Category Archives: Culture

Smiling Through The Cracks

Janelle White teaches at SF State and San Francisco Women Against Rape's executive director.
Janelle White teaches at SF State and is the San Francisco Women Against Rape’s executive director.

Written by Erika Maldonado
Photos by Benjamin Kamps

Janelle White is everything you’d want and expect a lecturer in SF State’s women and gender studies department to be.

Her salt and pepper curls fall naturally and wildly with hints of light blue along her temples. The blue dye on either side of her hair perfectly complements the blue tint on the frames of her glasses. Morning glory flowers envelop her right arm with Lizz Wright lyrics and sparrows peeking out through the stems. She wanted a full sleeve by her fortieth birthday, but she doesn’t seem to like to show them off.

Janelle White wanted a full sleeves for her fortieth birthday, but rarely likes to show it off.
Janelle White wanted a full sleeve for her fortieth birthday, but rarely likes to show it off.

A calm demeanor and the soothing tone of her voice invites open and honest conversation during class discussions. When she isn’t enlightening students on women, prison and the industrial complex on Mondays in the Humanities Building, she’s the executive director of San Francisco Women Against Rape.  This year marks its fortieth anniversary and White helped organize the anniversary celebration held on Oct. 24.

“It fundamentally shaped who I was as a thinker, as an activist and an advocate,” says White.  “I saw in action what it looks like when your mission is to end oppression so that you can end rape. I hadn’t seen that ideology practiced at a rape crisis center.”

SFWAR is one of many organizations housed in the Mission’s eye-catching Women’s Building.  Located on 18th street, the entire four-story building is covered in murals. Portraits of influential women such as Rigoberta Menchu, Georgia O’ Keefe and Audre Lorde peer over passersby within the melange of radiant yellows, blues, reds and greens.

Inside, the female-led community space empowers, educates and provides a safe space for women and girls from all walks of life.  SFWAR shares an atrium

A light fixture in the shape of a vagina hangs on the top floor of the Women's Building.
A light fixture in the shape of a vagina hangs on the top floor of the Women’s Building.

with other organizations on the third floor. Natural light reflects from skylights onto the hardwood floors and a neon light fixture in the shape of a vagina hangs on the exposed brick wall.

“It’s not about charity work,” says White.  “This is our community doing our own community work. What I’ve seen with SFWAR over the years is more clarity about the communities who need our support and figuring out ways to support them.”

The center provides one-on-one counseling, support groups, a twenty-four hour rape crisis hotline and prevention education.  It’s more than just a safe place for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, says director of community initiatives Sandra Sandoval.  Staff members are out on the field daily at schools, businesses and health clinics throughout the city presenting workshops on anything from sexual harassment, assault, anti-oppression, Internet violence to healthy relationships. They also table numerous events including SF State’s production of The Vagina Monologues. Staff also serve as advocates by accompanying women to court cases and doctor visits.

The anniversary celebration took place during domestic violence awareness month.  President Obama called it a national holiday in a proclamation last year, but it’s been celebrated since 1987.  Since sexual assault falls under the umbrella of domestic violence, SFWAR is celebrating its anniversary in October. White has worked in the movement to end violence against women for almost twenty years.  Like many women involved in the movement, she is a sexual assault survivor.

“I didn’t tell anyone about it for about a year after it happened,” says White. “Once I had done my own kind of healing, I knew I wanted to work in this movement. I felt like there was a place for me. It just made sense.”

She was a twenty-four-year old graduate student at University of Michigan. It happened inside, in a place where she thought she was supposed to be safe.  And it happened by someone she knew.

Women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are more likely to experience intimate partner violence than any other age group, according to the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.  On college campuses across the country, one in four women will be the victim of sexual assault.

“It’s so important for people to be able to talk about their assault,” says White. “Women tend to just stuff it for so long. They don’t tell anybody, and it’s very sad.  It has a way of eating away at you.”

Janelle White sits in her office at SFWAR located in the Mission.
Janelle White sits in her office at SFWAR located in the Mission.

On campus, The SAFE Place is a resource for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment and stalking.  Students can visit the Safe Place, located in the Student Services Building Monday through Friday. Since half of all sexual assaults committed during college years involve alcohol consumption by either the perpetrator or victim, the SAFE Place’s prevention course focuses on alcohol use and its role in sexual assaults.  The second focus involves the role men play in sexual assault prevention.

“In the past, violence against women was considered a woman’s issue when in fact, men were perpetrating this violence,” says Ismael de Guzman, SFSU prevention education specialist.  “Shouldn’t we be part of that solution? Shouldn’t we be part of that conversation?”

His program, Men Can Stop Violence is one of few CSU campuses that incorporates men in its sexual assault prevention program.

As White rounds out her twentieth year of work in the movement to end violence against women, she hopes to continue to build up other advocates to one day fill her shoes.  Helping others deal with traumatic experiences daily can be draining, she says, but learning limits and boundaries is essential.  To avoid what is called secondary trauma for the advocate, she says you can’t let it rule you.  She is a foster volunteer for MickaCoo a volunteer network dedicated to rescuing pigeons and doves.  She also enjoys watching live music with her partner and has tickets to the Treasure Island Music Festival.

“When someone shares something really deeply with me, you know what they’re struggling with, I respect it and really engage with it,” says White.  “But when I get ready to leave SFWAR, I take it and put it in a nice, wrapped package. I put it in the closet and I close the door. It’s fine and safe there, but I don’t have to take it with me.”

