Gary Miller's Memoir
I was born in March 1949, in the hospital in the Hillcrest section of San Diego, the gay section of the city. An omen?
My mother’s husband deserted his wife, my brother and me. My mother went without food in order to make sure I was fed.
High School Journalist
Within a couple of years, my mother, my brother and I moved back to mom’s home town of Kansas City, Missouri. I attended Westport High, and served as the editor of high school newspaper. I wrote about school bonds and funding for our education, my first experience with public school issues.
High School Politico
I spoke to the student body on behalf of Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964, during a mock election they were having at his school. I was not even registered to vote yet. The major issue for me was civil rights. Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights of 1964. Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation. Barry Goldwater was the most conservative candidate ever imagined in 1964. Today he would be considered too liberal for the Republican Party. Before leaving my hometown of Kansas City, Mo, and on my twenty-first birthday, I registered as a Democrat.
Something was happening during these years, but I didn’t know what. I loved looking at naked men. Yet this was the mid-'60s and I had no one to talk to about what I was feeling and why.
I was pretty much a loner in high school. Classmates called me “queer” and “faggot.” I had no clue to what those words meant, except that they weren’t good.
One time a student said if there was a naked lady on my couch, I wouldn’t know what to do. I said nothing, but thought “is there something I am supposed to do?”
I had a girlfriend in school. We spent much time together going to movies, studying and talking. We had convinced students and staff we had gotten secretly married. It was mostly a practical joke, but most, if not all, took it seriously. The anti-gay harassment toned down some.
I had no one to talk to about my feelings until I met a Baptist minister, who told me he had gay people in his church. I met with him several times and he convinced me I was not gay. This was the summer before going off to college.
I attended Central Methodist College (now University) in Fayette, Missouri. (Later in life I would receive my Associate Degree from Sacramento City College.) While at Central, I joined several of clubs on campus, including a religious club. The purpose of this club was to discuss social issues of the day such as black civil rights, support for farm workers.
Rev. Vann Anderson
I grew up in the Methodist Church and knew several of the Methodist ministers from my hometown of Kansas City, Mo. Rev. Vann Anderson, a Methodist minister, came to our religious group one time and talked about gay people. He said they were our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, ditch diggers, doctors, and, yes, even ministers. He said he was the chaplain of a gay rights organization, Phoenix Society, in my hometown of Kansas City Mo. The light bulb in my head came on. “Oh,” I said to myself, “now I know what my feelings are all about! Wow, there are other people just like me.”
As soon as I had an opportunity I visited the Phoenix House and met gay people. One person I met was Ron Bentley. It wasn’t love at first sight, but that would come later, the more I got to know him. Since I was away at college, we wrote letters to keep each other informed about what was happening in each other lives.
Ron was the editor of Phoenix magazine (a publication of the Phoenix Society), and lived in an apartment above the Phoenix House, all while serving in the Air Force. I guess the military didn’t know their recruit was gay because Ron used a fake name at Phoenix. It was quite common for gay activists in those days to use fake names. Ron’s fake name was Chris Gordon.
When I was not at school I spent much of my time working at the Phoenix House. This was in 1968---before Stonewall. I wrote articles for Phoenix magazine, participated in panel discussions about homosexuality with groups such as the Methodist seminary students.
At the same time, I published my own gay newssheet called the Gay Liberator.
On my twentyfirst birthday, I went down to register to vote as a Democrat. My first election had to do with school bonds.
These were the years when young men had to register for the draft. The teachings of Jesus, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi told me killing was wrong and evil begets evil. I applied for a Conscientious Objector status.
The draft board refused my request and I was then forced to take a physical. I wore peace symbols on my jockey brief butt cheeks. I answered all their questions truthfully, including “Have you ever had a homosexual experience.” I said “yes.” They finally gave me a 4F classification.
Ron was able to get an honorable discharge from the Air Force and we moved to San Francisco, gay Mecca. We wanted to be able to use our own names and continue to work for gay rights.
We were young and naïve. We came to San Francisco with no place to live and no job prospects. We thought all we had to do was tell people we were gay and we would get jobs. We were elected to the board of the directors of what was then the largest gay rights organization in the country, the Society for Individual Rights.
