The Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club of San Francisco was the first registered Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic Club in the nation. Forming only two years after the Stonewall riots in the infancy of the LGBT civil rights movement, Alice grew to become a vibrant organization that has made a profound impact on San Francisco, California and American politics. Alice made its impact by training activists over four decades to become political professionals and electing candidates that have fought for the issues that are important to the LGBT community. The club has been instrumental in growing new leaders who would rise to the highest levels of government in the nation, such as Dianne Feinstein, an early friend of the club. Alice has been critical to the fight for LGBT leaders to win office, such as Mark Leno, the first gay man elected to the California State Senate. These leaders have helped make San Francisco the epicenter of the LGBT political movement, advancing causes such as equal benefits, domestic partnership, transgender health care, and marriage equality. Alice continues to be a major player in local, state and national politics and remains an inspiring and effective organization to this day.
1970s-1980s: Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence and Working Together as a Community
Beginnings of the Club
Back in 1971, it had only been a couple of years since the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot and Stonewall Riots; homosexuality was still registered as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association; the modern Women’s Movement was just forming; President Richard Nixon was playing to his “silent majority”; and the issue of homosexuality was still thought of in the popular consciousness as “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name.”   
At this time, ‘gay people’ (including women, men and transgender people who frequently referred to the community in this period as a ‘gay movement’), all faced widespread cultural stigma and the high probability that they could be fired, expelled from families, and subject to violence for simply coming out. To even speak of gayness was taboo. This environment constituted a ‘conspiracy of silence’ where the culture had established rules that any deviation from perceived normalcy related to gender and sex was considered pathological, immoral and criminal. At this time and in this hostile environment, for gay people to sign up publicly for a ‘gay democratic club’ and for politicians to be associated with the issue of homosexuality, was an act of bravery.
Jim Foster founded the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club in December 1971.  Foster was a gay rights activist who had been organizing with the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) to elect pro-gay candidates in San Francisco since SIR was formed in 1964. Prior to Alice there had been a few gay and lesbian advocacy groups such as SIR, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society and others, but gay political goals had never been incorporated directly into the platform of a major American political party.  In 1971 Foster chartered Alice to initiate gay advocacy within the Democratic Party and started a collaborative relationship that continues to this day. 
Why Alice B. Toklas?
Alice B. Toklas was the partner of the famous writer Gertrude Stein. The original 20 members of the Club chose Alice B. Toklas because the name served as a code to protect the confidentiality of members. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – only gay people would know that the “Alice” club referred to gay people.
Alice’s first political Campaign – 1972 McGovern vs. Nixon
Alice and Jim Foster played an important role in the Democratic Party’s selection of George McGovern as the Democratic Party candidate of 1972. Alice endorsed McGovern, opened a ‘McGovern for President’ campaign office, and became a Bay Area political operation for McGovern in one of the Democratic strongholds in the state of California. At a critical point in the campaign, Foster helped implement a midnight signature gathering campaign in San Francisco gay bars in advance of the state primary deadline that helped McGovern be the first candidate to submit the required signatures that morning. This placed McGovern’s name first on the list of candidates on the California ballot. McGovern won California with a 5-point edge over Hubert Humphrey, and ballot placement was considered one of the reasons for his win.
1972 Democratic Convention – First Attempt to put Gay Rights Plank in Democratic Party Platform
After McGovern became the candidate, Foster also represented Alice at the Democratic Party National Convention of 1972, and brought a “Gay Liberation Plank” to the national platform committee. This motion was extremely significant for the Democratic Party because it brought gay rights policy before the national party for the first time ever. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party was not yet ready to adopt gay rights in its platform. Kathy Wilch, a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, gave a divisive speech opposing the Gay Liberation Plank and halted approval of its inclusion in the Democratic Party Platform. This action angered many gay activists, prompting McGovern to send a letter clarifying: “Her views in no way reflect my views on the subject… I have long supported civil rights of all Americans and have in no way altered my commitment to these rights and I have no intention of doing so.”
McGovern didn’t specifically say he supported gay rights, but in referencing the Wilch incident, he included gay rights in the broader context of civil rights, which was a victory. Gay rights had never been recognized as civil rights by a previous national party leader. Alice and Jim Foster’s platform effort thus initiated a national effort to incorporate gay rights within the Democratic Party platform, and this relationship between the gay community and the Democratic Party would continue and grow for decades.
1973 – A club of professional advocates working from the inside
The people who started Alice were experienced in politics, many of them working previously for the Society for Individual Rights. Jim Foster, Jack Hubbs, Steve Swanson and Tere Roderick, the original officers, got the club off to a quick start. The club began raising “Dollars for Democrats”, started a door-to-door canvassing program, and outreached to Democratic Party members, including Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, Supervisor Quentin Kopp, Supervisor Peter Tamaras, Senator Milton Marks, Senator George Moscone, and other elected officials.   At that time, Jim Foster built an especially close relationship with one of California’s most successful politicians: Dianne Feinstein. 
Early Political Successes
In 1969, Foster invited Supervisorial candidate Dianne Feinstein to meet with the Society for Individual Rights for her 1970 first race for Supervisor. After Feinstein was elected in 1970, Jim Foster requested that she introduce legislation to add the words “sex and sexual orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. In 1973, Supervisor Feinstein introduced and passed the legislation at Alice’s urging. Following this action, Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, another close ally of Foster’s, appointed Alice member Jo Daly to a television oversight commission, a first for the City, and paving the way for lesbians and gay men to be appointed to public positions in San Francisco in later years.
A major concern of the club in the early years was police harassment and substandard conditions in the San Francisco County jail. Gay men and lesbians dealt with police harassment issues with raids on bars and mistreatment by officers of people in the community. The jails were also a highly unsafe environment for gay detainees and the club made it a priority to change conditions in the jails. Jim Foster wrote Mayor Alioto a letter on behalf of the club criticizing him for not doing enough to address the problem of poor jail facilities. In this time, Alice began a long relationship with Sheriff Michael Hennessey who became a friend of the club, often performing as a disc jockey at the clubs annual holiday party. Hennessey worked with the community to institute changes in holding conditions for gay inmates.
Although the concept of “medical marijuana” was not a common political concept in this era, Alice supported efforts to decriminalize the overall possession and cultivation of marijuana.
The “Big Four”
In November 1973, Alice worked to elect Dianne Feinstein, Jack Morrison, Jeff Masonek and Dorothy von Beroldingen to the Board of Supervisors. It was the first “Alice Slate” of candidates, and became a model for future efforts.
1974-1977 Post Watergate Era – Beginnings of Political Change
With Richard Nixon’s resignation and the wind blowing at the back of Democrats, it was an exciting time. Jo Daly and Jim Foster went to the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York, representing Alice. Despite the excitement about Democrats heading towards a win, Gay people were upset at the removal of the gay rights plank from the Democratic Platform to avoid ‘controversy.’ Gay protesters organized outside of the convention hall while Jo and Jim registered their disappointment to other delegates inside the convention. The ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ suppressing advocacy for gay rights on the national political level continued to be a pervasive stance of the Democratic Party during this era.  
After the Democratic Convention, Carter made some efforts to reach out to lesbian and gay constituents through adult media. Playboy Magazine released an interview where Carter made it clear that he would sign a bill to extend equal rights to gay people, and his wife said at the time “I do not think that homosexuals should be harassed.” Carter’s choice of Playboy Magazine as the context for discussing gay rights cloaked gay rights in an adult context, and reinforced the idea that gayness is strictly about sex, but Carter’s outreach was an important start for a Democratic Party that was still finding its way on the issue of gay rights. It was the first time a Presidential candidate specifically committed to support gay rights legislation and this began to break the ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding the issue. 
Huge Victory in California – Decriminalizing Homosexuality
One of the important victories for gay rights during the post Watergate era, was Willie Brown’s passage of “consensual sex legislation”, Assembly Bill 489. The 1975 bill removed California’s anti-sodomy laws that criminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender. Sodomy laws had long been used in states around the nation to criminalize homosexuality.While the laws had been used in practice sporadically, the practical impact was to silence lesbians and gay men about their sexuality. If someone came out about being gay and having a partner, sodomy laws made it that this person was in effect admitting to being a criminal. Since the formation of Alice, the organization had been working closely with Willie Brown to remove California’s sodomy law. Passage of this legislation marked an important step in protecting the civil rights of gay people and an important legislative victory for Alice.
Alice in 1977
With the election of President Carter, the passage of Willie Brown’s consensual sex acts legislation, and the election of Alice’s slate of candidates, Alice became better known to the community. With all of this success, more people wanted to get involved in politics and the Alice B. Toklas Club. An election was held in 1977 for Club President, and membership grew significantly. 107 members showed up to vote for the elections and 26 members were elected as officers to the club. With these elections, Alice’s moderate, professional insider style became a sore point for many in the community who felt the club didn’t speak for them at that time.
1977-1978 – the Moscone / Milk Period
Social change brings about the most raw of human emotions and Harvey Milk’srise to power awakened the city, bringing about new possibilities, and unfortunately new hostilities that had not been experienced in the past.
After two unsuccessful bids for Supervisor in 1973 and 1975, Harvey Milk was elected Supervisor after a new system of district elections was established in 1977. Known as the “Mayor of Castro Street”, Harvey was the first openly gay man elected to the Board of Supervisors, and he won as a grassroots candidate without the support of Alice. Members of Alice believed Harvey was too left in his politics to win, so the Club backed another gay candidate, Rick Stokes. But Harvey did win the election and made history, leaving Alice to consider its decision. One important historic aspect of Milk’s win was the recognition that grassroots politics could be successful. Alice members believed that politics was an ‘insider’ game, and that outsiders couldn’t make it into positions of power. Milk’s win disproved this and set about a rethinking of San Francisco politics for years to come.
