Introducing the Local History Project
July 20th, 2012
“Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there is a young gay person who all of a sudden realizes that he or she is gay; knows that if their parents find out they will be tossed out of the house, their classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryants and John Briggs’ are doing their part on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet, and suicide. And then one day that child might open the paper that says ‘Homosexual elected in San Francisco’ and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight.” – Harvey Milk
Recorded history is the story of those whom record it, and far too much slips away into nothing because “it just isn’t important enough, no one would want to read it, it’s just us and not some celebrity, it happened in Boise and not New York, and I wouldn’t know what to say, anyway.” And then it’s gone.
At Box Turtle Bulletin, we believe it is important. Much of the history of our community is lost to us because someone didn’t think that it was worth recording their little protest, their school board vote, or their recollection of how Wakatomika treated the “bachelors” who lived two blocks over. But the history of gay New York and gay San Francisco are not true histories without the history of gay Muncie and gay Provost as well. Contrary to the perception created by gay fiction and political success, we did not all flee the heartland for the Coasts.
So we are inviting our readers – and their friends – to share a larger history, a broader perspective, with each other. If you have a recollection of the day that you met Christine Jorgenson or the years that you lobbied your local library to include the Advocate, we want to hear it. Just email Timothy Kincaid (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Randy Potts (email@example.com) and tell us your story in your own words. And we are not limiting this to “the fly-over states”. Local history is a history of neighborhoods, as well, and if you lobbied the Santa Monica City Council or even threw a brick at Stonewall, your perspective is unique and adds flavor and breadth to the story. Just tell us what you know, what you saw, what you did.
Harvey Milk, Billie Jean King To Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
July 31st, 2009
The White House yesterday announced “sixteen agents of change” to recieve the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Among the sixteen are Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King. Focus On the Family, predictably, is having a complete meltdown over it.
Milk Does Well at Opening Box Office
December 1st, 2008
Gus Van Sant’s Milk, the dramatization of the life and death of gay pioneer Harvey Milk, performed well during its opening weekend. Although in limited release at 36 theaters, it drew in a healthy $1,381,000 for a screen average of $38,371 (by comparison, Four Christmases drew $31.7 M but played at many more theaters. It’s screen average was $9,571).
The roll-out is reminiscent to that which Focus Features used for its Brokeback Mountain release. And they may be hoping that the same nomination and critical success will result.
Today In History: Candlelights At City Hall
November 27th, 2008
Harvey Milk finally succeeded in becoming the first openly gay non-incumbent candidate to win a political office for two reasons. One, he refused to hide who he was; and two, he made it his mission to build alliances with groups that other gay activists thought were impossible to reach.
So to those who knew Harvey well, it came as no surprise that shortly after the 1977 election, Harvey was on good terms with Dan White, a conservative supervisor representing a blue-collar district in the city’s southeast. White, a former cop, was supported by the city’s police union whose leaders were angry over city policies which they considered to be soft on crime and homosexuals. There couldn’t have been two politicians from more opposite ends of the political spectrum. The local media ate it up as the two made joint appearances on local talk shows where they both talked warmly of each other. Harvey began to privately telling friends that he thought White was “educatable,” and that the two might actually be able to work together.
The warm feelings didn’t last long. During the election campaign, White had made a centerpiece of his campaign his opposition to a proposed psychiatric treatment center in his district. Neighbors worried that the center would put “arsonists, rapists and other criminals” in their neighborhood. Harvey was inclined to support White, which would have given White the 6-5 majority he needed to block the facility. But as Harvey learned more about the center, he discovered that San Francisco children would be sent instead far away to a state hospital where they would be cut off from their families. He concluded that “they’ve got to be next to somebody’s house,” and switched his vote.
The loss infuriated White, who blamed Harvey for the loss. For the next several months, White would not speak to him or his aides. Other supervisors noticed that White stopped spending as much time at his office in City Hall, and he was sullen during the weekly board meetings.
White retaliated by switching his vote on Harvey’s gay rights bill. Before the vote on the psychiatric center, White voted for the bill in committee and spoke passionately for it, tying it to his experiences as a paratrooper in Vietnam. But when the gay rights law came before the entire board a week after the vote on the psychiatric center, White changed his vote. The bill passed 10-1.
These two episodes were the start of a bitter public feud between White and Milk. White opposed every street closing or permit involving the gay community — he was often the only supervisor to do so. But as the year went on, White became increasingly disillusioned with politics. He also found that the $9,600 per year salary wasn’t enough to support his wife and infant child. He had opened a potato restaurant at Pier 39, but that business was struggling. Citing these pressures, White abruptly resigned on November 10, 1978.
This resignation gave Mayor George Moscone a tremendous opportunity to reshape the Board of Supervisors. The makeup of the eleven-member board was roughly split 6-5, and White was part of the majority who favored of conservative, business-friendly, pro-growth policies. With White’s resignation, the Mayor now had the opportunity to tilt the balance toward those who favored a more neighborhood oriented approach.
White’s supporters in the business community and police union were alarmed at his sudden resignation. They met with him to promised some financial support, and urged him to ask Moscone to reappoint him to his seat. Meanwhile, Milk and other progressive leaders lobbied Moscone to appoint someone more in line with their views. The fact that Milk vigorously opposed White’s reappointment was an open secret. Randy Shilts, writing in The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, described an encounter between Charles Morris, a publisher of a local gay paper, and White at a political fundraiser. White appeared to be in a good mood, so Morris struck up a conversation with him. At one point, Morris suggested that “there are some in the gay community who think that you might be anti-gay.” White replied, “Let me tell you right now. I’ve got a real surprise for the gay community — a real surprise.”