Embracing All Sizes


When someone hears the word “model” most people picture this 6 foot tall ,a size two women with lots of confidence and a sense of power to take command on a fashion runway. However, Morgan Weinert sees the word “model” in a different light.

SF State held its annual Body Positive Week and first ever “All-Bodies Fashion Show,” where it supports both the love for fashion and the different shapes and sizes people may have. For one whole week, students participated in different activities and workshops to help them love the most important person in their lives, themselves.

To kick off Body Positive Week, Weinert created an activity involving a chalk outline of ones body. Students were asked to point out one part of their body that they liked and say why. They also had to pick one part of their body that they did not like and turn it into a positive.

Weinert produced the fashion show because, “fashion is a great way for people to reclaim their body.” While it was San Francisco Fashion Week, it was also Body Positive Week in the Residential Life community.

Weinert believed that by having a fashion show open to all sizes in which students could model their own wardrobe it would lessen students negativity about their weight. During Body Positive Week one of Weinert’s goals was for students to understand that being healthy goes beyond nutrition and exercise. She, in addition, believes one’s sexuality, emotionally being, and stress levels are also things to take into consideration with one‘s wellbeing.

Weinert has been the Health and Wellness Coordinator for Residential Life for about 6 months now. Weinert is responsible for developing and implementing workshops, presentations, and activities that help reduce harm to oneself. Such activities include sexual wellness, sexual assault, exercise, and nutrition.

The following day students listened to Virgie Tovar, an activist and lecturer on fat discrimination and body image. Tovar’s lecture revolved around having better sex through body love. The third day marked National Women’s Health and Fitness Day, held at Malcolm X Plaza. Students were able to get information regarding sexual health, nutrition through games and brochures. The event also revolved around raising awareness about violence against women in order to prevent it.

The fashion show was the grand finale of Body Positive Week. Having declared the show open to all shapes and sizes it “gave people the opportunity to be fashionable in their own body,” Weinert says. SF State student Rajit Sandhu who modeled in the show says, “I was nervous to go out on the runway but I was still confidant and owned my body.”

The fashion show was said to feature San Francisco stylist Zuriel Bautista, who is inspired by the diversity of modern popular culture, but due to an unfortunate car accident he was not able to attend. Bautista’s aesthetic is influenced most by his grandfather’s wardrobe from the 1970’s and his utility workwear. This altered the timeliness of the fashion show and how many looks went down the runway. Nevertheless, the show went on, and hopefully the show will continue to be says Weinert.

At the same time, the show featured a handful of student fashionistas, it also featured lines from 31 Rax and Nooworks. 31 Rax is thrift store that offers hand-picked, vintage clothing for men and women. Owner Stephanie Madrinan who was present at the All Bodies Fashion Shows says, “the clothing found at 31 Rax is out of my own closet.” The models strutted down the runway in dresses, tribal print pieces, and all paired with unique jewelry. This vintage thrift store will soon be featured solely online and will also feature extended sizes.

Nooworks features numerous artists who create prints, which are then turned into garments such as dresses, shirts, and or leggings. Nooworks is also a participating store that currently carries plus sizes up to 18, but they plan on expanding their sizes to 4x. The clothing featured at the show was showcased by SF State students as well by Morgan Weinert who wore colorful, bold printed leggings.

While the fashion show was the grand final Weinert also encouraged students to attend the Folsom Street Fair that Sunday. Weinert says, “Folsom is a great way for those you are recently on their own to explore.” College is a great time to create who you want to be and everyone should take advantage of that says Weinert.

If there was only one important thing that Weinert wanted students to take away from all of Body Positive Week was that everyone should be excited to reclaim their body and that we are only given one body so appreciate it.

The SF State community took a stand in representing all types of individuals through the fashion show, opening the door for other student fashionistas thanks to Weinert. If that was not enough of a milestone for fashion, one may want to know that this year there was the first ever plus-sized line featured in New York Fashion Week by designer Eden Miller. Fashion is for everyone no matter what size you are.

Finding the Flame


 By Maggie Ortins
Photos by Albert Ortins

Pulling up onto the Playa in his gold Lexus he is met by volunteers with green hair and colorful face masks. They open the door for him and tell him to get out and roll around in the dirt. My Dad is initiated into Burning Man.IMG_2115

“I guess it was their way of saying ‘here is the sand- you better get used to it,” he laughs with me. Covered in dust, with alien like goggles on his eyes and an orange bandana covering his nose he stood at the mouth of a giant circle. A circle made of people that have come from all over the world to watch a wooden man burn. Wearing my mothers hat. Wearing her wedding ring.

My dad is a pretty regular guy.  A former Naval officer, he works steady hours as an Registered Nurse for Kaiser Permanente in the intensive care unit, and watches sports on his down time.  He never really did anything wild or crazy. But after the recent passing of my Mom, I  knew that this experience could be a chance for him to branch out from his straight-laced lifestyle.

“Burning Man was good for me because it gave me a little bit of a shake up, and I needed a shake up.”

My mom and dad met while they were both in the Navy, but because my dad was an officer their relationship had to remain a secret until my mom was discharged and they got married. My mom was a kind soul who was raised Catholic and taught me and my brother to live modest lives and keep a religious faith. She didn’t let me wear make up growing up and made me and my brother go to Sunday school. My mom was my dad’s soul mate and he took care of her throughout her illness. It really was a labor of love.

“Your mom would have really frowned on the idea of me going to Burning Man. If she was still here she would have wanted nothing to do with it.” he says.  “Your mom and me were pretty conservative and quiet you know- we would just come home watch our sitcoms and be comfortable.”

