Wednesday, May 21, 2008

THE WHITE NIGHT RIOT, 21 MAY 1979 AND LESBIANS AGAINST POLICE VIOLENCE

(Flyer created and distributed by Lesbians Against Police Violence and The Stonewall Coalition [mixed-gender lesbian/gay organization allied with LAPV] in summer 1979 in the aftermath of the White Night Riots; I'm pretty sure the graphic was drawn by Emily Siegel)

[Just to let you all know: The Raw Story, the very major online newspaper which focuses on political news, ran a link on May 22 to the Group News Blog feature of my post on the White Night Riot. It's now in their archives for that date at 8:48 a.m., listed as "White Night riot, lesbians vs. cops" (LOVE it!)

Since then, my story was also linked to by Edge of the American West at
Milk and Twinkies (brilliant title, that). Edge of the American West is a stunningly written history blog that I read daily, so I'm duly honored.]

Today is the 29th anniversary of the largest lesbian and gay riot in the history of the world. Not only was I there, I was one of the women in Lesbians Against Police Violence responsible for the rally from which it arose.


I've written about LAPV in other posts, such as Tania: 33 Years Later. In one, Dianne Feinstein, Opportunist, I give a good brief history of the events leading up to Dan White's cold-blooded assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk. I refer you to that for background.

Another excellent source is an article by LAPV members and women I worked closely with, Pam David and Lois Helmbold, in Radical America, Vol 13, no.4 July- August 1979, found online at Sexuality and the State: The Defeat of the Briggs Initiative and Beyond (scroll down about 2/5 of the document to find the pertinent Radical America extract).

And from YouTube, here's some contemporary news video from 1978-79:

NBC News Footage on the murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The footage covers suspect Dan White's arrest, and a brief history of everyone. Also mentioned is Moscone's connection to Reverend Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, and the appointment of Jim Jones to head of the Housing Commission. Video ends abruptly.



LAPV stood in radical opposition to police harassment of minority communities. We saw Dan White's assassination as a rage reprisal by a former cop against progressive forces (not just gay) and linked it to the larger picture of male and white domination. I think it's critical to remember that the riot which came from our agitation was the result of revolutionary lesbians speaking out against the ultimate forces of power in our society, not a bunch of "gays" upset about a verdict.

Several years ago I wrote my own memoir of the event. I'm going to include that below. Not long afterward, I was interviewed by Christina B. Hanhardt, who was writing a doctoral thesis in American Studies at New York University on "Butterflies, Whistles, and Fists: Safe Streets Patrols and the ‘New’ Gay Ghetto". Her interview with me and other LAPVers, as well as review of primary source documents (mostly from the papers I donated to the Meg Barnett Papers in the Queer Nation Collection at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Historical Society in San Francisco) formed Chapter Two of her thesis, "Safe Space: Sexual Minorities, Uneven Urban Development, and the Politics of Violence". At a later date, I will include this chapter in a post covering LAPV in more historical depth.

(March to City Hall just beginning, near 18th and Castro; perhaps an hour before all-out White Night Riot in San Francisco, 21 May 1979. Mount Sutro tower visible in background; buses are already being stopped. Photo courtesy of Don Eckert/Uncle Donald.)

THE WHITE NIGHT RIOT

© 2008 by Maggie Jochild

The day after the riot, my feelings about it began to change. I was driving a morning route then, delivering something called Veggie Rolls to natural foods store in San Francisco. There were dozens of such stores in 1979. I had arranged my route to go through the Mission, Noe Valley, Bernal and Potrero Hill neighborhoods first, hit SoMa and downtown during the mid morning lull, then head out to the Haight and the Avenues, ending up at Ocean Beach in the afternoon, where I fed the day-old rolls to a keening flock of gulls. On the morning of May 22, however, I began my day by driving past City Hall on the way to Polk Gulch.

I approached it from an indirect route so I could look across the square first and see if cops were there. There were scorched places near curbs here and there, but the burned-out police cars had already been towed away. There was a knot of 20-30 people standing on the sidewalk across from City Hall, standing with their arms at their sides, staring, not talking to each other. Every window on the front facade of the block-long building was covered with plywood, raw and bright in the morning light. There were no parking meters left on that block. I stopped and watched the people for a minute. They seemed to be in shock. I felt a thrill go through me.

While I chatted daily with the managers of the stores where I delivered, and with a few of them I actually conversed (mostly the dykes in the Coop system), the majority of the stores were owned by either white boy hippies or what would soon be called yuppies, and my interest in what they had to say was limited. I knew I was identified as a lesbian by them because one of them had refused to let me help distribute his products, saying I was too “rough looking” for his clientele. I surely hated that man from then on.

On this day, however, there was something new. It mostly took the form of a second look, after the initial glance of recognition. It was as if a new dimension had suddenly been added to my identity as queer, as if they had overnight found out it also meant I could fly, or was immortal. They looked at me in such a speculative way, I wanted to say to every one of them, “Yeah, I was there. Next time we might come for YOU.” I could smell the fear on them, and I liked it. It was as close to respect as I had ever gotten from the straight world.

