Queer activist Stephen Torres received the recommendation of the Rules Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a seat on the influential Entertainment Commission. Committee members, led by District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, voted unanimously for Torres, who also serves on the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District advisory board.
The full board is expected to consider the nomination soon.
Torres’ bid for second place on the commission almost pitted him against Casey Lowdermilk, an executive at Another Planet Entertainment, the concert marketing company that took charge of the Castro Theater in January. The cultural district, for which Torres serves as executive vice chairman, has harshly criticized APE’s proposed renovation of the cinema. However, Peskin announced early in the Rules Committee hearing that Lowdermilk had withdrawn his application without explanation. Five other people have applied for the position.
Speaking to the committee Oct. 17, Torres said, “I’m a 22-year veteran of the San Francisco entertainment and nightlife industry,” and he’s seen “its challenges and injustices.”
As a member of the commission, he said, he would represent the city’s nightlife workers and broaden the commission’s focus.
Seat 2 on the Commission represents the interests of entertainment associations or groups. According to his Facebook page, Torres bartends at the historic Twin Peaks Tavern in Castro.
Torres has a wealth of public service experience on his resume, including working on the board of directors of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and as an administrative staffer for the Drug Policy Alliance, which promotes alternatives to current drug policies such as harm reduction. He has also worked as a journalist for a number of San Francisco publications including the old San Francisco Bay Guardian and BrokeAssStuart.com.
Supervisor Connie Chan (District 1) was the first to vote for Torres, citing a conversation she had with one of her voters, a bar owner. After asking the bar owner about his feelings about gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to extend the closing hours of the city’s bars by two hours to 4 a.m., he told her that in light of that Unhelpful, staff shortages are currently haunting many of the city’s restaurants and bars.
Torres’ emphasis on the city’s nightlife workers, Chan said, “would be a unique, much-needed perspective on the commission.”
Rafael Mandelman, supervisor of gay district 8, praised another candidate, Jonathan Larner, whom he commended for his work in keeping the popular Castro music venue Cafe du Nord open despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic, but he gave equal praise to Torres. Mandelman said he worked extensively with Torres and “saw his grace under pressure in sometimes very challenging circumstances.”
“I think the balance is breaking down for Mr. Torres,” Mandelman said, though he added he hoped Larner would apply again in the future.
A few members of the public also approached the Commission on Larner’s behalf, including Lowdermilk. The commissioners also heard from three of Torres’ supporters, including Corey Fusco, the other co-executive chair of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District Advisory Board, and Rosa Hernandez, who told the commissioners Torres had a long history of organizing black, indigenous people of Color or BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.
After the hearing, Torres told the Bay Area Reporter that restoring the city’s nightlife meant increasing opportunities for industry workers.
“I was glad that what I shared resonated with the committee members, particularly Supervisor Chan,” Torres wrote in a text. “I really have a feeling if [we] If we are to restore our vibrant nightlife to its world-class status, we must do so through equity, accessibility and inclusion for our diverse workforce so our vibrant business community can survive.”
David Perry, a spokesman for Another Planet, told the BAR that he was not aware that Lowdermilk had applied. He said he would look into why Lowdermilk withdrew from the exam.
Subject to full board approval, Torres will remain in office until July 1, 2026. He would succeed Steven Lee, who has been appointed to the Port Commission by Mayor London Breed since his term ended in June.
The Nightlife Inspectorate already has three members: Cyn Wang, a queer lesbian mother who is the chief legal officer at her family’s insurance company; Laura Thomas, a queer woman who is director of harm reduction policy at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation; and Al Perez, a gay man and marketer who is President of the Filipino American Arts Exposition.
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