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Gay Neoliberal Candidate in San Francisco Disproves Myths About LGBT Values

Friday, November 04, 2016 By Toshio Meronek, Truthout | Op-Ed
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If Scott Wiener is the future of gay electoral politics, many queer people -- particularly people of color and those with lower-incomes -- stand to be left behind.If Scott Wiener is the future of gay electoral politics, many queer people -- particularly people of color and those with lower-incomes -- stand to be left behind. (Photo: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition / Flickr)

If the Twinks for Trump movement fails to show that in the increasingly fragmented LGBT community, not everyone's a progressive, Scott Wiener's a solid fallback.

Wiener is the City Supervisor of San Francisco's eighth district, making him the head gay in charge of the city's famed gayborhood, the Castro. But if November's State Senate race goes his way, the towering, 6-foot-7 Harvard Law grad will become one of the highest-ranking openly gay politicians in the nation's biggest state.

Wiener is significant for more than his ascent to the political stage of the world's sixth largest economy. His more conservative political moves are a reminder that the stereotype of a monolithic left-wing LGBT community does not reflect the wide range of political stances that actually exist within LGBT communities.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

Wiener is also one group's answer to a question people have been asking in a post-gay marriage and military inclusion world: what's next for the gay movement? For Equality California, one of the loudest voices in the gay marriage campaign during the early 2000s, the answer is: elect pro-LGBT politicians, regardless of their other politics.

Equality California is going all out for Wiener, donating thousands to his campaign. But if Wiener is the future of gay electoral politics, many queer people -- particularly people of color and those with lower-incomes -- stand to be left behind.

In a campaign season that popularized the term "alt-right," Wiener's got something for everyone, including selfies taken next to gay daddies in leather gear, and a slick web ad featuring drag queens singing pro-Wiener lines to the tune of Katy Perry's gay anthem "Firework" (the video has since been scraped from the internet due to copyright infringement claims by Perry's record company).

The supervisor has stuck by the embattled SF Police Department amidst a string of abuses, and his war against the homeless has involved lobbying for throwing away the possessions of people who live in tent encampments and opposing the establishment of a homeless bill of rights. All of this has been particularly brutal for the 48 percent of homeless youth in the city who are LGBT, many of whom came to San Francisco after being kicked out of their family homes, searching for acceptance in America's gay mecca.

Janetta Johnson, the director of the San Francisco-based Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, says Wiener "has traumatized and criminalized homeless people for holding onto their last bit of dignity and trying to stay in the city that they love."

Since Wiener became the Castro's top gun in 2011, evictions and sweeps of encampments have spiked, and many, like Johnson, blame Wiener. "Our community needs house keys, not handcuffs," says Johnson.

Talking to Truthout about the rising homelessness problem, Wiener's response is that it's "utterly inhumane to allow this to happen on our streets, and it's our responsibility to make sure that it stops." His plan to address the issue? Move people with nowhere to go into overcrowded, short-term shelters dubbed "Navigation Centers," which homeless people and their advocates say are just way stations on the road to re-criminalization. Transgender people, in particular, face painful harassment at these shelters, forcing many back onto the streets or into jails.

But it's clear that in Wiener's campaign, money talks louder than anyone living in a tent under the 101 freeway. Wiener's top campaign donors happen to be those who benefit most from the local housing bubble, from construction trade organizations and real estate developers to Silicon Valley and faux-grassroots, big-business-funded groups like GrowSF and the SF Bay Area Renters' Federation (SFBARF).

Wiener insists that building more market-rate condos (often costing above $1 million) would eventually bring down prices for all. Jeramy DeChristo, an organizer with the direct action group Gay Shame (known in town for its anti-tech and anti-gentrification flyers, which often feature Wiener) compares him to Ronald Reagan, saying his "trickle-down theory of economics" has not worked.

As in other dense cities where many people want to live (like Berlin, New York or Paris), simple supply-and-demand and trickle-down principles don't exactly apply when it comes to San Francisco housing stock. Instead, economic downturns are mostly responsible for declines in housing costs or the ability of lifelong San Franciscans to stay in the Bay; increased regulations for affordable housing play a large role as well.