One of the women at the Haight Store told me some of the members of People’s Bakery had been at the riot and had been badly hurt. After I was done with work, I stopped by the collective on the pretext of buying some onion rolls. The quiet butch who brought me fresh rolls from the back had a black eye and a bandage on the side of her face. She didn’t much want to talk about it. She said the cops had cornered her and another coworker in an alley off Mission, after they had left the Civic Center area. They left before things got really rough. The cop who beat her up had taken off his badge, so she didn’t get his number. When I asked her if she was going to file a complaint, she smiled bitterly and shook her head.

We later found out that of the 60-something people injured by the cops that night, a huge majority of them were women and/or people of color. The cops, as usual, targeted those who were not male or not white, especially if they were single or just two people trying to get home safely. Several of the people attacked by the cops, away from the riot itself, had been rammed against walls by the cops' three-wheel motorbikes.

We of LAPV had an emergency meeting that night. We knew public outrage was going to demand appeasement, and we knew we were the best target. We had been visibly agitating against the police for several months, one time holding a demonstration in front of Police Headquarters on 6th. A man in a cheap green suit had ostentatiously taken photos of every one of us at that demonstration. We were not advocating citizen review boards, more queer presence on the police force, or sensitivity training for police recruits. Our position was that the police force itself was an institution born out of racism and whose primary purpose was to maintain the status quo of the privileged by means of violence. We relentlessly argued that Dan White’s actions were the natural byproduct of his training as a cop. We said lesbians, gays, progressives, working people and people of color would always be targets of police repression as long as police existed; therefore, we advocated abolition of any legalized armed force in our society. We knew the cops would be thrilled to blame the riot on us.

Furthermore, there was a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing to us as instigators. We certainly had helped to identify the police and the politicians who controlled them as our enemies (although the main reason for this identification must, of course, fall on those who behaved as our enemies). We had called the rally at Castro Street that evening because we knew the jury’s verdict about Dan White would be in, and, guessing that justice would not be fully served, we wanted to capitalize on people’s anger for our own purposes. My roommate Sharon and I had made the signs announcing the rally and put them around the Mission and Castro Street.

We heard about the verdict, Dan White being convicted only of manslaughter, late in the afternoon. By the time we got to 18th and Castro at 6:00 p.m., there was a crowd already waiting on us. We were disappointed at how few women had turned out, but not terribly surprised. Harvey Milk had never been a key figure in the political lesbian community. I had seen him speak a few times and not been overly impressed; he was far too mainstream for us. He was one of the white boys. I sometimes felt more represented by George Moscone than Harvey Milk. I realize it is heresy to admit this, now that Harvey has achieved the mythical status awarded all our assassinated dead, but it is the truth, and I know most of the women who were my friends felt the same way at that point in time.

We worked our way to the fence over the stairs going down to BART, stood up on the edge or on other elevations, and tried to get the attention of the crowd. I say “we”--I don’t think I did any speaking, not yet. I remember my roommate Sharon Sapphora had brought her bullhorn from home. I think she did some shouting into it. She was pretty good at off-the-cuff speechmaking, adept in street vernacular and ironic anger. But she wasn’t making much of an impression that night. Later she walked around shouting "Out of the bars and into the streets!"

I noticed a gay man, Howard Wallace, at the front of the crowd. He was a faggot who always struck me as looking less like a faggot than any man I knew. He was a die-hard leftie, unusual among the gay men in San Francisco at that time, and a clear, interesting speaker. I don’t remember who began yelling for us to march somewhere and make our feelings known, but I want to say it was Howard. We began feeling pressure to respond to the crowd or lose them altogether. I would say this was the first sign of danger that we ignored.

We had a hasty conference about where to go. Our first choice was to go to the police station on 6th. I shudder to think what might have occurred if we had stuck with that decision; certainly some of us would have been killed. Someone argued that City Hall was closer and had more room to spread out. We bunched up and began marching down Market Street.

We immediately got more omens of what was to come. Every time we passed a streetcar in the middle of Market, the bar holding it to the overhead electrical line would be jerked loose by one of the men, and some of them were pounding on the windows, screaming at the terrified passengers inside. At first, I laughed at this, thought it was great the boys were finally showing a little political heat. Every time we passed a men’s bar or cafe (and in those days, it seemed like Market Street was lined with faggot hangouts all the way from Castro to Duboce--maybe it still is, I don’t know), all the men inside would pour out and join the march. It was like the gay pride parades I had read about, where people lining the route spontaneously came out. I noticed most of the men had on at least one leather garment. I had never seen these men at any sort of gay event.


(March to City Hall in progress along Market Street, San Francisco, 21 May 1979, on our way to White Night Riot; in far background, middle right, is Mount Sutro tower, so this is between 18th Street and South Van Ness. Most of front line of marchers shown here are dykes from Lesbians Against Police Violence. I'm somewhere in the middle of the front row. Photo courtesy of Don Eckert/Uncle Donald.)

By the time we got to Church Street, we were having to run to keep ahead of the crowd. We had been trying to lead chants up to that point, strung out in a single line across the several lanes of Market. We had also been laughing with each other, excited by the success of our rally. But the effort of our rapid push and the increasing tension of the people on our heels sobered us, and I don’t remember much of anything the last few blocks except trying to keep up.

