Criticism of MillerCoors Brewing Once Again for Support of Folsom Street Fair
In what seems to be on its way to becoming an annual tradition, anti-gay Christian groups have once again targeted San Francisco’s annual Folsom Street Fair, along with one of the event’s many advertisers, brewing company MillerCoors.
The fair, which serves as the final event to Leather Week, will celebrate the quarter-century mark this year. At its Web site, the Folsom Street Fair declares itself "a true San Francisco original."
The site offers these details: "With over 400,000 people in attendance covering 13 city blocks, the Fair is the largest leather/fetish event in the world and the third largest, single-day outdoor event in California."
Where its critics notice only the sexual themes of the celebration, the Folsom Street Fair claims to offer more than that: "In addition to the main attraction of the 25th Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco Leather Week (September 20--September 28, 2008) will offer an expanded range of social, artistic, historic, and cultural options for the community."
Twenty-five years may seem like a long enough time to call an annual event a tradition; in the last few years, however, anti-gay Christian groups have singled the event out for especially harsh criticism.
As reported last fall at EDGE, the 2006 edition of the Folsom Street Fair came under attack by the Concerned Women for America, which called the event an "unprovoked attack against Christ and His followers," and requested that officials publicly renounce the event.
In 2007, the fair was targeted for its poster, which riffed broadly on the Leonardo da Vinci painting depicting Christ’s last supper with the disciples.
At the time, Andy Copper, president of the Folsom Street Fair’s Board of Directors, addressed the controversy, saying, "There was no intention to be particularly pro-religion or anti-religion with this poster; the image is intended only to be reminiscent of the ’Last Supper’ painting."
Continued Copper, "We hope that people will enjoy the artistry for what it is--nothing more or less."
Acknowledged Copper, "Many people choose to speculate on deeper meanings. The irony is that ["Last Supper" painter Leonardo] da Vinci was widely considered to be homosexual."
Copper reckoned, "I guess it wouldn’t be the Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though."
One company whose logo appeared on the poster was Miller Brewing Co., which promptly heard from Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
Donohue demanded that Miller pull its support for the fair; the company requested that its logo be removed from the poster, but took out an ad in this year’s Folsom Street Fair program guide, renewing the outrage of right-wing religious groups, which seized once more on the event’s gay demographic as further evidence of the fair’s "wickedness."
The anti-gay Christian Web site LifeSiteNews claimed in a Sept. 22 article that the event features complete nudity and sexual acts, including fellatio and acts of a sado-masochistic nature that take place, the posting said, in public.
In the course of its article, LifeSiteNews reported that Peter LaBarbera, the president of an anti-gay Web site called Americans for Truth About Homosexuality had written anew to the Miller/Coors brewing company to ask, "Does MillerCoors have any ethical guidelines for events it will--or will not--promote... and participate in?
"Would MillerCoors sell beer and advertise at, say, an Incest Rights festival, or take out an ad in the publication of other openly bigoted gatherings such as a Neo-Nazi rally?"
Indeed, AFTAH had posted its own earlier article, cited by LifeSiteNews, that had appeared on Sept. 19 at Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
In the AFTAH article of Sept. 19, LaBarbara attacked not only the Folsom Street Fair, but also San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome, about whom LaBarbera asked, "Are Mayor Newsom and the Democrats embarrassed about supporting Folsom?"
That query arose from a notification received on Aug. 28 by the site, from a lawyer for the event.
The notification demanded that Americans for Truth About Homosexuality remove an image of a letter to Folsom Street Fair organizers from Newsome, as well as an advertisement that the site had culled from the event’s program guide and posted.
The notification prompted LaBarber to write, "Well, I guess that despite those black-and-blue ’Leather Pride’ flags, the homosexual sadomasochists aren’t exactly ’proud’ of their perversions after all."
Wrote LaBarbera, "The problem for Folsom Street Fair organizers is that they are apparently ignorant of ’Fair Use’ law."
LaBardera went on, "AFTAH is within its rights to highlight Folsom’s (utterly grotesque) materials, especially if we are commenting critically on them."
The posting included the text of a note from the general counsel for another anti-gay group, the American Family Association, assuring AFTAH that their excerpts were protected by "fair use" law.
Wrote LaBarbera, "We appreciate the help of our friends at American Family Association--which will have a representative, Diane Gramley, at our upcoming San Francisco press events exposing Folsom--and also the good folks at Liberty Counsel for ably providing significant pro bono assistance to Americans For Truth over the last two years.
"We encourage AFTAH followers to support both of these great organizations that are committed to defending Truth and our First Amendment freedoms."
Added LaBarbera, "Lastly, I must ask Folsom organizers: What are you ashamed of? Certainly not mocking Christianity and public nudity and sex in the streets..."
The posting then provided a link to a pdf download of a program guide to this year’s Folsom Street Fair, scheduled to take place Sept. 28.
The posting promised that the guide would be "unbelievably perverse," and stated, "It is further modern proof of what happens-to quote the book title by Christian authors Chuck and Donna McIlhenny and Frank York-when the wicked seize a city."
Not everyone was enjoying the prospect of a "wicked" street fair as much as the anti-gay groups claiming to condemn it, however. Author Scott James, whose novel SoMa had been published under the pen name Kemble Scott, wrote a piece published in the Sept. 19 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, in which he lamented the vanishing of the SoMo ("South of Market Street" district) of old, and the "taming" of the neighborhood.
In SoMa, James explored both the geography of San Francisco and the strata of the city’s denizens, with the main character, a bisexual man, occupying territory that was viewed with skepticism by both gays and straights.
The book described a variety of situations, some of them both lurid and literarily valuable for the critical lens through which James examined the neighborhood at a certain point in time.
Wrote James, "Not too long ago, the fair was a celebration of the wild lifestyles that defined South of Market. Now it’s just one day, more of an homage to a side of the city that’s been tamed in a stunningly short amount of time."
Continued James, "I should know. The events I witnessed as a resident of the neighborhood led me to author the novel SoMa," which the author "started writing in 2002, during the dot-com collapse."
James wrote, "It’s amazing how much South of Market has changed since 2002.
"Most of the grittiness is gone, eliminated at an astonishing pace by development and gentrification. This year’s Folsom Street Fair will take place in the shadow of luxurious new housing complexes, with the background noise of even more construction."
James went on to write, "This isn’t to say that all of the old SoMa is gone. If you look hard enough, you can find it, although with some telling changes.
"Just the other night I stopped by a bar once called My Place. It was infamous for the antics that happened in its bathroom, which had to be the filthiest restroom in town, both for its hygiene and customers’ behavior.
"Now the bar is called Chaps II, and that bathroom has been replaced by one that’s beautifully tiled, spotless with soap and towels, and serves only one person at a time."
Summarized James, "That says it all, doesn’t it? As the city grows up along with us, we’ll manage to keep a few pockets of the old SoMa, to indulge our occasional nostalgia ... as long as it’s clean and smells nice."