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1970s-1980s: Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence ans Working Together as a Community, Part 2

Daly, Moscone, Dymally

Jo Daly, an early President of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club, who was Mayor Feinstein's appointment to the San Francisco Television Oversight Task Force, and later the San Francisco Police Commission, the first openly gay or lesbian appointment to a City commission in San Francisco.

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. [1] 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!" [2]

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. [3]

 
Boxer and Migden

Barbara Boxer and Carole Migden early in their careers. Photo from Alice Reports Newsletter

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.[4]

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. [5] [6] [7]

District Elections:

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. [8][9] 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). [10][11] 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.[12]

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.[13][14]


Young Tom Ammiano

Advertisement in the Alice Reports newsletter for Tom Ammiano in his first campaign for School Board. Ammiano would later become a San Francisco Supervisor and Assemblyman.

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.[15] 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. [16] 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.[17][18][19][20]

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.[21] 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.[22] 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. [23][24][25][26][27]

Sal Rosselli

Sal Rosselli (center, dark hair mustache), who would later become the President of the National Union of Healthcare Workers

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.[28][29][30]

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:[31][32]

“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.

Young Robert Barnes

A young Robert Barnes getting his start in politics. He would later become one of the most influential political consultants in San Francisco.

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.[33]

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.[34] 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.[35]

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'. [36][37]

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.[38]

  1. San Francisco Women’s Building, The. Obituary, Jo Daly.
  2. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports Newsletter, February, 1980
  3. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1982 Gender divisions discussed [See Documents page]
  4. Johnston, Robert D. Jewish Women’s Archive. Barbara Boxer
  5. Jabloner, Paula and Montoya, Gabriella, Online Archive of California, 1995, Guide to the Lesbian Agenda for Action Records, 1987-1991.
  6. BetterWorldHeroes.com. Roma Guy
  7. Answers.com. Pat Norman
  8. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1980, pg 1 Democratic National Convention - 1st Adoption of "Gay Plank" [See Documents page]
  9. 1980 Democratic National Party Platform Gay platform plank is under "Civil Rights" and states "All groups must be protected from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, language, age, sex or sexual orientation.”
  10. Wikipedia. Bill Kraus
  11. 2009. Gay Russia. Interview: Anne Kronenberg remembers Harvey Milk’s fight for gay rights. August 13.
  12. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1980, pg 2 Democratic National Convention + Carter, Reagan on Gay issues [See Documents page]
  13. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1981, pg 1 Police and Sheriff's Issues discussed [See Documents page]
  14. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1981, pg 2 Sheriff's Issues continued & National Gay Rights Bills Discussed [See Documents page]
  15. John Newmeyer personal website.
  16. Wikipedia. Tom Ammiano
  17. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, April, 1983 Feinstein recall fight & "Demand Cash to Fight AIDS Crisis" [See Documents page]
  18. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, February, 1983 Milk Club debates Feinstein Recall [See Documents page]
  19. 1983. Associated Press. Mayor Feinstein Could Face Recall. January 14.
  20. 1983. Mayor Feinstein is Favored to Withstand Recall Effort. Associated Press.
  21. About.com The History of HIV Protease Inhibitors
  22. Pabich, Dick. San Francisco Chronicle Obituary, January 3, 2000 Harvey Milk Campaign Consultant Dick Pabich dies from AIDS-related complications.
  23. Wikipedia. Phil Burton
  24. White, Allen. 2004. Reagan's AIDS Legacy / Silence equals death. San Francisco Chronicle. June 8.
  25. Wikipedia. ACT UP
  26. Social Design Notes. “Silence Equals Death”
  27. Avert.History and Science of HIV/AIDS
  28. 1984 Democratic National Party Platform "Gay Plank" under “Chapter II, Justice, Dignity, Opportunity – Introduction” “Government has a special responsibility to those whom society has historically prevented from enjoying the benefits of full citizenship for reasons of race, religion, sex, age, national origin and ethnic heritage, sexual orientation, or disability.”
  29. Wikipedia. Walter Mondale
  30. Wikipedia. Michael Dukakis
  31. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, January, 1985 Looking back at 1984 and fight against AIDS [See Documents page]
  32. Wikipedia. Sal Rosselli
  33. Robert Steinbrook; Kevin Roderick; 1986. Medical Experts Assail Initiative on AIDS: Officials Dismiss Claims Made by Supporters of Larouche-backed Prop. 64. Los Angeles Times August 3.
  34. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, April, 1986 Alice confronts KQED over defamatory story on man with AIDS [See Documents page]
  35. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
  36. Wikipedia. Jackie Speier
  37. Wikipedia. Leo Ryan
  38. Wikipedia. Art Agnos