When we got to City Hall, we in LAPV regrouped on the steps out front and began trying to lead chants again. We couldn’t understand why this wasn’t working. The crowd was huge, and clearly wanted something from us, but they wouldn’t chant. After a few dismal efforts, Sharon began talking into her bullhorn again, saying something about the connection between Dan White getting off and how the police are allowed to run rampant in minority communities. We were the only ones listening to her. Men were shouting from everywhere, saying we should storm City Hall, go out and exact revenge for Harvey Milk, and other things which sounded absolutely crazy to us. It is at this point that I remember starting to be afraid.

We were close enough to the front doors of City Hall to see through the ornate grillwork covering the glass. There were dozens of cops in full stormtrooper gear massed there. I knew what would happen if we tried to force our way in. We linked arms across the stairs and began chanting something like “Violence is not the answer.” A few voices here and there in the crowd joined in with us. It was getting dark fast. I couldn’t figure out what to do, except to keep bloodshed from happening.

I know a few people were shouting out lines and speeches. I don’t remember any of them except Amber Hollibaugh. I have heard that Cleve Jones was one of the men who spoke, and I have heard opposite versions of what he said--that he tried to calm people down, and that he urged them to riot. Maybe he did both, I don’t know. But I remember Amber.

I remember being relieved to see a woman climb up on the wide railing beside the stairs and face the crowd. I had seen her around here and there, and while she had bleach-blonde hair, clearly removing her from the ranks of what I knew of political dykes, she looked to be working class and clear-headed. She kept motioning for Sharon to give her the bullhorn, and Sharon did because she shared my impression of Amber. We thought she might take charge.

Well, she did. She gave one hell of a speech. I remember standing below her, trying to see her expression in the dark. The gist of it was that our anger was beautiful and justified, and it was about time we showed those in power how stupid it was to push us around. The men loved her, and by the time she was done, there was no hope of calming anyone down. It hit us all at about the same time that we were standing between a mob and a battalion of cops. We grabbed each other and snaked our way off the steps.

We went to the corner of Grove and Polk, and stood on the sidewalk in front of the Health Department. We felt safe enough to stop there. and we could talk without shouting. We separated into groups of four to six, and promised to stay with our little group all the way home, no matter what. This was a tactic some women in the group had learned from peace movement days, and it was a brilliant move on our part. Folks who left the riot alone or in pairs were targeted by cops, especially if they were women or non-white: Of the 60+ people seeking medical attention that night, most of them were attacked by the cops on their way home.

Some of the members of LAPV wanted to go back into the action. We couldn’t see or hear much of what was going on up at the steps. I was left on the corner with my group, which included my lover, Marcie, and our friend Kata. There were at least two other women in our group, but I’m not sure who they were now--I think maybe a couple named Eileen and Char.

When Carol Ruth Silver came out on the balcony, it took us a while to figure out who she was because it was so dark. She was a San Francisco city councilwoman who was straight but considered to have solid support in the gay community. She thought she could talk to the crowd and get their attention. Unknown to us, the newly sworn-in Mayor Feinstein and a lot of other important people had been meeting in City Hall that night, and as the riot progressed, they hunkered down in the basement under police guard. They were terrified. I admire Carol Ruth Silver’s guts for coming out on that balcony, but she really didn’t know her constituency. Not only did they refuse to listen to her, they threw rocks and chunks of concrete at her. One of them hit her in the head, and she went back inside.

I remember being fascinated with how these muscular men in leather chaps were ripping parking meters out of the sidewalk. They would being by clustering two or three on either side of the meter, getting a good grip, and then shoving back and forth with all their might. Within seconds, there would be a noticeable wobble of the meter. I remember the rhythmic deep grunts they made as they continued hitting the meter with their bodies on alternate sides. When the meter finally broke free from the pavement, carrying a big cluster ofconcrete roots around the base, they would give an indescribable cheer. There were be no hesitation as two or three of them hoisted the meter up to their shoulders and ran at City Hill with it like a battering ram, at the last minute hurling it up in an impossible arc through one of the big windows high up on the wall. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have thought it possible.

Video footage (fragmentary) of the White Night Riot. From YouTube, copied from www.shapingsf.org, shared under the following Creative Commons licensing: Creative Commons



I don’t know who started torching police cars, or how they did it, although I know I’ve read it since. I remember the one closest to us, in front of the auditorium, going up with a whoosh. I was a little scared it would explode when the flames reached the gas tank, but none of us moved away. As they burned, their sirens would go off and shriek insanely like someone dying until finally the voice of it was burned out. Eleven squad cars bit the dust that night. For weeks afterward, we’d see three cops to a patrol car instead of the usual one or two.