Because Alice did not support Harvey, his supporters formed the “Gay Democratic Club” which eventually became the Harvey Milk Democratic Club after Harvey was assassinated. The ‘Milk Club’ ultimately became the left-leaning voice in LGBT politics for the city, while Alice became positioned as the ‘moderate’ voice in LGBT politics. A third club, the Stonewall Democratic Club, formed in Los Angeles and established chapters all over the country, with a San Francisco chapter established for much of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This club also became quite influential in San Francisco politics for some time, especially under the leadership of Gary Parker. With Stonewall and Milk, San Francisco now had three clubs for gay activists to choose from, whereas Alice had been the only game in town just a few years before.     
In 1977, when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were newly elected, the Alice B. Toklas Club met with Mayor Moscone. At this meeting he made commitments to Alice members about many issues: 
1977 Community Issues:
Police Commission: The Mayor agreed to appoint a gay person to the city Police Commission. He also praised the Toklas club for its resolution in support of Police Chief Charles Gain, a liberal policechief he appointed.
Community Center: Moscone supported city funding for the development of a Gay Community Center, explaining that the Center at 330 Grove was in a building that was to be torn down for construction of the Performing Arts Center. He promised funds would be made available.
Mayor’s Open Door: The Mayor established himself as a gay political ally, encouraging activists to work with Supervisor Harvey Milk to advance pro-gay legislation for him to sign. He also announced he had out gay people on his staff that would work with the community on community goals.
Pride Funding: He said he favored city funding of the annual Gay Freedom Day Parade from the city hotel tax, a long-time goal of the community.
Unity: Moscone urged Alice members to put aside their feelings that were evident from the campaign about Harvey Milk and to unite behind the winner for progress that could benefit the gay community.
Political Action and Progress
1978 was a year of clashes between the newly active “religious right” and the “feminist left.” Five years after the Supreme Court made it’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade, the religious right began to organize all over the country, linking feminism and gay rights as shared targets in their cultural war. Jerry Falwell created his “Moral Majority” and Anita Bryant waged a Save our Children campaign in Florida, while in California, State Senator Briggs jumped into the act by placing his Measure 6 on the ballot to ban gay people from teaching. The “No on 6 Campaign” backfired on Briggs and turned out to be a huge success story for LGBT Californians. Briggs lost his initiative after Alice and other LGBT organizations rallied together across the state. The campaign became a context for training young activists and supported networking among LGBT organizations. The conservative loss temporarily slowed the religious right’s crusade against gays. Progress was made on other fronts that year as well. The American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from its list of pathologies in 1978, which was a crucial step in helping American culture to shift its attitudes towards gay men and lesbians.    
Violence and Turmoil
While some progress was made in 1978, ultimately the year will be remembered most for its great tragedies. On November 27th, 1978, Supervisor Dan White climbed through an open window of City Hall and gunned down Supervisor Harvey Milk as well as Mayor George Moscone. It was a day when everyone grieved and the assassination changed San Francisco forever.
Dan White assassinated Milk and Moscone just days after the Mayor signed into law Milk’s Gay Rights Ordinance that White opposed. The LGBT Community held a massive, peaceful candle light vigil in Harvey’s memory following news of the murders. Later that year, White was brought to trial outside of San Francisco, and a suburban jury found him guilty of “voluntary manslaughter” and gave White 7 years in prison, a sentence widely criticized as too lenient. The jury supported the verdict on the grounds that he had eaten too many Twinkies and his blood sugar was so high, that he snapped and went temporarily insane. This infamous “Twinkie” defense sparked outrage within the LGBT community, for justice had not been done. Following the verdict, the “White Night Riots” broke out in San Francisco, and over 160 people ended up in the hospital. The riots directed anger at the SFPD, as Dan White had been a former police officer, and a string of police related incidents occurring around the time of the verdict led to an environment of tension between the community and the police. (For more about the Police and LGBT community tensions at that time, Uncle Donald’s Castro Street history has some interesting information: http://thecastro.net/milk/whitenight.html )
Amidst all of this turmoil, the leadership of Alice was torn about how to respond. Club President Steve Walters remarked:
“It’s been almost two weeks since the infamous Dan White non-verdict, and I’ve read and heard an infinity of comments and reactions about the trial, and events that night at City Hall. I remain conflicted, torn between my dislike of violence and my rage at the injustice of the jury’s decision. Harsh critics have emerged, focusing on the violence of that night, but ignoring the events that led up to it: the murders of George and Harvey, increased physical attacks against gay men and women, the infamous Pegs Place affair, and the equally infamous police investigative whitewashing, removal from the Dan White jury of a man solely because he was gay, and finally, the ultimate immorality and insult of the jury’s decision.”
As Walters mentioned, a string of issues had been creating tension between the community and the SFPD. The Pegs Place incident involved officers entering a lesbian establishment and assaulting women patrons with little action taken afterwards by the SFPD to respond to the incident. Walters and other members of the community charged that the SFPD had ‘whitewashed’ the facts of the Dan White case to protect one of their former officers. With anger mounting over all of these police issues, Alice became even more intensely focused on the issue of police misconduct, writing letters to the Mayor and requesting action to address the situation.   
The Early 80’s – Growing Pains, Separatism, and Different Agendas.
Lesbians and gay men shared some common political goals in the early 80’s (such as supporting Senator Art Agnos’s Assembly Bill 1, banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians), but issues such as economic justice for women and gay men’s sexual revolution came to be viewed at times as conflicting sets of priorities. When members of the community were appointed to positions of power, people began to raise questions such as “Can gay men in power truly speak for lesbians?” or “Are lesbians truly sensitive to the issues of importance to gay men?”
Former Alice Co-Chair Jo Daly was the first member of the lesbian and gay community to be appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission, but Alice member Bruce Petit wrote a letter to the club raising concerns about her appointment that echoed many of the divisions of the time.  He said:
“Feinstein fulfilled her major campaign pledge to the Gay community by appointing one of their own to the five-member body that directs the police department. But some activist elements faulted Daly as short on progressive credentials, too close of an ally to the Mayor, and unable to represent Gay men—who are said to have more problems with the police than lesbians”
Bruce Petit continued his letter, quoting lesbian Police Commissioner Jo Daly as saying:
“Women make 53 cents for every dollar men make. Two white gay men putting their incomes together are better off than anybody else in society. For Gay activist males to make their major concentration maintaining glory holes—when La Casa, the only home in the county where battered women and children can go, is going out of business because there is no money—that leaves us angry!” 
The tension between lesbians and gay men in this period was heated, and some of the accusations on both sides now seem unfair. The conflicts were perhaps especially acrimonious in Alice because male leadership had up to that point dominated the club. But despite the divisions that erupted at this time, there were also important unique perspectives that were affirmed out of that discourse. The community began to affirm that women have a truly unique perspective from men, and people of both genders have unique contributions to make. “Gay” was no longer used as an umbrella term for the community – “gay” became a word largely designated for men, and “lesbian” became an important, distinctive term of choice for women. 
Women in Leadership Positions
One of the most significant areas of progress for the community in the early 80’s was the rise of women to leadership positions, beginning the careers of some women who would go on to the highest offices in the nation. Barbara Boxer was elected to congress with outspoken support for LGBT issues as a central part of her campaign message.
Carole Migden became the President of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and ran for Community College Board, laying the groundwork for her later Board of Supervisors, Assembly and State Senate races.
Because of the male dominance of gay democratic clubs in the early years, lesbians worked outside of the Democratic Club system to become politically active in their own right. After Harvey Milk was assassinated and Harry Britt was appointed as his replacement on the Board of Supervisors, there was a feeling among many women that a woman should have been appointed to support gender balanced leadership. Out of the frustration of many women at being held out of political office, a group of politically active women formed the Lesbian Agenda for Action. Women like Roma Guy, Pat Norman, Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Carole Migden began to work outside the democratic club establishment in this organization as a way to assert power outside of a system that was heavily dominated by men. Out of this activism, Carole Migden eventually became the chair of the Democratic Party bringing gay staff with her. Roger Sanders, her staffer, computerized the Democratic Party system and helped her modernize the Democratic Party’s voter turnout process.   
After the Milk/Moscone assassinations, San Francisco moved back to citywide elections for supervisorial races. It was believed by some that district elections were a large part of the divisiveness that led to Milk’s assassination. Others felt that district elections were crucial to representing San Francisco’s diversity. Alice membership overwhelmingly supported the concept of district elections in 1980, with 200 members voting to support district elections and only two members dissenting.
1980 Democratic National Platform:
Alice worked very closely with the Harvey Milk Democratic Club in 1980 to successfully lobby Jimmy Carter (with the help of Mayor Feinstein) to include a gay plank in the Democratic Platform.  The convention that year had a record 71 openly lesbian and gay delegates, with 17 coming from California. Alice Delegates included Harry Britt, Gwenn Craig, Jim Foster, Bill Kraus and Anne Kronenberg (one of Harvey Milk’s Aides).  Mike Thistle went on behalf of the Milk Club and Alice member Larry Eppinette attended as a Carter delegate. Alice also sent many non-gay delegates including Kevin Shelley, among others.
Fighting Police Entrapment:
Law enforcement issues continued to be a major issue of concern for Alice, as Senator John Foran authored SB 1216 to legalize police entrapment and require that a defendant prove he/she is of ‘good character’, not predisposed to commit a crime, if loitering.
Gay Men campaigning for office:
John Newmeyer became California’s first openly gay man to run for congress in the 2nd District, and Alice endorsed his unsuccessful, but historic first bid. TomAmmiano ran for School Board for the first time in 1980, starting a long career in San Francisco politics, and Alice endorsed Tom in his first race.  Harry Britt was also appointed by Dianne Feinstein to replace Harvey Milk in office. This appointment was a source of contention for some in the community as many women felt that Ann Kronenberg, Harvey Milk’s legislative aide, should have been appointed to office to support gender balance. Britt continued to serve on the Board in the 1980’s focusing particularly on tenant’s rights issues.
