Tensions simmer as LGBTQ+ neighborhood tries to oust annual Lesbians Who Tech event

The fate of the annual Lesbians Who Tech (LWT) Summit hangs in the balance now that its organizers are being forced to consider relocating the event.

The summit is typically held in San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood, called the Castro district. But recently, the Castro Merchants Association voted to stop allowing the organization to close down two blocks worth of streets for the summit.

Terry Asten-Bennett, president of Castro Merchants, told Hoodline that 27 members of the merchant group voted in favor of halting the street closures. Eight members abstained, and zero members voted to let the organization continue as is.

In a letter to San Francisco officials, Asten-Bennett described the issues caused by closing the streets in the past: “Issues such as unimproved barriers segregating the community, inadequate delivery points, unreliable garbage and recycling pickup, insufficient bus rerouting information, and noise disturbances from overnight construction have negatively impacted our residents, businesses, and the overall well-being of our district.”

LWT founder and CEO Leanne Pittsford expressed her frustration with how the Castro Merchants have handled the situation. She said she didn’t understand why LWT was not invited to the meeting ahead of the vote.

Asten-Bennett’s response to that question: “After months of inviting LWT to give us an update and Leanne informing me before the October meeting, ‘It was never in my plan’ to come back and give us an update, followed by a total disregard for every area of concern, I did not feel it was necessary to have their input. This vote was about what was best for us as a merchant organization.”

But Pittsford maintains the event is great for the Castro neighborhood.

“Having 2,000 queer women, queer women of color, and non-binary leaders walking around spending a million dollars during the weekdays is pretty impactful,” she said, estimating that the event’s economic impact on the city is about $3 million, with $1 million going to Castro businesses.

SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 21: A street in the Castro district on July 21, 2011 in San Francisco, USA. Castro is one of the United States' first and best-known gay neighborhoods. Photo: ShutterstockSAN FRANCISCO - JULY 21: A street in the Castro district on July 21, 2011 in San Francisco, USA. Castro is one of the United States' first and best-known gay neighborhoods. Photo: Shutterstock

Nevertheless, many of the merchants are in favor of changing the event. Store owner Patrick Batt, who has long opposed the street closures and closed his shop for five days this year rather than dealing with the Summit, alleged that LWT did not have any “real involvement with the neighborhood.”

He told Hoodline ahead of the October 2023 event, “There was and had been radio silence regarding their plans and how it might affect the Castro, either for the good or the bad… This event has clearly grown too large for the Castro to accommodate, and LWT has not been a good partner or a benefit to the Castro for some time.”

But LWT has argued that it’s crucial for one of the few lesbian events in the city to take place in the gay neighborhood. “Women, and lesbians in particular, are often displaced,” said LWT’s event producer Audrey Joseph in October. “It’s not just in San Francisco, it’s everywhere.”

Pittsford has maintained that LWT used every local vendor possible and said “many of the bars were completely ecstatic.”

She also said it’s really not possible to hold the event elsewhere. She explained that the event needs proximity to the Castro Theatre and street closures to allow breakout stages and sponsorship booths. She asked, “How can the Castro Merchants be more supportive of queer women, queer women of color, and non-binary leaders?”

Pittsford founded LWT in 2013 and with more than 40,000 members, it has since become the largest community in the world for LGBTQ+ people in tech. About 5,000 people attend its annual summit in San Francisco.



Tags: LesbiansWhoTech, SanFrancisco

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