The activist group, Gays Without Borders, are organizing "Gay Is Good: San Francisco Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Frank Kameny," to allow friends and admirers of gay pioneer Frank Kameny an opportunity to commemorate his life and teach a younger generation who he was and the contributions he made.
The celebration -- organized by Michael Petrelis, Bill Wilson and yours truly -- is set to take place at the base of the controversial flagpole in Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro, where a wreath will be laid honoring the decades of Kameny laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans' Day to honor and remember fallen lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the U.S. military.
The flagpole itself is mired in a petty, bitter, nine-month old controversy over control of the pole, the rainbow flag that flies atop it, and the process by which it is occasionally lowered to recognize the lives of those who have made a valuable contribution to the community or events such as 9/11.
While it is understandable that lowering the flag too frequently will weaken its poignancy and reduce its meaning, many community members and activists (myself included) find the secretive and inconsistent process through which requests are made and randomly granted by Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) unacceptable for a community space on city property. MUMC has refused to put forward a methodology that invites community involvement, or a transparent articulation of their vetting process which appears to be at the whim of one or two people on their board.
In an apparently unprecedented verbal contract with the San Francisco Department of Public Work giving MUMC custodianship of the flag and flagpole, their stubborn and childish refusal to cooperate with concerned members of the community despite repeated requests, or to meaningfully address their grievances, have resulted in steps currently underway to challenge MUMC’s custodianship and return the plaza to the citizens of San Francisco.
Whether MUMc lowers the flag to commemorate Kameny’s life or not, however, is irrelevant at this point, as laying a wreath at its base is better suited to remember him and his anual pilgramage to Arlington.
The date of the celebration and wreath-laying at Harvey Milk Plaza is designed to fall on the same date as a similar celebration taking place in Washington, DC, Kameny’s hometown, and will be announced once it is determined by the executors of his estate and his longtime friends.
For more on Kameny and his extraordinary journey, read: The Irrepressible Frank Kameny (In the words of Randy Shilts).