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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Who Owns The Castro Rainbow Flag?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 12:01 AM

click to enlarge Flagged... - JIM HERD

Don't like the way the Castro's iconic rainbow flag is administered? Go get your own!

That's the message from Steve Adams, the president of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC). It's his group that pays for the oft-replaced flags, insures them in the event of a costly mishap, and ultimately makes the decision on whether to lower the rainbow colors to half-mast in the event of an LGBT luminary's passing.

Sorry, folks. Liz Taylor just didn't cut it.

That doesn't make sense to outspoken gay activist Michael Petrelis. He raised a ruckus in February until the Merchants deigned to lower the flag to coincide with a rally honoring murdered Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato.

By rough count, that was only the sixth time the flag has been lowered to half-mast since it was first hoisted in 1997. Other honorees include John Cook, the first openly gay San Francisco police officer to be killed in the line of duty; Castro Patrol Special Officer Jane Warner; Trevor Hailey, who was instrumental in the flagpole's installation; and lesbian rights pioneer Del Martin. The flag was also lowered when the state Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8.

Petrelis is tired of having to beseech the Castro Merchants every time he'd like to honor a cause by lowering the flag. "For the public to have to go to a private group to access public property -- that's not okay," he says.

Adams' response: Show me the money! Petrelis "feels he and the 'activists' need to take it over. Well, they don't pay for it. There wouldn't be a flagpole if it weren't for the Castro Merchants."

click to enlarge JIM HERD
MUMC has administered the flag since 2001 -- here's a copy of the agreement it signed with then-Department of Public Works director Ed Lee back then. It replaces the wind-whipped flags -- which cost about $1,000 a pop -- four times a year and pays about $5,000 yearly in insurance just in case the flag blows away and smothers somebody (Adams notes that, a decade ago, the flag did indeed fly off and land in traffic -- though no one was hurt).

Raising and lowering the flag requires a key. Adams wouldn't reveal how many keys to the flagpole exist, though he did note that no one in the city has a copy. For those who enjoy the nitty-gritty, the flag sits upon land owned by BART (which built the Muni Metro stations), is administered by the DPW, and is kept up by MUMC.

Around 20 requests a month to lower the flag come Adams' way. He says he e-mails them to MUMC's board and gets his answers within a matter of hours (they don't say yes very often, obviously). "I'm sympathetic when something bad happens to anybody," he says. "But if we granted every request, the flag would be at half-staff half the time." In fact, the flag is actually too large to be lowered to half-staff, or it would interfere with traffic on Upper Market. It must be lowered to three-quarters staff.

Petrelis, meanwhile, has made multiple requests of the DPW to fly the American flag beneath the rainbow banner on May 22 to honor Harvey Milk's military service on Harvey Milk Day.

It remains to be seen if the city -- or MUMC -- will take him up on his request.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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