“When my friends brought up the idea of going to Burning Man I had no intention of going- I thought it was crazy I thought only crazy people go- but then they told me about what was involved and I met all these people that had gone for years, some older than me.”

I was also thinking that my Dad would be out of place at Burning Man being 54 years old now with greying hair. But almost half of  those who attended Burning Man this year were over the age of 35 according to the 2013 Black Rock City Census.

My Dad was going with a group of seasoned burners under the tribe name “Dragon Ass”. He met with them a few times for Burning Man meetings to prepare for the trip. They helped him pick out various outfits for the trip- including the essential red tutu and fishnet stockings.


“You need clothes you can ride your bike in because that is the only way to get around really.”

Most importantly at Burning Man you do not want to be what they call a ‘dark wad’ which is someone who isn’t lit up at night. There aren’t any lights except for the lights you bring. My Dad strapped neon blue and green tube lights onto his body and bicycle and wore a fanny pack filled with batteries.

“Burning Man is so cool because there really isn’t a show- the people are the show” he says. “The techno music really added to the tribal atmosphere.”

Alongside the immaculate art installations that are scattered around the Playa there is a temple that is set to be burned along with the man at the end of the week. This year the temple was designed by Greg Flesimen and Melissa Barron of Oakland, CA.

The “Temple of Whollyness” as it was titled, for my Dad was the most spiritual part of Burning Man.  Burners write messages to loved ones or leave letters of farewell, knowing that it would all be burned away within days.IMG_2021

“I brought Mom’s favorite scarf, you know the green one, and left that on the altar along with a message – I wrote a few messages. I went to the temple like everyday to go read the messages. The first time I didn’t know what to expect and I lasted all of five minutes before I had to walk out of there blubbering.”

“But people there they would see you crying and they would just come up to you and give you a hug and tell you how much they loved you. There was a real sense of community and love. I shared my loss with people and people shared things with me. The messages on those walls were messages I could identify with.”

The reasons people go to Burning Man are as colorful and different as those who attend it. For my dad it started off as a trip to just try something new and have a good time, but it transformed into something more. The temple was able to serve almost as a wailing wall for him and the people around him. It was a place to find closure and comfort among others who were strange but not quite strangers

After talking with my dad about Burning Man I don’t think he has changed too much. He was always kind of that guy who would always sit in the same seat at the sports bar on Sundays. Those things haven’t changed- but he does seem to be more accepting of people and more willing to try new things with his life. Just the shake up he needed.

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Human Faces

Written by Mariana Barrera
Photo by Amanda Peterson


From the kimonos to the guys with the guitar, meet the spectrum of people that roam campus

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  • If you could have one dream come true, what would it be?
    “To be able to make a living doing what I love.”
    What’s been your happiest moment here at sf state?
    "I guess I have to pick the cheesy one…winning the talent show at welcome days."
    Sean Thompson, 20. Music Major
  • What is your biggest struggle at the moment?
    “Finding a place to stay in San Francisco, for sure. I’m just couchsurfing with my friends right now.”
    Ross Torres, 23. Philosophy major
  • What do you miss most about Osaka?
    “I miss the food. I don’t feel lonely here because there are a lot of Japanese people and international students.”
    Hiroumi Sano, 18, Business Major
  • What is the happiest moment you’ve had at SFSU?
    “Making a new friend. I’m not very good with social skills and it was difficult for me to make friends.“
    Emi McKenzie, 18, Biophysics Major
  • How long have you been playing?
    “I play at least twice a week. I’ve been doing it since grade school, but just for fun.”
    Adrian Martin,17. Microbiology Major
  • What’s your biggest dream?
    “It would be really awesome if I could be a full time dancer and also be someone people look at as a health coach, for dancers. That would be awesome.”
    Kwadwo Kumi-amankwah, 21, Health Education major
  • “I’m spinning poi, it’s an Polynesian cultural thing that they did I think to train for weapons training and coordination but I do it just for fun. These have led lights so at night you can turn them on. I also spin fire. I’ve synched some of my hair off before, I’ve burned some sections of arm hair off before and got my beard, but I’ve never gotten like seriously burned doing it.“
    Colin Ballou, 24, Earth Science major
  • Why’d you leave SFSU for a semester?
    “I’m kind of broke and kind of needed to get a job and did some traveling, I went to burning man, and went to Mexico."
    Do you feel like you’ve changed at all since you were here?
    “It’s really helping just in terms of finding out what I really want to do, because when you’re in school there’s so much pressure to find the right job.”
    Jakob Chew, 23, Health Education major
  • Pet peeve about students when you’re working at the pub?
    "They’re 21 and they’ve obviously never been in a bar before. I’ve gone from being annoyed to more like, let me help you this is how it’s done in a bar let me show you how you behave. You don’t cry at the bar, you don’t come in here and get crazy, you don’t creep out the girls. It’s like teaching the kids responsibility. I was an older student when I went here, and now I’m not old, but I’m not 21 anymore and you know what? I wish somebody would have helped me along; we’ve all been embarrassed after drinking too much.”
    Matt Cropp, 29, SFSU Alumni, History major
  • What was the best moment of your life?
    “Meeting her, she’s my best friend.”
    (left to right) Khairiah Alrobaidi and Maryam Khan, 18 & 18. Both undeclared majors

Barcelona After Dark

Photo by Babak Haghighi

By Babak Haghighi

It was my last night in Barcelona. The sangria-induced hangover was just starting to fade after a day full of Gaudí sightseeing, beach roaming, and paella eating. With an 8:16 a.m. train to Marseille, France the next morning, the smart thing to do would have been to have a low-key night—perhaps stay in at the hostel. But I didn’t come to Barcelona to be smart.

