SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has given itself a month to ponder Supervisor Richard Hongisto's controversial plan to withhold a $150,000 annual city contribution to public radio and TV stations KQED-FM and KQED-TV on grounds that the stations discriminate against gays.
For the last month, Hongisto has urged his fellow supervisors to support his resolution that would cut off funding to "any organization or program that is directly or indirectly discriminatory," but the board sent it back to Hongisto for a better definition of indirect discrimination.
At issue is an ongoing clash between the stations' allegedly anti-gay programming and San Francisco's large gay population.
KQED spokeswoman Alice Cahn said she was most bothered by Hongisto's implication that the stations discriminate "in employment or programming.
"This is censorship," Cahn said at the regular board meeting Thursday, "and any allegations made today or before (today) against KQED are unfounded."
"KQED should not get funds," said Roberta Achtenberg, a lesbian rights activist and candidate for Mayor Art Agnos' recently vacated seat in the state Assembly. "(The public stations) discriminate."
Though some gay activists contend the stations directly discriminate, the current battle centers on a long-simmering dispute over "Monitor Radio," a daily news magazine produced by the Christian Science Monitor and distributed by American Public Radio Network to several hundred public radio stations, including KQED-FM in San Francisco and KUSC-FM (91.5) in Los Angeles.
Three years ago, the Christian Science Monitor fired a reporter because she was a lesbian. The reporter sued, but ultimately lost before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a controversial decision, the Justices found that the newspaper was an extension of the Christian Science religion and, as such, could act with impunity in discriminatory hiring and firing practices on religious grounds.
Gay organizations such as the Harvey Milk Club have held that the city's routine contribution of public funds to subsidize both the TV and radio station constitutes indirect support of the Monitor's discriminatory policy toward gays.
"We are making a statement to the nation that we're (gays) not in retreat," testified one Harvey Milk Club spokesman. "Homophobia is a growing issue."
John Wahl, a San Francisco attorney and gay rights activist, told the supervisors that "indirect discrimination is inappropriate at any time and it's possible that San Francisco and KQED can be sued (for carrying Monitor Radio)."
But Daniel del Solar, general manager of San Francisco public radio station KALW-FM, which also carries Monitor Radio, said neither Hongisto nor the gay community had proved conclusively that Monitor Radio discriminates.
"Where is the legal finding?" he asked.
"Martin Luther King would turn over in his grave if he could see where we are today," said Supervisor Doris Ward. "It's as though the '60s didn't happen. Here in San Francisco one of the most liberal cities, you have teachers getting hate mail, discrimination in the fire department, but even at that, I'm still not clear about what the wording indirectly (in Hongisto's resolution) means. The jury is still out whether KQED discriminates."