Recent Comments


    More Joy: Always, More Joy

    By Joanie Juster–

    ‘Let’s Continue to Have Our Joy’

    Saturday, April 8, dawned clear and bright, as people started gathering across the street from San Francisco City Hall for DRAG UP! FIGHT BACK! They came in sequins and feathers, in gowns and jeans, in fantastical get-ups and in t-shirts, in full performance makeup or simply as themselves. Drag artists, transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, cisgender allies, and people from every part of the spectrum showed up to stand together and be counted, to proudly proclaim their joy, and to show solidarity with their counterparts across the country who are under attack by lawmakers who are working overtime to harass, attack, and eradicate drag and trans folks from public life. As the crowd prepared to march, one of the organizers, activist Alex U. Inn, reminded the crowd not to let the haters stifle their true selves. “We are joyful! It is not about hatred. Let’s continue to have our joy.”

    The march was a rousing success. Well over a thousand people joined in the march from City Hall to Union Square in a powerful but peaceful demonstration of community, solidarity, power, and love. At Union Square, a solid lineup of performers and speakers were united in their message that this community isn’t about to sit back and let the haters define them. They are going to continue to fight for their rights, and we all need to stay engaged and active in the fight against injustice, intolerance, ignorance, and hate. The organizers hope that this event will inspire similar events in cities across the country.

    The crowd was also inspired by the memory of beloved drag queen and activist Heklina, whose sudden death in London just days before had stunned friends and fans throughout San Francisco and around the world. Heklina’s presence was felt everywhere throughout the day, as marchers carried signs with huge photos of her, and every speaker and performer paid tribute to her, saying that this march, this coming together of the community, was something Heklina would have absolutely loved.

    Bottom line: We all need to continue speaking out on behalf of the drag and transgender communities, who are under unprecedented attack from state and local lawmakers around the country. As of this writing the ACLU is tracking 452 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the U.S.—and the number goes up almost every day. DRAG UP! FIGHT BACK! was a great start, but we have much more work to do. Be there for our drag and trans neighbors. Gift them love, respect, and support. And supporting the ACLU’s Drag Defense Fund is another good way to help:

    Reality Check

    Life can change in a moment: accidents, illness, death, disaster can change everything. When these major life changes happen to someone, too often their friends and family are left scrambling to find important information, documents, and contacts that are crucial to their care. The big lesson is: be prepared.

    I’m not qualified to dispense legal advice, so I’ll leave the heavy lifting to the professionals. There are a number of online guides and classes that can walk you through the planning process, including important documents like living wills, durable power of attorney, power of attorney for healthcare, advanced health care directive, and funeral planning. Here is one specific to the concerns of LGBTQ+ people:

    Even if you think you don’t have enough assets to make a will, it is well worth getting your ducks in order to make it easier for people to help you in case you become incapacitated, especially if you live alone. When an elderly friend recently had a major health crisis, we quickly learned what information might have been helpful, including:

    • knowing how to reach their landlord, and making sure their landlord had a list of names and numbers to contact who would be authorized to enter their apartment;
    • having an extra set of keys to their home;
    • having a list of next of kin and how to reach them, and others who needed to be contacted;
    • being provided with contact information for financial advisors, tax preparers, insurance brokers;
    • possessing contact information for primary medical team members;
    • and having log-ins and passwords for phone, bank, and other critical accounts.

    Making sure there is at least one trusted person who has all this information, and who knows your wishes, can be essential, and save valuable time and frustration. You should also make sure there is legal proof of your permission to have them speak and act on your behalf. It’s something no one wants to think about—if you’re healthy now, it’s easy to think that death is far away, and you can get to all this next week/month/year. But all it takes is a fall, a stroke, a heart attack, a fire, an accident, to change your life from fully-functional to fully-dependent in an instant. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor by getting your plans in order now, and reviewing them once a year for updates.

    A New Landmark: Emperor Norton Place

    San Francisco has honored a number of artists, writers, and other historic figures by naming streets, parks, and other landmarks after them. Now the city has pledged to honor one of its most beloved denizens: the late great Emperor Norton.

    While 19th century businessman Joshua Abraham Norton is best known today as an eccentric and colorful personality who dubbed himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico,” he endeared himself to San Franciscans of his time not just for his colorful personality, but also for championing equality, advocating for minorities and immigrants, and supporting voting rights for women. When he died, the streets of San Francisco overflowed with 10,000 people lined up to pay homage to him.

    The idea of naming a San Francisco street after Norton was proposed by Joseph Amster, a longtime tour guide who has made promoting Norton’s legacy a personal mission for many years. He leads popular local walking tours not only dressed as Emperor Norton, but also in character. (Amster’s husband Rick Shelton also leads tours in the persona of colorful 19th century entertainer Lola Montez, and the two are frequently seen at events around the city in costume and in character.)

    In February, Amster happened to run into Supervisor Aaron Peskin, and, knowing that Emperor Norton’s longtime residence on the 600 block of Commercial Street was in Peskin’s district, proposed honoring Norton by naming that block after him. Peskin loved the idea, and, in a miraculous feat of something getting through City Hall bureaucracy in record time, the Board of Supervisors approved the name change on April 12.

