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Rejecting our own: reported racial profiling by a San Francisco bar illustrates the persistence of an old problem.

Minutes after stepping outside to get some cash from a nearby ATM, Marvin Miller said he returned to the popular gay nightclub Badlands in the heart of San Francisco's Castro district in October 2003. That's when the bar's owner stopped him at the door. Miller, who is African-American, was asked to provide two additional forms of photo ID. The doorman said Miller had already been inside, but owner Les Natali refused Miller reentry, claiming the T-shirt and jeans he was wearing didn't match the club's dress code. Soon a white man in shorts and flip-flops entered just beside him.

The incident left Miller with a "horrible, sick feeling in my stomach." So he asked around and found that many African-Americans and Latinos had been treated the same way by Natali. Not only was he discriminating against them as patrons, he wasn't hiring them at Badlands and at some of his other local businesses. Soon the activist group And Castro for All was formed, and a complaint was filed with the city's Human Rights Commission last June.

Following a 10-month investigation that included interviews with nearly 60 patrons and current and former employees, the commission reported April 26 that Natali was inconsistently applying dress codes, identification requirements, and a "no bag" policy for personal items, on the basis of race--violations of city ordinances. It also found that Natali had discriminated against blacks in hiring. Natali has denied the charges, and the Castro group is now boycotting his club and pressuring the state and the city to revoke his liquor and entertainment license, respectively. "Badlands isn't just any bar," says John Newsome, an organizer for And Castro for All. "This is one of the most popular bars in one of the biggest gay destinations in the world. What happens here sends a message elsewhere."

Indeed, the report has sparked a national conversation about the persistence of racism in the gay community. "I'm glad that people cared enough to do something about this problem," says Nat Martin, cochair of the National Association of Black and White Men Together. When it formed in San Francisco in 1980, his organization was one of the first to look at racism in the gay community.

The irony that local activists would be doing similar work 25 years later was not lost on Newsome. "Frankly, it's depressing to realize that racial discrimination still exists," he said. But it's encouraging when one group can make a difference. "Historically, racial discrimination has been a problem in every city's gay community," he said. "But in 2005 we've found a powerful new way to combat it--using traditional civil rights law."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:At Issue
Author:VanDeCarr, Paul
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jun 7, 2005
Words:438
Previous Article:Rants & raves.
Next Article:The passing of a pioneer.
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