I applied at the phone company. During the interview, the official asked what my draft classification was. I said 4F. She asked why. I said, “Because the military does not accept gay people.” She said, “Neither do we.” I knew there were no protections for gay people, so I just moved on.
When we arrived in San Francisco, we both got involved in the Democratic Party activities. Then, after arriving in Sacramento, I served as the Chair of the Sacramento Democratic Party.
The Toklas Club
In 1972 we were founding members of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club. Our friends, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, were not able to attend the first meeting and we knew they wanted to join. We paid their dues for them, which was only $2 a year. The first resolution passed by the club was in support of legalization of marijuana.
In 1972, I became the first gay man to run for the San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee. Seven or eight Democrats were to be elected. I came in 11th out of a total of 33 candidates. In 1975 I became president of the Toklas Club. This was the year George Moscone, Dianne Feinstein and Milton Marks were all running for mayor. Later, the first presidential candidate I voted for was Shirley Chisholm. I served on her California steering committee.
Even though Ron and I felt we were already married in God’s mind, we had a religious ceremony at the San Francisco Metropolitan Community Church, a church primarily serving the gay community.
I began working for the Friends Committee on Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group. Their major concerns were prison reform, civil rights and good government. After working there for about half a year, they asked me to move to their Sacramento office, where I would be closer to the Capitol.
While working for the Friends Committee I served as the Sacramento Campaign Manager against Prop 6, the Briggs Initiative. The measure would have prohibited gays or their supporters from working in public schools. The measure was defeated. I also served as Chair of the Democratic Party for about ten years. I served as a Clinton delegate to the National Democratic Party Convention 1992.
Phone Company Class Action
A decade or two after being rejected by the phone company, an organization called the Gay Law Students decided to file a class action lawsuit against the phone company. I was able to get back wages lost due to discrimination.
I organized employees where I worked and then later served as President of Local 146, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for about ten years representing about 1500 union members in about ten different jurisdictions.
Sacramento City Council
In 1981, I decided to run for the Sacramento City Council. As I recall there were seven or eight candidates for one seat and I came in 3rd.
The following year, there was a vacancy on the city council and the council itself would appoint the person to fill that vacancy. I applied. I needed five votes and only got 3.
The night the council was to vote, the City Attorney told me that if I were appointed I would have to resign from my job as it would be a conflict of interest. I turned to Ron and suggested I pull out. I would have to give up a good salary for the salary of the city council which only paid a small stipend. Ron encouraged me to go forward saying, “If you get chosen, we will figure out the financial part. This is so important.” Ron was always supportive of my political activities as I was proud of his union activities.
A Gay Democratic Club
In Sacramento I was the founder of the River City Democratic Club -- a gay Democratic club! They picked the name probably because Sacramento has two rivers.Though the Club no longer exists, it created a precedent for the later formation of the Stonewall Democratic Club.
In 1985 I was reading my ballot handbook, I noticed several people running for the local school board. I had received no campaign literature. None had a ballot statement. I spoke to a friend of mine in a neighboring school district to get his suggestions as to who to vote for. After he gave me his recommendations, I informed him of the lack of campaigning for this office. I said, “I could run a better campaign than these people.” My friend’s response was, “Then why don’t you?”
“Do we really want a homosexual?”
For two years, I attended board meetings and studied school issues. In 1987 there were two seats up for election on the Robla School Board in North Sacramento and both incumbents were running for re-election. I knew it was going to be difficult to beat an incumbent. I did expect to get my name out there and try again in 1989.
One of the board members went door to door saying “Do we really want a homosexual on the school board?” To everyone’s surprise (including mine) I won. I beat both incumbents. I became the first gay person to win an elective office in Sacramento County, California. In 1992, I decided to run for re-election. In response, the religious right decided to hand out flyers door to door reminding voters that I was gay. I won re-election.
“Get the Fag Off the School Board”
In 1996, I decided to run for re-election again. One of my opponents said the only reason he was running was to “get the fag off the school board.” I came in first and he came in last. In 1997, the other board members elected me to serve as president. In 2000, I decided to run for re-election again. By this time the anti-gay crowd had given up and I won re-election. The same in 2004.