When in Spain, do as the Spanish do: Party. Hard. It was Friday night, after all. So I opted to join a pub crawl with some other travelers from my hostel. It was quite the international crowd, including Ala, a teacher from Poland whom I met in Madrid a few days earlier.

We headed out at 11:30 p.m., which is pretty early for Spain. A typical night out in Spain often starts at around 1 or 2 a.m., but I wasn’t complaining. We started out at Ryans Irish Pub—perhaps not the most authentic example of Catalan nightlife.

“¿Hablas inglés?” I asked the bartender, eager to show off my seven years worth of elementary Spanish knowledge.
He didn’t hear me over the noise, so I asked again.
“¿Hablas inglés?”
“Hmm?” he responded.
I asked once more.
“I can’t hear you, man,” he said in his North American accent.
He spoke English. I ordered a beer.

Downstairs, a group of American girls tilted their heads back and opened their mouths wide as the pub crawl leader poured liquor down each of their throats. Those inane Americans wouldn’t last the night—everyone knew it. This was no college dorm party with watered-down beer. This was Spain. This was Catalonia. This was Barcelona. The night was young.

“These American girls are crazy,” said Ala. I agreed. Not once during my six-month tour of Europe did I introduce myself as an American. I was Californian. There’s a difference, and everyone in Europe recognized it. Introduce yourself as American, and they grimace. Many people seem to have their mind set on what an American is like, and they want nothing to do with it. But introduce yourself as Californian, and their eyes light up, eager to learn more. Once you tell them you’re from San Francisco, jaws drop and shrieks of excitement fill the air. Many Western Europeans told me that they think of San Francisco as “the European city of America.” Not a bad reputation over there.

Four pubs and three hours later, it was time to end the night at a dance club. On this particular Friday night, Boulevard Culture Club, or BLVD as the locals know it, was the place to party. Located right in the middle of La Rambla, the busiest street in the heart of Barcelona’s city center, BLVD is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. The young, international crowd and variety of music make it a worthy party venue, but even with three dance floors it remains one of the city’s more low-key night clubs.


Photo by Babak Haghighi
Photo by Babak Haghighi

The Polish Ala hits the dance floor. Before long, she notices her purse is open and her belongings are missing—particularly one iPhone and one wallet.

Barcelona is no stranger to pickpockets. TripAdvisor, among many other travel websites, lists Barcelona as the number one place in the world to beware pickpockets and specifically distinguishes La Rambla as a hotspot for wallet snatchers.

In Ala’s case, the pickpocket watched her as she danced the night away. Distracted by the good music and good vibes, she failed to notice the pickpocket open her purse and steal her phone and wallet. She searched the floors helplessly and ran back to the hostel in distress.

“They pickpocketed me in style,” said Ala. “You really have to have your eyes wide open all the time.”

With my own wallet still in my back pocket where I left it, I continued to enjoy my last night in Barcelona. Once I realized I was the only person left standing from the pub crawl group, I stepped outside for a cigarette—one which would spark a six-month chain-smoking session in true European fashion. Outside, I met a friendly group of Germans. Nina led the pack, accompanied by her friends Kirillo, Kai, and Man, who were visiting Nina from their hometown, Düsseldorf. Nina had recently moved to Barcelona and worked as a bartender.

It was late. I had a train to catch in two hours. The nightclub was closing. In most parts of Spain, Barcelona included, the nightlife shuts down at around 6 a.m. The streets are dark. Empty. Lifeless. What was, just minutes ago, a vibrant playground for drunken debauchery is turned into a barren neighborhood of sketchy streets and sketchy people.

What the guidebooks don’t tell you is that at 6:01, a new side of Barcelona opens up.

“We’re going to get some food,” said Nina. “Do you want to join us?”

Most people would think to call it a night. I did have a train to catch, after all. But I was determined to let the good times roll. I joined them, curious as to where one gets food in Barcelona at six in the morning after a long night out.

The city was dead. Business hours were over, as evidenced by the aluminum garage doors covering the windows and entrances of nearly every building. Nothing was open. Or so it seemed.

Nina approaches one of the aluminum doors of a seemingly closed shop and knocks. Lo and behold, a man opens a hidden door and lets us into his diner. The place is packed. The cooks are hard at work at the grill as if it’s the lunch rush at In-N-Out. We sit at a table and each order a breakfast burger and a beer. Nina helps me order, as both the Catalan and Spanish languages are mysteries to me—at least as far as burger menus go.

Germans seem to have a reputation for lacking a sense of humor, yet we still shared laughs as we poked fun at each other’s names, among other things. As we waited for our food, Nina’s bartending colleague, Francesca, walked in. Francesca, a beautiful brunette from Italy, had just gotten off work.

“I’m ready to party!” she shouted.

It was nearing 7 a.m. when we left the diner. The sun was out now. The Germans said their goodbyes and called it a night. But Francesca was just getting started.

“Let’s get a drink,” said Francesca.
I had a train to catch in just over an hour.
“I’ll buy,” she said.
I was sold.

Photo by Babak Haghighi

Francesca moved to Barcelona from Italy just a few months earlier. It didn’t take her long to learn the secrets of the Catalan capital, and she was glad to show me the ropes.