    In his presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Amster explained why it was fitting that the city honor Norton’s memory: “Why Emperor Norton? Because his legacy encompasses the values that make San Francisco so great: inclusion, acceptance, justice for the downtrodden, and reinvention. These are values that are in our city’s DNA, especially reinvention. There is a good reason why the Phoenix is the symbol of our city, not just because we have risen from the ashes many times, but because this is a place where one can go to reinvent themselves and be accepted, even celebrated.”

    Now for a bit of unrelated, but tangential history: Emperor Norton’s legacy has also been kept alive thanks to another beloved San Francisco institution. The legendary gay activist José Sarria, who proclaimed himself to be “the Widow Norton,” founded the Imperial Council of San Francisco. Each year, on the morning after crowning the new Empress and Emperor, members of the Council pay tribute to Sarria and Emperor Norton by trekking to Colma to visit their graves, which are in close proximity. And since 1972, when Gil Hernandez, aka Mr. Marcus, was crowned the first “Emperor After Norton,” each Emperor has been known by their title, followed by the initials “A.N.”—After Norton.

    It may take a few weeks for the new street signs to be installed, but Amster has promised a public unveiling complete with a festive party to celebrate the life and legacy of Emperor Norton. This is sure to be a don’t-miss, very SF event, so stay tuned here for details.

    SHIFT Happens

    On April 14, the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, in partnership with the African American Art and Culture Complex, presented a day-long summit called SHIFT Happens. This inaugural summit was created in response to indications that, during the pandemic, the path toward gender equity had not only stalled, but also gone backward. Community leaders, activists, policymakers, legislators, and artists came together to exchange ideas on how to provide women, girls, and nonbinary people with the education, tools, and resources necessary to create opportunities, from health and safety to economic security, civic engagement, and political empowerment.

    Members of the Commission on the Status of Women described how the Commission has been completely revamped to more immediately meet the needs of the community. There was an emphasis on elevating women to positions where they have the power to make policy about their own lives. Activist Sophia Andary, co-founder of Women’s March SF, led a panel called “Beyond the March,” in which panelists presented ways to get involved in the political process in order to create change, reminding attendees that “we must be intersectional in our activism.” 

    Another panel featured eight male panelists—legislators, tech and business leaders, city policymakers—with a female moderator who asked them to talk about what they were doing in their respective areas to promote gender equity and improve the lives of women, girls, and nonbinary people. Their work covered a wide range, including supporting immigrant and women-owned businesses during the pandemic, to the child welfare system, the plight of incarcerated women and transgender people, to the statewide housing shortage, and to pay equity.

    It was an ambitious agenda for an inaugural one-day summit, but I came away with a much clearer idea of what the city of San Francisco and the state of California are doing to create positive change. More info:

    Welcome Castro

    Three years of empty, boarded-up storefronts has cast a pall over many of our city’s neighborhoods, including the Castro. So, it is good news to hear of a new store not only opening on Castro Street, but also devoted to the Castro. Welcome Castro, by San Francisco Mercantile in collaboration with Castro Merchants, will hold its grand opening on Thursday, April 27, from 5–8 pm, at 525 Castro Street. Their announcement promises a good old-fashioned Castro-style celebration: “Ribbon cutting! Wine and hors d’oeuvres! Music! Drag queens! Party! All are welcome!” They are also promising surprise guests and a special announcement.

    Part neighborhood visitor center and part gift shop offering a “fabulously queer retail experience celebrating the LGBTQ history and culture of the Castro village,” Welcome Castro will carry many LGBTQ+ and Castro-themed products, with a focus on items made by local queer artists and designers. They will also feature maps and guides to the neighborhood’s shops, bars, restaurants, and historical sites. One very special feature is a window installation by Serge Gay Jr. paying tribute to four Black women leaders: Ms. Billie Cooper, Gwenn Craig, Honey Mahogany, and the late Pat Norman. The installation was created in collaboration with the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District.

    Castro resident Robert Emmons spearheaded Welcome Castro after owning and operating two other stores on Haight Street. San Francisco Mercantile is a gift shop, and Welcome Haight & Ashbury is a visitor center. Welcome Castro is designed as a pop-up that brings both concepts together: providing visitor information as well as San Francisco and Castro-themed gift items from local LGBTQ+ designers and makers.

    Welcome Castro is part of an effort to revitalize the Castro Street corridor. After so many stores closed during the pandemic, Castro Merchants received a $100,000 Vacant Storefront Activation grant from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development in 2022. Welcome Castro is funded partly by some of those funds, a $50,000 grant that Emmons hopes to repay by the end of the 10-month trial for the pop-up.

    Volunteer Appreciation Month

    April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, so please join me in thanking the legions of volunteers who make this city possible. Look around, and you will see them everywhere: ushering at theatres, running events, planting trees, picking up trash, feeding the hungry, coaching sports teams, reading to children, and so very much more. Take time to thank a volunteer, or, better yet—join them.

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.

    In Case You Missed
    Published on April 20, 2023