Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk

from the diary: “Thursday 6/26/86

“Just finished The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.”

I remember Harvey Milk. I grew up 50 miles north of San Francisco but our TV stations were SF TV stations so the news tended to be SF news. And Harvey was telegenic. There’s a TV news report that appears in the Oscar-winning The Times of Harvey Milk in which Harvey, an SF supervisor, highlights the need for his pooper-scooper legislation by marching across the Civic Center lawn and stepping in dog poo. He lifts his foot, aghast, as though it all happened spontaneously, the offending poo half-squashed against the sole of his shoe. I saw that report as a kid when it first showed and I totally fell for it. Wow. There must be poop all over the place in San Francisco!

I also remember the Briggs Initiative, the first time one of the religio-right’s coffer-stuffing take-it-to-the-voters ballot attacks on the queers made it into my consciousness. says, “In crafting the initiative, Briggs had used extremely broad language. Any teacher found to be 'advocating, imposing, encouraging or promoting' homosexual activity could be fired. This meant walking in a gay pride parade, assigning a book by a gay author, or attending a meeting about gay rights could cost a teacher his or her job. Casting the issue as a matter of free speech, opponents pointed out that a teacher could be fired simply for opposing the Briggs Initiative itself.” While I wasn't owning up to gay feelings at the time (I wasn't yet 13) I was a confirmed free-speecher and was appalled that one's thoughts, one's mere opinions could get one fired. I remember walking around my paper route fuming about it. Harvey Milk, was the most visible out-gay elected official and he traveled the state fighting the Briggs Initiative, even facing John Briggs in live debates. I probably saw one of those -- ours was the kind of household that tuned in to things like that. I'm pretty sure Mom was solidly against the Briggs Initiative, though I can't recall any particular incidence of voiced opposition. She was a schoolteacher and had to sign a loyalty oath (instituted during the McCarthy era and still required) to work in the California public schools. She wasn’t impressed with that, I know.

The Briggs Initiative was defeated. Three weeks later Harvey Milk was assassinated.

I remember watching the silent candlelight march that took place that night. (The mayor, George Moscone, had also been gunned down by right-wing supervisor Dan White.) I remember the White Nights riots after Dan White was patted on the head by the courts and given a token five year sentence seven year sentence (of which he served five). Police cars were set on fire and their sirens screamed and screamed. The City Hall’s glass doors were bashed in.

The Mayor Castro Street is a good read. I’ll read it again sometime.

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