Saturday, June 7, 2008


Two days after the anniversary of the White Night Riot, posted about on this blog, the City of San Francisco unveiled a monumental statue of former Supervisor Harvey Milk in the rotunda of City Hall. It would have been Milk's 78th birthday.

An Associated Press article about the statue relates "The bust, sculpted by Daub Firmin Hendrickson of Berkeley, Calif., and based on a photograph taken by a friend, shows Milk with a wide grin and his tie fluttering in the San Francisco wind. It sits atop a solid granite base inscribed with a prophetic statement he had recorded in the feeling he might, indeed, be slain. 'I ask for the movement to continue because my election gave young people out there hope. You gotta give 'em hope,' it reads."

"The bust stands in the ornate ceremonial rotunda outside the Board of Supervisors chamber, a spot where couples frequently choose to get married." Jill Manton, director of public art for the San Francisco Arts Commission, "she expects the bust to be popular with City Hall visitors, especially now that California has legalized marriage equality."

(1974 campaign photo for Elaine Noble)

Three other items in the article deserve mention. To begin with, there is a statement that Milk is "the first openly gay person elected to prominent public office anywhere in the United States". This is definitively incorrect. Two years before Milk, out lesbian and women's rights advocate Elaine Noble began serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. She served two terms as representative for the Fenway-Kenmore/Back Bay neighborhoods of Boston (which was working-class, NOT queer-friendly turf), winning 59% of the vote and making her election all the more groundbreaking. I met her in 1975 when she came to a statewide lesbian and gay political conference in Austin, Texas. I later wrote her a fan letter and she wrote me back personally. In most authentic histories (herstories), she is credited as the first out lesbian/gay person elected to public office.

Additionally, in the early 1970s, Nancy Wechsler —- a member of the Ann Arbor, Mich., city council —- came out as a lesbian during her term. In 1974, Kathy Kozachenko, also an out lesbian, was elected to fill Wechsler's seat on council. Janna Zumbrun (an open lesbian-feminist activist) was appointed to the City of Austin Human Relations Commission in October 1975, making her the first lesbian to serve in Austin city government. There are examples I easily pulled from memory; I'm sure there are others which predate Milk. First in San Francisco DOES NOT EQUAL first everywhere.

Next, the article has a quote from Anne Kronenberg, who is identified as Milk's "former aide". She was, in fact, a politically-savvy motorcycle dyke who was very close to Harvey, had been his campaign manager, and was his heir apparent.

(Anne Kronenberg, 2008, standing next to signs for Milk and her own campaign in 1978)

However, the misogyny of the Castro area was so high at that time, despite Milk's request that if something happened to him, Kronenberg be allowed to fill his shoes, the boys (and new Mayor Dianne Feinstein) would not hear of it. Eventually Harry Britt, even less of a liberal than Milk but a white gay boy (which is all that mattered to the neighborhood) was appointed to replace Harvey. I remember him as doing a mediocre job, representing no one except white gay men.

Kronenberg now serves as deputy director of policy and administration for the San Francisco Department of Health.

Lastly, the article mentions "A film on Milk's life, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn, was shot in San Francisco in the spring and will be released in the fall." I will predict here and now that the strong lesbian content of the real story surrounding Harvey Milk will be scrubbed from the film -- no mention of us leading the riot, no mention of Anne Kronenberg being prevented from taking Harvey's place, and no mention of Elaine Noble or any of the other (female) pioneers who paved the way for Milk.

To read a 2007 interview with Elaine Noble published in the Windy City Times, go to A Talk With Elaine Noble.


letsdance said...

Thank you, Maggie. I learn from you today and every day.

kat said...

...white gay boy (which is all that mattered to the neighborhoo)...

Still is...The castro is one of the poshest neighborhoods in the City these days.

Also, SF does tend to think of itself as the center of the known universe, so I'm not too surprised that all of the dykes that you mentioned served in public office before Milk did.
...So silly, everyone knows that BERKELEY is the center of the universe, duh...(joking, really, I swear)

Okay this is the point at which you pat me on the head, tell me it's insane that I'm up this late and shove me in the general direction of my bed. Gravity should take care of the rest.

kat said...

that time thing is for texas, though. it's only 1:12am where I am. still, it's wayyyyy past my bedtime.

Sue Katz said...

You are simply an encyclopedia of our lives. I'm sure it's not just memory - you clearly do your homework and research - but post after post, month after month, you return to me the memories of our kick-ass work, which in my own addled mind is fragmented and nebulous. Sometimes I feel like your brain serves as an external hard-drive for the rest of us - storing with clarity those important decades of activism.

Anonymous said...

Given that Kronenberg isn't even gay (or bisexual), I'd say the right choice was made in not letting her continue at the head of Milk's work.