Monday, April 17, 2006

"Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time."

Heros and Icons: Harvey Milk

But banking bored him, and the gay Greenwich Village milieu that he slipped into was full of scruffy radicals, drug-addled theater queens and goofy twentysomethings fleeing Midwest bigotry. Milk befriended or had sex with many of them (including Craig Rodwell, who would help lead the 1969 riots outside the Stonewall bar that launched the gay movement). By the early 1970s, Milk had moved to San Francisco, enraptured by its flourishing hippie sensibilities.

The few gays who had scratched their way into the city's establishment blanched when Milk announced his first run for supervisor in 1973, but Milk had a powerful idea: he would reach downward, not upward, for support. He convinced the growing gay masses of "Sodom by the Sea" that they could have a role in city leadership, and they turned out to form "human billboards" for him along major thoroughfares. In doing so, they outed themselves in a way once unthinkable. It was invigorating.

(From Woodmere N.Y. to San Francisco CA. Harvey Milk and Market Street in the mid-70s. Image from

A long, long time ago, let's say 1976, in a place very far away (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), a convent of Roman Catholic nuns lent some retired habits to a group of men performing their version of The Sound of Music. Three years later, those habits resurfaced in the streets of San Francisco's Castro district...
(From Sistory: A Blow by Blow History of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence)

Despite the characters' rueful and frequently baffled quest for romantic fulfillment, there's a giddiness in the very fabric of the Tales; it's the rush of liberation, an elixir familiar to any misfit who ever relocated to San Francisco, including Maupin. The author, who remembers himself as an "uptight, archconservative, racist brat" during his Southern youth (he even worked briefly for Senator Jesse Helms), came to San Francisco at the age of twenty-seven and came out of the closet shortly thereafter. His work as a journalist made him privy to all manner of gossip about society high and low, and his participation in the emergence of a new kind of society-a sort of republic of pleasure-fed his desire to write.

Literary site for Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City

SF Pride Parade: Official Site and 2006 Registration Entry Form

While his first three tries for office failed, they lent Milk the credibility and positive media focus that probably no openly gay person ever had. Not everyone cheered, of course, and death threats multiplied. Milk spoke often of his ineluctable assassination, even recording a will naming acceptable successors to his seat and containing the famous line: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

Candlelight March for Harvey Milk, Market Street, November 27, 1978

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