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Picketing a Heartthrob 

Dog Bites faces a dilemma when a gay rights group goes after his favorite straight-boy crush

Wednesday, Jul 9 2003
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When we first heard of a protest group called Gay Shame, we thought of "Corinthians 6:9" signs, torched Matthew Shepherd or Diane Whipple effigies, and the Reverend Fred Phelps politely requesting us to burn in hell. But in San Francisco, as well as several other cities around the world, Gay Shame presents itself as a different kind of protest outfit: gay dissenters from mass gay culture. Their leaders and media contacts all go by the pseudonym "Mary" -- Mary Oliver, Mary Chicago, Mary Woods, etcetera -- which we find an innovative and refreshing alternative to the common and tiresome drag name puns. And during this year's Pride weekend, the Gay Shamers found themselves both hosting an impressive protest cum awards ceremony and getting into hot water with the cops, when six of their number were arrested for crashing heartthrob Gavin Newsom's contingent during the Pride Parade. Us? We found ourselves simultaneously amazed by the spectacle of a new gay punk movement, and saddled with guilt stemming from our unrequited crush on Gay Shame's political bogeyman, Newsom.

Gay Shame does have some unique and important ideas, but we found their focus a tad unfocused. They do love to protest, however, which makes them all the more fun to watch. They seek to retard corporate infiltration of Gay Pride and other gay-related events, help the homeless (hence the antipathy toward Newsom), and end a laundry list of discriminations -- basically, to draw attention to supposed social ails that overlap the queer community. We guess.

We had hoped to see them also address more specific issues such as the liquor industry's targeting of gays for alcohol advertising, the right of gays to marry -- and maybe even the predominance of men in the Castro who now find it acceptable to wear tank tops at fine restaurants. But with any nascent radical group, ideas and organization take time to jell. So we followed Gay Shame around during Pride weekend to see what on earth all the caterwauling was about.

When Dog Bites arrived at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center at 1800 Market St., where the protest commenced, we immediately felt bourgeois and out of sync. The Gay Shame Web site asked demonstrators to dress to "absolutely terrifying, ragged, devastating excess" -- a request we violated by donning a pair of Donna Karan -- not DKNY, mind you -- slacks, along with a few other neutral but tasteful Diesel separates. Little did we know that Diesel -- one of the few designers who make shirt sleeves narrow enough for our slender, sinewy arms -- would be nominated for both the "Body Fascism" and "Best Commodification of the Male Gay" awards. Oops.

So with most of the Gay Shamers clad in either superb drag (shredded jeans, maniacal headdresses, and vibrant swatches of color) or protest couture (T-shirts emblazoned with "Spam" and other ironic slogans, Converse sneakers, 10-speeds), and remembering how Gay Shame spokesperson Mary Oliver warned us that the gay and lesbian community "is associated with buying a bunch of crap ... not about history," we moved our guilty-as-charged self to the sidelines to watch the action.

After a healthy-sized crowd had amassed, the Gay Shamers handed out rather fitting honors to postmodern puberty-fetishist writer Dennis Cooper ("Exploiting Our Youth Award") and the Baghdad Café, where Jihad Alim Akbar was shot and killed while wielding a knife last year ("Best Front-Row Seat to Watch Police Brutality Award"), to name only a couple. But the tongue-in-cheek "Legends Award" -- the group's Lifetime Achievement Oscar, if you will -- was given to Gay Shame's favorite punching bag, the delicious Supervisor Newsom.

Naturally, they wanted to deliver the award to him in person.

And two days later, several Gay Shame members went for broke by jumping the barricades during the Pride parade in an attempt to unveil a banner in front of Newsom. After chasing his car (which, admittedly, Dog Bites also did once, but only to give him a cologne-spritzed cocktail napkin with our phone number scrawled on it), six Gay Shame activists were arrested on several felony counts. The counts included threatening a public official, conspiring to commit a crime, resisting arrest, and weapons possession (said weapons being wooden sticks and a copper pipe -- used to hold up protest signs, in a protest). The D.A.'s office dropped the charges the next day.

A few days after that, several Shamers showed up at City Hall to hound Newsom to let their people go. As the supervisor walked down the marbled City Hall staircase with a police escort, the activists trailed behind him chanting ...

Wait, can Dog Bites point out something? In person Gavin Newsom is a stunning piece of man. We don't know if it's the power, the blue blood, or the dark, swept-back hair and glass-cutting bone structure, but he's quite a package. As he descended the stairs, we averted our eyes when he looked our way. We would have died had he caught us blushing, thinking we like-liked him like that. And we can see why he draws such solid support from the gay community: Gay-for-pay (straight actors in gay roles, straight men in gay porn) is commonplace in Hollywood movies and in pornography, so why not with politicians? But we digress.

After our illicit Montague-Capulet emotions subsided, Newsom got into a car and departed. The protesters congratulated themselves on a job well done and looked forward to their comrades' release from jail. Dog Bites left City Hall feeling a bit perplexed by our near-swoon over the dashing supervisor, and a bit proud of this Gay Shame group willing to stir up the shit for the sake of stirring shit up, so that we don't get too comfortable in our Abercrombie & Fitch cargos. The Diesel shirts, we're sorry to say, you'll have to pry from our cold, dead hands.

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Brock Keeling

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