Mayor Moscone set Monday, November 27 as the day he would announce whether he would reappoint White or name someone else. The night before, a reporter from KCBS called White to say that a source told her that he would not be reappointed. White refused to comment. He hung up the phone and stayed up all night, eating cupcakes and drinking Cokes. The following morning, his aide called to say that a group of his supporters planned on going to city hall to present Mayor Moscone with petitions and letters of support. Since his wife had already taken the car to go to work, Dan asked for a ride to city hall. He hung up the phone, got dressed, and loaded his .38 Smith & Wesson.
White’s aide dropped him off at City Hall. White paced around a bit, then found an open basement window. He jumped through the window, allowing him to avoid the metal detectors at the building’s entrances. He made his way to Moscone’s office, who agreed to meet with White in the outer office. White asked Moscone to re-appoint him to his former seat. Moscone declined, and their conversation turned into a heated argument. Moscone then suggested they move to a private lounge attached to the mayor’s office where they could speak privately. Once inside the small room, White pulled out his pistol and shot Moscone twice in the abdomen, then twice more in the head.
White then reloaded his gun and went down the hall to Harvey’s office. There, he asked to speak privately in an adjoining room. White later recalled that he began to scream at Harvey and that Harvey got up out of his seat. White then pulled his gun and shot Harvey three times in the chest, once in the back and two times in the head. White then fled City Hall, and eventually turned himself to his former co-workers at the police department.
Thirty years ago today, on November 27, 1978, tens of thousands of stunned mourners gathered in the Castro for an impromptu candlelight march to City Hall. The sea of candles stretched ten city blocks long. At the steps of city hall, Joan Baez led the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sang a hymn by Felix Mendelssohn.
‘Milk’ Reviews Are In!
November 26th, 2008
The reviews of Milk, the biopic of slain gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, are almost unanimous:
- “Emotionally devastating.” Four stars — Roger Ebert
- “Sean Penn shines in new Gus Van Sant biopic ‘Milk’.” — New York Daily News
- “‘Milk’ and Penn are a powerful cinematic combination.” — USA Today
- “Gus Van Sant males ‘Milk’ a real, moving story.” — Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- “‘Milk’ is a marvel.” — New York Times
- “‘Milk’ hits the stirring heights.” — Washington Post
Okay, I said almost unanimous:
- “Sean Penn overacts as gay leader in ‘Milk’.” — Washington Times
So go see it. Just don’t go to a Cinemark, Century, CineArts or Tinseltown theater.
Today In History: The Rainbow Flag
June 25th, 2008
Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the debut of the Rainbow Gay Pride flag. The original flag, hand-dyed by Gilbert Baker, first flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade on June 25, 1978. The original 1978 flag consisted of eight stripes, with each stripe assigned a specific meaning. From top to bottom, the stripes were:
- hot pink: sexuality
- red: life
- orange: healing
- yellow: sunlight
- green: nature
- turquoise: magic
- blue: serenity
- violet: spirit
After Harvey Milk’s assassination on November 27, 1978, demand for the flag went up sharply. But since hot pink fabric wasn’t available as a stock color, the top stripe was removed and the flag became a seven stripe flag. Then, the story goes, organizers planned to hang rainbow flags vertically from lamp posts for San Francisco’s 1979 pride celebration and they noticed that the lamp post would obscure the middle stripe. So the turquoise stripe was dropped and the rainbow flag has remained a six-stripe flag ever since.
The rainbow flag is now a world-wide symbol for LGBT communities everywhere, and it has come to mean many things to many different people. For some, it’s a gesture of visibility, a way of saying we’re here. For others, its a reminder of all that we’ve gone through as a community. And some in the LGBT community consider it a silly expression of separatism and self-segregation from society. Last October, Gilbert Baker penned an essay to explain what the flag meant to him. He describes growing up gay in Middle America and being harassed while serving in Viet Nam. He was sent stateside to work as a nurse in San Francisco, where he met Harvey Milk:
Stationed in San Francisco as a nurse, I cared for the wounded. I also met my closet [sic] friend and mentor, Harvey Milk. Harvey had an aggressive charm that attracted the wicked and the wise. His charisma and fearlessness are at the heart of all I hold dear.
Harvey was a pioneer, a trailblazer, and with the community by his side, he became a San Francisco Supervisor. One day he said to me that we needed a logo, a symbol. We needed a positive image that could unite us. I sewed my own dresses, so why not a flag? At Harvey’s behest, I went about creating our Rainbow Flag. I had never felt so empowered, so free.
My liberation came at a painful cost. In the ultimate act of anti-gay violence, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. The bullets were meant for Harvey, to silence him, and, by extension, every one of us. Uniting a community cost him his life.
I remember when I was still coming out how important it was for me to see it and know that it marked a place of safety and refuge. And even now, when I go to a strange town and I see a small sticker on a doorway or a car’s bumper, I know that I’m among friends.
Tom Brokaw: No Gays In His ’60′s
November 26th, 2007
Tom Brokaw’s new book, Boom! Voices of the Sixties is supposed to be a sweeping review of all of the highlights of that pivital decade for social change. Brokaw left virtually nothing untouched: civil rights, the war, feminism, the sexual revolution — all of it is right there in his exhastive review. Except for one thing: There are no gays in the Sixties.
No Stonewall, no protests in front of the White House or Independence Hall, no Civil Service expulsions, none of that is a part of Tom Brokaw’s “Sixties.” And that has 1960′s gay rights activist and icon Frank Kameny livid. Kameny, whose memorabilia was recently featured in a display at the Smithsonian Institution fired off a stirring rebuttal to Brokaw’s silence on a very important part of America in the 1960′s. Reminding Brokaw that “Gay is good” (Frank coined that phrase in 1968.) Kameny reminds Brokaw of the great sweep of history that Brokaw overlooked and demands an apology.