“Sow how do you know Nina?” she asked.
“Oh… I met her a couple of hours ago,” I responded.
“Well what are you doing in Barcelona?” she asked.
“Just traveling.”
“All by yourself?”
She found this to be both fascinating and crazy.

But Francesca was fascinating and crazy herself. Standing no taller than 5’2”, the curly-haired Italian was an independent woman of wild energy. She envied my travel plans and hoped one day to do the same.

“A journalist, wow!” she exclaimed.

To call her a free spirit would be an understatement. She wore a collection of Rasta-colored wristbands on both of her arms, making her fit in well in Barcelona. She was a fan of marijuana, as it is a huge part of the liberal Catalan and Barcelonan culture.

Francesca leads me southwest along the beachside promenade towards the Port of Barcelona. She was about to show me one of the most intriguing secrets of Barcelona’s late-night afterlife. Francesca walks up to another building covered up by aluminum doors. She knocks, and once again, a hidden door opens. Inside, a busy and bustling bar awaits. Classy Spanish jazz plays from a jukebox in the back. Nearby, groups of friends play foosball and billiards on their respective tables. Well-over 75 patrons sit at the surrounding tables and chat over food and drink. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Tourists need not apply here. It felt like a speakeasy from 1920s Atlantic City, hidden from the rest of the city. After three days of sightseeing and tourist attractions, this was a refreshing change of pace.

Francesca and I sat at the bar. I had less than an hour to catch my train. When in Spain, do as the Italians do (apparently), and take shots of Jägermeister at 7 a.m. She ordered each of us a shot as well as a side of Patatas Bravas, one of Spain’s greatest tapas dishes. The tapa consists of small slices of fried potato covered in a delicious spicy tomato sauce. But Francesca disliked spicy food, so she ordered a mayonnaise sauce instead. It made for one hell of a chaser.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and so came to an end my trip to Barcelona. It was 7:45 a.m. and I was taking shots in a hidden bar in the middle of who-knows-where. With a kiss on the cheek, I bid farewell to Francesca but promised we’d meet again. My train was going to leave in half an hour, so I rushed back to the hostel, ignoring the pain from the blisters on my feet. I walked into the hostel and the receptionist gave me a smile. She knew I had a good night in Barcelona. Within minutes I packed my bags packed and checked out.

“I have a train in 15 minutes,” I told the receptionist as I left.
“Uh-oh,” she said.

I learned the secrets of Barcelona’s nightlife. I saw the things they hide from tourists like myself. That 8:16 train to Marseille left, along with its dozens of passengers. I was not one of them.

Nerdy San Francisco

PJ Reyes blocks his partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.
PJ Reyes blocks his partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.


By Molly Sanchez
Photos by Virginia Tieman

San Francisco is a city full of the weird and the wonderful. It’s the city of Lucas Films; the future home of The United Federation of Planets, and stomping grounds to nerds and geeks of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of virginity. As a connoisseur of all things nerdy, I feel it is my duty to bestow upon you the top 5 favorite nerd sites in the city.

Friday Night Magic at Two Cat’s comics in West Portal

Players of the game Magic: The Gathering compete against one another in swiss pairings at Two Cats Comic Book Store in West Portal on Feb. 22, 2013.
Players of the game Magic: The Gathering compete against one another in swiss pairings at Two Cats Comic Book Store in West Portal on Feb. 22, 2013.

Monday nights (5-9 p.m.) and Friday nights (5:30-9:30p.m.) are magical at Two Cat’s comics. Austin Meshel Haun, cinema major at SF state and comic store employee, oversees the store’s weekly free Magic the Gathering card games. “We get on average about 10 people Mondays, 16 on Friday and we hit capacity at 32 people for our weekend events.” Meshel-Haun says that the players range in age from the very young to the very old. Though there are many strategies for game play and deck building, Meshel-Haun says that there is one thing every game has in common,“I inform people that fun is mandatory!”

Nightlife at the Academy Thursday nights at the Academy of Science

Booze, music, and science, no this isn’t a flashback of your weird chem teacher from 10th grade, it’s a taste of what’s in store at Nightlife at the Academy. Every Thursday night from 6-10 p.m. the California Academy of Sciences hosts a party featuring a DJ or a live band. Partygoers can sip trendy cocktails in front of the museums aquatic displays or listen to lectures such as “A Brief Science of Sex and Culture” or enjoy a show in the planetarium while munching on sustainable cuisine. Admission is $10 for member and $12 for general admission.

Nerd Nite SF

For Lucy Laird, co-boss of Nerd Nite SF, nerd is the verb. It’s “not who someone is but how someone chooses to spend his or her time, i.e., nerding out.” And what a great way to spend time! Laird describes Nerd Nite, which meets at the Rickshaw, shop every 3rd Wednesday of the month , as“discovery channel, with beer!” The group meets for host’s lectures, games, and field trips and each meetup costs an average of $8. “We emphasize humor, as bawdy and nerdy as possible,” says Laird, adding “its way easier to get up in front of hundreds of people with a beer in your hand and a slide presentation as full of hard data as LOLcats!” The lectures range from grammar to genealogy and from physics to fungi and as always the liquor and laughter flow freely. Nerd Nite is a great way to grow some new brain cells and kill the old.

Chandra Gilmore jumps over her partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.
Chandra Gilmore jumps over her partners light saber at a light saber choreography class held by the Golden Gate Knights at Studio Gracia in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2013.

