Noe Valley Voice December-January 2005

A New Sign of Equality

National Human Rights Campaign Opens Store in Castro

By Erin O'Briant

The big blue-and-yellow equal symbol at the corner of 19th and Castro streets isn't just a sign for the latest hip shop. The new Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store blends commerce, politics, and brand-name marketing in what may be the shiny new face of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights in America.

The tasteful center draws shoppers in with Gap-style jackets, fuzzy sweaters, funky jewelry, and even sleek calculators--all sporting the HRC equal-sign logo. The workers are as clean-cut and attractive as the merchandise. They're eager to show newcomers the HRC web site ( and answer questions. Of course, they're happy to ring up sales, too, since all proceeds go to support the HRC.

In the back of the space, fancy flat-screen computers and racks of glossy brochures provide information and inspiration for those interested in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. There are handbooks, such as "Transgender Americans: A Handbook for Understanding," and legal and coming-out guides, including one specifically geared for African Americans.

It's "a place to get people involved in the fight for equality, at both a state and national level," explains communications director Jay Smith Brown.

According to its web site, the Human Rights Campaign was founded 25 years ago and is the largest LGBT rights group in America. The national organization is headquartered in Washington, D.C., where staffers lobby Congress and the courts for a variety of causes. The name is a bit misleading: Although HRC does support civil rights in general, the group's focus is specifically on LGBT issues.

These days, HRC is on the front lines of battles for same-sex marriage, fairness in the workplace, immigration reform, a cure for HIV/AIDS, lesbian health research, and equality for LGBT people in the military. The organization also monitors judicial nominees.

The Castro shop, at 600 Castro Street (phone 431-2200), is the third action center HRC has opened, according to Brown. The campaign founded the first in Provincetown, Mass., several years ago. That was followed by another in Washington, D.C.

The group was eager to open up a Castro District location, Brown says, because the area is the number-one travel destination for LGBT people. "It was clearly important to us to buy there, and that location provided a great opportunity for us," he says. "Given the enormous amount of foot traffic from out-of-towners in the Castro, we'll also be making sure everybody who crosses that door understands how important it is to get involved however they can."

The store and action center isn't just for out-of-towners. HRC is working with state groups, including Equality California, to make sure visitors to the center know what's going on in California.

HRC organizers are happy, Brown says, to have a location in San Francisco because the city is so culturally rich and diverse. "We're really excited about being in the neighborhood."