Before it was the title of a prominent queer theory book that came out last year, “Gay Shame” was the name of a queer, anticapitalist activist group fighting against gentrification and the corporate takeover of Pride festivities in San Francisco. Formed in the early 2000s, Gay Shame has long contended that mainstream LGBTQ culture can too easily collude with developers and corporations to drive queer people and other vulnerable populations out of cities like San Francisco. They use graffiti and confrontational activist tactics to highlight and disrupt this collusion. Members of the group chatted with The New Inquiry about their history, politics, and the pernicious “progressive” politics that disguise the brutality of tech-led gentrification. Read an excerpt from the interview below, or the full text here.
Let’s talk about your “Queers Hate Techies” wheatpasting campaign. Why do queers hate techies?
MARY RADCLYFFE.— When people want to “smash capitalism,” what are they really referring to? Activist messaging often casts its desired political engagement narrowly to maximize effectiveness, like ACT UP’s “Drop the Debt” or our own “Free Michael Johnson.” This is vital work. Those without power should demand everything. What about power relationships that are so endemic and of such a scale that they constitute a soft but ongoing emergency, and are overlooked because Lenin didn’t leave a firm go-to reprimand? San Francisco’s proximity to Silicon Valley has placed us in the premier location to witness the devastating cultural phenomenon of “Tech.” As opposed to some pop-cultural conception of “capitalism” as anonymous corporate evil, people here have witnessed something far more complex. One of the most troubling features of “Tech” is its deep entanglement with values that will be remembered one day as “progressive.” Take the case of Moxie Marlinspike, the anarchist developer of the Signal app who also worked for the State Department. If the San Francisco Bay Area is going to be remembered as a haven for a certain kind of “woke” culture or politics, it must also be remembered as the place where Twitter, one of the biggest displacers of public Black life in the Tenderloin neighborhood, commissioned a nonprofit to throw a Black Lives Matter mural up in their lunchroom. “Tech” is a juggernaut driven by the profit motive, and no amount of neoliberal workplace diversification will drive back down the real estate values it inflates, or undo the US military application of its big “disruptive” ideas.
MARY LOU ROADBLOCK.— When we are talking about “Tech,” we are also using it as shorthand for all the brogrammers and “Beckys who techie” who now live in multimillion-dollar condos and call the cops on people sleeping on the street. Every month “Tech” hires thousands of mostly white and mostly male brogrammers who are disgusted by Bay culture and are furious that there is no parking for their Teslas. In other words, our hate is not simply about the economic brutality they reproduce, although it is that too. But the already normative culture of SF liberalism is also getting even more deadly for any and all of us who live against its drives. It feels, in many ways, like the world is crumbling down around us. At least two of us have recently been evicted from our long-term homes so they can be flipped into a “safe home” to raise Baby Jagger and Baby Maddison. Modern Times, the bookstore Gay Shame has met at for the last 12 years, has in that time been evicted twice and now no longer exists. Eviction is not only about liquidating those people who formerly made a world here, but also about replacing it with worlds even less disruptive to the flows of capitalism.
“Queers Hate Techies” positions Gay Shame against the YIMBY (“Yes In My Backyard”) Party and other pro-development forces in San Francisco. In what ways have your actions been devoted to dispelling the “build, build, build” attitude characteristic of tech-backed organizations, like SF BARF (Bay Area Renters’ Federation)?
MARY DEVORS’.— When not sharing heirloom crushed oats with Trump’s gay best friend, Peter Thiel, Sonja Trauss and Laura Foote Clark are busy running the YIMBY Party. The YIMBY Party is a tech- and construction-funded fake “activist group” whose purpose is to provide a “community” voice in support of building more luxury condos in SF, and now many other places. More or less they have mimicked anti-eviction activists but flipped the message to align with the desires of capital. In other words, they are the children Reagan always wanted, spouting every line of neoliberal “trickle-down” ideology. They argue that if you build more luxury condos, somehow, homeless people will eventually be housed. They traffic in all the stupid “supply and demand” rhetoric that even the most conservative economists no longer support. “Trickle-down” housing is making developers even richer, while evictions continue to render so many (including many of us) now homeless. They are among the deadliest forces that we are currently trying to battle because they front like they are pro-renters, and even name themselves “renters’ federations,” while pushing forward anti-renter policies. If you see one of them, throw something and run.
MARY LOU ROADBLOCK.— Also, it’s not that they are just well-intentioned but “misguided” people. YIMBYs are cops and executioners by other means. Their white nationalist politics lead them to accuse Latinx activists of being “xenophobic” for not wanting rich white techies buying their homes and evicting them. Just yesterday there was a vigil for Iris Canada, a 100-year-old Black resident of SF who had lived in her apartment for over 50 years. She was evicted a few weeks ago, locked out of her home while she was away at a seniors program. Her family names the stress of the eviction, and the fight against it, as Iris’s killer. Housing speculation does not mean that people just can’t have spacious and cheap apartments. For most people in rent-controlled units (like Iris), their only options are homelessness or death. This is all going down in the context of the massive evisceration of Black social life in SF (which has a longer but recently accelerated history). “Tech” is structurally anti-Black, and working to include a few Black people in its death-worlds is not going to stop the killing.
Image: Gay Shame graffiti in San Francisco. Via streetartsf.com.