The Golden Gate Knights

Playing with light sabers is not just for jedis anymore, or for teenage Michael Cera in the Bluth’s garage thanks to the Golden Gate Knights. Started by longtime Star Wars fan, Alain Bloch ,and stage combat choreographer, Matthew Carauddo, the Golden Gate Knights is a group that meets every Sunday to teach the art of light saber combat to geeks and nerds of all stripes. Bloch says the class involves “stretches, calisthenics and lots of warm-ups” and is “very athletic and also very geeky.” Bloch says that not everyone who takes the class is a hardcore Star Wars fan. “ Our class makes a great date with a partner,” he adds. Classes are every Sunday from 12-3 p.m. at Studio Garcia on Heron street and cost only $10. I love Golden Gate Knights. They know.

The Podcast that shall not be named

Comedians, dragons, and beer oh my! These are the elements of improv guru; Max McCal’s latest brainchild is a podcast about comics playing Dungeons and Dragons and other table top games. Along with Justin Gomes, McCal started the podcast this January,” We thought putting some of the funniest people in a room together and asking them to just portray strange characters in fantastic worlds would be an awesome way to entertain,” McCal says. “ I think it mirrors the experience most people have with the game to not take it 100% seriously all the time.” Local comedians bring their own senses of humor to the game, which is made apparent by the character traits, one is a lesbian elf played by a bearded straight guy, the constant star wars jokes, and the occasional mid-melee serenades. The podcast can be found on

Morally Straight: The Changing Face of the Boy Scouts of America

Boy Scouts from San Francisco's  Troop 88 meet at the Forest Hill Clubhouse on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 to discuss elections. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress
Boy Scouts from San Francisco’s Troop 88 meet at the Forest Hill Clubhouse on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 to discuss elections. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress

By Rhys Alvarado
Photos by Jessica Worthington

Andrew Dotson studies the climate.

Everyone in Troop 88 refers to him as the “weather man,” one of many hats he wears as assistant scout leader and meteorology major at San Francisco State University.

Every Wednesday, Troop 88 meets at the Forest Hill Club House. Same place, same time, the troop’s been gathering since 1920. Before each meeting, Andrew makes sure the scouts are properly uniformed, their neckerchiefs knotted high, baseball caps off, while some ask him questions about what steps they must take to earn their next badge. The lost sheen of Eagle Scout plaques, mounted on the building’s dark wood and red brick walls decorate the building.

The twenty-one-year-old Eagle Scout, who runs the troop alongside his father Michael, has taken on somewhat of a big brother role among its forty-three members. Andrew prefers to be called “Mr. Dotson” by his troop. They call him Andrew anyway.

Though they may butt heads, like any father and son, each has his place as a leader. Michael holds the compass. Andrew, the map.

“I give the sage, old man advice, and Andrew gives the youthful, energetic advice,” says Michael. “They (the troop) would rather listen to someone closer to their age.”

Joining the scouts after moving to San Francisco in 2002, Andrew, an only child, found an early passion in the hiking, camping and the social mix of people in different grades. Being an assistant scout leader is Andrew’s way of continuing the same welcoming attitude he was shown when he first stepped through the door, iffy about the sight of “dorky” tan and olive green uniforms.

“What I still get out of it is the interaction between different age groups, where no one is discriminated,” says Andrew.

On Feb. 6, The Boy Scouts of America tabled the proposal to lift the ban on openly gay members and leaders, a policy that extends to atheists and agnostics. The pending changes would allow scout troops across the nation to individually decide what kind of policies they would uphold. The BSA’s National Committee — the blanket organization that oversees all troops in the U.S. —will decide on the matter during their annual meeting in May.

In his years as a boy scout, Andrew has become familiar of parents pulling their children out of scouting because of the organization’s stance on gay members. During a recent food drive, doors were slammed on members of Troop 88, without giving them the time to explain their own personal stance on the policy.

“When you come and join, we don’t ask you what your sexual orientation is,” says Andrew. “Our troops policy has always been that we don’t discriminate.”

Boy Scouts of Troop 88 review a map before an all-day 13 mile hike up Mt. Diablo on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress
Boy Scouts of Troop 88 review a map before an all-day 13 mile hike up Mt. Diablo on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress

In 2001, a year before Andrew joined the scouts, concerned parents of Troop 88 sent a letter to the national committee denouncing the non-discriminatory policy.

The letter reads: “We are proud to report that we know of no Scout or parent in Troop 88 who believes that discrimination and bigotry is right. To deny participation in Scouting for factors beyond someone’s control is hateful and harmful and we will not teach this to our children.”

There are just short of twenty thousand scouts within Bay Area troops, teams and crews, and that number has increased 6.4 percent in the past two years, says Ryan DiBernardo, Director of Field Service for the Bay Area Council. Scouting enrollment nationwide, however, has suffered a severe drop in recent decades. In 2011, there were 2.7 million registered scouts, down from a peak of 4.8 million in 1973. Dotson believes that this drop is due in part to the organization’s selective restrictions.

“This is what they’re doing —they’re preventing boys from learning leadership skills to further their future,” says Dotson. “Once it’s lifted, more and more will join the scouts.”

Since the late 1970s, the Boy Scouts national leadership has discriminated against gay members. Last July, Moraga teen Ryan Andresen was denied his Eagle Scout badge by the national committee after telling friends and family that he was gay. Bay Area scouts and supporters have been a driving force behind attempts to lift the ban. Following a two-year study in 2012, the national committee reaffirmed the ban, deeming their decision “the best policy for the organization.” Groups like Scouts for Equality, an alumni association dedicated to ending BSA’s policy on excluding gay members and leaders, have helped gather more than 1.4 million signatures among their various campaigns. Zach Wahls, a son of two lesbians and founder of Scouts for Equality, was hopeful of the national committee’s delay on the decision.

