Members of SF Pride are pressuring the nonprofit’s board to kick out corporate sponsor Google. (Lola Chase/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

SF Pride membership votes to ban Google from parade. Will the board listen?

San Francisco Pride’s membership voted Wednesday night to kick Google out of Pride.

But, there’s a catch.

While that vote at a membership meeting expresses the outrage the most active members of SF Pride hold toward Google for continuing to allow bigots to target, harass and endanger LGBTQ people on YouTube and other platforms, just how binding it may be isn’t yet clear.

For now, those voting members, some of whom are former Google employees themselves along the LGBTQ spectrum, dubbed “Gayglers,” issued a statement on their vote.

“Since YouTube’s decision in May 2019 to continue to give a platform to homophobia, racism, and harassment, we have been asking the board of SF Pride to take action to remove YouTube and Google as sponsors and participants in the Pride parade and festival,” wrote Laurence Berland and Tyler Breisacher, two of the leaders of the movement.

They added, “We look forward to the corporate accountability committee convening to determine if other companies should be banned as well, and to recommend to the board durable, lasting standards that ensure corporate participation in SF Pride is only an option for corporations that are responsible partners with our community.”

As a nonprofit, SF Pride’s Board of Directors votes on policies for the organization, and therefore, the parade itself. Will the membership’s vote compel the board to act? Even SF Pride itself doesn’t know.

“The Board of Directors is consulting the organization’s legal team on the potential impact of this recommendation,” Fred Lopez, the interim executive director of SF Pride told me in a statement Thursday. “The Pride Board values the voices of the membership, and our responsibility to the many civic and business partners it takes to produce the city’s largest event.”

Google declined to comment on the record for this story.

The voting members of SF Pride also passed a transparency measure to require SF Pride to disclose just how much companies donate to the parade. I mean, the assumption some might make is that SF Pride is defending Google to protect some massive annual donation — but while we know that Google does in fact donate, we have no idea how much.

“The details of Pride’s contracts with its sponsors and participants are kept hidden from the public and from its own members,” Berland and Breisascher wrote in their statement. “We discovered that the organization’s own rules actually require that they keep these details confidential, so we introduced a resolution which allows (but does not require) Pride staff and board members to share the details of contracts, and we hope they will do so, to the greatest extent practical.”

In fact, as of now any board member who reveals donation amounts is removed and any staff member who does so is fired, according to SF Pride’s rules.

Berland said that while SF Pride’s bylaws don’t say much about the powers of membership votes, California law, particularly the California Corporations Code, may describe situations where nonprofit membership votes could be binding.

Still, he admits, “we aren’t lawyers, and the California Corporations Code is vast.”

I tried finding a few attorneys to comment on the matter myself, but struck out before press time. (If you’re an attorney competent in nonprofit law by all means, reach out.)

Berland was among four Google employees fired after union organizing. Their opposition to the tech giant — and subsequent unfair labor practice charges — made international headlines in December.

But the contention over homophobia arises from a different incident: The homophobic attacks on Vox journalist Carlos Maza by YouTube star Steven Crowder, whose claims that Maza was a “lispy queer” and other derogatory remarks sparked a harassment campaign by right-wing trolls against Maza. Headlines have skewered the company over its “policy disasters.”

It should be noted that Google has since updated its policies on handling harassing behavior on YouTube, including tightening policies for its YouTube Partner Program to “get even tougher” on those who harass on its platform, including taking more severe actions like issuing strikes or terminating channels. As they are new, the jury may still be out on the effectiveness of those updated policies.

Berland and others rallied at the SF Pride board repeatedly, demanding it oust Google from the SF Pride parade. Pride participation essentially rainbow-washed the organization at a time when they were enabling hate against the LGBTQ community, they argued.

Lopez, the interim director of SF Pride, pointed out that just seven voting members out of 326 voted to urge SF Pride to dump Google.

While that may be true, Berland pointed out that 30 people were present, not all of whom were voting members, but some who supported the resolution. And usually, to be frank, absolutely no one shows up, I’m told. This issue may have brought out more voting members than others in the past, with the exception of meetings directly before and directly after the parade itself.

It also is a continuation of previous protests of the SF Pride Board, when LGBTQ protesters and their allies came in such strong numbers the meeting was described as “overflowing” as they called on the board to oust Google.

At the time, San Francisco LGBTQ community stalwarts like Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones also supported the movement. Jones told me last year, “If Google won’t act, the Pride committee needs to.”

Former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Sister Roma, of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and prominent drag king Alex U. Inn also supported the movement to see Google excised from SF Pride.

U. Inn, a former SF Pride community grand marshall, even went as far as joining the SF Pride Board of Directors to help the movement grow, winning on a platform of change.

But when U. Inn arrived, they found themselves stifled at every turn by a board unwilling to hear a message of resistance, they said.

“Felt totally disrespected on that board,” U. Inn said. “Anything that I would say or suggest they pooh-poohed it,” including a proposal to pair tech companies with nonprofits to raise the visibility of smaller groups, amidst a sea of hundreds of tech workers who tend to swarm the parade.

“I did step down,” U. Inn said, to “make a bigger difference being a community member.”

