Drag queens allege bias in Ellis Act evictions

Several hundred supporters squeezed onto the narrow sidewalk in front of the 15th Street home of five tenants who filed a lawsuit against their landlord after they were notified of an Ellis Act eviction.

The plaintiffs — three drag queens, a gay man, and a straight woman — claim the eviction notice was propelled by their landlord’s disapproval of their lifestyle.

In the suit, Fredy Miranda, a.k.a Alexis Miranda; Richard Padilla, a.k.a Renita Valdez; Donald Branchflower, a.k.a Logos Branchflower; William Carmichael, a.k.a Lucille Carmichael, and Jennifer Emperador — Padilla’s niece — allege “unfair treatment based on their sexual orientation, sexual expression and practice of dressing in drag,” according to a press release.  

Their landlords, Leslie Wan and Brian Keller, who are married, offered $50,000 to the be split between the five tenants as compensation for the eviction. The five tenants filed the lawsuit last October. The suit will go to trial in November.  

Alexis Miranda holds a banner in front of his home to protest Ellis Act eviction at 15th Street in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, Aug 6, 2018.

Fredy Miranda, a.k.a Alexis Miranda, a well-known drag queen in The City and one of the tenants, addressed the gathered crowd:

“It’s not just about our community, it’s about our city … We have to keep this going, not just for us, but for our community; it’s falling apart because of people’s greed, because of money …”

Miranda continued:

“Discrimination whether it be financial, whether it be discrimination against your sexuality, or your identity, or whatever, should not be tolerated.”    

The blue sky was devoid of the fog and clouds that has dominated The City’s sky in recent days. The sun’s rays descended onto the protesters as they mingled and chatted. Occasionally, the crowd, spearheaded by a speaker on the megaphone, broke into a unified chant:

“What are we here for? Stop the eviction.”  

Mark Leno, former California state assembly member who finished second in the 2018 San Francisco mayoral race, came clad in a charcoal grey suit jacket, denim jeans and brown boat shoes:

“If this community, and when I say this community, I’m referring to the descendants and the progeny of those brave souls who stood their ground at Stonewall half-century ago, our artists, our performers, entertainers, drag performers, musicians are all at risk of losing their homes. And when they lose, we the city lose, because they are the fabric that makes San Francisco, San Francisco. This administration also needs to get engaged. It’s easy to talk a good game about how we want to stop gentrification and we want to protect the character and quality of our neighborhoods.”

Leno continued:

“With regard to the allegations of discrimination and discriminatory comments, statements — I believe my friend Alexis. I don’t need to hear any more. If it happened it happened, and the human rights commission of the city and county of San Francisco should open an investigation immediately because this cannot continue to happen.”

New District 8 supervisor Rafael Mandelman, also addressed the crowd:

“I am here to express my deep solidarity with the tenants here, and also to express my frustration, anger and sadness about the stories that I have heard story after story over the last year of campaigning and in the few weeks since I’ve been in office. Folks in Noe Valley and the Castro, the Mission, throughout District eight who are being displaced by speculators and others using Ellis [Act] and other laws. And it is so wrong that the very people who make the fabric of San Francisco, who make this a special and a desirable place, are the people who are being pushed out and it is awful.

Mandelman continued:

“ … We need to repeal Ellis [Act], and we need to make changes to our local laws that stop these kinds of evictions and that recognize that our neighborhoods are not just investment vehicles — they are places where real people live. I’m proud to be here, I’m glad you guys are fighting and we will do whatever we can to support you.”

The dispute between her plaintiffs and Wan and Keller began in 2014, according to Raquel Fox, an attorney with Tenderloin Housing Clinic, representing the plaintiffs. Fox said that Wan and Keller threw away drag queen clothing, which belonged to Miranda and Padilla, that had been in storage. They also are alleged to have taken have demolished the backyard where Miranda and other tenants would often gather with other drag queens to socialize, Fox told SFBay.  

According to the press release, two gay men, who lived on the top floor of the building, were displaced once Wan and Keller bought the building in 2014. The landlords now occupy the top floor.   

Alexis Miranda, left, talks to Renita Valdez during a rally protesting Ellis Act eviction at 15th Street in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, Aug 6, 2018.

In April of last year, Wan and Keller served an Ellis Act eviction to the five tenants.

Fox also said that the ongoing legal battle had taken a toll on her clients, as the prospect of having to move out would force each of into paying a daunting amount of rent they can’t afford in San Francisco. San Francisco has become notorious for gentrification as the most expensive city in the nation, where a six-figure salary can still be categorized as low-income.   

Padilla said he had a pacemaker put in his chest as a result of the ongoing stress. Padilla has lived in the house for 22 years:

“This whole Ellis Act is just crazy. You look out on the streets and you see homeless people everywhere living in tents. I don’t want to be thrown out onto the streets. These people here, these landlords are greedy. They want this house to make it one big family unit for their family; that’s what they say.

Padilla continued:

They’re taking our home … and I want to live here. I want to stay here. This is my house, this my community.”

The crowd, again, broke into a chant. This time, directed at the security cameras installed at the house by the landlords:

“We won’t go, we won’t go.”  

To close the protest, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a longtime activist, led the crowd with the last chant of the day:

“Drag queens, yes — speculators, no!”  

Mecca told SFBay:

“I think it was great that people showed up, and I think it’s great that the tenants are going to fight because that’s the most important thing. If the tenants really are into the fight then we keep fighting … It’s so important that we get the message across that the LGBTQ community is being affected by this displacement in this housing crisis. all too often, when I read stuff about the displacement, it doesn’t mention us. We’ve got to be mentioned; we are being affected. We’re being displaced from the city like everybody else.”  

Mecca continued:

“It’s really important that we have our enclave because the reality is in the rest of this country, we’re getting murdered, and beaten up, harassed and bullied, we need a place that if it’s really bad … you can come here and you know that you’re going to have a lot more acceptance. It’s not perfect and there are still problems here, but it’s nothing like [other places] — name any state. This place is recognized all over the world as a refuge for queer and [transgender people]; we’ve got to preserve it, but we’re losing it.”

Miranda told SFBay earlier in a phone interview:

“It’s depressing. I’m at a loss. I’ve been in San Francisco 31 years, and I’m being asked to leave my house … I mean if I have to leave this house, there’s nothing affordable in San Francisco. My job, my life, everything is here.”

Miranda continued:

“What I’m thinking at 51 years old is that I have to change my entire life completely. My biggest fear in life is being homeless, and now my home is being threatened.”