(White Night Riot protesters burned police cars in front of City Hall, San Francisco; SF Chronicle photo by John Storey, 1979)

The most extraordinary sight I witnessed that night I’ve never seen anyone else write about, although it had to involve dozens of queers. If you were one of those I’m about to describe, please write me and tell me your story. As I said earlier, we were on the corner of Polk, which ran in front of City Hall, and Grove, which paralleled the south side of City Hall. Both streets were deserted; I guess traffic was being diverted somewhere. (What did the cops do, put up “Riot in Progress, Please Observe Detour” signs?) Anyhow, we kept hearing activity in the darkness down Polk Street behind us, and one or the other of us would turn around periodically and look. It wasn’t me, but some one of us said, “Oh, my God” and we all looked where she was pointing. A solid flank of motorcycle cops were emerging slowly out of the dark street. They were on those three-wheeled bikes that the meter cops used, and despite my immediate panic, I remember noticing they had removed their license tags and identifying numbers from the bikes. They had on shiny black boots stretching up their calves, and I stepped back behind one of my companions: My first thought was that they were going to turn and ride through us.

This was a sound impulse. A lot of women who were attacked by cops after leaving the riot were run down against building walls by cops on motorbikes. However, I quickly realized the focus of this squad was on the crowd in front of City Hall. They sat there, talking among themselves, apparently waiting for a signal before charging into the unsuspecting masses in front of them. I could feel their hatred as if it were a change in temperature. They all had on helmets with visors and protective vests, and wore black billy clubs.

We began whispering frantically to each other. Our friends were in that crowd, and we had to warn them--but if we went after them, we could get run down ourselves. Shouting was out of the question: Not only was the racket around us too loud to allow us to be heard, but drawing attention to ourselves seemed like a really bad idea. My lover was tugging at my arm, insisting we go across the street and into the crowd, and I was frankly too afraid to respond, when we heard another sound.

We turned and looked to our left, down Grove Street toward Van Ness. Creeping forward were literally dozens of dykes and faggots on the big motorcycles they rode in every Freedom Day Parade. Most of these queers were big, especially the women; most of them had on leather. They were a solid unit, and when they got about 10’ from the intersection, they stopped and sat astride their bikes, looking at the cops. Then they all began revving their engines.

I remember being frozen in admiration. My eyes were so full of those brave queers, I don’t think I looked at how the cops reacted. It seems like the stand-off continued for several minutes. I think Kata had to tell me the cops were turning around and going back the way they had come. I did turn and look then because I could hardly believe it. What I’d like to know is who were those folks protecting the crowd, and how did they get there? I’ve often wondered if I just imagined this whole episode; fortunately, I had companions with me who saw the same thing.

Not long after this, we smelled something we thought might be tear gas, and since two of us had asthma, we left. We walked down Grove to Larkin, turned right on Larkin and went to Market. It looked like streetcars weren’t running on Market, so we went on another block to Mission to get a bus. On the way, a lone woman approached us out of the darkness on Grove and asked if she could walk with us. We had all been holding hands, and we just took her into our line. We caught a bus on Mission and rode it down to 14th. From there, Marcie and I peeled off to go to my house on Brosnan, and the rest went on in the direction of Army. The entire evening, I kept thinking the riot was just going to make people hate us and set us way back in our quest for equal rights. I was heartsick.

Marcie kept calling her mother’s house and getting no answer. Her mother was also a dyke and lived just off Castro Street. Marcie was sure she would have gone to the rally. Marcie was right; her mom, a S/M leather dyke, was on the McAllister Street side of the riot and watched from the edges. We later found out her mother was grabbed by some cops from behind and drug backwards over the broken off stem of a parking meter pole sticking up from the concrete. They didn’t arrest her, just threw her down a block away. She crawled to some gay men who took her to the hospital, where she got a huge number of stitches in her thigh.

At the LAPV meeting the following evening, we talked for hours about what we had seen and what it all meant. We agreed we were the inevitable target of any investigation--no one would believe we had tried to stop the riot, and by this time it wasn’t even a claim we wanted to make. We knew the first attack would come in the form of a grand jury. Enough of us had read Grand Jury Comix and followed the Susan Saxe case to know our greatest threat came if we refused to testify. But there was no way we were going to testify. If you refuse to testify to a grand jury, you do not have the right to claim the fifth amendment. Instead, you are granted immunity (meaning your testimony cannot be used to directly incriminate you) and if you still refuse to testify, you are declared in contempt of the court and thrown into jail. You can be kept in jail without recourse for the length of the grand jury, and if the grand jury reconvenes, you can be sent back to jail over and over again--no trial, no due process of law. It’s an excellent tool of reprisal used in this country against political dissidents.

There were around 30 of us involved in LAPV at that time. We sat in a big living room, most of us on the floor, and someone kept detailed minutes. One by one, we each talked about what we stood to lose personally by going to jail, and what we’d like to have done for us by the rest to keep our lives intact until the boys gave up and let us out of jail. Two of us were parents; after a long discussion, it was agreed that if, at all possible, we two would avoid grand jury summons, leaving town if necessary. Women talked about their jobs, their pets, their leases, their houseplants, and their bills. At every turn, one or more of us volunteered to cover for her if she was jailed, with no time limit. By the end of the night, we had a solid contingency plan, a sworn commitment to never break silence, and enough resources to cover the jailing of several (though not all) of us. I don’t know what would have happened to us if we had been sorely tried, but I remember believing every woman in the group with all my heart, and feeling ready to go down fighting for any one of us.

