My Favorite Harvey Milk Story

I just had some customers from Key West; a forty something gay couple. We started talking about sexual politics and how much attitudes have changed in our lifetime. There’s still beaucoup homophobia but now that more people have come out, there are many more pro-gay straights. Straight is a funny term, actually, I don’t define myself by who I lust after but our society is sex obsessed so that’s all she wrote. I dunno who she is but, apparently, she’s literate…

Anyway, I told these customers my favorite Harvey Milk story, one that popped back into my head only recently. I’m not even sure if Dr. A has heard this one. Harvey Milk owned a camera shop on Castro Street for many years. I was dating a woman who lived in the Castro and was a camera geek. (She also lived with two vegan dykes and a tranny who had a rhesus monkey but that’s another story.) She shopped at Harvey’s store because they were so damn nice and helpful to one and all. I didn’t know shit about cameras so Harvey enjoyed teasing me about my ignorance. One day I mock complained and he said: “If you dish it out, and you do, you gotta be able to take it.” Yeah you right, Harvey. Smart ass solidarity forever.

Harvey ran unsuccessfully for office several times before winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. During one of his campaigns, I was at a rally and Harvey launched into one of his campaign (and shop) set pieces about how every gay person in the closet should come out. Harvey, quite correctly, maintained that it would be harder for people to be bigoted if someone they knew and/or loved was openly gay. Harvey was a prophet. At this particular rally when he finished that part of his peoration he pointed at me and said: “That guy is a good example. He’s at this rally and he’s straight and planning to vote for me.”

Even as a youngish man I couldn’t resist a straight line (pun intended) and shouted out: “Planning and voting aren’t the same thing.” Harvey laughed at this mild attempt at humor and blew me a kiss.

Harvey was not only a great man, he was a helluva nice guy. And that’s my Harvey Milk story. Class dismissed.

9 thoughts on “My Favorite Harvey Milk Story

  1. I love this story and I loved Harvey Milk RIP.
    “it would be harder for people to be bigoted if someone they knew and/or loved was openly gay.” I’ve always believed this to be true.

  2. I lived in San Francisco when Harvey was living, and my house was just a few blocks up the hill from his store on Castro Street. He and my wife were pretty good friends, but I just remained in the background, working for his election to the Board of Supervisors. Oddly enough my wife supported another candidate, another personal friend. One of saddest days of my life was when he was murdered – I also knew Dan White, when both of them were on the board of supervisors. I heard about the murder at work, when another San Francisco resident, one of the secretaries, came by to tell me about it. I sat in shock the rest of the day. Then that candle light march down Market Street is something no one who was there could ever forget. The almost total silence, where noise was normally a constant, the quiet respect for Harvey, and Joan Baez leading us singing at Civic Center after the march. I don’t think San Francisco ever recovered from that day.

  3. A- I have to say that you were always guru-cool for me. You’ve officially transcended into the “holy shit, I need an autograph” phase. That story was cool. The fact you knew Harvey was WAY cool.
    (Hoppy, you’re awesome as well.)
    The only thing that’s missing is the story about the tranny and the monkey. For some reason, when I think of the start of a story that goes, “there were two vegan dykes and a tranny with a monkey,” my brain locks. I can’t see anything but a guy who used to bowl with my Dad who didn’t mind corrupting an 8-year-old with bad jokes. I could honestly hear him saying, “OK these two lezbos and a tranny with a monkey walk into this bar, see?” And I can’t help but imagine the asswhipping I would have gotten for going home after that and asking Mom what a Tranny was…
    Anyway. You rule. That’s the point. Moving on… 🙂

  4. I second the thanks for sharing your personal recollections. Also looking forward to the post about the 2 vegan dykes and the tranny with a monkey!

  5. My favorite Harvey Story, was the time we were both attended to a party hosted by former US Olympian Dr.Tom Waddell,who later was a teammate of mine, on the first ever gay Senior Softball team in 1979.. and years later Tom, created the Gay Games. Tom and his lover’s home was a great converted German Church. There were well over 100 people there. I was with a young student, from S.F.State. While I was talking business with some of the other guest… Harvey hit on my date, however, Harry went home with me!
    My 2nd favorite Harvey Story, has earned me a footnote in gay history. I was a freelance photographer, and I used to display my photographs in a Castro Street bakery shop beginning in 1974,(now Marchello’s Pizza) just yards away from today’s Harvey Milk Plaza.I heard a new camera shop opened, and started to take my film there to be developed. Within a short while, Harvey’s shop became like a small town’s General Store,without the potbelly stove. People came in to pet Harvey’s dog, talk politics, or comment on the never ending supply of good looking young men, as they paraded by Harvey’s store front window. Harvey and I became friends.
    In 1977, Anita Bryant was getting media attention with her anti-gay movement. In May, I created the ANITA BRYANT”S HUSBAND IS A HOMO SAPIEN! T-shirt, and outed myself nationally via a United Press International Press photo story. A few weeks later, I was able to get Jane Fonda, to wear one at a gay fund raiser. We were raising money to send to Dade County Florida, to help defeat an effort by Bryant, who was leading a fight to overturn a Gay Rights Ordinance there. Then on June 7,1977 Bryant forces succeeded. Back in San Francisco, an impromptu march took place, starting in the Castro, and led by Harvey Milk, using a bullhorn and yelling “OUT OF THE BARS, and into the streets!” When we left the Castro, there were only several hundred, but as we marched more people joined in… we passed City Hall, and went downtown to Union Square. By the time we got there, 5,000 people jammed into the Park. There we a few speakers, and Harvey was one of them. He warned us that if it could happen in Dade County Florida, it could happen elsewhere, including S.F.! As he was talking I snapped a few frames… Harvey had a candle in one hand, the bullhorn in the other and a sign appeared behind him saying SAVE OUR RIGHTS! Shortly afterwords the crowd disbanded, and I thought this was a news worthy event… so I took the film to the Associated Press at Fox Plaza. At first, they said no, in those days very few wire service stories had gay content.I convinced them, and they put my image of Harvey on their news-wires. That picture was flashed across America, in big cities and small towns and introduced Harvey Milk, Nationally as an Openly Gay Spokesperson, 5 months before he was elected. Since Harvey was assassinated, that image has been seen in books including Randy Shilts “The Mayor of Castro Street”, Documentaries and exhibits. For the past 2 months it has been exhibited along with 39 of my other images from that era, at Chicago’s Gage Gallery. What makes me extremely proud is Gage Gallery’s Mission Statement “Social Justice”.

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