Alice comes out officially as a “Gay Democratic Club” under Club President Connie O’Conner
During the early eighties Connie O’Conner was elected President of Alice and ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee. Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner all won as Alice’s candidates in 1980. Connie also successfully made a motion to change the name of the club to the “Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club.” This was very controversial at the time and many longtime Alice members such as Jim Foster and Robert Barnes argued that straight club members might feel alienated if the club was explicitly identified as a “gay democratic club”. Alice voted to change its name and move towards greater openness, while straight San Francisco allies continue to this day to sign up to be a part of Alice.
Alice wins seats on the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee
In 1980 Under the leadership of club President Connie O’Conner, Alice ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee and Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner won seats on the committee. Previously only Milk club members like Ron Huberman and Gwen Craig represented the LGBT community on this committee.
Mayor Feinstein Recall Fight
In 1983, a heated battle ensued over attempts to recall Mayor Feinstein, with recall supporters citing her veto of domestic partners legislation and her support of landlords over tenants. Anti-recall supporters cited Feinstein’s longtime support for gay legislation and her willingness to put funds towards helping people with KS and AIDS at the very beginning of the epidemic. Alice voted 137 to 73 to oppose the recall effort and became very active in fighting the recall. Afterward, Feinstein was very grateful to Alice and instituted regular meetings with the club to keep in communication with the community about issues.
HIV and AIDS – The Total Focus of the Mid 1980’s and Early 90’s
The fight over the Feinstein recall was one of the last divisive fights between left and moderate LGBT democrats for a while, as the energy and focus had to go 100% to saving lives. San Francisco was hit especially hard by the AIDS epidemic and some of our brightest people in the community were lost. With them went much knowledge and skill that could be shared and passed down in the community. Many died early in the epidemic, such as the Founder of Alice, Jim Foster and former Alice President Robert Cramer who passed away just a few years before protease inhibitors were introduced. Many continued to die after 1994, and this had enormous impact on the community. Tony Leone, a longtime member of Alice, and a dedicated activist for gay rights, passed away in 1999. Dick Pabich, the legislative aide to Harvey Milk who went on to become a campaign consultant to Carole Migden passed away in 2000. Many friends in politics of these brilliant, dedicated people wondered how they could continue without their guidance and years of experience. A whole generation of knowledge was lost.
Alice jumped into the fight against AIDS early, as friends were dying, and the Federal Government was being completely unresponsive. Bay Area representatives Phil Burton and Barbara Boxer worked tirelessly to get federal support, while President Reagan still refused to even mention the word AIDS. It was a battle to get government to pay attention about something that was killing our community. As a result of this, a new slogan became popular among activists after the formation of ACT UP in 1987: “Silence Equals Death”. Activism against AIDS would increasingly be shaped as a direct battle between those who perpetuated the Conspiracy of Silence, and those who recognized that silence could kill them. 
The 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco
In 1984 the Democratic Convention was held in San Francisco three years after the initial discovery of HIV/AIDS and long before effective treatments were available. Alice representatives Sal Rosselli and Connie O’Conner were both elected as openly gay Gary Hart delegates to the Convention, and they watched Jesse Jackson speak to the convention floor after his first historic run for President. (Four years later Jackson would make his Rainbow Coalition Speech at the 1988 Convention where he famously included “gay Americans” as part of the Rainbow Coalition). Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis both lost their elections, but progress continued for the gay and lesbian community as the national Democratic Party began to publicly include the community as part of their public agenda.
Despite progress on some fronts, the fight against AIDS continued to be enormous and at sometimes overwhelming for the members of Alice. Club President Sal Rosselli wrote in the January 1985 edition of Alice Reports:
“While talking to friends over the Holidays, I often heard this statement characterizing 1984: Too intense, too much work; here’s to a relaxing 1985. Thanks to our active membership of almost 600, Alice has accomplished a great deal during the last year… Of course there is still so much to be done; but let us be proud and grateful for all we have accomplished. The year ahead looks like it may be less hectic and may afford us… more time to organize from within and focus on our primary agenda. That primary focus must be developing national, statewide and local plans to combat AIDS.”
By 1985, as can be seen in this statement, Alice was challenged by the fight against AIDS. After a depressing election loss against Ronald Reagan, and continuing struggles to save friends with few treatments available, these were difficult times. Alice’s primary focus would continue to be fighting AIDS until the partial success of halting the virus came with protease inhibitors in the mid ‘90’s, which allowed for a broadening of the political agenda.
The Larouche Initiative:
Alice and AIDS activists did not get a reprieve after 1985 – things got worse before they got better. In 1986, Lyndon Larouche capitalized on AIDS-phobia and placed his infamous Proposition 64 on the ballot to quarantine people with AIDS, using the clearly faulty logic that AIDS could be spread by mosquitoes. Even in the early stages of the virus, it was obvious that mosquitoes could not spread the disease; otherwise it would not have disproportionately impacted specific groups. Fortunately, California voters struck down the initiative, once again sending a message to the radical right that measures like the Briggs and Larouche Initiatives would not be supported in California. Alice worked very hard to defeat the Larouche Initiative, contributing to the opposition’s success.
Alice Pickets KQED over PBS Frontline Special on AIDS
In 1986 Alice became very involved in the fight against media defamation of people with AIDS under the leadership of Club President Roberto Esteves. San Francisco’s local television station KQED ran a PBS Frontline news story on a man with AIDS named Fabian Bridges who they presented as a ‘typhoid mary’. The reporters described Bridges as an HIV positive homosexual who had six partners a night and refused to stop having sex, regardless of his HIV status. The reporters didn’t mention that Bridges continued to have sex because he was in financial dire straights and he was a prostitute. The reporters also failed to mention that they paid Bridges to set up their exploitative interview. Alice joined with the Milk Club to protest the KQED Bay Area showing of this story to fight the media stereotype of presenting people with AIDS as predators. After this protest, KQED responded by appointing its first openly gay member to their community advisory board. This effort was one of the early efforts to fight media defamation of gays happening right after the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1985.
1986 Alice’s endorsement critical in Jackie Speier winning Assembly Race
One of the Bay Area’s most prominent leaders, Jackie Speier, became first known to many as an aide to Congressman Leo Ryan who was assassinated in the Jonestown massacre. Speier was in Guyana during the Jonestown Massacre and while attempting to shield herself from rifle and shotgun fire behind small airplane wheel, Speier was shot five times and waited 22 hours before help arrived. Speier survived and returned home from the incident going on to serve as a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. In 1986 she ran for an open seat on the California State Assembly against Mike Nevin. Nevin had secured the endorsement of the Burton/Brown San Francisco political establishment, as well as the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, but Alice was Speier’s first club endorsement, and fighting against tough odds, she wound up winning. Alice’s support proved critical as Speier won the race by only a few hundred votes. Speier went on to serve as a member of Congress representing nearly half of San Francisco, as well as San Mateo and the Peninsula. Alice member Ron Braithwaite organized support for Speier in her first race for Assembly and for many years Speier marched in the LGBT Pride Parade with Alice and always considered Alice to be ‘her club’. 
1987 Art Agnos wins race for Mayor
Alice shocked many in 1987 with its decision to make no endorsement in the race for Mayor between liberal Assemblyman Art Agnos and centrist Supervisor John Molinari. Molinari had been the favorite of Alice for some time and it was assumed by many that Alice would endorse him, but Agnos had many supporters who were able to block an endorsement of Molinari on a 275 to 206 vote.
1990s-2000s: An Organized Constituency Finds its Power
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Alice and the LGBT Community of San Francisco made enormous progress in challenging the conspiracy of silence that had prevailed in earlier decades. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the LGBT Community started winning larger numbers of local electoral victories in San Francisco. It was no longer enough for the movement to rely upon straight allies (although Alice’s straight allies would continue to be crucial and would rise to prominence at all levels of government); but LGBT people would finally begin to win office in San Francisco in significant numbers, and would be appointed to various City commissions and departments holding offices in policy areas as diverse as Law Enforcement, Human Rights, Transportation, Education and Health. With this expansion of ‘out’ LGBT local representation and influence, Alice supported candidates began passing legislation that would implement changes for LGBT civil rights, not only in San Francisco, but far beyond the City limits.The 1990 “Lavender Sweep”
While San Francisco was confronting AIDS, there was an urgent sense that LGBT people needed to be in positions of power. It was not enough anymore to have friends of our community supporting us. We needed a place at the table. 1990 saw the culmination of two decades of political work by Alice and the Milk Club to bring our community to the table. All the hard work had finally come to success when the two clubs worked together in the historic 1990 Lavender Sweep (the first of two sweeps, the second being in 1994).
The 1990 sweep successfully pushed several candidates over the top to become elected leaders. Lesbian Donna Hitchens won citywide as Superior Court Judge. Lesbians Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg won races to join the Board of Supervisors, and Tom Ammiano became the first gay man elected to the San Francisco School Board. Years of work had paid off for all the candidates who had been trying to get into office, and work by Alice was crucial to these victories.
Alice Involvement in the Lavender Sweeps and broader community work:
Campaigns are not won by leaders simply rising to power. It takes incredible work and commitment of people in the community to make a difference. It takes fundraising. It takes strategy. It takes coalition building. It takes development of successful messages and professional campaign materials. It takes enlisting support, one endorsement at a time. And it takes courage to stand by your vision even in the face of opposition. That’s exactly what Alice and the community did to create the 1990 and 1994 landmark elections. There are countless heroes in these efforts that deserve to be recognized, and a few of these are Dick Pabich, Jim Hormel and Mark Leno who raised money for numerous community efforts throughout these years. Jim Hormel not only supported LGBT candidates, but also raised enormous sums for the new Public Library’s Hormel Center for LGBT research. Mark Leno became a lead fundraiser and strategist for building the new LGBT Community Center] and one of Carole Migden’s top fundraisers. Dick Pabich not only helped Carole Migden raise funds to get into office, but he became a chief fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, paving the way for one of our nation’s most outspoken national advocates for LGBT rights in the United States Senate. Robert Barnes and campaign consultant Jim Rivaldo were instrumental in establishing a professional campaign operation for LGBT advocacy. Barnes became a key advisor to LGBT leaders and Rivaldo became a lead graphics designer for slate cards, billboards, and countless materials done pro-bono for LGBT causes during this time. Carole Cullum at the law firm of Cullum and Sena also provided crucial legal advice to LGBT campaigns while long time LGBT activists Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Denny Edelman gave non-stop volunteer work on behalf of community causes throughout these years as well. There were so many others, but this gives a small sense of the broad coalition of work that was being done to lay the foundation for LGBT political power and LGBT social services in San Francisco.
