Strange Bedfellows

Chad and I were strolling through the Castro this afternoon when we spotted a political protest in progress. No big deal, we thought: this is San Francisco, after all, where a day without protest is like a day without orange juice.

A few people were sitting on the sidewalk outside the subway entrance–a couple of them in their birthday suits. (Again, a day without nudity is like a day without … you get the picture.) We figured it was another protest of San Francisco’s “sit/lie” ordinance, which dares to proclaim that the second syllable in the word sidewalk actually has meaning. It’s been an ongoing debate for a while, with the homeless and their advocates proclaiming that “sidewalks are for people.” I have to agree, but to me those people are called pedestrians—from the Latin pedester, meaning “going on foot.” As in “going on foot.”

But San Francisco’s progressive wing is never down for long. Somehow they managed to get benches installed at the corner of Market and Castro, so that the idle and smelly, while waiting for their high to pass, no longer have to sit or lie on the sidewalk: now they can sit and lie on lovely purple benches right outside my front door.

Today’s protest, however, merely coopted the sit/lie issue for another purpose. As I rounded the corner, someone passed me a flyer that revealed the afternoon’s main event: a protest against the Human Rights Campaign.

Yes, you heard me. The gay community in the Castro, of all places, was staging a protest against the preeminent gay rights organization in America. What, praytell, would give them occasion to find fault with the HRC? Well, according to the flyer, the HRC gave a score of 100 on its corporate equality index to Hyatt Hotels Corp.

The corporate equality index evaluates employers on how well they treat GLBT employees—e.g., having a nondiscrimination policy in place, offering domestic partner benefits, covering transgender procedures in their health plans. So you’d think it was a good thing that Hyatt got a perfect score, wouldn’t you?

Well, not according to today’s protesters. They marched from Castro and Market to the HRC office down the street because they didn’t think HRC should support a company that doesn’t pay its workers what San Francisco progressives consider to be a fair wage.

Once the black civil rights movement began to gain serious momentum in the 60s, Martin Luther King turned his attention to poverty in recognition of the undisputed fact that racial discrimination and poverty were intimately entwined, the one leading to the other and back. His political progression made complete sense and was clearly the right trajectory. Racism and poverty were—and still are—closely linked.

I hardly think the same argument can be made about poverty and homophobia, however. In the gay community, the perception of poverty is more often determined by what kind of car you drive, not whether you have a car; by whether you have a washer/dryer in your condo or use the communal one in the basement.

That is not to say that there aren’t poor homosexuals—some of whom, I suspect, work in hotels. But it seems an enormous leap of logic to assume that homophobia is the cause of their poverty to any appreciable degree. And if the link doesn’t exist, then why should an organization dedicated to GLBT rights be expected to also expend its resources on an unrelated issue?

According to this way of thinking, Hyatt gets no credit for its good GLBT policies because of the wage situation. You see, in San Francisco you’re not considered a true liberal unless you embrace every progressive cause known to humanity—homelessness, a fair trial for Osama Bin Laden, and the right of bicyclists to disobey traffic signals and mow you down in the middle of the street.

Only in San Francisco could a man like Gavin Newsom—or me—be considered conservative. Newsom’s efforts to provide “care not cash” to the homeless—i.e., feeding them rather than giving them money for booze—met with outrage from the progressive left. This reaction, for the straight man who put his political ass on the line by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in 2004. In San Francisco, apparently, no one is liberal enough.

But, when push comes to shove, I’d rather be a conservative in San Francisco than a liberal in Wichita. Even these frustrations are part of the reason I love this town.

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