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Politics & Policy

City Hall pauses charity drive that included anti-LGBTQ groups

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, at his Colorado Springs-based media ministry on February 27, 2009. | RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

City Hall this week took down a charity website that may have directed donations to groups that promote anti-gay conversion therapy and other questionable causes. 

The annual Heart of the City Combined Charities Campaign has been raising funds for a roster of nonprofits that includes organizations deemed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups.” One of those groups, the Family Research Council, promotes the idea that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice that, according to the organization’s website, “is also harmful to society at large.”

Community Health Charities is the first group listed in the campaign’s donor guide and includes Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council. The Alliance Defending Freedom has sought to criminalize homosexuality and abortion and called for the forced sterlization of transgender people, while Focus on the Family has targeted queer youth with anti-LGBTQ messaging.

Family Research Council founder James Dobson, for example, called it “horrific” for students to learn about the Black Power movement and Angela Davis.

In response to complaints, the city on Wednesday put a pause on the campaign until the Board of Supervisors has a chance to evaluate the parameters of the program.

“We will find a path forward,” a City Administrator’s Office spokesperson told The Standard, “that amplifies the engagement of our city workers on such pressing issues as ending hunger, protecting the environment and providing services to our most vulnerable neighbors.”

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who’s gay and represents the Castro, told The Standard that he’s deeply concerned that “hate groups” were listed as participating charities in the drive. 

“I cannot understand why that would be,” he said. “It seems like a real screw-up.”

The city’s campaign has raised over $5 million since 2018, though it’s unclear what amount of those donations went to anti-equality groups such as Focus on the Family. City employees can specify which organizations their money goes to, but they can also make a general donation to the federations. 

So far, the 2022 campaign has raised $50,000 for the Community Health Charities (CHC), which then allocates the money to member organizations.

A spokesperson for the City Administrator’s Office said it has not determined how general donations to the CHC are distributed among partners. Over 2,300 city employees have donated through the foundation since 2018, and most gave directly from their payroll.

A view of San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

City Charity Origins

The Heart of the City Combined Charities Campaign has existed for several years in order to “further social causes,” according to the city’s administrative codes. Exactly how long, though, is unclear: City officials said they couldn’t pin down the year it kicked off at City Hall or the total amount in donations it’s raised. 

Other charities listed in the guide include the Global Fund for Women, the National Minority AIDS Council and the Black Women’s Health Imperative.

City employees have the option to specify which organizations their money goes to, but they also have the option to make a general donation that the fund will distribute among its organizations.

Under city codes, charitable agencies included in the annual drive must meet five criteria. For example, the agency must represent at least 10 organizations, half of which must be located in the Bay Area. The codes do not specify what kind of social causes qualify. Federations like Community Health Charities, which represents over 10 organizations, does qualify in spite of its anti-equality partnerships.

Who Runs the Drive?

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is spearheading the donation collection this year. 

A spokesperson from Sheriff Paul Miyamoto’s office told The Standard that it is not in charge of selecting the charities, however, just managing incoming donations.

The City Administrator is responsible for reviewing applications from charity federations and makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. 

“Our role is to review those applications to confirm that they comply with the criteria defined in the City’s Administrative Code,” a City Administrator’s Office spokesperson told The Standard. “We prepare a report confirming that federations meet the defined criteria and provide that to the Board of Supervisors.”

City staffer Peter Gallotta, a former president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, is deeply concerned that city employees might have unwittingly donated portions of their paychecks to these organizations.

“Focus on the Family is one of the most anti-LGBTQ organizations in the country,” Gallotta said. “There should be no place for them in a city-sanctioned charity program. I think the city should look at making comparable donations in the amounts that went to any of these anti-LGBTQ organizations to local, community-serving LGBTQ organizations in San Francisco.” 

Gallotta is glad the website was taken down and that the city is reevaluating its process: “I hope the city gets it right.”