Most of the women in LAPV had known each other first in either Lesbian Schoolworkers or the No on 6 Campaign. Some of them had known each other even before that. I joined Lesbian Schoolworkers as soon as I arrived in the Bay Area in 1978; I also joined Lesbians Under 21 (I was 22, but my lover was 17) and attended a few Prairie Fire meetings. The defeat of the Briggs Initiative was a glorious victory, but I wasn’t sure what to do afterwards. In the first week of February, 1979, Sharon brought home a flyer she’d picked up at the Artemis announcing a lesbian community meeting on the 4th at the Women’s Building about a police attack on two dykes as they were leaving Amelia’s the week before. My entire household went, and so did over a hundred other women. Out of that meeting developed LAPV.

LAPV provided my political education. I was one of the least experienced women there, despite some involvement with gay and feminist politics in Texas and my sojourn in a Colorado separatist land collective before moving to San Fran. Many of the other women in LAPV had years of leftie background, some of them going back to civil rights days. More than half of them were Jewish. They had acute race and class consciousness, and if not overtly separatist, at least preferred to work with women only.

They were extremely kind to me. I remember the silence that fell over one meeting when I asked, “Just what are dialectics?”, but after they pushed closed their gaping jaws, a couple of them explained it to me without condescension or hurry. We all read The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove together, a history of police repression in America, and we used Constructive Criticism by Gracie Lyons to run our meetings. My Jewish sisters also shared their heritage with us in an open-handed and noncritical way, and made a devoted ally of me for life.


(Burning cop car in front of City Hall, San Francisco, 21 May 1979)

From Shaping SF
"Within a day or two of the White Night Riot, flyers appeared throughout the Castro and Haight-Ashbury neighborhoods advising everyone to keep quiet. The text of this warning flyer follows:

We may end up doing more time for our rage at the Civic Center than Dan White will do for killing Harvey unless we KEEP QUIET. If you male-ego-trip in a bar, and the wrong person hears you, the cops will know what face to look for in the photos, and where that face hangs out. DON'T TALK. Even if you didn't trash, there's a possibility of a grand jury and a conspiracy indictment, just for being angry enough to think about it. BE QUIET. If you want to file a police brutality suit, get some legal advice first. The National Lawyers' Guild is a good legal resource. They'll say they want to investigate the attack on the Elephant Walk [at 18th & Castro]. But giving info to the cops is like spreading the crabs. Once you begin you can't stop without kwell. And our kwell is SILENCE. We've seen what happens when the D.A. tries an ex-cop--he throws the case, cause he needs the cops to win any case in the future. All he needs us for is defendants. Our defense against the police is each other, our strength is our silence. DON'T COLLABORATE."

[Note: These flyers were created and distributed by LAPV and the Stonewall Coalition. We were particularly concerned about the appeasement faction of the gay male community, i.e., Cleve Jones who we had already heard intended to testify before the Grand Jury fully. This was in part because he had gone around bragging that it was him who had called the rally which led to the riot -- once he got incorrectly targeted for that, the rumors were that he was in panic to obtain immunity. The fact is, anyone knowledgeable about his politics would know he had nothing to do with an event like this.]

LAPV wrote a musical skit about keeping quiet and not collaborating with a possible grand jury, the script of which is in the above-mentioned Meg Barnett Papers. I acted often in this skit, sometimes as the main character, Deborah Dyke. I remember one of the songs I performed, to the tune of a Beatles' song:

You think you are safe here
But it's just not true
Others are in danger
Soon it could be you
Remember the White Riot
Elephant Walk and Peg's Place too
Some vict'ries we've accomplished
But our struggle's far from through


[Note: I remember these and all our wonderful lyrics as being written by Joan Annsfire and Joan Bobkoff.]

The Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade after the riot drew 250,000 to 300,000 marchers, according to later official reports. The mainstream element of the gay community wanted desperately to prove that we were "just like everyone else" and extreme influence was exerted to keep any kind of effective protesting from taking place during the march and rally. Below are two news video compilations from the SF Bay area in June 1979:

SAN FRANCISCO LESBIAN/GAY FREEDOM DAY, 1979 -- PART ONE
June 24, 1979. Here is Bay Area television news coverage of the eighth annual "Gay Freedom Day Parade And Celebration" on Market Street, San Francisco. Coverage begins with film (not video, remember) of Gay Freedom Day Marching Band & Twirling Corps, led by Jon Simms. Also seen and/or heard is future S.F. Mayor the Hon. Willie Brown, Jr., City Attorney Louise H. Renne, and Supervisor Harry Britt. Seen: Lesbian Nurses, Lesbian Chorus, Gay Fathers, Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club, and Bay Area Physicians For Human Rights. There is also a rally celebrating the recently murdered Supervisor Harvey Milk. A strange offshoot of one newscast featured a bitter young boxer named Mick Kowalski, who traveled to the parade in hopes of understanding why his wife left him for another woman.