“Though the vote did not go through, this is the first time in thirty-five years that the BSA did not re-affirm their ban,” says Wahls.

A Religious Backing

Opponents who wish to keep the ban in place include many religious organizations. Of the more than one hundred thousand scouting units across the nation, nearly seventy percent of all units are chartered to faith-based organizations. Mormons, Methodist and Catholic churches make up the three largest religions to back scouting troops. Troop 88 is chartered by the Forest Hill Association. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, a think tank that promotes Christian core values, has been a key figure in standing by scout oath and law, policies both adopted in 1911.

“The mission of the Boy Scouts is ‘to instill values in young people’ and ‘prepare them to make ethical choices,’ and the Scout’s oath includes a pledge ‘to do my duty to God’ and keep himself ‘morally straight,’” Perkins said in a press release. “It is entirely reasonable and not at all unusual for those passages to be interpreted as requiring abstinence from homosexual conduct.”

Dotson says that the interpretation of “morally straight” is confused between proponents on both sides of the ban.

“People are using the oath’s ‘morally straight’ in the wrong context,” says Dotson. “We interpret morally straight as doing what’s right for yourself and other people.”

Scoutmaster Michael Dotson of San Francisco's Troop 88 gestures the three-finger salute, which is used by scout members as a greeting to each other. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress
Scoutmaster Michael Dotson of San Francisco’s Troop 88 gestures the three-finger salute, which is used by scout members as a greeting to each other. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress

Mitch Mayne, a recognized gay LDS church leader and former scout, has seen a compromising shift in the Mormon Church’s view on gay members. Mayne works closely with Mormon leaders, parents and siblings of gay Mormons, assisting them with ways to accept their LGBT loved one. Once married, Mayne admits he’s lived a charmed, celebrated, yet uncommon life of a gay Mormon. He taught Sunday school. He was invited to events. Wore a wedding band. Loved by his church community.

After his marriage had ended two years ago, Mayne was presented with the opportunity to serve as a leader in San Francisco’s Bay Ward.

“I could either say ‘no thanks’ and choose to get remarried and go back to my comfortable, gay Mormon life that I had, and could have again,” says Mayne. “Or I could walk away for the time being and make myself a very public figure and try to create what I had for other people.”

Mayne says that he no longer has to handle the overwhelming amount of calls and emails from Mormons worldwide asking for help on how to integrate gay members into the church. He now has bands of people in different pockets around the globe who help share the message of inclusion.

In the past eighteen months, grassroots groups like Mormons Building Bridges, a Salt Lake City group, has vocalized their support for accepting LGBT individuals. Another group, Mormons for Marriage Equality, an online meeting place where Mormons or those affiliated with the faith can provide mutual support, share stories, and organize activities and initiatives, have formed to span the connection between the church and LGBT members.

Mayne says that gay Mormons often leave the church before coming out —or instead of coming out —because often times, these members are ex-communicated.

“The key to being a healthy, gay Mormon isn’t about stuffing down our Mormon side, nor is it about stuffing down our sexual orientation. It’s about integrating those two sides of our identity in a fashion that allows us to balance two parts of our identity,” says Mayne.

Growing up in Idaho, where many of his church’s leaders were also scout leaders, Mayne, who was vocal about being gay at a young age, says fellow scouts picked on him while leaders turned a blind eye. In return, Mayne had to veneer his identity, eventually leading to him dropping out.

“Scouting is supposed to teach us how to be people that make the world better —how to be kind, how to be diligent, how to be good citizens,” says Mayne. “What I walked away from in my experience in scouting is how to lie about who I was, how to be dishonest, about how to be inauthentic, how to cover up who I was to please other people — and that flies right in the face of what scouting is all about.”

Mayne says that the pending changes of the BSA reflect the evolving Mormon Church.

“The proposed changes to allow Troops to decide who they allow to join would mirror what’s going on in the LDS church today. There’s a lot of leeway given to local congregations to decide for themselves what’s best for their congregation and how to institute policies,” says Mayne.

Boy Scouts of Troop 88 take an all-day 13 mile hike up Mt. Diablo on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress
Boy Scouts of Troop 88 take an all-day 13 mile hike up Mt. Diablo on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress

Links to the Military

Aaron Belkin, a Political Science professor at SF State, has weighed in on the topic because of the close relationship the boy scouts has historically had with the military. Ties between scout practice and the military date back to 1908 England, when British military hero Robert-Baden Powell first published “Scouting for Boys,” —modeled after a military field manual he wrote prior — that taught youth skills on observing and tracking.

Belkin is also Director of the Palm Center, a UCLA law school think tank that conducts research into gender and military issues, and author of “Bring Me Men” that overviews the recently repealed “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military. Belkin says that what interests him about the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is that “even though the military has moved on to a more inclusive policy, the scouts are stuck in the 20th century.”

In recent decades, the BSA has been confronted with cases of child molestation from some of its leaders. Last year the BSA released more than twelve hundred previously secret files, revealing cases of child molestation from 1965 to 1985 within the organization, including about two dozen from the Bay Area.
Belkin says that the ban on gays from being members or leaders does not address prior problems of child molestation within scouting.

