Why is the head of San Francisco's most venerable gay Democratic club starting another political organization? That's what some in the gay community are asking after Brian Basinger, president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, recently launched the tentatively named HIV Democratic Club.
Well, if you think it has something to do with the big brouhaha in the Milk Club over its controversial decision to endorse incumbent state Senator Carole Migden (a lesbian) over challenger Assemblyman Mark Leno (a gay man), you're not alone.
Debra Walker, a Milk Club executive board member and a Migden supporter,
says that to her Basinger's club seems like "Plan B" for Leno partisans. "It feels like he's saying, 'I'm taking my ball and going home,'" she says.
Basinger got in hot water with other Milk Club leaders after telling the Bay Area Reporter last month that an October vote pushed through by Migden supporters to endorse early in the District 3 Senate race was improper. The executive board responded by taking the highly unusual step of censuring Basinger and issuing a public letter reprimanding him for "undermining" its credibility. Many Migdenites in the club suspected Basinger was trying to throw a wrench in the process because they believe he's a Leno supporter.
But Basinger says he hasn't endorsed either candidate and, as club president, it's his obligation to support whomever club members choose to back. "There does seem to be a Cheney-esque 'If you're not with us, you're against us' type of mentality permeating some people's behavior," he wrote in an e-mail.
Basinger, executive director of the AIDS Housing Alliance, says he began talking about starting an AIDS-focused Democratic club a year ago, before the Migden-Leno race heated up. He says he wanted to start an alternative club that reached beyond the gay community. For instance, he argues, a heterosexual African-American woman with HIV might not consider joining the Milk Club (which has had an HIV/AIDS caucus in the past) but may join the new group. And, well, he says, the Milk Club can be "a toxic place" that isn't always welcoming for newcomers. The new organization, he sniffs, won't have 30 years of political baggage to weigh it down. Basinger says his HIV/AIDS club "will be able to work with everybody."
Hmmm, perhaps everybody except the Milk Club.