SAN FRANCISCO LESBIAN/GAY FREEDOM DAY, 1979 -- PART TWO

At 0:014 you'll see the banner for the Stonewall Coalition, at first just the top of it behind a sign reading "Gay and Angry", then the banner and the right end of it being carried by Amber Hollibaugh.



Here's a photo of our contingent during that parade:

(Lesbians Against Police Violence marching in Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade, June 24, 1979, San Francisco -- I helped make this banner. Dyke on left end of banner is Sharon Sapphora, my roommate.)

LAPV continued to do activism until 1981. Here's another photo of us during a march that year.

(Lesbians Against Police Violence banner heading for a community march in February 1981. I helped make this banner as well.)

(Burning police cars near Opera Building, San Francisco, 21 May 1979)

RECOMMENDED LINKS:
The White Night Riot and Harvey Milk's Birthday Party from Uncle Donald's Castro Street
The White Night Riot as remembered by Leland Frances from Uncle Donald's Castro Street
The White Night Riot personal account by Chris Carlsson
The 'White Night' Riot from Guided By History
The White Night Riots from Wikipedia
Elephant Walk and the White Night, account by Fred Rogers, owner of the Elephant Walk

19 comments:

Liza Cowan said...

And now it's all about getting married and the revolution is sponsored by Smirnoff and Lexus.

Fascinating Maggie. At the time, I was on the other coast, tucked away on a Lesbian farm, not paying attention to San Francisco. Glad to know about it now.

letsdance said...

I was married two years by then. No clue that I am lesbian.

I appreciate you sharing your memories, Maggie.

Cowboy Diva said...

I was 8. Thanks for being there.

Jim said...

I wasn't even born then. I've lived in the Bay Area all my life, and I'd never heard about this. It never ceases to amaze me how far the world's come in my lifetime. I salute you all for paving the way.

Anonymous said...

You Tube has already wiped away the videos.
Censorship in Amerika.

Maggie Jochild said...

Anonymous, I just went and clicked on all the video links, and they are working fine. I think the problem must be on your end. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, though, in case it HAD been censorship.

Paula Gunn Allen wrote "The key to oppression is loss of memory." The powers-that-be have a major investment in not letting us remember what has gone before, and build on that. Hence, this blog.

Today, May 22, my father would have been 83. In 1979, I called home to wish him happy birthday and when my mother answered, she said "Well, I wondered if we'd hear from you or if you were in jail." With a laugh. I got to tell her about the riot without judgment on her part (though my father, who got on the extension, was horrified). I was 23 years old and overnight, Things Had Changed.

Christina said...

This is such a brilliant and beautiful post! I am sitting here at my desk which has posted above it an old flyer I found at a used bookstore in San Francisco. It reads: Will Dan White, An Ex Cop, Be Tried For His Real Crimes? Stop Police Violence * Convict Dan White! by Lesbians Against Police Violence. It is one of my most cherished findings. I am actually presenting a very short paper in two weeks about LAPV and a New York organization from those years, Dykes Against Racism Everywhere (DARE), at a conference about women's history. I'll be sure to tell you how it goes. Maybe I'll try to make a trip to Texas this summer! I'll write to you directly soon....

Mike said...

good post

geobear said...

I request permission to repost in full your post on the White Night Riot at www.OpEdNews.com.

Please write me at rady@opednews.com.

Thanks for a terrific, detailed, post!

Rady Ananda
Senior Editor
www.OpEdNews.com
Author's Page: http://www.opednews.com/author/author2795.html

april said...

Thankyou so much Maggie!

I can only echo Liza's words: it sometimes makes me sad that in today's mad dash towards conformity, we forget that what these wonderful women and men were fighting for is yet to be achieved. What good are marriage rights if our freedom is still curtailed by violence, whether state-sanctioned or state-tolerated?

Still, I was three when this happened - what would I know?

Greatly appreciate this blog, thanks again.

Donald said...

Hello,
Thank you for linking to my site, Uncle Donald's Castro Street. But you are using 2 of my White Night photographs (B&W before & during march) without crediting me. Please add photo credit to Don Eckert or Uncle Donald or remove the photos.
Thank You
Don Eckert

Bay Radical said...

Hey, fantastic firsthand account. Thanks for sharing this and thanks for your activist work. For a while I was doing a blog about Bay Area activist history - it's now retired - but if you're interested the old posts are still up at bayradical.blogspot.com. Anyhow, thanks again for sharing this story.

Maggie Jochild said...

Uncle Donald, thanks for asking for credit -- I saw it several places on the web but never with a credit, so hope this helps reverse that trend. Can I ask, were you there? And did you take other photos?

Bay Radical, thanks for the connection. I'll check out your old posts. More to come.

Donald said...

Thanks for giving me credit for my 2 photos of the White Night march. Yes, I was there and you can read my description of the event on my website "Uncle Donald's Castro Street" along with more pictures.

I read with great interest your fascinating account of White Night. For the most part, I agree with your version of the story. There are, however, a couple of points that I'd like to comment on.

