Political Notebook: LGBT seniors panel elects leaders
by Matthew S. Bajko
A new panel tasked with documenting the needs of San Francisco's LGBT elder population elected two longtime community leaders to oversee its work at its inaugural meeting.
By unanimous votes, the 15-member LGBT Seniors Task Force at its October 24 meeting elected attorney Bill Ambrunn as its chair and transgender activist Jazzie Collins as its vice chair.
"My goal is to try to foster consensus among us and communicate robustly and try to find ways to bring our community together," said Ambrunn, one of the leading proponents for the creation of the task force.
A onetime deputy county counsel in San Mateo, Ambrunn served as a legislative aide to lesbian former Supervisor Susan Leal in the mid-1990s. In 2010, when he joined the Human Rights Commission's LGBT advisory committee, Ambrunn helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the seniors task force.
Collins, the head volunteer for the San Francisco Senior Action Network, said during the meeting that one of her main goals is to see the panel focus attention on the city's LGBT senior homeless population.
"How many are LGBT and how can we get them housed?" Collins asked during the meeting.
Earlier this year the Board of Supervisors created the LGBT seniors task force. The panel has been given 18 months to research the issues facing the city's estimated 25,000 older adults who identify as LGBT and present City Hall with a detailed plan on how to address their needs.
"Hopefully, we will pass on some great recommendations to the board," said Ambrunn.
To assist it with its work, the task force also voted to approve spending $60,000 in city and donated funds on a study looking into the city's LGBT elder population. Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen , Ph.D., a professor at the University of Washington and director of the Institute for Multigenerational Health, will oversee the research.
A separate study looking specifically at the needs of LGBT people living with HIV who are 50 years of age and older is also in the works. The HIV Health Services Planning Council is expected to approve the study next week.
Loren Meissner, 59, who is HIV-positive, has proposed to conduct the research as part of his master's project at San Francisco State University. Once he receives the necessary sign-offs, Meissner plans to survey 200 people about what issues they face living with HIV as they age.
He hopes to have a final report based on the information from the surveys completed in May.
"Unfortunately, as we all know, various statistics say that approximately half of the people in San Francisco with an HIV diagnosis are over the age of 50. That is a significant population," said Meissner, who attended the LGBT senior task force's first meeting.
Milk plaza benches to be removed
This weekend the purple benches lining the upper walkway at Harvey Milk Plaza will be removed, little more than two years since their installation.
When first unveiled in late July 2010, the metallic undulating outdoor seating was meant to help activate the public plaza above the Castro Muni station. The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District paid for the benches.
Due to objections from the city's Arts Commission, initial plans to have armrests were nixed. The resulting design led to complaints from nearby homeowners and area merchants that the benches were a magnet for homeless people rather than an inviting place to sit for Castro denizens.
Advocates for the homeless, however, argued the benches were not the cause of the problems and should be maintained. According to an informal poll on the now closed http://www.uppermarket.org website, 66 people supported removing the benches and 65 respondents said they should be kept.
This week the CBD board held a special meeting and voted to remove the benches, which could occur as soon as Friday, November 2. For now the benches will be stored as the group continues to discuss what role it should play in making the plaza more inviting.
"Besides the security and maintenance we provide there, what is our future role in the activation of and beautifying the plaza?" asked Andrea Aiello, the CBD's executive director. "Given so many challenges at the plaza, with the design and transient population, we are revisiting our role."
MUMC looks at relinquishing control of flagpole
At its meeting this morning (Thursday, November 1) the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro will vote on a policy change for the flagpole and giant rainbow flag that flies above Milk plaza.
As the Bay Area Reporter noted in an October 18 story, MUMC's board had already decided to no longer grant requests to lower the flag to half-staff to commemorate the deaths of noted LGBT leaders. It planned to wait until early 2013 to revisit the issue.
Since early 2011 several community activists have questioned MUMC's oversight of the flagpole, complaining about the lack of transparency in how decisions are made.
They particularly berated the merchant group for its handling of a request to fly the transgender flag later this month. Following the latest outcries, MUMC's board decided to bring the matter before its membership.
Two proposals will be brought up for a vote. The first would be to no longer replace or alter the oversize rainbow flag and keep it at full staff 365 days a year starting in 2013.
The second option would be to allow any group that can provide a flag made to the specifications of the flagpole fly their flag at full staff, such as the leather flag for a week in September or the bear flag over Presidents Day weekend in February.
If MUMC votes to go with the first option, then the merchant group will continue to pay for the insurance and upkeep of the flagpole. But if the members opt for the second option, then MUMC's board would return the flagpole to the city for oversight as of January 1.
"The board does not feel that MUMC has sufficient infrastructure to manage the flag, nor is it in our best interest to try, if the membership chooses the second option," MUMC President Terry Asten Bennett wrote in her monthly message.
A recent informal poll about the flagpole on the Huffington Post found 36 percent support for only flying the rainbow flag at full mast and another 33 percent who found the whole issue "ridiculous." Just 12 percent wanted the community to decide, while 18 percent said there should be "some exceptions" made for flying other flags.
Bennett told the B.A.R. that her sense is that few people favor seeing the city retake control of the flagpole, as before MUMC stepped in it was in disrepair and the rainbow flag in tatters.
"I think the general sentiment of the majority of people is they just would like it to be the rainbow flag flying all the time and not mess with it," she said.
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said it is unclear what would happen to management of the flag if MUMC ends its oversight of the flagpole.
"If MUMC decides to stop managing the flag, the flag would have to be managed by another community organization or by a city department. That department may be DPW, but it could be another agency," wrote Wiener in an email. "My hope is that MUMC continues to manage the flag."
No matter what decision MUMC members make, the transgender flag will be flown on November 20, and to commemorate World AIDS Day, a red banner will be added to the top of the flag on December 1.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on Halloween and Day of the Dead plans.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.