After 10 years, Lesbian tech conference exits SF following neighborhood controversy

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Wednesday, January 24, 2024
The Lesbians Who Tech & Allies conference is pictured in an undated file photo.
The Lesbians Who Tech & Allies conference is pictured in an undated file photo.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's another exit out of San Francisco. After 10 years of being hosted in the city's famous Castro neighborhood, the Lesbians Who Tech & Allies conference says they're done with city by the bay.

Boasting 15,000 attendees last year, this year, their departure is welcome news to many local businesses.

"A lot of businesses didn't know what was going on. I mean something as simple as taking the trash out, nobody knew where to put it," said Wadie Dughman.

Traditionally held inside the Castro Theater, since 2022 the conference has also shut down two blocks of the street outside.

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Putting up massive barriers and makeshift structures in the middle of the road.

Something several businesses we spoke to told us was detrimental.

"No business was allowed to happen. Deliveries also. The event was closed in, so they were only allowed to stay in their area," Dughman said.

Dughman works at Rossi's Deli.

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He says after several difficult years during and after the pandemic, another week with little to no business was the last thing they need.

"A lot of people have been staying at home, leaving San Francisco. So I think them having an event was nice, but I think it would have been a lot better if it was inclusive of the whole community," Dughman said.

The concerns were heard all the way to city hall.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman who represents the Castro District, says although he thinks the Castro Theater closing for renovations played a role in the conference moving this year; he knows Lesbians Who Tech were aware of some of the complaints from the neighborhood.

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"Lesbians Who Tech made representations about their desire to try and address some of those. They were relatively inflexible about some of the requested changes," Mandelman said.

Mandelman says he's open to having the conference come back into town in the future.

However, he tells ABC7 News, if it does come back, it'll have to be with some changes.

"If they come back in the future, I think we need to take a hard look at the footprint and figure out how to minimize impact on businesses."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lesbians Who Tech & Allies Founder and CEO, Leanne Pittsford provided this statement to ABC7 News on Jan. 25, 2024:

"As most people know, the historic Castro Theatre is undergoing a major renovation that will take significant time to complete," said Leanne Pittsford.

"Lesbians Who Tech & Allies is holding it's 2024 conference in New York City but we look forward to continuing our successful partnership with the city of San Francisco, Mayor London Breed, the Castro Theater ownership and management and the many Castro Neighborhood small businesses that have welcomed thousands of our attendees over the last decade. Every year, we bring millions of dollars of economic impact to San Francisco. This year, that figure was over $4.9M, a large percentage going to the Castro businesses."

"The Castro is where we started and it's our home. We're so proud to have shown off the best of San Francisco and the Bay Area as we welcomed speakers to the Castro like Kara Swisher, Hillary Clinton, Marc Benioff, Megan Rapinoe, Gabrielle Union, ALOK, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sheryl Sandberg, Alicia Garaza & Roxane Gay."

"We're also proud to call out sexism and racism when we see it. Yes, even in the LGBTQ community. We've faced obstacles for sure - can you imagine the experience of thousands of women and non binary leaders in a world famous neighborhood known for men? But by and large, we've overcome the naysayers and the folks for whom any change is just hard, even if it's only for three days a year."

"Like a lot of San Franciscans, I look forward to seeing all the progress taking place at the Castro Theater and I'll always be a cheerleader for the neighborhood that gave us our start."

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