You give credit for the demonstration and riot to LAPV, "not a bunch of gays upset with the verdict". First: We weren't upset. We were OUTRAGED! Yes, he got away with murder; 7 years for assassinating 2 of our leaders. But since the murders, we had seen a steady erosion of our civil rights and total disrespect for the lesbian/gay community by the police. We had to react or be seen as weak and fearful. We wanted the world to know that we had had enough. Second: I've gone through my photos of the event and there are very few women in the pictures, maybe 1 or 2% of the crowd. Third: You say that "a huge majority" of the people injured were women. Not true. A lot of the injuries occurred when the police indiscriminately attacked gay men on Castro Street later that night.

About Cleve Jones: You say "The fact is, anyone knowledgeable about his politics would know he had nothing to do with an event like this." Not true. Cleve Jones would have been the most likely one to call for a rally. In fact he did. He was at the front of the march and he was at City Hall. He may have tried to speak, but I don't recall that.

The woman with the bullhorn that you said "gave one hell of a speech" was lesbian activist Sally Gerhard who, with Harvey Milk, had worked tirelessly to defeat proposition 6.

Thank you for your work both as activist and historian. And thanks for letting me comment. You can contact me as uncledonald@thecastro.net.

Maggie Jochild said...

Interesting comments, Donald. Here's some replies:

Yes, Sally Gerhardt (a former SFSU professor, author of The Wanderground, etc) did speak that night, and beautifully. She was very active in the No on 6 and 7 campaigns both, though from a more separatist standpoint. But Amber Hollibaugh also spoke, and it was Amber's speech which gave spark to the smoldering rage already present. I don't know that Amber is on tape anywhere, but I've talked with Amber since then about it and she verifies it. Perhaps she reads this blog and will come to comment herself. It was definitely "our" bullhorn which was handed to her by my roommate Sapphora.

There was a strong contingent trying to keep the riot from going into full-blown riot mode. At one point, this included me and my group, until we realized it was too late. Amber, who was much closer to gay men than Sally was at that point, is who articulated their viewpoint best.

Cleve Jones' main bent at that time, politically, was to work within the system. In particular, he wanted the "gay community" (by which he meant gay men in and around Castro Street) to have a liaison with the police in order to stop violence against gay men on the streets. He was active in CUAV toward that end, and was best known for advocating the use of whistles (i.e., The Butterfly Brigade) worn around the neck to blow for the cops when an attack started. Our group of lesbians, and most serious radicals, especially people of color, knew the police would NEVER come to our defense. The cops were at that time actively fighting allowing gays to enter the police force.

Therefore, an angry, illegal march and attack on City Hall was completely counter to Jones' belief system then.

Yes, he was there. He did not lead the march, as you can tell from your own photos -- the entire front line in that march is lesbians, members of LAPV. We were the ones on the steps of City Hall, between the crowd and the big gilt doors behind us. We ran the show until we decided, by a group vote, that we were about to get creamed and to get the hell out of there.

Cleve may have wanted a rally in response to the Milk and Moscone assassinations, but the flyers which went out that afternoon calling for the gathering at Castro and Market were made by us. I drew some of them myself. I think one or two still exist in the SF Archive. They're clearly not from Cleve or any of the groups he participated in.

Once the violence began, you're right, women cleared out if they could. (Though not all -- my lover's mother, a S/M leather dyke, stayed to fight with the men and wound up gravely injured in the hospital as a result -- she was the only person in her group assaulted by the cops, and the only woman in her group.) And I differentiate between injuries sustained at the riot and its periphery (i.e., folks trying to leave and being attacked by cops away from the main action) and the injuries sustained later by police guerilla action against gay men in the Castro.

Of course, an attack is an attack, but one set of violence occurred during the riot and a second set occurred with cold malice and revenge after the fact. During the first set, women and people of color were targeted. During the second set, any visibly gay man not part of a crowd was targeted. I think it's an important distinction, especially when looking at the risks involved in being around a riot or later that night. It plays to the ways institutionalized police hatred manifests during heated emotion vs. the sanctioned culture of dominance. POC are always the front line, followed by women (or "perceived women" such as drag queens"), but we/they try to get out of the way swiftly once the killing machine is in place. White gay men, on the other hand, encountered random street violence as a way of life but still (naively, tragically) thought the police would help administer "justice" -- hence, Jones' approach, and shock at what happened to Harvey (and George).

I think this verdict and the event which followed was an awakening for large sections of the white gay male community. Some of that awakening continued on in ACTUP and other groups which could not believe the government's response to an entire generation being wiped out was indifference. Unfortunately, that newly-awakened radical edge was heavily decimated by AIDS itself, and our watered-down version of "gay politics" is a result of the fucking plague as much as from direct conservative oppression (a different kind of fucking plague).

Maggie Jochild said...

One further point about the aftermath: There was a Grand Jury investigation, which did not run its full course because of political deal-making that I believe involved Dianne Feinstein, among others. And despite the scale of the riot, no one was ever indicted for either starting the riot or the police violence documented on film.

However, a few folks did testify, and one of them was Cleve Jones. I don't have a copy of the grand jury testimony. Rumor in political lesbian and gay circles is that he disavowed being instrumental in starting the rally, march or riot, and that he named named as to those who should be held responsible. He was considered political poison by a lot of activists after that, and I've always believed part of the reason he began the AIDS quilt project (aside from the obvious, primary reason, because it was a brilliant idea and the right thing to do) was that he felt the need for redemption, to reinstate his standing among activist gays after his reputation was damaged for "blowing the whistle" at the Grand Jury.

