At the last minute, SF Badlands owner Les Natali derailed the long-awaited August 6 mediation that was to finally bring accountability to racial discrimination found as fact by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. The previous week, an agreement concerning those who would attend the mediation had been set by the participants, including Natali, complainants, community members, and Mayor Gavin Newsom-appointed mediator and former Mayor Willie Brown. On Friday, August 5, Natali abruptly reversed course, suddenly insisting that the handful of agreed-upon community representatives be excluded. Despite attempts to compel Natali to comply with the established mediation proposal, he and his lawyers refused, leaving in jeopardy the future of mediation and the resolution of a civil rights complaint that has gained national attention.
This latest move, while shocking, is hardly surprising for the many community organizations who have been working for justice, accountability, and greater inclusion for all people within the LGBT community. Over the past year Natali has repeatedly stalled mediation attempts. Since last August, complainants and And Castro For All (AC4A) have been urging Natali into Human Rights Commission (HRC) mediation. Due to Natali’s unwillingness to come to the table last fall, the HRC conducted a rare full investigation, and found as fact widespread discrimination in both employment and patronage. The HRC, unfortunately, cannot issue penalties, and so continued, along with AC4A, and political and community leaders, to encourage Natali to come into mediation and stand accountable for his civil rights violations. Over the past three months, the community has mounted a boycott of SFBadlands to pressure Natali to face mediation as well as to encourage city and state agencies to hold Natali accountable.
"Natali’s 11th-hour shenanigans are so damaging to the resolution of this struggle," said AC4A organizer Paul Mooney. "Our organization is eager to redirect our energies toward a host of proactive new initiatives to foster greater inclusion for all people in the LGBT community, but that starts by ending the struggle that began this new movement-As a community we all must demand accountability for Natali’s proven civil rights violations. After more than a year, time is up. Natali has to stop squirming and face the consequences so that all of us can move forward."
On Friday, the attorney for the complainants, Julius Turman, sent a letter to Mayor Newsom explaining the situation and requesting his intervention. Turman wrote that "Both Mayor Brown and myself expressed to Mr. Natali that in mediations regarding civil rights violations, not only are the complainants present but so are community groups (like the NAACP) which may be sponsoring an ongoing demonstration… to ensure greater buy-in and inclusion of community understanding of the agreement. As the neutral mediator, Mayor Brown agreed that community leaders needed to be present." Turman offered a compromise that community representatives would not directly address the mediator, but Natali insisted they could not be present at all until after a settlement had already been reached — essentially shutting them out of the process.
Natali’s about-face on the role of the community in mediation comes on the heels of an August 2 San Francisco Entertainment Commission meeting at which Commissioners heard testimony from complainants, community members, and SFBadlands representatives. The Commission then indicated there was likely sufficient evidence of discrimination at SFBadlands for them to move forward with an administrative hearing to consider possible disciplinary action. The complainants are filing for such a hearing to begin as soon as possible, and calling upon the Entertainment Commission to revoke or suspend Natali’s entertainment permits for the longest period possible in consideration for the length and scope of his civil rights law violations.
If Natali continues to refuse to enter mediation on the terms to which he previously agreed, Turman has asked Mayor Newsom to prevail upon the Entertainment Commission and other regulatory agencies to bring Natali to justice. Other forms of recourse, including a state administrative law hearing to revoke Natali’s liquor licenses as well as possible civil suits, are being prepared for. Turman, the complainants, and AC4A urge Natali come to the table immediately and allow all parties–and perhaps most importantly our community — to find resolution.
And Castro For All is a new initiative seeking to build sustainable efforts toward greater inclusion within the Castro and the Bay Area LGBT community more generally. For more information, including the full HRC Finding, visit our website: <http://www.andcastroforall.org >.