While I was a school board member Daryl Hinshaw wrote the following on my Facebook page:
I met Gary in 1977 during a World Conference of Friends Churches held at the small Quaker university I attended. I was mortified that I might be discovered with the 'gay group' and they moved their meetings off site so I could participate. I stayed with Gary and his first partner for a weekend a year later. Over the course of those two encounters, Gary was able to convince a very scared gay kid that I could overcome the difficulties I had accepting my sexuality and that I had the ability to chart my own way in life regardless of my sexual orientation. Gary gave me hope for the future which is a large part of the reason I'm still here today. I sincerely hope that the parents and students in that district realize how lucky they were to have him on the board!
I wrote a chapter titled “One Step Ahead” in a book published by the Victory Fund called Out for Office: Campaigning in the Gay 90’s. I also helped with the publication of a book to assist school boards dealing with AIDS, published by the California School Boards Association.
To the White House
I met with other gay elected officials at the White House in 1998.
The Worst Experience of My Life
I don’t remember when Ron acquired HIV, or when the doctor diagnosed AIDS. It was a slow gradual decline, the worst experience of my life, to see the man I loved, the man I spent 26 years with, dying in front of me.
When we first got together, we realized we had no protection should one of us die. We went to an attorney to have wills made, which we did. Then the attorney suggested one of us adopt the other. We thought that was kind of silly, but we did it, and forgot all about it until Ron became ill.
When Ron became ill I wanted to take sick leave from work. The agency I worked for, the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency, said “no” since Ron was not a relative. Then we remembered that we were "father" and "son." I took the adoption papers in to work, and was able to get sick leave. Ron died in 1994, at the age of 54. When Ron was ill I was thankful for the number of people who came to help me, Ron, and his family during this difficult time, the local Quaker group among them.
I served as Grand Marshall for the Gay Rights Parade in Sacramento. I received a “Freedom from Fear” award from the Stonewall Democratic Club in Sacramento. I spoke to numerous groups on gay rights issues, including the Yolo County employees.
Since Rush Limbaugh started out in Sacramento before he went national I decided one day to check on Limbaugh’s early voter status. I found out he wasn’t registered to vote, in spite of his many, strongly felt political views. This was reported in the Sacramento Bee and again in a book about Limbaugh by Michael Arkush.
I was single for about eight years. Then I met Mike Gollbach. He taught special ed in a different school district. He lived in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento. We fell in love. Then we dealt with the practical, down-to-earth issues: Does he move in with me? Do I move in with him? I decided to resign my position on the Robla School Board and move to Roseville to spend my life with Mike.
In 2008, I decided to run for the Roseville (CA) City School Board. Roseville is in Placer County, one of the most conservative counties in the state of California. People advised against it. They said: “You can’t win in Roseville unless you’ve been here for several generations, not several years.” But I won, beating one incumbent, and became the first gay elected official in Placer County. During my first term, I was elected president by the other board members. In 2012, I ran for re-election and won again.
The picture shows our witness, John Dixon, from Davis, on the left. Former member of the state Assembly, Mariko Yamada, is on the right. This was the legal ceremony which took place in July 2008. A few months later voters decided to deny gay people the right to get married. Later, courts ruled that prohibiting gays from getting married was unconstitutional.
I left the Methodist Church and became a Quaker before leaving Kansas City Missouri.There are two main branches of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers’ official name). One branch is still struggling on the gay issue. It’s very Christocentric and they say they believe the Bible is THE word of God. The branch I belong to is universalist and accepting of all.
My group has no paid clergy, and for worship, we sit in silence waiting for God’s word, which can come from a vocal ministry of someone in the congregation, or perhaps that still, small voice within.
Quakers have no ministers in the traditional sense. Each year someone is chosen to lead the congregation. I was chosen and have served as head of my local Quaker group for three years, and began another year in May 2015.
As of March 2015
I have now served on local school boards for over 25 years, longer than any other currently elected gay official in the nation.
I have been actively involved in the Democratic Party for over 50 years.
My first relationship with Ron Bentley lasted twenty-six years, until he passed away in 1994.
My current husband, Mike Gollbach, and I have been together over twelve years.
 The Sacramento Employment and Training Agency changed its policy only after the law required it.