"The housing crisis is not that there is not enough housing," says tenant organizer (and Truthout contributor) Andrew Szeto of the San Francisco Tenants Union. There's actually a glut of unoccupied units in the city if you count the luxury condos purchased as investments by absentee billionaires. "The crisis is about evictions and displacement, which [Wiener's] policies have actively facilitated."

When Wiener does put on progressive drag, there's always a conservative lining. He pushed for more taxes to improve public transportation reliability, but opposed free fares for youths, saying it would "ultimately morph into something far more expansive and expensive," like free public transportation for disabled people and seniors.

Likewise, Wiener was praised in national media for his 2014 coming out story: his admission that he's on the anti-HIV drug Truvada. He says the announcement was one of "the toughest" calls during his political career, as he described to Truthout -- a decision for which he expected to be slut-shamed.

But back in Wiener's home neighborhood, long-time HIV survivors have arguably had a tougher time. In 2014, the San Francisco Department of Public Health found the city may have lost up to 15 percent of its HIV-positive population over the past two years; a report last year from the AIDS Housing Alliance, a housing services organization, revealed that about 20 percent of the city's HIV-positive population had recently left. As the organization's director, Brian Basinger, explained: "The reason is displacement. They're getting kicked out of their homes and dying elsewhere. Out of sight. Out of mind."

On transgender rights, Wiener claims that he's always been supportive. "I remember back in the nineties when it was still a topic of debate whether the 'T' [in LGBT] should be part of our community," he said. "Fortunately, we won that argument, and we are firmly together today."

Are we? Wiener cemented his poor reputation among trans people this September, when he was the featured guest at a fundraiser organized by anti-tenant rights group Better Housing Policies. Its founder, Josephine Zhao, had been loud and public about her feelings toward transgender students using bathrooms that matched their gender identity, telling local Chinese media that allowing trans youths to use gender-appropriate bathrooms was a morality issue that would lead to violence and even rape. (The bill passed anyway.)

Wiener called the protest outside Zhao's fundraiser "a one-hundred-percent pure political attack" by opponents of his state senate campaign. Explaining that hundreds of Asian people attended his fundraiser, not just Zhao, Wiener said protesters were "racists" who implied that all Asians are transphobic, despite the fact that some protesters were in fact Asian.

Wiener said Zhao's anti-trans words were "taken out of context"; Zhao, a landlord and Wiener campaigner, "has been very supportive of the LGBT community, in a community where it's not always easy to do it," he said.

Andrew Szeto smells hypocrisy. Szeto, who is Chinese American, believes Wiener "weaponizes multiculturalism" and a veneer of diversity to hide the structural violence his policies have wreaked on San Franciscans who are struggling to get by.

But Wiener's acceptance of an endorsement from the San Francisco Police Officers Association may be the most telling example of how far his campaign is from embodying the progressive gay stereotype. This year alone, the department has had to deal with flack for recent SFPD killings of unarmed people of color (the mayor, who still supports Wiener for Supervisor, compared it to a "firing squad") and a racist text scandal exposing cops who exchanged epithets like "faggot" and "n*****," triggering National Anthem protests made famous by local football hero Colin Kaepernick. The Association is still waiting to hear back on its requested apology from the quarterback, who recently followed up with a "Know Your Rights" camp for marginalized youth. Its latest fire: news that several officers repeatedly had sex with a 16-year-old girl who was trapped in the sex trade, rather than replying to her appeal for help.

At the country's largest Gay Pride celebration in SF last June, protesters caused Wiener to leave the stage at the opening event, Trans March, before he even got to the mic. Noting his "very, very thick skin," Wiener's response was, "It's a democracy -- people are free to express themselves, that's their God-given right." But this is electoral politics. In Wiener's world, and for groups like Equality California, expression is preferably limited to those with the money and power to make a sizeable campaign contribution, no matter how conservative their values might be.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Toshio Meronek

Toshio Meronek is a journalist who covers LGBT/queer issues for Truthout. He is currently a Nation Institute grantee investigating the post-prison civil commitment system.