National Repercussions of the 1990 Lavender Sweep
The Lavender sweep had national repercussions as it became a precursor to LGBT campaign organizing prior to the 1992 presidential election, and established the San Francisco lesbian and gay community as a base of power that could help win local, state and national elections in the future.
1992 “The Year of the Woman”
In 1992 California made history by sending Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate and the LGBT community played a key role in that success. Political pundits billed 1992 as “The Year of the Woman because women candidates made successful efforts to break into the male dominated US Senate, which had only 2 female members in office at that time. Feinstein’s campaign used the slogan ‘2% is good for milk but not for equality’ in the US Senate. Senator Barbara Boxer won the election for US Senator in 1992 against radio commentator Bruce Herschensohn by 5% of the vote with the crucial assistance of the LGBT community. Her openly gay political consultant and fundraiser Dick Pabich was a key strategist for the Boxer campaign. Pabich adopted a strategy for Boxer to explicitly build a California majority of women, gay men and minority constituencies. Alice helped boost turnout in San Francisco to provide the margin of difference in that campaign.
Bill Clinton becomes President
That year Alice became an important player in Democratic Presidential politics as well. Robert Barnes, chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club had this to say about the approaching presidential election in the May 1992 edition of Alice Reports:
“Alice demonstrated its Democratic Party savvy in putting together a winning slate of delegates for the Clinton Presidential Caucus. Alice is the first major Democratic Club, and thus far the only Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, to endorse Bill Clinton for President… With Alice’s support, lesbian Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg was the caucus’ top female vote getter.”
As an early endorser of Bill Clinton, Alice established itself as a “Friend of Bill’s” before other Democratic Clubs had gotten in the act, and Alice helped propel Roberta Achtenberg into the limelight of the Democratic Convention, supporting her eventual selection as Housing Undersecretary.
At the Democratic Convention, Bill Clinton was outspoken in his support of the LGBT Community, breaking the ‘conspiracy of silence’ that had long dominated national discussions of gay issues, even among Democratic politics. At the 1992 Democratic Convention, Clinton specifically talked about “gay people”, [43 minutes into speech], whereas in the past, democratic presidential contenders such as George McGovern and Jimmy Carter had said they supported “Civil Rights” when referring to LGBT people, but not actually identifying directly with our community at the Democratic Conventions. Clinton went on to appoint Roberta Achtenberg as Undersecretary of Housing, prompting archconservative Jesse Helms to famously refer to her as “that damn lesbian!” Clinton also appointed Democratic fundraiser and gay philanthropist Jim Hormel to be a U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, the first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. Ambassador.
Alice supports Mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz in his 1993 run for Assembly:
In September, 1993, many Alice members volunteered in the campaign to elect openly gay mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz to the State Assembly, as was reported by co-chair Mathew Rothschild in the Sept. 1993 edition of Alice Reports. Nearly a decade later, John joined Mark Leno as the first two gay men to be elected to the Assembly in 2002.
Susan Leal Replaces Roberta Achtenberg on the Board of Supervisors.
Susan Leal was appointed June 7th, 1993 by Mayor Frank Jordan to serve on the Board of Supervisors succeeding Roberta Achtenberg. Susan joined Alice in endorsing Willie Brown in 1995 and began a strong relationship with the club, building towards her run for mayor, which Alice endorsed, in 2003. As a Latina lesbian, she continued the tradition of broadening San Francisco’s LGBT leadership diversity. 
The 1994 “Lavender Sweep”
In 1994 San Francisco had a second “Lavender Sweep” with openly gay candidates Susan Leal, Carole Migden and Tom Ammiano being elected to the Board of Supervisors, and Leslie Katz and Lawrence Wong winning election to the Community College Board. Alice was instrumental in the fight, working in coalition with the Milk Club. Susan Leal went on to Chair the powerful Finance Committee on the Board of Supervisors, ensuring that much needed funds would be directed towards HIV and AIDS services. With the 1994 Lavender Sweep, Alice and the LGBT Community demonstrated a firmly established base of power in San Francisco. The community that previously needed district elections to win a single elected office was now a major power broker sweeping several candidates into numerous offices for a second time. San Francisco’s political establishment would from this point forward be walking in close step with the LGBT community and its political goals.
Willie Brown Elected Mayor:
With newly imposed term limits, longtime community ally Assemblyman Willie Brown was forced out of office and ran for Mayor in 1995. A major power broker for the state, it was believed that he could beat conservative Mayor Frank Jordan and bring unity to a deeply divided city. Prior to his campaign, Willie Brown met with Carole Migden, Alice Chair Mathew Rothschild, Milk Club Chair Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and other LGBT community members to plan his run for Mayor. In the past, the lesbian and gay community had been on the ‘outside’ in brokering power for the city, but with the Lavender Sweep, lesbian and gay leaders were now recognized as a strong political force in San Francisco and Speaker Brown formed a direct alliance with the community in his race for Mayor. Brown won the election and went on to appoint more LGBT people to lead city departments and commissions than ever before in the city’s history. He also signed the Equal Benefits Ordinance to require businesses that contract with the city to provide equal benefits to domestic partners that are offered to married couples.
Carole Migden replaces Willie Brown in the Assembly:
Willie Brown, the legendary “Ayatollah of the Assembly” who represented San Francisco and the Democratic Party incredibly well for decades, including early support for LGBT rights through his consensual sex laws, stepped down due to newly imposed term limits and Carole Migden replaced him. Alice’s longstanding relationship with Willie Brown and Carole Migden helped position Migden to become the second LGBT person ever sent to the California State Legislature. Carole won election to the seat later in 1998.
Labor Organizing – Training for Alice Members
Jack Gribbon was a labor organizer who trained Alice members how to organize during the Willie Brown Campaign for Mayor. A waiter who organized thousands of hospitality workers in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2 (H.E.R.E), Jack ran Willie Brown’s 1995 field campaign and enlisted Alice members to spend months before the Mayoral election tirelessly calling voter lists, identifying Brown supporters and walking precincts to turn voters out on Election Day. Jack originally got involved with Alice during the Domestic Partnership campaigns of the 1980’s, and his training became a model that worked. Alice member Fran Kipnis, for instance, turned out 99% of her own precinct in 1992, the same year that Barbara Boxer won her U.S. Senate race by 5%. Alice would sign up precinct captains, identify voters and track down if they were voting by mail or voting on Election Day, and would work relentlessly on Election Day until the polls closed, taking nothing for granted until the fight was over. Gribbon’s approach continues to be the model the club uses to this day, and LGBT areas of San Francisco such as the Castro District are known to be some of the highest turnout districts in the city every Election Day.
Leslie Katz Elected to the Board of Supervisors:
In 1996 Leslie Katz was elected to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed by Mayor Brown earlier that year. Alice worked tirelessly on Supervisor Katz’s campaign, as Leslie had been a longstanding member of the club who had already shown her strong leadership capabilities over many years. One of her staff, Geoff Kors, would go on to become the Executive Director for Equality California.
Tom Radulovich elected to BART Board:
Tom Radulovich was elected to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors in November 1996 representing the 9th District in San Francisco. An Alice supported candidate over the years and gay official, Tom later made a run for the Board of Supervisors. He has served on the BART Board for a decade while working tirelessly on housing and transit issues, taking a strong leadership role in groups like the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) and the Housing Action Coalition (HAC).
The Equal Benefits Ordinance: San Francisco Flexes its Muscles.
In 1996, San Francisco enacted an ordinance that had a broad impact on the entire nation, and Alice supported leaders were instrumental to passing this legislation. Supervisor Leslie Katz, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Supervisor Susan Leal, and Mayor Willie Brown together championed San Francisco’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance to require that businesses that contract with the City of San Francisco must provide equal benefits to domestic partners that they give to married partners. This law swept the nation in its impact, paving the way for hundreds of businesses to adopt domestic partnership benefits. Some businesses like United Airlines initially fought the ordinance but San Francisco leaders stood firm in demanding equality and the City prevailed. The ordinance became a model for similar laws passed throughout the nation, and the model for Christine Kehoe’s California Assembly Bill 17, signed by Governor Davis, to require businesses which contract with the state of California to provide equal benefits to domestic partners. This is one clear example where a San Francisco ordinance passed by Alice supported legislators managed to change not only the City of San Francisco, but also California and the nation.
Susan Leal Becomes San Francisco City Treasurer:
In 1998 Susan Leal was appointed to become the City Treasurer, where she managed the City’s $3 billion portfolio. Her investment policies and decisions produced a greater return during her period of service than any major county in the state. In 2001 Susan was elected Treasurer for another term with 87% of the vote, due to her reputation as a strong, effective manager of the city’s finances. Alice endorsed Susan’s candidacy and campaigned hard for her victory.
Domestic Partnership: New laws enacted for California.
Alice strongly supported Carole Migden as she went to the Assembly and introduced AB 26, which created a registry for Domestic Partnership and gave Domestic Partners many of the same rights (such as hospital visitation rights) that married couples enjoy. Later, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg would introduce AB 205, an extensive set of rights and responsibilities for domestic partners that almost mirrored marriage, building on Carole’s earlier work.
