Gay Shame S.F.

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Dec 17 2001

Location: 

San Francisco CA

From the screaming queens of the Stonewall Riots to the contemporary Human Rights Campaign corporate gays, the politics and methods of queer activism have clearly fluxuated. By the late 1970s, the radicalism of stonewall was replaced with a more formal Gay Liberation movement that focused on civil rights. The movement was briefly re-radicalized by ACT UP in 1987, but much of contemporary gay politics has been sucked into the non-profit industrial complex and taken on assimilationist causes, such as the right to marry and serve in the military. There are however still groups that maintain the radical nature of ACT UP, such as Gay Shame San Francisco.

If you attend Gay Pride and you are not instantly blinded by the sun’s reflection off of rainbow flags, glistening bare (or bear) chests and a plethora of Bud Light and Skyy Vodka ads telling you to join the machine of consumerism, then you just might be lucky enough to see Gay Shame with its living room furniture in the middle of the street crashing the Pride parade. Formed in New York and spreading to S.F. in 2001, Gay Shame is a non-partisan group “committed to a queer extravaganza that brings direct action to astounding levels of theatricality”. It rejects assimilation, homonormativity, and challenges consumer driven gay politics, most notably in its demonstrations around the Gay Pride Parade. Gay Shame, inspired by ACT UP, strives to create a “new queer activism” that foregrounds race, class, gender, and sexuality. It uses consensus and the members of the group take on the name ‘Mary’ when speaking to the press. Gay Shame’s demonstrations utilize satire and humor as tools in its critiques.

Gay Shame, as its name indicates, started off focusing on gay pride, consumerism and anti-assimilation, but it expanded its focus to broader race and class concerns. On October 24, 2003 Gay Shame S.F. held a campaign kick-off party outside of Ruby Skye, where Gavin Newsome was having a campaign fundraiser. The party was for ‘Mary’, Gay Shame’s fake candidate for mayor. Gay Shame ran ‘Mary 4 Mayor’ as a show of resistance to Newsome’s support of Proposition N, which criminalized almost all forms of panhandling. Her deliberately ridiculous platform included using all members of SFPD and any other law enforcement agency as nutritious compost to fertilize Golden Gate Park. The event included music, food, and dancing.

Why It Worked
Mary 4 Mayor campaign was effective in terms of Gay Shame’s goals and definition of effectiveness. Its demonstration was not designed to cost Newsome the campaign, which it would not have been able to do. Mary 4 Mayor, like all Gay Shame actions, strove to provoke, produce some kind of resistance, and create a spectacle for people to join in. In these ways the action worked. Overall, the group embraces the fact that it is idealistic. As a Mary said, “I think in the world of normative politics the best thing you can be is out of control. What is reality is a really scary thing so I’m not interested in realistic politics because I know the parameters of what constitutes a realistic politics in the United States. We know the limits of the power we have or the power we can access. Primarily we are fighting in a culture war, so if we can produce some kind of resistance, than that’s something”. Gay Shame’s concept of effectiveness, therefore, reaches beyond the tangible, or legislative change.

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