Op-ed: We Should Understand, We’ve Been Here Before
Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk fought hard
for San Francisco values. Moscone
led the fight to enshrine the right to privacy in our state constitution. Milk
made community oversight of police a top priority. One of Milk’s first acts as supervisor was to get an LGBT
person appointed to the Police Commission.
But these values are under siege.
Here’s what happened. In 2007 the San Francisco Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation entered into a secret agreement to govern
terrorism investigations. Last year the Asian Law Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union forced
the police department to release this document. The implications are shocking. Without any reasonable suspicion or cause, the SFPD and FBI
can search our trash, spy on our community groups, and enlist our friends as
informants. Instead of answering to residents of this city, or even their own police department supervisors, SFPD officers on FBI-led cases must answer only to D.C. And
let's be frank, when there isn't reasonable suspicion, what the police are
relying on is unreasonable suspicion — racial and religious profiling. So much for Mayor Moscone’s “right to
be left alone.”
The SFPD issued an order to officers in May 2011 to follow
local civil rights laws, but when the ACLU met with the FBI, the feds said there was no change to the agreement in place. Even the San Francisco city attorney says that it’s a legal
contract, and officers who break the terms with the FBI put themselves in legal
jeopardy. The chief insists that
the city should trust his good intentions, but the agreement with the FBI
forbids the kind of transparency that trust requires.
The Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities
(which include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities) are
bearing the brunt of this. But
LGBT people of all races and religions haven’t forgotten when we were in the
We can’t let this happen again.
LGBT people of all races and religions were also once viewed
as a threat to national security. Joe McCarthy’s twin obsessions were
“Communists and queers.” A 1950
Senate report said we were a bunch of easily blackmailed perverts. As a result,
the federal government fired thousands of LGBT scientists, diplomats, and other
civil servants. It wasn’t until
1995 that President Clinton signed an executive order stating that sexual
orientation couldn’t be used to bar someone from getting a security clearance.
There was a time when LGBT people could not safely gather — not
in San Francisco, not in New York, not in Los Angeles, not anywhere. Our
meeting places were subjected to police raids, our community members were
intimidated, entrapped, blackmailed, and our lives were routinely destroyed.
Stonewall, Compton’s Cafeteria, the Black Cat — these names live on in our
history as places where we fought back against police harassment and
violence. The first LGBT rights
organizations in this country weren’t founded in boardrooms and conference
centers. They were founded in
cramped living rooms and windowless bars.
People used pseudonyms and feared putting their names on membership
lists. They were subjected to FBI
surveillance and harassment.
Profiling still goes on. Try walking down the street as a transgender woman of
color. Nearly half of transgender
people in a recent survey said they were afraid to ask the police for help.
Unaccountable power leads to abuses. According to a recent article
in the Guardian, a man hired by the FBI
to pose as a terrorist and spy in Orange County’s Muslim community admitted
that his bosses were particularly interested in finding out who was gay and in
the closet. The goal was “to turn
targeted people into becoming FBI informants themselves.” Meanwhile, the undercover fake
terrorist so unnerved the community with his recruitment drive that they
reported him to the FBI — not realizing that he was on the payroll.
For San Francisco, there is a way to avoid these
abuses. Supervisor Jane Kim has
proposed a bill to restore the protections that Moscone and Milk fought hard
for, and it’s called the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance. A majority of the Board of Supervisors
supports this bill, and the final vote is tomorrow, but Mayor Lee hasn’t tipped his
hand on what he’ll do. Portland, Ore., already passed a law like this, and the police chief
reported to the City Council that it hasn’t interfered with counterterrorism
work one bit. Good police work doesn’t require racial profiling,
unaccountability, and throwing civil rights aside.
To maintain a city that prides itself on welcoming people of
all sexual orientations, gender identities, races, religions, and
nationalities, we’d do well to remember George Moscone and Harvey Milk’s
DANIEL REDMAN is the Elder Law Project Fellow at the
National Center for Lesbian Rights.
He received his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt