THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK (PART TWO) – DAVID E WATTERS #HarveyMilkDay


PART TWO: I’M HERE TO RECRUIT YOU

HARVEY

1972: SAN FRANCISCO

For many, the San Francisco of 1972 was a uniquely unconventional and warmly welcoming city.  It was unlike any other city; a place of vibrancy and diversity, a haven for the disenfranchised and displaced, just as it had been for the Beatniks and hepcats of the 1940s and 50s respectively, and the numerous dishonourably discharged gay veterans from World War Two and Korea.

Many came, from across America and far beyond, bringing wildly alternative ideas and, in search of liberation, many found validation and a sense of inspiration in the innovative protest culture at this time; having escaped, they could never return to the bigoted, judgemental small towns from which they had come.

SCOTT SMITH

In this year, Harvey Milk and Scott Smith, who was to become Harvey’s long-term lover, settled in San Francisco and, like so many before them and since, they found the city to be a refuge from what Gore Vidal famously called “the entire heterosexual dictatorship of America”.

San Francisco was ripe for change but with resistance to the already sizable gay community from the Catholic Church and the, predominantly Irish, San Francisco Police Department, there would be many battles before the hope of real progress towards social equality could be attained.

The SFPD were known to use entrapment techniques and to target the gay community with the full backing of Democratic mayor, Joseph Alioto; homosexuals, at this time, could legally be evicted from rented accommodation and those convicted under the sodomy laws were registered as sex offenders for life. It wasn’t until 1974 that future mayor, George Moscone, significantly helped to overthrow California’s anachronistic sodomy laws.

CASTRO CAMERA

As 1972 drew to an end, and with their income tax refunds almost gone, Harvey and Scott needed to come up with a plan of action. They needed somewhere affordable to live and they needed to start making some money so, in his typical style, Harvey utilised his lateral thinking skills and came up with a solution; having moved to an apartment over on Castro Street, Harvey announced that  they were going to open a camera shop.

Harvey had long been a keen amateur photographer; he had purchased a 35mm Nikon rangefinder whist in the Navy and was somewhat of a documentarian.

His passion for observing and recording his world intensified in line with his deep desire and love for Scott,   who often endured Harvey’s fussing when, at times, he would be directed to pose as Harvey captured every aspect of their lives together. These intimate portraits tell a truth beyond words; that desire, domesticity, intimacy and love make no gender distinction.

Harvey, who had lost faith in the local pharmacy after they destroyed an entire roll of his film, knew that he could do a better job so, on March 3, 1973, Castro Camera, 575 Castro Street, opened for business.

His first signs of political involvement came in response to an extortionate tax assessment on his business, which he disputed and won; Milk was convinced that local businesses were being treated unfairly in relation to the big multi-nationals with whom Mayor Alioto had cultivated links.

Harvey also soon encountered organisations which, in his past he may have shunned, such as The Society for Individual Rights (a local arm of the LA based Mattachine Society; the first openly gay political organisation in the US) and the Daughters of Bilitis.

A NEW & VITAL COMMUNITY

With a steady flow of incomers, a new and vital gay community was taking up residence around the Castro; known then as Eureka Valley.

A conservative estimate at the time was that the gay community comprised 20% of the voting population and this is something which didn’t go unnoticed by the new breed of forward thinking politicians including future mayors Diane Feinstein and Willie Brown. Milk himself saw, with such a strong gay vote, that there was potential for real political progress and he began his political career.

At first, the longhaired Harvey was not taken seriously, even by the gay political establishment; he looked wrong and although his campaigns were enthusiastic they were poorly organised from the chaotic back room of his Castro Camera store.

It took some time for Harvey to find his feet in the political arena, in all he would run three times before being elected supervisor, but with each campaign he learned new lessons and developed his skills.

In his 1973 concession speech, Harvey demonstrated great dignity, determination and tenacity, “I have tasted freedom. I will not give up that which I have tasted. I have a lot more to drink. For that reason, the political numbers game will be played. I know the rules of their game now and how to play it.”

Harvey was determined to succeed and was indeed willing to play the political game; a haircut, a shave, a rejection of bathhouses and pot and an old but respectable suit were the first steps toward an outwardly respectable and more serious proposition as candidate for political office.

COMMON CAUSES & CONNECTING COMMUNITIES

Beyond his physical transformation, it was Harvey’s ability to connect with other marginalised communities which transformed his fortunes.

He was acutely aware that there were common causes which connected these diverse communities and that together they would no longer be an ineffective minority but instead a powerful voice to affect change in San Francisco.

It was his unapologetic, straight talking and spirited approach which won over both the black and Chinese community leaders, the small business owners and the union leaders.

Union boss George Evankovich, persuading colleagues to support Harvey Milk for supervisor in 1975, as quoted in Randy Shilts’ book The Mayor of Castro Street told them, “I know the guy’s a fruit, but he shoots straight with us. Let’s support him.”

When the Coors family, who were notoriously rightwing, reneged on signing a contract with the truckers’ union it was Harvey who convinced the gay bars to stop selling Coors beer. The Coors coup won him unlikely allies in the Teamster Union who learned from Harvey that their preconceptions and prejudices were based on a limited notion of the gay community and agreed to hire more gay drivers; Harvey told Allan Baird, Teamsters Union representative and director of the Coors Beer boycott in California, “You’ve got to promise me one thing. You’ve got to help bring gays into the Teamsters Union. We buy a lot of beer that the union delivers. It’s only fair that we get a share of the jobs.”

SAVE OUR CHILDREN

Another significant factor in Milk’s election was a provocatively named campaign, Save Our Children, funded by the religious right and fervently promoted by born-again Christian singer, Anita Bryant, which aimed to repeal a Dade County, Florida (now Miami-Dade County) ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

During the campaign, Anita Bryant was reported to have said, “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children” and “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.”

Not satisfied with just Florida, Bryant made clear her intention to take her crusade nationwide, “All America and all the world will hear what the people have said, and with God’s continued help we will prevail in our fight to repeal similar laws throughout the nation.”

On the night that the ordinance was repealed, Harvey Milk led 3,000 gay and lesbian demonstrators through San Francisco. Emotions were high but the community were galvanised; “This is the power of the gay community,” he said to the crowd. “Anita’s gonna create a national gay force.”

All that Harvey had worked towards might still have led to a third defeat had it not been for reforms in the city charter which ensured that candidates who ran for the Board of Supervisors, in the city elections of 1977, were required to run from their own neighbourhoods rather than on a citywide basis.

Harvey’s victory as the first openly gay non-incumbent man in the United States to win an election for public office was mirrored by other firsts for the city; sworn in with Milk were also a single mother (Carol Ruth Silver), a Chinese American (Gordon Lau), and an African American woman (Ella Hill Hutch) alongside the more conventional political type, former police officer and fire-fighter and a first time supervisor, Dan White.

Harvey was fully aware of the debt owed to his many supporters and after winning his seat on the Board of Supervisors said, “It’s not my victory, it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.”

JACK LIRA

In the run up to his election as supervisor, Harvey was no longer in a relationship with Scott Smith and was instead involved with Jack Lira.

The pair had moved into an apartment on Henry Street, following a rent increase on the Castro Camera store and the apartment above, and Lira was by Harvey’s side as he led the procession from Castro Street to City Hall on the day of his swearing-in ceremony.

There is no doubt Harvey cared for Jack; in a love note to him in 1977, Harvey wrote, “Last night as I carried you to my bed I saw the day over and over – I needed no camera yesterday to capture glorious pictures – they are forever burnt into my heart,” but the alcoholic Lira was becoming an embarrassment and a liability. Harvey had come a long way and knew that he had to break off the relationship with Jack.

Tragically, a few weeks later, Harvey returned home to find that Lira, unable to cope, had hung himself on the back porch of their Henry Street apartment.

In office, however, Harvey thrived and demonstrated that he truly was a born politician who could demystify seemingly complex issues, put them into clear and simple terms and persuasively argue his point.

PROPOSITION 6: THE BRIGGS INITIATIVE

Spurred on by the success of Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children crusade, the ambitious conservative Californian politician, John Briggs, launched an attack of his own upon the gay community.

The initiative, Proposition 6 but commonly known as the Briggs Initiative, demonstrated outright and unashamed homophobia, calling for the mandatory firing of all gay teachers and those who supported them.

Yet again, the gay community were to be scapegoats for the religious right; labelled as predatory and pederasts who preyed upon children to “recruit” them to the gay lifestyle.

Harvey knew that although society may have moved forwards to some extent, in California at least, support for such an unconstitutional law may still exist; after all, the effects of the Dade County ruling still rippled across the nation.

He was not alone in his concerns, so with a coalition of activists which included Gwen Craig, Bill Krause, Tom Ammiano and Hank Wilson he took direct action; they went door to door, in what was the No on 6 Campaign, talking to their communities. They encouraged lesbians and gay men to come out and be visible, using the slogan, “Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!”

This handed responsibility to each individual to take action, to educate and to enlighten those closest to them who saw homosexuality as a part of other families but not of their own.

In his “That’s What America Is” speech,
given on Gay Freedom Day, June 25, 1978 in San Francisco, at San Francisco Civic Center, Harvey told a crowd of 375,000 people: “…Gay brothers and sisters,..You must come out. Come out…to your parents…I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives…come out to your friends…if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors…to your fellow workers…to the people who work where you eat and shop…come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”

Using his position as a platform to seek greater publicity to affect public support, Harvey made the most of any opportunity to utilise the power of the media, and in more than one interview tactically stated with humour and bluntness, “If it were true that children imitated their teachers, you’d sure have a hell of a lot more nuns running around!”

Thanks to Harvey’s media savvy and straight talking and to the courage, eloquence and persuasiveness of his associates, many major politicians including President Carter, former President Gerald Ford and future President Ronald Reagan disassociated themselves from the Briggs plan.

Reagan’s stance, at this time, is both remarkable and admirable since he was preparing to run for President and, regardless of the need to garner the support of conservatives and moderates, he stood by his convictions; in a statement he said, “Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. 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.”

Polls initially showed support for the initiative and in fact lead by a sizable margin, but on November 7, 1978, the initiative suffered a landslide defeat; with some direct action and public education this blatant appeal to unconcealed homophobia ran, not just out of steam but off the tracks.

DAN WHITE

Supervisor Dan White never seemed to fully adjust to his political role and, unlike Harvey, the challenges and responsibilities were not easy to assimilate; he floundered where Harvey thrived. Initially, White demonstrated support for his colleagues at City Hall and sympathetically backed Harvey’s desire to defeat the Briggs Initiative.

Conflict arose, however, when Harvey refused to support Dan White’s opposition to a mental health facility in White’s neighbourhood. In response, White made it clear that he would never back Milk again; a promise illustrated when he chose to vote against the gay civil rights law, the only supervisor to do so.

Prior to his foray into politics, White had been employed as both a police officer and a fire-fighter and although he had voted against a pay increase for supervisors, he found it difficult to support his family on his meagre salary; White resigned, giving this as his reason.

NOVEMBER 27, 1978                        

Supporters encouraged White to reconsider, promising financial support, but there were others who lobbied the Mayor to dismiss thoughts of reappointment; notably Carol Ruth Silver, Willie Brown and Harvey Milk.

White was angry that the Mayor had refused to re-appoint him to his seat on the Board of Supervisors and he knew that Milk had lobbied against his reappointment.

On the day that Mayor Moscone was set to formally appoint White’s successor, Don Horanzy, Dan White packed his loaded service revolver and ten extra rounds of ammunition into his jacket pocket.

He then had a friend drive him to City Hall where, avoiding the metal detectors, White climbed in through an open first floor window.

He headed firstly to the mayor’s office, where George Moscone was meeting with Willie Brown. Brown left and the mayor met with White in the outer office but, when he refused to reconsider the decision to re-appoint White, the conversation became heated.

To avoid a scene, Moscone led White to the private lounge attached to his office. He had lit a cigarette and was pouring them both a drink when White produced his revolver, fired two shots to the Mayor’s shoulder and chest, then two more shots, at close range into his head.

As he left the Mayor’s office, Diane Feinstein, unaware of what had just occurred, called out to him.

“I have something to do first”, White responded, then headed in the direction of his former office. Just outside, he ran into Harvey who agreed to join him in his office; perhaps in the hope of offering an explanation, perhaps to state his perspective on why he felt White should not be reinstated, no-one can know.

Tactically positioned between Harvey and the doorway, Dan White pulled out his gun and fired. It would appear that Harvey had reacted quickly as it was his right wrist that White first shot, his arm raised, one may imagine, protecting himself.

The next shots were fired rapidly with two to Harvey’s chest and the fourth to Harvey’s head. Not satisfied or fully avenged, White then, at close range, fired one fifth and final bullet into Harvey’s skull.

As he fled, Diane Feinstein approached and entered the office where Harvey’s lifeless body lay.

Checking for a pulse, Feinstein reached for Harvey’s wrist; one can only imagine her horror.

Courageously, Diane Feinstein, looking tearful and visibly shaken from the trauma, announced to an incredulous public that, “As President of the Board of Supervisors, it’s my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed. The suspect is Supervisor Dan White.”

Dan White fled unchallenged from City Hall, eventually handing himself in to his former precinct and to former colleague, Frank Falzon.

In his recorded confession, the broken and defeated former police officer sobbed his admission to the murders but denied that his actions were premeditated.

That night, one of the most emotive and inspiring acts of mass mourning, an impromptu candlelight march, starting in the Castro and leading to the steps of City Hall, took place. There were tens of thousands, who chose to mark their respect for George Moscone and Harvey Milk, with dignity and in solidarity.

American folk singer and activist, Joan Baez, sang the entirely appropriate, “Amazing Grace” and, fittingly, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, though many were undoubtedly distressed, performed a solemn hymn by Mendelssohn.

In a statement after the City Hall killings, President Carter described Harvey as, “A hardworking and dedicated supervisor, a leader of San Francisco’s gay community, who kept his promise to represent all constituencies.”

Honoured by the city, Milk and Moscone both lay in state at City Hall.

Moscone was buried at Holy Cross cemetery in Colma, following his funeral at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Milk was cremated and his ashes, wrapped in a Doonesbury and Peanuts comic-strips and with R.I.P spelled out in rhinestones, were scattered at sea by his closest friends; Scott Smith, Galen McKinley, Joe Campbell, Billy Wiegardt and Daniel Nicoletta.

White was convicted, not of first degree murder but of voluntary manslaughter, and was given a sentence of seven years. The verdict and lenient sentence were insulting and provoked anger throughout the shocked and bewildered city.

THE WHITE NIGHT RIOTS

That night, May 21, 1979, the eve of what would have been Harvey’s 49th birthday, the day of sentencing for his murderer, Dan White, a second impromptu vigil began.

As the crowds gathers outside City Hall, news came through of White’s sentence.

The outraged crowd cracked and the now famous “White Night Riots”, began; with much of the anger aimed at the San Francisco Police Department.

Police cars were set on fire, windows at City Hall and nearby buildings were shattered in outrage by the incensed, incredulous crowd; they had been failed by the legal system and this further evidenced a disregard for the gay community and their supporters.

In retaliation to the riots, armed police raided the popular Gay bar, Elephant Walk (later renamed Harvey’s) on the corner of Castro and 18th, destroying the interior and viciously beating its patrons. In what mirrored the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the clientele fought back with many others, who arrived en masse to say, enough is enough.

 

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NEVER BLEND IN – DAVID E WATTERS

About the book

NEVER BLEND IN, by National Diversity Award Winner David E Watters, is an accessible and powerful toolkit for living unlimited; candid stories and wise words which encourage, inspire, uplift and give hope to those who need it most, those who may feel disenfranchised or who may lack self-belief. 

This ground-breaking, vital book of exclusive celebrity and deeply personal non-celebrity testimonies is aimed primarily at a young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning audience, but it is also of great value to educators, parents, family and mental health professionals seeking insight into the LGBTQ experience.

Role models from education, entertainment, law enforcement, medical and emergency services, politics, religion and sports have participated in this much needed discourse to illuminate the reader’s journey of self-discovery and to illustrate that living a life unlimited by labels will lead to personal, professional and spiritual fulfilment.

NEVER BLEND IN includes original and insightful interviews with actors Alan Cumming OBE (Cabaret, Spy Kids, The Good Wife), Stephen Fry (Peter’s Friends, Wilde)Anthony Rapp (Rent), Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse, The Princess DiariesThe Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, The Devil’s Advocate, Scream 3, Sorority Boys, Saved! and Hostel: Part 2), Colton Ford (The Lair), Marcus Patrick (My Wife & KidsCSI: MiamiPassions and Dancing With The Stars), Scotch Ellis Loring (Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle, 24, Alias, Touched by An Angel) and Adele Anderson (Fascinating Aida); key equality advocates, educators and influencers of policy Sue Sanders (Schools Out), Charles Robbins (CEO, The Trevor Project), Stephen Williams MP, Jack MacKenroth (Project RunwayQueens of Drag: NYC), Rabbi Denise EgerLt. Dan Choi and veteran human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell; filmmaker Parvez Sharma (A Jihad for Love); musicians Darren Hayes (Savage Garden) and Levi Kreis (Tony Award winner for “Best Featured Actor in a Musical” for his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet) ; sporting greats, NBA star, John Amaechi (author of Man in the Middle) and Olympic swimmer Bruce Hayes; transgender trailblazers Calpernia Addams, the Rev David E. Weekley (author of In from the Wilderness) and Jamison Green (author of Becoming a Visible Man); Mental Health professionals, Gladeana McMahonAntoine Spiteri and Dr. John Shafer; writers Tom Robb Smith (Child 44, The Secret Speech), Leslea Newman (A Letter to Harvey Milk), Linda Goldman (Coming Out, Coming In), Michael Musto (The Village Voice);  Del Shores (Sordid Lives); representatives from organizations including The Trevor ProjectThe Harvey Milk Foundation, PFLAGFireFLAGThe Gay Police Association and Schools Out and colleagues of Harvey Milk; Anne KronenbergDaniel Nicoletta and Tom Ammiano.

These engaging stories of living authentically, with dignity and unlimited by labels will help readers to understand how self-belief determines the path that they choose and that life need not be a self-fulfilling prophecy when they improve self-concept, drive out fear and embrace new challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, eliminate self-imposed limitations and cease dependence on others to provide validity.

The various voices in this book candidly and sincerely share their wisdom and belief that we can be an important part of society without blending in; that we can live with 100% authenticity, unlimited by labels; that we shouldn’t be expected to compromise our identity to find acceptance and everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, has a right to fully live.

There is practical advice and guidance from the LGBT community on how life need not be a self-fulfilling prophecy and that by recognizing that our “truth” has been shaped through our relationships, our environment and our experiences, we can begin to change our perceptions, heighten our self-esteem and move toward our personal and professional goals with clear vision and purpose….

 

About the Author

National Diversity Award Winner, David E. Watters, is a teacher, motivational speaker and writer; a passionate equality advocate, committed to enhancing the lives of young people and adults who may feel marginalised or limited by labels.

As a teacher, he is committed to developing the whole person through creatively challenging students to embrace their unique value, and that of others, to encourage them to fulfill their full potential. He is nominated for an Excellence in Diversity Award 2015, for his contribution to enhancing the diversity agenda within education.

Since graduating from The Institute of Education, University of London, David has gone on to train as a mediator, and is a qualified facilitator for The Pacific Institute. 

As Director of NBI Associates, David devises and delivers engaging, enjoyable and interactive Diversity and Cultural Enhancement workshops utilizing Cognitive Behavioural and Performing Arts strategies for individual, corporate and academic clients.

Watters is also the founder and coordinator of the inclusive, inspirational and international Give ‘em Hope Campaign; an online initiative which utilises all available social networks to encourage and uplift those who doubt their validity, feel isolated or limited by labels, through the sharing of written and video testimonies. The campaign was honoured at the National Diversity Awards 2014 when it won the Community Organisation Award (Multi-Strand).

Watters was a key player in the Equal Love Campaign UK; taking the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 and successfully achieving Marriage Equality for same-sex couples in the United Kingdom.

His passion and expertise has brought many opportunities to write and speak on social change and his book, NEVER BLEND IN, brings together this wealth of experience and the voices of those whom he has met along the way.

TOMORROW – PART THREE: HOPE WILL NEVER BE SILENT

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About neverblendin

David Watters, a graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh, Trinity College of Music, London and the Institute of Education, University of London, has worked internationally within education and Educational Management for more than 20 years. He has taught extensively within many socially and culturally diverse settings; most recently as a Head of Performing Arts within Further Education. He is a personal and professional development associate with The Pacific Institute (www.pacificinstitute.co.uk), personal coach, freelance writer and founding member of NBI Associates. He is a writer on social equality issues, is a key player in the Equal Love Campaign UK and author of the forthcoming book, NEVER BLEND IN which features key voices from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and which aims to inspire and encourage those who may lack self-esteem or who question their validity. David is currently promoting a youtube campaign"Give 'em Hope"and is asking individuals, couples and groups to make and share videos telling about the benefits of living with personal authenticity. He has shared a platform with Stuart Milk and Peter Tatchell and is a supporter of 17-24-30, The Trevor Project, Schools Out, The Terrence Higgins Trust, The Albert Kennedy Trust and numerous others. His background in arts and education, combined with a solid understanding of Cognitive Behavioural Strategies, and his passion for Equality Advocacy drive every aspect of his work as a personal development facilitator, motivational speaker and writer. View all posts by neverblendin

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