering closet doors, of course, but perhaps more importantly to end the violence that continues to define and circumscribe our queer lives.

    June 7th Election Recap

    As I write this column, with ballots still being counted, Jane Kim has pulled ahead of Scott Wiener in San Francisco and has closed his lead to just .3 percent in the District overall. I have to say, I didn’t see this coming. Although I deeply disagree with Wiener on a host of local issues, I have always respected his tireless work ethic, his dogged persistence and his organizational abilities.

    Starting his campaign months before Kim jumped in, locking up the Democratic Party endorsement early on, and out-fundraising and outspending her by a factor of three-to-one, Wiener seemed to me, up until election night, the prohibitive favorite. I was wrong.  As the two candidates turn their attentions to the November election, this is anyone’s race, but momentum is now on Kim’s side, and she should have a significantly easier time raising money. Nonetheless, I think she knows it would be a mistake to underestimate her opponent. Wiener has never lost a campaign yet, and I don’t imagine he intends to start now.

    A shift in power at the local Democratic County Central Committee was the other big news from the June primary. As of this writing it appears that, notwithstanding the unprecedented amount of money pumped into the campaign by real estate and tech interests—reportedly, well over $1 million—the progressives (i.e., the “Reform Slate”) have won back a narrow majority of the Committee. Bad news for Ron Conway, perhaps; good news for San Francisco.

    Rafael Mandelman is an attorney for the City of Oakland. He is also President of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.