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Gay Neoliberal Candidate in San Francisco Disproves Myths About LGBT Values

Friday, November 04, 2016 By Toshio Meronek, Truthout | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
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If Scott Wiener is the future of gay electoral politics, many queer people -- particularly people of color and those with lower-incomes -- stand to be left behind.If Scott Wiener is the future of gay electoral politics, many queer people -- particularly people of color and those with lower-incomes -- stand to be left behind. (Photo: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition / Flickr)

If the Twinks for Trump movement fails to show that in the increasingly fragmented LGBT community, not everyone's a progressive, Scott Wiener's a solid fallback.

Wiener is the City Supervisor of San Francisco's eighth district, making him the head gay in charge of the city's famed gayborhood, the Castro. But if November's State Senate race goes his way, the towering, 6-foot-7 Harvard Law grad will become one of the highest-ranking openly gay politicians in the nation's biggest state.

Wiener is significant for more than his ascent to the political stage of the world's sixth largest economy. His more conservative political moves are a reminder that the stereotype of a monolithic left-wing LGBT community does not reflect the wide range of political stances that actually exist within LGBT communities.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

Wiener is also one group's answer to a question people have been asking in a post-gay marriage and military inclusion world: what's next for the gay movement? For Equality California, one of the loudest voices in the gay marriage campaign during the early 2000s, the answer is: elect pro-LGBT politicians, regardless of their other politics.

Equality California is going all out for Wiener, donating thousands to his campaign. But if Wiener is the future of gay electoral politics, many queer people -- particularly people of color and those with lower-incomes -- stand to be left behind.

In a campaign season that popularized the term "alt-right," Wiener's got something for everyone, including selfies taken next to gay daddies in leather gear, and a slick web ad featuring drag queens singing pro-Wiener lines to the tune of Katy Perry's gay anthem "Firework" (the video has since been scraped from the internet due to copyright infringement claims by Perry's record company).

The supervisor has stuck by the embattled SF Police Department amidst a string of abuses, and his war against the homeless has involved lobbying for throwing away the possessions of people who live in tent encampments and opposing the establishment of a homeless bill of rights. All of this has been particularly brutal for the 48 percent of homeless youth in the city who are LGBT, many of whom came to San Francisco after being kicked out of their family homes, searching for acceptance in America's gay mecca.

Janetta Johnson, the director of the San Francisco-based Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, says Wiener "has traumatized and criminalized homeless people for holding onto their last bit of dignity and trying to stay in the city that they love."

Since Wiener became the Castro's top gun in 2011, evictions and sweeps of encampments have spiked, and many, like Johnson, blame Wiener. "Our community needs house keys, not handcuffs," says Johnson.

Talking to Truthout about the rising homelessness problem, Wiener's response is that it's "utterly inhumane to allow this to happen on our streets, and it's our responsibility to make sure that it stops." His plan to address the issue? Move people with nowhere to go into overcrowded, short-term shelters dubbed "Navigation Centers," which homeless people and their advocates say are just way stations on the road to re-criminalization. Transgender people, in particular, face painful harassment at these shelters, forcing many back onto the streets or into jails.

But it's clear that in Wiener's campaign, money talks louder than anyone living in a tent under the 101 freeway. Wiener's top campaign donors happen to be those who benefit most from the local housing bubble, from construction trade organizations and real estate developers to Silicon Valley and faux-grassroots, big-business-funded groups like GrowSF and the SF Bay Area Renters' Federation (SFBARF).

Wiener insists that building more market-rate condos (often costing above $1 million) would eventually bring down prices for all. Jeramy DeChristo, an organizer with the direct action group Gay Shame (known in town for its anti-tech and anti-gentrification flyers, which often feature Wiener) compares him to Ronald Reagan, saying his "trickle-down theory of economics" has not worked.

As in other dense cities where many people want to live (like Berlin, New York or Paris), simple supply-and-demand and trickle-down principles don't exactly apply when it comes to San Francisco housing stock. Instead, economic downturns are mostly responsible for declines in housing costs or the ability of lifelong San Franciscans to stay in the Bay; increased regulations for affordable housing play a large role as well.

"The housing crisis is not that there is not enough housing," says tenant organizer (and Truthout contributor) Andrew Szeto of the San Francisco Tenants Union. There's actually a glut of unoccupied units in the city if you count the luxury condos purchased as investments by absentee billionaires. "The crisis is about evictions and displacement, which [Wiener's] policies have actively facilitated."

When Wiener does put on progressive drag, there's always a conservative lining. He pushed for more taxes to improve public transportation reliability, but opposed free fares for youths, saying it would "ultimately morph into something far more expansive and expensive," like free public transportation for disabled people and seniors.

Likewise, Wiener was praised in national media for his 2014 coming out story: his admission that he's on the anti-HIV drug Truvada. He says the announcement was one of "the toughest" calls during his political career, as he described to Truthout -- a decision for which he expected to be slut-shamed.

But back in Wiener's home neighborhood, long-time HIV survivors have arguably had a tougher time. In 2014, the San Francisco Department of Public Health found the city may have lost up to 15 percent of its HIV-positive population over the past two years; a report last year from the AIDS Housing Alliance, a housing services organization, revealed that about 20 percent of the city's HIV-positive population had recently left. As the organization's director, Brian Basinger, explained: "The reason is displacement. They're getting kicked out of their homes and dying elsewhere. Out of sight. Out of mind."

On transgender rights, Wiener claims that he's always been supportive. "I remember back in the nineties when it was still a topic of debate whether the 'T' [in LGBT] should be part of our community," he said. "Fortunately, we won that argument, and we are firmly together today."

Are we? Wiener cemented his poor reputation among trans people this September, when he was the featured guest at a fundraiser organized by anti-tenant rights group Better Housing Policies. Its founder, Josephine Zhao, had been loud and public about her feelings toward transgender students using bathrooms that matched their gender identity, telling local Chinese media that allowing trans youths to use gender-appropriate bathrooms was a morality issue that would lead to violence and even rape. (The bill passed anyway.)

Wiener called the protest outside Zhao's fundraiser "a one-hundred-percent pure political attack" by opponents of his state senate campaign. Explaining that hundreds of Asian people attended his fundraiser, not just Zhao, Wiener said protesters were "racists" who implied that all Asians are transphobic, despite the fact that some protesters were in fact Asian.

Wiener said Zhao's anti-trans words were "taken out of context"; Zhao, a landlord and Wiener campaigner, "has been very supportive of the LGBT community, in a community where it's not always easy to do it," he said.

Andrew Szeto smells hypocrisy. Szeto, who is Chinese American, believes Wiener "weaponizes multiculturalism" and a veneer of diversity to hide the structural violence his policies have wreaked on San Franciscans who are struggling to get by.

But Wiener's acceptance of an endorsement from the San Francisco Police Officers Association may be the most telling example of how far his campaign is from embodying the progressive gay stereotype. This year alone, the department has had to deal with flack for recent SFPD killings of unarmed people of color (the mayor, who still supports Wiener for Supervisor, compared it to a "firing squad") and a racist text scandal exposing cops who exchanged epithets like "faggot" and "n*****," triggering National Anthem protests made famous by local football hero Colin Kaepernick. The Association is still waiting to hear back on its requested apology from the quarterback, who recently followed up with a "Know Your Rights" camp for marginalized youth. Its latest fire: news that several officers repeatedly had sex with a 16-year-old girl who was trapped in the sex trade, rather than replying to her appeal for help.

At the country's largest Gay Pride celebration in SF last June, protesters caused Wiener to leave the stage at the opening event, Trans March, before he even got to the mic. Noting his "very, very thick skin," Wiener's response was, "It's a democracy -- people are free to express themselves, that's their God-given right." But this is electoral politics. In Wiener's world, and for groups like Equality California, expression is preferably limited to those with the money and power to make a sizeable campaign contribution, no matter how conservative their values might be.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Toshio Meronek

Toshio Meronek is a journalist who covers LGBT/queer issues for Truthout. He is currently a Nation Institute grantee investigating the post-prison civil commitment system.