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    Right Here in Our Own Backyard

    By Joanie Juster–

    It is always tempting to feel complacent here in San Francisco, in our rainbow-hued bubble by the bay. We read about drag bans in Tennessee, book bans in Florida, anti-trans legislation in dozens of states, and say, “Thank goodness we live in San Francisco, where we’re safe from that kind of hate.”

    Well, think again.

    Last week Calvary Presbyterian Church, a welcoming congregation in Pacific Heights, was targeted by far-right pickets protesting because the Church had recently hosted a Drag Bible Story Hour. On Sunday, July 16, a man who had entered the 9 am Bible study became disruptive, interrupting the group and making homophobic comments. Rev. Joann Hae-jong Lee tried talking to him, and walked him out of the building, where he joined a growing group of anti-LGBTQ+ protesters, who were gathering outside the church with a microphone. According to Rev. Lee, the protesters were yelling and harassing some of the members as they were entering the building for worship services, saying “really inappropriate things” about the LGBTQ+ community.

    For years Calvary has been quite open about its commitment to welcoming marginalized communities. Their motto for this year is “God: The Original They/Them,” and signage on the outside of the church clearly welcomes a very diverse congregation. While there has been some pushback over the past few years, since the Drag Bible Story Hour on June 15, the church has received an increasing number of disturbing emails, mail, and social media comments. To their credit, the Calvary family has firmly remained committed to remaining a safe and welcoming home for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities.

    Following the protests on July 16, Calvary announced on their Facebook page an invitation to a special service on July 23, featuring guest preacher Michael Pappas, Executive Director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, speaking on answering hate with love. The post read, “We invite you to invite your friends this Sunday—a response to hate, homophobia, and bigotry. We will never back down from our stance on inclusion. Help us show the world that fear and hate have no place in our hearts. Wear your sparkles, wear your glitter, wear your God-loving and God-given rainbows!!!” The post also included an invitation to gather on the steps of Calvary after the service for a “Calvary Strong” family photo, to show solidarity and support for Calvary and its inclusive values.

    Calvary is asking allies to show their support for the church and its values. City Attorney David Chiu, a longtime Calvary member who was married at Calvary, and whose son was baptized there, showed his support on Calvary’s Facebook page, writing, “I’m proud my church has stood up for Christian values of love, tolerance, and inclusivity. We won’t be bullied by bigotry, homophobia, and hate.” Rev. Victor Floyd of Calvary posted, “When people possessed by hate persecute us, chances are very good that we are on a righteous path.”

    It is up to all of us to stand up and speak out when hatred and intolerance shows up. The incidents on July 16 at Calvary may well be repeated elsewhere. Please show up for your community. Wear your sparkles proudly, and show the power of love over hate.

    AIDS Walk Raises Over $1 Million

    Sunshine has been a rare sight in San Francisco this summer, but the sun shone brightly on July 16 as Golden Gate Park filled with thousands of walkers and volunteers for the 37th annual AIDS Walk San Francisco in Golden Gate Park. Walkers were welcomed by a hearty breakfast, and visited panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt displayed on Hippie Hill before setting out for the 5K walk through the park.

    While longtime walkers may have noticed some changes to the format of the event, the core of AIDS Walk remains the same. Since no one organization can provide needed services to all people in the Bay Area living with HIV or AIDS, AIDS Walk has always benefited multiple organizations. This year fifteen organizations throughout the Bay Area were co-beneficiaries, reflecting the diverse populations and needs of the HIV community. While still focusing on prevention and medical care, AIDS Walk’s co-beneficiaries also provide services that address issues that are intertwined with the epidemic: HIV and aging, hunger, homelessness, discrimination, and poverty. AIDS Walk gives organizations—especially smaller ones—an opportunity to raise much-needed funding they might not be able to raise on their own, or to raise funds for specific projects. One example is UCSF Ward 86 at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, which was able to open a unit focused on specialized care for HIV-positive people over 50, thanks to dedicated AIDS Walk funds.

    Thanks and congratulations to the walkers and sponsors who helped AIDS Walk San Francisco raise $1,034,622 for these local organizations.

    New Mural in SOMA Celebrates Mr. S Leather

    A new mural is being dedicated in SOMA on July 27 celebrating Mr. S Leather, a cornerstone business in the leather community since 1979. Commissioned by the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District, the mural painted on the Heron Street wall of Mr. S by prominent artist Serge Gay Jr. depicts a playful human puppy and other images associated with Mr. S Leather. The public dedication of the mural will take place Thursday, July 27, from 5 to 6 pm on Heron Street, with more festivities and an opportunity to meet the artist inside the Mr. S showroom.

    Prominent queer artist Serge Gay Jr.’s work can also be seen at Oasis, where he was part of the five-artist team of queer artists that created the massive and celebratory 2,240 square foot mural, Showtime, which wraps around two sides of Oasis, celebrating both the joy and the history of queer nightlife.

    Commissioning the new mural is part of the Cultural District’s mission of commemorating and celebrating SOMA’s queer history, and supporting the continuity and vitality of the Kink and Queer communities.

    That’s it for this week, friends. Enjoy the sunshine while it’s here, and remember to lead with kindness.

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

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    Published on July 27, 2023