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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Meet Your Gay Pride Grand Marshal Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 9:18 AM

click to enlarge Tommi Avicolli Mecca - MECCA FACEBOOK PROFILE
  • Mecca Facebook profile
  • Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee has been leading the charge against San Francisco's escalating eviction crises. Now in his 60s, the longtime activist has been a journalist, an editor, and an AIDS and LGBT activist, as well as a strong advocate for a variety of social justice causes.

Mecca is a man who knows the difference between right and wrong, and he never gives up the fight for what he believes to be right. As he prepares to march in this Sunday's Pride Parade as a Grand Marshal, he spoke to SF Weekly about himself and his core beliefs.

SF Weekly: Congratulations on the Pride honor. Tell us more about yourself.

Mecca: I am from South Philly, Italian neighborhood. My family went from poor to working class, my father worked in a gas station all his life, my mother kept house. I have three siblings who lived, two died. I was raised Catholic, but became an atheist at age 16 and have been one ever since.

During high school I was involved with anti-war and civil rights marches and was involved in the underground newspaper in my Catholic high school.
When I got to Temple University, I joined Students for a Democratic Society, the most radical anti-war group on campus, and the Gay Liberation Front.

In Philly I was involved in so much activism: Gay Liberation, Gay Activist Alliance, (president in 1975), Radicalqueens, the first transgender group in the city. I was living in drag at the time, I worked at Philadelphia Gay News for 10 years: reporter, editor, managing editor, I was an organizer of the first Philly gay pride march in 1972.

SF Weekly: What brought you to SF?

Mecca: In 1991 I left Philly. I had lost a lot of friends. Both my parents died within a 9-month period. Philly felt like a graveyard. I couldn't deal with the loss and the sadness.

SF Weekly: How did you become involved in housing issues?

Mecca: I was working at A Different Light Bookstore when the dot-com boom happened in the late '90s. Suddenly, there was a lot of homeless queer kids hanging out in the Castro and sleeping in doorways. At the same time, a lot of gay men with AIDS, long-term tenants who'd been in their rent-controlled apartments for decades, like today, by greedy landlords and speculators looking to cash in on the higher rents the dot-comers were willing to pay. Some of these landlords and realtors were gay. How could they toss gay men with AIDS out into the street? Where was the gay solidarity, the sense of community? I was approached by Gabriel Haaland, who was then working for the Tenant's Union, he recruited me into the tenant's movement. There are a lot of issues I care deeply about: health care, living wages, hunger,
I've been a lifelong opponent to all war and violence.

SF Weekly: How do you feel about the former Pride Board being voted out?

Mecca: I was glad when the old Pride Board was voted out. What they did to Chelsea Manning (rescinded Manning's 2013 Grand Marshal status) and the queer movement was awful. It's the result of not having a sense of history, of what our movement has always stood for, of the struggles that went before and the ideals for which we have always stood. I felt they were trying so hard to assimilate, to be acceptable to the mainstream, to make our community fit into something we never fit into.

SF Weekly: Chelsea Manning is an Honorary Grand Marshal this year! What do you think about that?

Mecca: I feel honored to be a Grand Marshal along with her and the other wonderful folks who've been selected. If Chelsea is a criminal, then what can you say of a government that invaded two countries which have nothing to do with us?

SF Weekly: How do you feel about your own election as Grand Marshal?

Mecca: My election is more about the movement that I am a part of than me as an individual. My contingent will be about and other issues I care about, I invite everyone to come and be a part of it. I feel that this year is a new year for Pride in San Francisco. Not because I'm Grand Marshal, but because Chelsea is being honored the way she should have been, the transgender community is being honored in a major way, which is long overdue, and through my contingent I hope that we can make a bold statement and the housing crisis that is affecting queers as much as everyone else. Housing is a queer right too!

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