Letter from San Francisco
by Jim Van Buskirk

This summer in San Francisco hasn't seemed all that queer. Or maybe it was just obscured by the usual seasonal fog. Or maybe I'm just depressed because of the changes in the city.

Every day I read another report, or hear from someone I know, about having to move. Musicians, dancers, writers, visual artists are all being eased out of space to live, work, exhibit, rehearse, or perform. Archival collections, held by individuals and organizations, are in jeopardy because of the skyrocketing rents. Accusations that the mayor is not merely standing by, but actively selling the soul of the city to the highest bidder, only partially explain the increasing influx of what are not-so-affectionately being referred to as “dot.commies.” Favorite cafes are now filled with them; pedestrians scatter to avoid them as they sip their lattes, and answer their cell phones, while speeding in their SUVs along city streets.

Sure, new purchasers have the right to move into their own buildings, but what’s to become of people who’ve lived here for decades? When one hears that a flat in the less-than-desirable Western Addition is renting for $4000/month, it sounds suspiciously like good old-fashioned greed. Even moving to the East Bay is less of an option as affordable real estate becomes scarce throughout the Bay Area.

Most people seem to be taking it in stride. “What else can we do? I’m not angry, or bitter, I know this is a capitalist society,” says one friend who's recently had to move from his dance studio. “Artists are like cockroaches. You can spray them away, and they will quickly be replaced by a new batch.” Where it will all end is anyone's guess, but from the perspective of someone who has loved living here for nearly three decades, it isn’t pretty. The fabric of the city, which has sparked beatniks, flower children, punk, and the gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered rights movement, among many other artistic and political movements, is rapidly being eradicated. Maybe there are similar situations in other parts of the country; I sincerely hope not.

Not that most revelers during June would have noticed. The Pride Parade and Celebration saw record numbers of attendees. The many queer events that took place throughout the city during June were overwhelming. Queer Latina/o Arts Festival-2000 (QLAFest-2000) sponsored a visual art exhibit curated by Virginia Benavidez & Xavier (Chico) Garza at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts Gallery (MCCLA) June 3 through June 27th. The 24th San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival honored the prolific and prodigious Barbara Hammer whose latest, “History Lessons,” was a hit at the Castro Theatre. B. Ruby Rich chronicled the cinematic history of “Killer Lesbians” supplementing a batch of films representing pathological lesbians. And the usual eclectic assortment of features, shorts, documentaries and experimental film captured the pulse of this year's queer filmmaking.

The National Queer Arts Festival, organized by the Queer Cultural Center (Qcc) and Harvey Milk Institute, offered a wide variety of programming throughout June and July. Among the authors, dancers, filmmakers, comics, musicians, performance artists and others were pioneer artist and activist Harmony Hammond, who presented work from her new book Lesbian art in America: a contemporary history. “Odyssey and Underworld” showcased the exhibition of art by Jerome Caja, Charles Sexton and Thomas Plageman with a special lecture by Thomas Avena and Adam Klein. In an adjacent space at Somar, Lesbians in the Visual Arts celebrated the 10th anniversary of their founding with an exhibit featuring work by Cathy Cade, Kim Bach, L.A./Happy Hyder, and many more.

So obviously all is not lost. Maybe the report being readied by the San Francisco Art Commission will help shake things up. Or maybe a minor earthquake would halt the madness. Maybe the sun’ll come out tomorrow. Here’s hoping for a queerer, more festive Fall.

Jim Van Buskirk
San Francisco Public Library