Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Alice B. Toklas, Political Insider

This Monday evening at the recently bailed out San Francisco Gay, Etc. Community Center at Market and Octavia, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club met for a members' election on their upcoming official election slate card.

You could vote for Option 1, which was the short slate already determined by the club, or you could vote for Option 3, which allowed you to make all your own choices in a very long form, and there was Option 2, which was some kind of mixture of both but nobody could quite explain it to me.

Part of the San Francisco election campaign process is meeting up with local Democratic clubs who represent niche political agendas for neighborhoods, ethnic/cultural assemblages, and affinity groups like the Alice B. Toklas Club which is currently claiming to represent gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders such as Keith Baraka (above right) and Theresa Sparks (above left). The two are running for the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC, sounding like an acronym from the old Soviet Union) and Supervisor of District Six, respectively.

The Alice B. Toklas Club was formed in 1972 by the pioneering gay political junkie Jim Foster as the first officially chartered Democratic club to advocate for gay rights issues. The eponymous allusion to Gertrude Stein's lifetime lesbian partner, Alice B. Toklas, turned out to have very little to do with actual lesbians and more to do with a closeted name game for insiders.

According to an extensive, wonderfully evenhanded history of the club by Nathan Purkiss:
"The original 20 members of the Club chose “Alice B. Toklas” because the name served as a code to protect the confidentiality of members. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – only gay people would know that the “Alice” club referred to gay people."

There were early alliances with California Assemblyman Willie Brown, Jr. and Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, and those relationships with those old, increasingly powerful and inevitably corrupt politicians have marked the group ever since as the Insiders' Club, as opposed to the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, which bills itself as "The home for SF's queer left."

In truth, there's quite a bit of crossover between both clubs, except when they're fighting furiously over a candidate (Willie Brown Jr. versus Tom Ammiano for Mayor, for instance). The Superior Court Judge candidate Michael Nava (on the right) is one of the few who has the early support of both groups in this June's election, and he was at the meeting to pay his respects after a very long work day.

Meanwhile, without knowing any of this history, I was asking random middle-aged men, "So, are you a conservative lesbian?" The first response to this question was hilarious: "We prefer to call ourselves moderates," he said, not objecting to the L-word for a second.

Just to clarify, the comment didn't come from either my public access TV buddy Glenn (above) or from Ron Dudum (pictured below), who was making a last-ditch attempt for an endorsement for the DCCC. Dudum is principally known for losing a recent Supervisor's election in a ranked-choice nail-biter to Ed Jew, who is currently in federal prison after extorting tapioca businesses. Dudum, meanwhile, is trying to overturn ranked-choice voting in the courts.

What I found most interesting was that the successful local politicians who were there to make deals and massage egos, besides the openly gay ones, were all Chinese-Americans.

Board President David Chiu (above) was present for a Q&A with the crowd as was the "moderate" Carmen Chu (below) from the Sunset.

Fiona Ma, promised for a celebrity appearance, couldn't attend at the last minute but her aide was stolidly handing out flyers extolling her gay rights credentials at the entranceway to the Ceremonial Room. I have long contended that if San Francisco's gays/lesbians and Chinese-Americans could partner up, they could easily wrest control away from the very old-fashioned mafia that has run San Francisco for decades. Whether they would be any better at governing things is a completely different question.


janinsanfran said...

Hey -- you've been wandering in weird precincts. You must really want to elect Nava.

mary ann said...


sfmike said...

Dear Jan: I do want Nava to win and you're right. It's taking me through some very weird precincts indeed.

Jan said...

We are an nonprofit representing the Azerbaijani-American community, and are trying to do research on health care, taxation and social security issues. Basically, through our research, we are overwhelmed with tons of information, and in order to be able to clearly and concisely formulate the choices to our members, we would be very interested in seeing some one-pagers outlining the pro's and con's on these topics. It would be also interesting to see what are other similar nonprofits thinking and doing. Being a grassroots organization, with a diverse membership, we need to be able to "keep it short" and easy to understand for busy people who don't particularly like or enjoy politics. If you have some tips, pointers and such information, could you please email it to me directly , or via our website

Larry-bob said...

I had a really strange experience on a trip to Paris. I visited Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas's graves (Alice's name is carved on the back of Gertrude's headstone). On top of the headstone inside a ziplock bag was a memorial program for the then recently-deceased Robert Barnes (of Barnes, Mosher & Whitehurst political consultants) who had been a member of the Alice B. Toklas club. It was odd running into a San Francisco connection that far from home. I wonder who put it there.