It should also be noted that even if the SF Pride membership’s vote is not binding, the SF Pride board could pass their own, similar resolution and excise Google itself.

But will they? You don’t have to Google it — based on U. Inn and Berland’s experiences, I’d be the answer is a pretty clear “no.”

Read Berland and Breisacher’s full statement below:

Statement on amendments passed at SF Pride member meeting, Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Google

Since YouTube’s decision in May 2019 to continue to give a platform to homophobia, racism, and harassment, we have been asking the board of SF Pride to take action to remove YouTube and Google as sponsors and participants in the Pride parade and festival.

Rather than single out Google, we wanted — and still want — to have a deeper conversation about what we expect from companies who participate in Pride. Companies are no longer scared to be seen as pro-LGBTQ; in fact, their participation is a great opportunity for them. We believe companies should earn that opportunity by proving that they really do stand with our community. SF Pride often points out that it is the most-watched Pride in the world, and that gives it the power to influence the direction that corporations take. We believe SF Pride, as an activist organization born of a protest march, should use that power to, as its mission says, “liberate our people.”

However, the formation of the corporate accountability committee was happening very slowly, and SF Pride has thus far been unwilling to suspend the execution of new sponsorship contracts pending the committee’s work progressing. We feel the facts surrounding Google are so unambiguous that there’s no chance a committee would produce a meaningful standard that does not disqualify them from participation, so last night we asked the membership to vote directly on a resolution banning Google from Pride. That resolution passed, and we urge the board to pass it as well, at their upcoming meeting on February 5th.

We look forward to the corporate accountability committee convening to determine if other companies should be banned as well, and to recommend to the board durable, lasting standards that ensure corporate participation in SF Pride is only an option for corporations that are responsible partners with our community. We encourage workers concerned about their employers, as well as members of the public concerned about particular corporations, to bring these issues to the committee, so we can learn more about what important issues our community faces, and craft a policy recommendation that best addresses them.

Alameda County Sheriffs

When representatives from SFPD met with Pride last month, they said the SFPD contingent in the parade was important, not only for the LGBTQ officers in SFPD, but other officers in other police departments. Unhoused mothers from the group “Moms 4 Housing”, occupied a vacant house at 2928 Magnolia Street in Oakland, owned by a corporate “house flipping” company, in protest of the housing crisis consuming the bay area, even as thousands of homes remain vacant. On January 14, 2020, the Alameda County Sheriff’s office used militarized deputies, in full combat gear, with the use of an armored personnel carrier, to evict the unhoused mothers from the house at 2928 Magnolia Street, and arrested three mothers and one ally.

We feel this demonstrates clearly that the Alameda County Sheriffs are not an ally to our community either, and we were pleased that a resolution banning them from marching in uniform at Pride passed as well.

Discussions about other law enforcement agencies are ongoing, but we feel this is a great first step.

Transparency

The discussions about Google, the Alameda County Sheriffs, and other organizations, are made more difficult by the fact that Pride is generally very secretive about its contracts. The details of Pride’s contracts with its sponsors and participants are kept hidden from the public and from its own members. On many occasions, the board and staff of SF Pride have lamented that they are unable to discuss these contracts and other information relating to vendors and sponsorship. We discovered that the organization’s own rules actually require that they keep these details confidential, so we introduced a resolution which allows (but does not require) Pride staff and board members to share the details of contracts, and we hope they will do so, to the greatest extent practical.

Are these resolutions binding?

That’s a good, and important question. Before we address it, though, an important point: even if these resolutions are not binding on their own, the board of directors could pass the motions as well. There seems to be broad agreement that motions like these passed by both membership and board votes would be binding. So, while we will try to discuss the issue as best we can (we are not lawyers, no lawyer has been consulted, and this is definitely not legal advice), it’s not necessary to resolve this question to move forward, if the board of SF Pride is willing to stand in solidarity with its members, workers, and the community.

First, what do the bylaws of SF Pride say about this? Not much. The relevant section of the bylaws (Policy A.02) is Article 4, Section 1, paragraph (g). Here’s the entire section 1, for reference:

“Any other matter” reads to us like it would include amendments to the corporation’s policies and procedures. We find nothing else in the bylaws that would restrict the rights of members to make these amendments. The most obvious part of the law, California Corporations Code Part 6 Public Benefit Corporations, Chapter 6 “Voting of Membership” seems to be the important part of the law. That chapter begins:

There’s nothing we can find in the articles or bylaws to preclude what we submitted to a vote of the members. Like we said, though, we aren’t lawyers, and the California Corporations Code is vast. We look forward to hearing from SF Pride, who are presently consulting with their counsel, on whether these amendments are binding to the organization. We also, as we said, hope the board will pass these amendments as well, regardless.

Final thoughts

Many people have been committed to pushing SF Pride to do better. Thank you to everyone who has protested, shown up for member meetings, run for the board, voted in the board elections, shared their concerns with friends, signed letters, petitioned their employer, etc. As more and more people get involved, we can move closer and closer to a Pride celebration that celebrates our LGBTQ community, rather than serving as mainly a rainbow-colored party for corporations.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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