Mark Leno Elected to the Board of Supervisors
In 1998 candidate Mark Leno won election to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed earlier that year. Leno had spent years prior to his time on the Board of Supervisors working as a lead organizer and fundraiser for the LGBT Center. He was a key player in getting the Center built. Leno was also a longstanding member of Alice before his rise to office. As a Supervisor, Leno led the effort to create a transitional housing facility designed specifically to address the needs of LGBT homeless youth as well as passing the City’s first Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to mandate that developers construct a percentage of affordable housing as they develop in a city with skyrocketing housing costs.
Proposition 22 – The Knight Initiative:
In 2000, California voters were subjected to a divisive ballot measure that was designed to turn back the clock on LGBT rights – Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative. The measure was written to clarify that out-of-state marriages could not impact California marriage law regarding same sex couples. Voters passed the measure, despite the vigorous efforts of Alice and our LGBT leaders. Mark Leno (who would later introduce AB 849, the Marriage Equality Bill) worked especially hard to stop the initiative, traveling as a statewide campaign spokesman against the measure. Alice worked tirelessly to stop the Knight Initiative, and continues to be part of marriage equality organizing.
Robert Barnes deserves special mention because of his work on behalf of Alice, his commitment to LGBT rights, his work at the California Democratic Party, and his often-controversial approach to politics that dominated Alice for much of the late ‘90’s. He was an Alice Co-Chair who became a close advisor to many of San Francisco’s most successful politicians. Carole Migden, Mark Leno, Willie Brown, Dennis Herrera, Leslie Katz, Susan Leal, Tom Radulovich, Natalie Berg, Mabel Teng, Donna Hitchens, Kevin McCarthy, School Board members Dan Kelly, Juanita Owens, Lawrence Wong, and many other San Francisco officials worked closely with Robert Barnes at various points in their careers. 
He grew up in San Francisco in a working class family closely connected to politics. His father was a machinist and labor activist and in 1977 ran for District Supervisor against Dan White. Robert got into politics himself running for the BART Board and the Board of Education, but after losing these races, (one of them being to Tom Ammiano in his race for the Board of Education) Robert got involved in politics behind the scenes. He was particularly involved in Democratic Party activities and was the Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Gay Caucus for many years.
San Francisco has some of the most colorful, bombastic, and sometimes brilliant people in politics. Robert was one of them. He had an incredible sense of humor and got away with controversial jokes that most professionals would never dream of trying. He could say things that were unthinkable, throwing insiders out of their comfort zone, then warming them back up with charm, and closing the deal with masterful delivery. He was an extremely funny person in a somewhat bland professional scene. Robert Barnes, Chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club and Prominent Democratic Party Activist, died on August 9th, 2002 of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, just months before his candidate, Mark Leno, became the first gay man elected to the California State Assembly.
Robert’s work in the Alice B. Toklas Club:
For several years the Alice B. Toklas Club had been struggling during the AIDS epidemic, as members became focused on saving lives and had little time or energy to spare on Democratic politics. People were exhausted. During this vacuum of leadership at Alice, Robert Barnes almost single-handedly resurrected the club to continue political work.
While Robert took on leadership at Alice, he simultaneously developed a business in political consulting specializing in slate mail. The period where Robert took the lead at Alice was controversial because many of the political goals of the club seemed to be designed by Robert with his business clients in mind. Many people in the community felt that Robert was serving his own goals at the expense of the community. This fueled the Alice/Milk longstanding rivalry – the belief that Alice was becoming a front for Robert’s political work. But Robert worked on a variety of projects that were widely supported as well, such as the School Bond campaign and the 1994 Lavender Sweep. He worked relentlessly on the Octavia Boulevard campaign and worked very closely with Alice to promote the San Francisco Women’s Building, supporting their right to remove a bar from the premise and make it a safe space for all women using the facility. Robert also ran the campaigns of many important LGBT candidates and he worked tirelessly as the State Party Chair of the LGBT Caucus. His positioning Alice early with the Clinton campaign also proved to be invaluable for the community.
Perhaps Robert’s most important contribution was to bring numerous young people into politics, showing them how to be professional advocates for the LGBT community. He invited people who had no experience with politics to get involved, teaching them how to manage campaigns, how to work with elected officials, how to put together slate cards, how to design ballot arguments, how to raise money, how to write press releases, how to work with the state party, how to craft a winning message, and how to become successful in advancing the LGBT cause. He taught many people how to be professional leaders.
Alice / Milk Rivalries
The Alice and Milk Democratic clubs have throughout their existence been somewhat at odds with each other by virtue of the fact that the Milk Club formed out of a difference in political orientation and approach from Alice. Sometimes this rivalry has overshadowed any ability of the clubs to work together, and sometimes the two clubs have worked as if there were no rivalry at all. It’s fair to say that having two Democratic Clubs offers checks and balances on whether either club is acting genuinely in the interest of the community. Open dialogue and critique is definitely positive.
The history of tensions between the clubs could be seen from the beginning but grew to a high point in 1995 during the Willie Brown and Roberta Achtenberg campaign for Mayor. Alice endorsed Willie Brown citing his years of leadership and commitment to the community, as well as the desire to unseat Mayor Jordan with a strong, viable candidate at a time when no one could be certain that Mayor Jordan could be beaten. Roberta Achtenberg entered the race later and many members of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club supported her, wanting to see the first lesbian Mayor of San Francisco. Brown beat Jordan and Alice was absolutely critical to his victory.
The Achtenberg/Brown election was only one episode of a long period of division between the clubs. An event that further crystallized the tension was the Mayoral Election of 1999 when Tom Ammiano put himself forward as a write-in candidate late in the election cycle against Mayor Willie Brown. Ammiano waged a spirited campaign with his write-in candidacy, garnering national attention and enthusiasm, but the race exacerbated long-standing tensions between the Alice and Milk Clubs. Alice members were conflicted about the election because the club promotes LGBT empowerment, but Alice members had a long-standing relationship with Mayor Brown and were proud of his important work for the LGBT community, such as the landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance. Alice had already made its commitment to Brown before Ammiano got into the race with his write-in candidacy, so the club would have had to back out of its endorsement of a longstanding ally. Alice’s decision to stick with endorsing Mayor Brown hastened a growing divide between the two clubs.
The next major event that accelerated the rise in tension between the clubs was the 2000 supervisorial race between Mark Leno and Eileen Hansen. District elections had been reinstated that year and the Milk Club endorsed lesbian candidate Eileen Hansen for District 8, while Alice endorsed gay incumbent supervisor Mark Leno. Leno ultimately won the race because of his strong progressive credentials and history of accomplishment on the Board.
A crescendo in the long rift between the clubs came when Supervisor Leno ran for State Assembly in 2002 with the strong endorsement of Alice, while the Milk Club endorsed Harry Britt (who had been retired from elective office for over a decade). Mark Leno went on to pass progressive legislation to protect transgender people in employment and housing (AB 196) and passed the historic marriage equality bill (AB 849).
Healing the Rift
After the 2000 Leno/Hansen race, and after the 2002 Assembly race, leaders from Alice and Milk made a concerted effort to improve relations between the two clubs. Alice Co-Chair Rich Kowalewski, one of many who has been credited with working tirelessly to improve the Alice/Milk relationship, had this to say about the dynamics between the two clubs:
“Through these years, Alice has developed a good working relationship with the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. This cooperation has been possible because of ongoing dialogue between the leaders of the two clubs. I know I speak for Paul Hogan, Theresa Sparks, and Laura Spanjian when I say “thank you” Jerry Threat, Debra Walker, Robert Haaland, and Michael Goldstein for your leadership in the bridge building. We have learned to focus on the 90% on which we agree rather than the 10% on which we disagree.”
Rich, Paul, Theresa, Laura, Jerry, Debra, Robert, Michael, and Scott Wiener all did an excellent job of changing course in the direction of relationships between our two clubs. The community continues to benefit from Milk and Alice working together.
Throughout Alice’s history, most of the focus on issues and candidates had been on gay and lesbian rights. As the new millennium was ushered in, Alice supported officeholders took a lead in addressing transgender rights, making it a top priority with huge success. Shortly after his election in 2000, Supervisor Leno created the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, which advanced changes in city policy related to transgender people. Following task force identified goals, Mayor Willie Brown named task force member Theresa Sparks to become the first Transgender Human Rights Commissioner. Leno authored the Employer Notification Law signed by Mayor Brown, requiring employers to post anti-discrimination notifications in places of business that specify that the city bans discrimination against transgender people. The Task Force addressed law enforcement issues and a joint task force between the Police and Human Rights Commission was created to address law enforcement treatment of transgender citizens. The Police Departments Office of Citizens Complaints (OCC) also adopted recommendations from the task force to implement sensitivity training and protocols regarding police interactions with transgender people. Theresa Sparks moved on to become San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner, and Cecilia Chung replaced Theresa on the Human Rights Commission, thus maintaining two important commission seats. Cecilia, Theresa and other transgender leaders went beyond the work of this task force to join with community leaders in creating the transgender pride march on LGBT Pride weekend, and participated in the formation of the Transgender Political Caucus among many other remarkable efforts during this time.
The San Francisco Transgender Health Plan – A First and Model for the Nation.
The most historic advancement that came out of the work of the Task Force was a change to San Francisco’s health plan for city employees. Supervisor Leno authored and Mayor Brown signed an ordinance to change the city’s health plan to include sex reassignment surgeries, hormone therapy and other care for transgender people as part of the city health plan. The impact of this change went far beyond city employees. Insurance providers that contract with the city were now required to include transgender care as part of the benefit options available in their health coverage, paving the way for transgender healthcare benefits to be available to businesses around California and the nation. Previously, insurance providers had not even offered these benefits. Task force members were written up in full-page stories in the New York Times and other national newspapers, while Leno appeared on television and talk radio stations throughout the country to discuss the issue. The media coverage reached South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and all over the United States. This is yet another clear example of Alice supported legislators passing legislation that had an impact far beyond the City of San Francisco.
Changing Alice’s name
In 2001 under the leadership of Chair Paul Hogan, Alice made an important change to rename the club “The Alice B Toklas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club.” Alice took the lead in outreaching to the transgender community and was the first of the two major LGBT Democratic Clubs in San Francisco to include “Transgender” in its official name. The vote to change the club’s name was unanimous.
Alice Candidate Dennis Herrera becomes City Attorney
Alice member and Alice’s endorsed candidate for City Attorney Dennis Herrera made a successful run for the job first in 2000, then again in 2005. A close friend of former Alice Co-Chair Robert Barnes, Herrera has been a steadfast ally of the club, continuing his longstanding commitment to LGBT rights. Herrera took the lead in defending the City’s action to marry same-sex couples and never wavered in his commitment to LGBT people.
Mark Leno Elected to State Assembly
Longtime Alice hero Mark Leno became the first gay man elected to the State Assembly, along with John Laird of Santa Cruz. Leno continued his groundbreaking work for the LGBT community with legislation such as Assembly Bill 196, signed by Governor Davis, which banned discrimination against transgender people in housing and employment. The bill protects transgender people in all areas of California from discrimination, and even strengthened protection in localities that previously banned transgender discrimination before the law. San Francisco’s local ordinance banning discrimination against transgender people had few actual remedies for violation of the law. With changes to state law, employers and landlords now face serious charges if they discriminate against transgender people in employment or housing.
California Legislature creates the LGBT Caucus
LGBT statewide activism showed enormous progress in the year 2002 as Assemblymembers Mark Leno, John Laird, Jackie Goldberg, Christine Kehoe and Senator Sheila Kuehl formed the California Legislature’s first LGBT Caucus. The five members saw the passage of crucial legislation signed into law including Leno’s AB 196 to ban discrimination against transgender people in employment and housing; Kehoe’s AB 17 to require companies that do business with the state of California to provide equal benefits offered to domestic partners and married couples; Goldberg’s AB 205 which upgraded domestic partnership legal rights and responsibilities in California to almost equal status to marriage; and Laird’s AB 1400 amending the Unruh Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the categories protected from discrimination in public accommodations.
Bevan Dufty Elected to the Board of Supervisors
In 2002, Longtime Alice member and gay candidate Bevan Dufty was elected as the Supervisor for the Castro in District 8. Dufty created an Improvement District for the Castro and worked closely with local neighborhood groups on a series of local changes that were designed to keep the Castro safe, clean and a place we can all take pride in. Bevan has worked with the State Library Commission to pursue funding for the LGBT Historical Society to expand its operations into a Castro facility, and he has been a tireless fighter for LGBT issues at City Hall.
Alice Friend Nancy Pelosi Becomes Democratic House Minority Leader
In 2003 Nancy Pelosi made a successful run for leader of the Democratic Party in Congress, which preceded her becoming Speaker of the House in 2006. The highest-ranking woman in office in American history,Nancy got there largely because of her impressive legislative record, fundraising, tactical skill for the party and with critical help from Alice. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt, and Alice was vital to her victory, narrowly winning the special election to replace former Congressman Philip Burton. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt. From Day One, Alice was there to help Pelosi become one of the most powerful leaders in America, and one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies. As a liberal from San Francisco, she would never have won the confidence of the national party if she could not back up her progressive values with financial leadership. Alice’s longtime support was an asset to her rise in power. Nancy has proven to be a true friend of the community for her years of leadership in supporting Ryan White Care Act funding for people with AIDS, her support of domestic partnership rights and other LGBT causes. Nancy is an historic American leader and Alice can be proud of playing a role in her success.
Susan Leal runs for Mayor
Longtime Alice friend Susan Leal made history as the first Latina lesbian to run for Mayor in San Francisco in 2003. Alice endorsed her candidacy and worked hard on her behalf. Leal said about the race in Curve Magazine: “what my candidacy does is it sends a message to women, whether they’re queer or women of color, that the last barriers could be broken.
Alice Candidate Kamala Harris becomes District Attorney
In December of 2003, Kamala Harris was elected San Francisco District Attorney with the overwhelming support of Alice early in her campaign. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights, Kamala has proven to be an effective champion for our issues as the City’s DA. One of her most important fights on behalf of the community has been to combat the gay/transgender panic defense used in California to defend acts of violence against our community. Law enforcement issues such as these have been critical to Alice since it’s beginning. The ‘Twinkie Defense’  used to give Dan White a lenient defense in his trial for the murder of Harvey Milk, and the ‘Transgender Panic’ argument used to defend the murderers of transgender high school student Gwen Araujo  are just two examples where legal arguments have been designed to play upon homo/transphobia in the judicial response to violence against the LGBT community. Our community must demand equal treatment by the judicial system and equal protection from law enforcement, and Kamala has been a very effective leader in fighting for these principles with the support of Alice. 
Former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros becomes City Treasurer
In September 2004 Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros to become the city Treasurer. Once again, the work of Alice paid off with an effective city treasurer who is one of our closest allies. Cisneros went on to win a full term as treasurer later that year and continues to be a strong voice working with Alice in local government.
Theresa Sparks becomes first Transgender Police Commissioner in San Francisco
In 2004 former Alice Chair Theresa Sparks was sworn in as San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner and would later become elected President of that Commission. After years of advocacy around police issues, Alice saw one of its chairs take a leadership role directly on the police commission and transgender advocates saw transgender leaders serve as officials in the City.
Alice Candidate Phil Ting Becomes San Francisco’s Assessor / Recorder
In 2005 another close friend of Alice made a successful run for office as Phil Ting won election to City Assessor/Recorder. Mayor Newsom appointed Phil because of his strong progressive credentials, long history of professional work at the Assessor/Recorder’s office, and his reputation as a non-political choice for the job. Phil Ting was the most qualified candidate for Assessor / Recorder and the electorate voted him in with Alice’s strong support.
Alice Joins Coalition Effort – “And Castro For All”
In 2005 Alice participated in a broad campaign to address charges of racism at a Castro business as the community had an important dialogue about racial justice. Many African Americans have felt that the Castro is not an inclusive space for communities of color. In this context, the Human Rights Commission issued a report about a Castro establishment finding the business had engaged in racially biased business practices. During this time, Alice Board Member John Newsome had this to say about the issue:
“Sometimes, the Truth matters most when it’s the most unpopular… Truth and, ultimately, Justice are well worth the effort.”
Marriage, The New Beginning
By 2004, Alice and a broad coalition of allies had spent decades creating a very different world for the LGBT community than when Jim Foster started Alice. On Valentine’s Day, 2004, a time known in San Francisco as “The Winter of Love”, the community of San Francisco was ready to turn the page to a new day in our movement.
Marriage – The New Beginning
Of course Valentines Day 2004, the “Winter of Love,” was not the beginning of the fight for marriage equality. But the rush of people to City Hall where Mayor Newsom started marrying gay men and lesbians certainly did feel like a new beginning. For once, the Milk Club, Alice, the Bay Guardian, the Chronicle, Willie Brown, Tom Ammiano and all of San Francisco could stand together and be proud of our city. Not since the days of Milk and Moscone had there been such hope in San Francisco.
On February 14, 2004, Mayor Newsom directed the County Clerk to recognize same sex marriages, citing the US Constitution, and challenging state law as being unconstitutional. People rushed down to City Hall with their friends and families grabbing flowers and their best outfits to experience the words “I do”, with the blessing of the City. The religious right tried to halt the marriages, but the ceremonies continued for several weeks. There were thousands and thousands of same-sex couples who came from all over California, the nation and the world to be a part of it; and they happily waited in lines wrapped around City Hall with City workers volunteering twelve-hour days to marry as many people as possible while the courts allowed the marriages to continue. It felt like a moment when everything changed for our community and we could never go backwards again.
It would be unimaginable that Mayor Newsom would feel empowered to take that stand for marriage equality without the support of groups like Alice. All the years of work building political support behind the idea that gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are just as deserving of basic dignity as everyone else paid off big when Mayor Newsom made the ‘radical’ act of recognizing our love. Gavin Newsom did not start the fight for marriage, but he boldly ushered in a new day that everyone in San Francisco could be proud of.
Mark Leno carried the torch of marriage equality through the summer in the legislature with Assembly Bill 849, making California the first legislature in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill without the prompting of a court order. Standing up to many who were fearful in his own party that the timing was inappropriate, Leno pressed ahead and through relentless tenacity passed the Marriage Equality bill out of the California Legislature. Leno and Newsom’s efforts helped educate the public and move the issue forward. Polling in California showed that as AB 849 passed the legislature, the California public moved from being decisively opposed to same sex marriage, to being evenly divided over the issue. Despite Governor Schwarzenneger’s veto of AB 849, and despite the rumblings of discontent over Newsom’s act of courage, Leno and Newsom’s efforts, with the work of Alice, Equality California, and countless activists around the state had moved California opinion significantly in our favor. As history continues to move forward, we can be more and more proud of standing up for what is right at a time when others were afraid.
Much can be learned from the work done at Alice. Decades ago after Stonewall signaled a new era for LGBT people, the community was stuck in a conspiracy of silence and a world that despised and misunderstood it. At that time, Alice sought an alliance with the Democratic Party. Over decades of work with allies around the nation, LGBT people were finally able to break the conspiracy of silence. Through years of work, Alice and other political organizations helped coordinate the energy of the LGBT movement into a local, state and national political platform that won systemic changes for the entire nation. Through the support of many leaders such as Mark Leno, Carole Migden, John Laird, Tom Ammiano, Susan Leal, Bevan Dufty, Leslie Katz, Theresa Sparks, Dennis Herrera, Jackie Speier, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and countless others; Alice helped transform law and sentiment towards LGBT people. San Francisco was at the forefront of change for Consensual Sex Legislation, Domestic Partnership, Equal Benefits, Transgender Health, and Marriage Equality to name just a few of the causes locally championed that went on to have national impact. And thirty years after Harvey Milk told the world “You’ve Gotta Give ‘em Hope,” California declared May 22nd “Harvey Milk Day” in a bill signed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.
The LGBT community has seized and shaped its destiny over the last few decades. As we in the community look to our future, it’s important to remember how our efforts right now, even the small tasks we do along the way, really do change the world.
Lamberg, Lynne. Soulforce, August 12, 1998. Gay Is Okay With APA (American Psychiatric Association) Story on the history of the American Psychiatric Association 1973 removal of homosexuality from being categorized as a mental disorder.
Wikipedia. Society for Individual Rights (SIR) (the Society for Individual Rights was an organization formed during a period of the gay rights movement called the “Homophile” movement, and SIR would later be renamed and chartered within the Democratic Party as the Alice B Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.
Democratic National Party Platform, 1972 The “Gay Plank” which Jim Foster proposed was removed. The only language the Democratic Party left that remotely relates to homosexuality was under “The Right to be Different” section, and says “Americans should be free to make their own choice of life-styles and private habits without being subject to discrimination or prosecution.”
“Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, Vol. 1. Issue 1. Pg. 3.” Letter from candidate McGovern reprinted from the August 24, 1972 Village Voice.
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club (later named the Harvey Milk Democratic Club) Cover of newsletter. [See Documents page]
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club, pg 2 (discusses why the club formed) [See Documents page]
Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 1 The Stonewall Democratic Club was chartered in Los Angeles by Morris Kight in 1975. This edition of the Stonewall newsletter recounts the formation of the club. Stonewall later became a national alliance of LGBT Democratic Clubs and San Francisco had a Stonewall chapter through much of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the chapter disbanded. [See Documents page]
Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 2 Stonewall Democratic Club History continued. [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1982 “National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs” Founded [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1977 San Francisco Mayor George Moscone makes several public commitments to the gay community [See Documents page]
Moral Majority Coalition, The. “Moral Majority Timeline”
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, May, 1977 Alice helps organize the fight in Dade County Florida [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pgs 1-2 Backlash against consensual sex law. This backlash would build into an organized effort in following years led by State Senator Briggs to place Measure 6 on the 1978 state ballot to ban gay people from being teachers. [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 4 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 7 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, June, 1979 Recounting the Dan White trial and local upheaval + police incident at “Pegs Place”, a lesbian bar. [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1978 Death of Harvey Milk, recounting his life and impact on politics [See Documents page]
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 1) [See Documents page]
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 2) [See Documents page]
When news broke that Matthew Shepard’s remains were finally buried at the National Cathedral some 20 years after his death, we were reminded of the collective grief the nation felt after the brutal, senseless murder of the waiflike 21-year-old. In the intervening years since he happened into a bar where he met up with two men who lured him into their truck, robbed him, and drove him to a desolate stretch of highway outside Laramie, Wyoming where they pistol-whipped him, tied him to a wooden fence and left him for dead in the cold night air, Shepard had become more than an emblem of the senseless hate crimes perpetrated against the gay community, he had become a martyr.
Shepard’s place among sacrificial victims was solidified when more than 5,000 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to mourn his death and cemented when Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which broadened existing law to include crimes triggered by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race and disability. Byrd was an African American man murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. On June 7, 1998, they dragged his body for three miles behind their pickup truck. Although Byrd wasn’t gay, his inhumane murder serves to remind us of the hate that permeates society.
In his book, Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of Sexual Politics, author Brett Krutszch theorizes that LGBTQ activists are using religion to make the argument that gays are essentially the same as straights and deserve the same equal rights. He points to the veneration of Shepard, Harvey Milk and other high profile gay victims, as well as campaigns like the It Gets Better Project, which he believes promotes the notion that “like Christ’s suffering on the cross, one’s trials today can lead to a better tomorrow.” Krutszch says that national tragedies like Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting show how activists use headline-grabbing deaths to gain acceptance, shape the debate over LGBTQ rights and foster assimilation.
Krutszch maintains that Mr. Shepard’s 1998 murder is steeped in religious imagery. Just the thought of the all-American boy-next-door tied to a fence conjures up images of the crucifixion. He concludes that Matthew Shepard’s resulting canonization is due to the interplay of religion, death and LGBTQ politics and that “martyrs as emblems can be changed into more respectable figures than they were in their lifetime.” We may never know if Mr. Shepard was the innocent victim most people believe he was, or as The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard indicates, he was a meth dealer who not only knew his killers, but was sexually involved with one and that his death was the result of a drug robbery gone bad.
Whatever the motive for his murder, Shepard has become a shining symbol in the pantheon of almost exclusively white gay martyrs. The group dates back to the 4th century when Sergius and Bacchus, two Roman Christian soldiers who happened to be lovers, took part in a rite called adelphopoiesis (the ancient equivalent of same sex marriage) and refused to attend sacrifices for Zeus, thereby revealing their Christianity. The pair was paraded through what is now Syria. They were dressed in women’s clothing and tortured to death. They lived on through fervent followers and the churches that were dedicated to them throughout The Byzantine Empire.
Any conversation about modern-day martyrs would not be complete without mentioning Harvey Milk. He was the first openly gay elected official in California. Krutszch described Milk as “a secular Jewish, Yiddish-speaking, anti-monogamist” who was transformed by activists who “downplayed his Jewishness, depicted him as committed to fidelity and presented him as someone whose death, like Christ’s crucifixion, transformed the world.” One can argue the validity of that characterization, but it is hard to deny the contributions Milk made as San Francisco’s District 5 Supervisor. Those included defeating Proposition 6 that would have banned lesbian and gay educators from teaching in California public schools, and his efforts to pass legislation that prohibited discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.
Tyler Clemente may be less well known than Milk and Shepard, but like their deaths, his was another flashpoint. You may remember reading about his suicide in 2010. Clemente was an 18-year-old Rutgers University student who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man. The video was posted on Twitter.
Most homosexual martyrs are white, but they are not all men. Brandon Teena, born Teena Renae Brandon, became famous when Hilary Swank played him in Boys Don’t Cry. The 21-year-old Teena was living a quiet transgender life in Humboldt, Nebraska, dating 18-year-old Lana Tisdel and hanging out with two ex-convicts John Lotter and Marvin Thomas “Tom” Nissen. Everything was fine until December 19, 1993, when Teena was arrested for forging checks. He used his one phone call to call Tisdel. She got the surprise of her life when she came to bail him out and was directed to the women’s prison where Teena was being held.
At a Christmas Eve party a few weeks later, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena to remove his pants, proving to Tisdale that he was a woman. Later that night, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena into a car, drove him to a deserted area, attacked and gang-raped him. Fearful that Brandon would file a police complaint, the pair murdered him on New Year’s Eve. While his family buried him as a female (his tombstone reads “Teena R. Brandon, Daughter, Sister and Friend”), the death of Brandon Teena is credited with raising awareness of transgender issues in the same way that Matthew Shepard’s became a clarion call for injustices directed toward gay men.
While real-life suffering seems like a necessary prerequisite for martyrdom, some fictional characters like Brokeback Mountain’s Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar have transcended fictional status to take their place in the cultural zeitgeist. Brokeback author, Annie Proulx, said the characters Jack and Ennis were her first two that felt “really damned real” and “got a life of their own.” She also said, “Unfortunately, they got a life of their own for too many other people, too … the audience that Brokeback reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. They can’t bear the way it ends. So they invent all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis, it’s about homophobia.”
Gay martyrs like Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Brandon Teena and even Brokeback’s fictional characters are often a byproduct of homophobia, when people who find themselves outside the mainstream and are struggling to just be who they are.
A lot of people are saying this year’s midterm election is the most crucial of our lifetime. It may well be, given the need to elect officials who will fight Donald Trump’s loathsome agenda. But another midterm election, 40 years ago, was one of the most crucial as well, at least in California.
In 1978, State Sen. John Briggs put an initiative on the ballot that would have mandated the firing of any gay or lesbian teacher in California public schools, or any teacher who supported gay rights (the term LGBT wasn’t used back then). Thanks to a Herculean effort by California grassroots activists — Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Sally Miller Gearhart, hundreds of others — Briggs’s Proposition 6, popularly known as the Briggs Initiative, was resoundingly defeated, by more than a million votes. It was the first time voters had rejected an antigay measure.
To mark the 40th anniversary of this milestone, the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco is mounting an exhibition called “The Briggs Initiative: A Scary Proposition,” recounting the story of the initiative and how it was turned back. It opens September 14.
“This exhibition will bring a scary time for LGBTQ people zinging back for those of us who were there, reminding us that we can fight the forces of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and win even against long odds,” said co-curator Sue Englander, a veteran of the anti-Briggs Initiative effort, in a press release. “And if you weren’t here 40 years ago, the story will sear itself into your consciousness. The differences between 1978 and today aren’t as big as they may look.”
Indeed, there are similarities between 1978 and today. The gay rights movement jump-started by the Stonewall riots and other events of the 1960s had made some gains in the 1970s. Gays and lesbians were getting elected to state- or city-level public office, or coming out and getting reelected — Elaine Noble in Massachusetts, Allan Spear in Minnesota, Harvey Milk in San Francisco. Many cities and counties, including San Francisco and Miami-Dade County, were adopting ordinances banning antigay discrimination. Major cities across the nation were holding Pride parades, usually around the anniversary of Stonewall in late June. The American Psychiatric Association announced it no longer considered homosexuality a mental illness.
This amount of progress pales in comparison with that of the 21st century, which brought nationwide marriage equality, many more antidiscrimination laws, and, for a time, a president who wholeheartedly supported LGBTQ equality. But just as the Trump administration and other anti-LGBTQ forces are trying to undo civil rights progress today, homophobes came out of the woodwork to try to strip away the advances of the 1970s. The Briggs Initiative was part of this backlash, as was Anita Bryant’s campaign to repeal the Miami-Dade County gay rights law. But where she succeeded, Briggs would fail.
Briggs was a far-right Republican from a district in Orange County, a conservative enclave between Los Angeles and San Diego. In a state that makes greater use of the citizen initiative process than almost any other that has it, he hoped Prop. 6 would boost his political career. Specifically, he aspired to become California’s governor.
But one of the forces who helped persuade voters to reject the initiative was a former governor — Ronald Reagan. When he became president a few years later, Reagan didn’t build a gay-friendly record — he courted the religious right and notoriously ignored the AIDS crisis. But in 1978, he announced his opposition to the Briggs Initiative in an informal letter and in responses to reporters’ questions, and on November 1, six days before the election, he published a commentary in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner denouncing the measure.
“Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles,” he wrote. “Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” That language may sound pretty tepid now, but at the time it was a significant statement. Then-President Jimmy Carter and his predecessor, Gerald Ford, also opposed the initiative.
But the credit for defeating the Briggs Initiative really should go not to high-profile politicians but to the many grassroots activists who worked against it. The opposition started with gay and lesbian advocates and the women’s movement, but they formed alliances with organized labor, progressive religious groups, and community organizations representing a variety of populations. Milk and Gearheart famously debated John Briggs, as chronicled in the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and the narrative film Milk (although the latter left out Gearheart). They made mincemeat out of Briggs’s arguments, particularly about his initiative being a way to combat child molestation; Gearheart cited government data showing that this is overwhelmingly committed by straight men.
But most important, gay people came out. “We can defeat the Briggs Initiative if all the gay people come out to your family, your friends — if indeed they are your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors,” Milk said at the time. “You will hurt them if you come out, but think of how they will hurt you if they vote for Briggs. If they don’t come out, then it will be a very tight race.”
Indeed, gay people and their allies managed to flip the script on the initiative, as Ramy K. Khalil noted in his Western Washington University master’s thesis on the campaign. In August, just three months before the election, opinion polls showed support for the measure at 61 percent, opposition at 31 percent. By September, the polls showed a toss-up. And on November 7, voters delivered a resounding defeat, with the proposition losing by a margin of 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent, and not even carrying Briggs’s home county.
“One decisive factor was the mistake by Briggs himself of over-reaching — of promoting an initiative that was more extreme than the anti-gay ballot initiatives in other states,” Khalil wrote. “Proposition 6 required school districts to terminate employment of LGBT or straight people who expressed any sympathy toward homosexuality, on or off the job, whereas the ballot initiatives in other states merely repealed special protections against discrimination for gays or lesbians. Most importantly, though, Proposition 6 was defeated by LGBT people, labor unions, feminists, and other allies who organized a powerful grassroots movement involving highly visible protests and actions that successfully confronted the homophobic arguments behind Proposition 6.”
‘Dan White murdered my friend’: When anger boiled over into violence at City Hall and San Francisco police raided a Castro bar
On May 21, 1979, thousands of members of San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro District community took to the streets to protest the lenient sentence received by Dan White for the murders of local politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Their anger–combined with the actions of police who arrived to quell the scene–soon boiled over into rioting. The resulting violence affected San Francisco’s LGBT community for decades to come.
Harvey Milk rose to prominence as a gay rights activist and became the first openly gay person elected to a public office in the state of California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. His murder, as well as that of Mayor Moscone, devastated not just the gay community, but the city as a whole.
Dan White was a former member of the Board of Supervisors who had clashed with Milk during their time serving the city together. In November of 1978, White resigned from his post, but changed his mind and asked to be reinstated. Mayor Moscone denied the request–with Milk lobbying against White’s reappointment. On November 27, White entered City Hall through a basement window and shot both men to death in their offices.
Six months later, White was convicted, not of first-degree murder, but voluntary manslaughter. White’s defense team had pointed to his diminished mental capacity and emotional state at the time of the murders, as indicated by the once-health conscious White consuming too much junk food– a ploy that became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” The jury-predominantly white, Roman Catholic and heterosexual—bought into it, recommending the lesser charge, which led to a sentence of just 7 years and 8 months.
When news of the verdict broke on the night of May 21, Cleve Jones–a close friend of Milk’s who would eventually go on to become one of the creators of the AIDS Quilt–spoke to a crowd of about 500 gatherers on Castro Street, and a peaceful march was quickly organized. By the time the crowd of protestors had made its second trip around the block, they were 1,500 strong. They then marched to City Hall, where their numbers expanded to an estimated 5,000.
As the crowd grew, so did the anger. Police soon arrived to try to control the situation, but that only served to enrage the crowd more. The police had raised over $100,000 for White’s defense–he was a former police officer–and many in the community believed the department had conspired to reduce White’s charges and sentencing. Although ordered to simply hold the crowd back, many officers began attacking the protestors with night sticks. Many had even taped over their badges, so as not to be identified.
Chaos erupted, as the crowd fought with police and destroyed a dozen police vehicles, as well as parts of City Hall itself. After three hours, officers moved in to quell the rioting for good, using tear gas in the process, and the crowd dispersed. In all, 59 officers and 124 protestors were injured, with about two dozen arrests made.
Hours later, several police officers gathered on their own to raid the Castro neighborhood, vandalizing a local bar and assaulting patrons. They shouted anti-gay slurs at the victims, and eventually turned their attention to attacking anyone that happened to be out on Castro Street.
After two hours, Police Chief Charles Gain was made aware of the rogue officers’ activities, and he made his way to the Castro to put a stop to it. No officers were reprimanded for the attacks, as officials were never able to determine who had ordered it, but the violence was finally over.
The next day, on what would have been Milk’s 49th birthday, 20,000 San Franciscans gathered to remember him. That October, more than 75,000 people marched for gay rights in Washington, D.C., and gay rights activists from around the country were inspired to continue their fight.
In San Francisco, the riots led to a wave of political changes, as more and more LGBT politicians were elected over the next decades. LGBT presence on the police forced also dramatically increased, and has continued to increase to this day.
On November 18, 1977, Harvey Milk distributed a secret tape recording to a select network of close friends: “To be played only in the event of my death by assassination,” the audio began: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” the statement concluded.
Milk made the recordings shortly after becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public-political office anywhere; when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Just one year later he was murdered by Dan White.
White, a fellow supervisor on San Francisco’s governing body, killed Milk because he claimed the city was being turned into Sodom by men who insisted on flaunting their homosexuality in public.
As historian and scholar of the LGBT movement, Lillian Faderman, explains in the concluding chapter of this concise, yet enormously insightful biography, Milk’s murder immortalised him forever: igniting a nationwide call to action from the LGBT community to demand equality, free from prejudice.
At the last Gay Freedom Day rally he attended before his death, Milk proposed that gay people across America gather in the US capital. On October 14, 1979, the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights had 100,000 people in attendance.
As Faderman notes, support for the LGBT movement grew in numbers over time: the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987 drew 600,000 people; while the third in 1993 attracted close to a million. As of 2016, 43 states across the US have elected at least one LGBT person to their state legislature. And this historic progressive change spread further afield.
Indeed, it’s possible to draw a line from Milk’s death, to Ireland’s progressive move in 2015 to enshrine marriage equality into law for same sex couples; and the subsequent appointment, two years later, of the country’s first openly gay Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.
A hopeful, moving, and uplifting read, Faderman’s book tells the story of a man that didn’t fit the typical criteria for a progressive political martyr. Primarily because Milk lacked consistency in his political allegiances: he could play the liberal-pot smoking hippie, just as he could champion right wing conservatism when it suited him.
Faderman subtly hints that the circumstances of Milk’s personal life meant he never felt entirely comfortable in one firmly-rooted set of political ideals.
Essentially because he was living a double life. Born in 1930, into a conservative Jewish family in Long Island, New York, Milk never came out to either of his parents. Both died knowing nothing of his sexual identity.
As a Jew and homosexual, Milk always saw himself as an outsider who had to fight for social acceptance. He often used analogies of Jews being slaughtered in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust remained a pertinent metaphor in Milk’s speeches and editorials. Drawing lessons from European history, Milk claimed that calling any minority group pariahs, criminals, and demons would naturally only end in catastrophe.
Milk lived much of his life in a peripatetic manner: oscillating between New York, Dallas, and California. He took jobs in teaching, acting, on Wall Street and in the navy too, where he briefly served in Korea. But it was in the Castro area of San Francisco where Milk finally laid down roots and began to interact with a burgeoning gay community.
Then in his forties, Milk, along with his partner Scott Smith, opened Castro Camera: a gay camera photo development shop, which also served as a political constituency office, as well as a popular neighbourhood gay hangout spot too.
Faderman continually stresses that Milk was often shunned by certain sections of the gay community in his own lifetime.
Since the Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1969, a large proportion of the gay community across America had become synonymous with radical politics: seeking to overthrow existing social institutions.
Milk, however, was no committed leftist. He simply sought for gay people to be accepted into mainstream society as it presently stood.
Faderman points out that even martyrs have their flaws too: shortly before his death, the US Attorney General authorised that the FBI look into allegations that Milk had tried to divert funds from the Pride Foundation into his own pocket. We also read how Milk’s love life was mired in anguish, abandonment, heartache, and tragedy. One of his long-time partners, Jack Lira, hanged himself in 1977, leaving Milk a rather nasty suicide note.
Faderman’s narrative mixes the personal and the political with great skill; subtly displaying how at a fundamental level, fighting for collective political rights is really just a human yearning for personal happiness, which usually has its roots in compassion. The book is an exemplary testament to how ordinary citizens – with hope in their hearts and relentless ambition – can swing the pendulum of history towards progress and freedom.
Harvey Milk and Republican state Sen. John Briggs of Orange County met in September 1978 for a debate at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek over the Briggs Initiative, a proposition that would have made it mandatory for school boards to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers. The photos were recently found in The San Francisco Chronicle archive by pop culture critic Peter Hartlaub and published for the first time in decades. 📷: John Storey