A handful of protesters, including a few in the buff, have vowed to boycott a Castro neighborhood store in San Francisco over an ongoing dispute concerning the iconic rainbow flag and other uses of the neighborhood’s public space.
Terry Asten Bennett, one of the owners of Cliff’s Variety store at 479 Castro St., sits as the president of the Merchants of Upper Market Street and Castro, and her store is the target of the small boycott because of merchant group’s decisions regarding flag modifications.
MUMC has served as the flag operators since the late 1990s when the city handed off responsibility for the flag and pole to the business group. The group has maintained a fairly consistent position on keeping the flag raised as much as possible.
“Over the last two years the MUMC Board has been overwhelmed with requests to alter or change the flag,” Asten Bennett wrote in a MUMC mailing Monday.
“These requests have regularly been accompanied by a great deal of personal attacks, blatant bullying and harassment. Due to these attacks it has made it very difficult to consider any requests.”
One of those requests came in September from transgender community activist Veronika Fimbres for the transgender flag to be hoisted onto the pole and flown at half-mast on Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20.
Asten Bennett responded that the flag request was denied “due to real and serious safety concerns,” but they were considering alternative approaches to honor the day.
Then later Monday after what Asten Bennett said was “thousands of letters of support,” MUMC has since decided to allow the transgender flag to be raised on the pole.
In a statement she posted on her storefront after her Monday mailing, Bennett said the flag raising has been approved after an anonymous benefactor agreed to pay for the Castro’s first transgender flag, which will measure 20-by-30 feet.
Additionally, “MUMC will organize a committee to access their flag policy after the first of the year,” Asten Bennett wrote.
Regardless of the successful campaign for the transgender flag to fly in November, gay rights activist Michael Petrelis teamed up with three nudist activists and stood in front of the store Tuesday afternoon holding signs stating “Boycott Cliff’s” and bellowing into a bullhorn.
Petrelis said MUMC needs to offer the Castro community more transparency with their decisions and use of public land.
“We are asking them to hold public meetings” and in the meantime asking customers to boycott Cliff’s, he said.
He has compiled a list of annual calendar dates that the flag should be lowered or a specific group should be represented with their own flag raised, including Sept. 11, Leather Week, and Bear Weekend.
Cleve Jones, a prominent LGBT activist who worked with assassinated San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk for human rights in the 1970s, walked through the store doors during the boycott to show his support for Asten Bennett and Cliff’s.
“The attack on this business and family is unwarranted,” Jones said.
Asten Bennett’s husband, Rich Bennett, Cliff’s Variety store manager, expressed some concern for his wife who is in the crosshairs of the dispute, but was more puzzled as to why there were any protesters after MUMC agreed to raise the transgender flag.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News