Clark W. G. said...

Hi Maggie. I was there that night too. I remember rejecting the pleas, for "peace" from the speakers on the steps of City Hall. Hell, we had already marched peacefully the night of the assassinations. We had shown restraint then. This was not a time for restraint. This moment required a very visual expression of our outrage, an image that would make headlines (or at least maybe an album cover for the DK'S). May 21st, justice had failed and the world needed to know!

The descending darkness sparked my sense of drama -- I spontaneously sensed that FLAMES were the appropriate accoutrement for the darkening mood and sky, not to mention lack-of-justice.

A man near me had just gone crazy destroying several newspaper vending machines on the sidewalk in front of City Hall. The contents of the machines spilled on the ground and the papers were slippery under foot. Looking down, I saw amongst the newsprint several large brown paper bags, the kind from an ice company; how they got there I'll never know. The combination of newspapers and large, "50 lbs of ice", paper bags were just what I needed to create the dramatic mood I envisioned. I pulled my army-surplus ski mask over my head and went to work. As I separated the newspapers and wadded them into balls, stuffing an ice bag full, a stranger next to me asked, "Hey, what are you going to do, start a fire?" I looked at him and smiled and just kept stuffing. He picked up his own ice bag, and stuffed it with papers too. Once we had several bags filled he turned to me offering his lighter and said, "It was your idea!" I declined his offer but joined the cheers as that warm San Franciscan night was transformed into a righteous legend by those flames!



Clark W. G. -- Twin Peaks

wordweaverlynn said...

Thanks for this. I'm linking to it.

Bob said...

I was working at City Hall at the time but had gone to Texas to be with my mom after my dad's death.

Control of the Board of Supervisors had shifted as Dianne double-crossed the conservatives with whom she had always allied (including Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi's brother in law). They had planned to hold Dianne to her promise (pre-assassinations) to support Quentin Kopp in the 1979 elections. She liked being Mayor too much and cut a deal with the liberals.

She appointed Louise Renne (who later would become City Attorney) to take her seat on the Board. Louise actually hired a gay man as one of her two aides. She also honored Moscone’s intentions by appointing Don Horanzy to take Dan White’s old seat. She resisted pleas to appoint Harvey's aide Anne Kronenberg to take Harvey's seat, delaying for weeks before ultimately settling on a guy she thought would be weak and could control -- Harry Britt. [She at least was wrong on the control aspect.]

In the deal, Carol Ruth Silver, Harvey's ally who was (gasp!) an unwed single mother elected at the same time as Harvey, became chair of the powerful Finance Committee, and took over the office space at City Hall that had housed Dan White (and in which Harvey had been murdered).

I remember watching the TV in horror as that sense of things getting better was shattered. Dan White had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Manslaughter? Involuntary?

The fucker had crawled through a window on the side of City Hall so that his gun would not pass through metal detectors. He went to Moscone's office, waited until the Mayor agreed to see him, shot him multiple times, reloaded his gun, then walked across the long path across the rotunda, into the Supervisors' offices, knocked on Harvey's office door, asked Harvey to join him in White's office, and then filled Harvey with bullets.

Manslaughter? Involuntary?
Dan White had killed Harvey and George, the police had coddled him and tried to make him the victim, and now a Twinkie Defense was getting him off. Poor Dan White, their story went, with a wife and an infant who was forced to live on a lowly Supervisor salary, just couldn't take the pressure.

I was full of outrage, and then I saw the scenes of City Hall and cop cars burning. We were not going to just take it lightly. From afar, I applauded, not knowing if I really would have had the guts to do that if I had been in SF.

Then I lost it. Scenes on my TV now shifted to The Elephant Walk (now known as Harvey's at the corner of 18th and Castro) with cops who'd come in from all around the Bay Area to assist the SF cops in quelling the violence at City Hall instead now indiscriminately beating (mostly) gay men as the TV cameras rolled. Those cops had no fear of justice, and they felt entirely unrestrained in beating every faggot in site.

I so longed to be in SF, but was stuck in Texas with my grieving mom. No one understood why it was so important to me to get back to SF.

Dan White, of course, was released before serving his full term. Harvey and George were dead, and Dan White was free. But we did not forget. A few years later, I was again stuck out of town, when a news report came in about Dan White.

This time, it was different. Dan White had finally done the honorable thing -- he committed suicide. And, alone in my room, I began to clap incessantly -- applauding the man for finally giving us a wee bit of justice.

I kept hoping that the cops who descended on the Castro and beat up fags at the Elephant walk would meet a similar fate. I still do.

The District Attorney (Joe Freitas), a liberal darling who had failed us so miserably with Dan White and who pledged to prosecute those who attacked a building but was silent about those who attacked fags, was soundly defeated when he ran for re-election.

Thirty years later, I marvel. And I think about Harvey. He would have been 79 years old this week. I miss him still.
As for Dan White, too bad I don’t know where his grave is. I still need to piss on it.