“Rapists who rape boys – that’s not about homosexuality, that’s not about being gay. That’s about mental illness and power. Many child molesters who rape boys are not gay. If you want to police predation, police predation. But do not treat that as an issue of sexual orientation,” says Belkin.

Oregon-based attorney Paul Mones works on cases involving people from around the country who were molested in scouting. Mones is actively working on cases dating back to the 1970s. In 2010, Mones won an $18.5 million dollar case against the BSA involving a man who was molested by his former assistant Scoutmaster. It is the largest verdict against the BSA involving sexual abuse to date.

Mones says that in many cases, people take decades to tell anyone else about being molested. In California, this poses problems for those who have been molested but have taken an extended amount of time to tell authorities.

Under the Special Childhood Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations, victims have eight years (up to age twenty six) or three years after the date “the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual abuse,” to bring a case to court.

“Some perpetrators get away Scott-free,” says Mones. “The main reason people have a hard time coming forward is the shame, they blame themselves for the sexual abuse and think that people will think less of them.”

A petition named The Childs Victim Act has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature by those who support the elimination of the civil statute of limitation for child sex abuse. If passed, victims may, at any time, sue their abusers and the institution that allowed their abuse to occur.

National studies of sexual abuse reflect that one-in-six boys are sexually abused before they turn eighteen. Mones says that many confuse reports of sexual abuse within the organization with being gay. Mones said that some of the cases he’s handled involve molesters who were married.

“People think that people who sexually abuse are gay,” says Mones. “That has nothing to do with being gay or straight.”

Funding Losses

Many corporations have withdrawn their sponsorship of the BSA because of its exclusive policy on gay members. The largest notable pull of scout sponsorship include the Intel Corporation, headquartered in Santa Clara, that donated seven hundred thousand dollars in the 2009 tax year. Wells Fargo Inc., headquartered in San Francisco, has also withdrawn funding after donating more than two hundred thousand dollars in the same tax year.

Two of BSA’s national board members, James Turley, CEO of professional services organization Ernst & Young, and Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T Inc., have publicly come out against the ban on gays, promising to move the organization away from its exclusive policy. In a press release issued last June, Turley says that the “membership policy is not one I would personally endorse.”

Looking Ahead

During a recent visit to Troop 88, it was election night, where scouts vie for the senior patrol leader post every six months. Pierce McDonnell, a fourteen-year-old Star Scout, with kind eyes and light brown hair combed over to the side, lost the election for the second time in a row. But for McDonnell, that’s OK.

“In troop 88, we don’t leave it up to the person in charge to make all the decisions. Power is distributed equally, so I know we’ll all be able to have an influence,” says McDonnell.

A shy kid before he joined the scouts, McDonnell says that he learned to be more vocal.

“I believe that when you’re an SPL, you should be loud and big. I’m not very loud and big, so I have a plan,” says McDonnell during his pitch before grabbing a chair to stand on.

Boy Scout Troop 88 badge. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress
Boy Scout Troop 88 badge. Photo by Jessica Worthington / Xpress

“My loud and big plan! And what I’m gonna do is…I’m gonna plan these meetings! And plan ‘em loud and big like Lincoln!” yells McDonnell.

“Will you always be standing on a chair, yelling?” asked one of the scouts sitting in the front row.

“If it helps you, I’ll always be standing on a chair, yelling!” says McDonnell as the troop laughs with him.

McDonnell says that in his time as a scout, he’s learned to get his ideas across, and he’s often the first to raise his hand for school volunteer opportunities. During a recent class presentation, McDonnell decided that he would clear up any confusion about Troop 88’s stance on the BSA’s policy on gays.

“I think that a lot of people in my school can’t see past some of the policies that boy scouts have and don’t see the benefits of scouting,” says McDonnell.

To earn his Eagle Scout honors, McDonnell wants to make a movie interviewing city and scouting officials documenting the thoughts and feelings of the ban against gays. He hopes to present the video to the national council later this year.

“We can all learn these skills cooperatively,” says McDonnell. “Instead of just teaching the leadership to certain people, we want everyone to have the power to lead.”

The Road to Conversion

Ahmina Alenthia James visits the Islamic Society of San Francisco on Jones Street to pray and read. Photo by: Tearsa Joy Hammock / Xpress Magazine

Words: Hassina Obaidy
Photos: Tearsa Hammock

The first step is often the hardest. Stephanie Skoog has dreamt of this day countless times-the day when she reveals her new identity to the world. She’s not without inhibitions, though. She imagines all the comments construction workers will say when she walks by.

Skoog begins this particular morning as she would the rest from here on out: she wraps a silk maroon scarf, a gift from her friend in Libya, to cover her hair and neck. She wraps layer upon layer around her face and neck, making sure her hair and light skin aren’t revealed. After finishing up her morning rituals, she dresses herself in a silky, bright pink blouse and black pants. She steps out of her room, walks to the front door of her Richmond district apartment in San Francisco and opens the door. Slowly, she peeks her head out, takes a look outside the apartment door then suddenly closes it shut, overcome with fear. Skoog opens the door once more, this time stepping one foot out, then rushes back inside the comfort of her Richmond apartment unable to take that first, big step.

Finally, she pulls herself together, opens the door and walks outside. This is the first time she had revealed her new identity to the world.

She takes the bus across town to San Francisco State University, where she is a student. There, she makes her way to the Muslim Student Association (MSA) room in the Cesar Chavez building. It is here, on the afternoon of May 2, 2012 that Skoog converts to Islam. Continue reading The Road to Conversion