Inspired by the film Milk, I dug out my collection of buttons to re-live my own gay history which was very closely interwoven with what was happening in San Francisco.
I've laid the buttons out in chronological order. The first button was from the movie The Word is Out which I saw in 1978, in my Sophomore year at UC Santa Cruz with Panda my third female lover at UCSC. (She's now married to a man she dated soon after that. It's her little sister who turned out to be a lesbian.) I had officially come out in the winter of my Freshman year having slept with enough guys to know the difference. Plus I had had a high school girl lover and others I was sweet on. At least one for every year. Santa Cruz was also where I marched (rode my unicycle actually) in my first Gay Pride march. I also protested the Brigg's initiative (which would have ousted gay/lesbian teachers and possibly any teacher saying seeming to support us). It failed.
The summer before I had attended my firt SF pride parade, the one where a poster size picture of Anita Bryant was held up next to pictures of Hitler and Mussolini. Only I didn't make it to the parade part because I was working at my summer job at a gas station. (Worse recession year ever for summer jobs.) I got there just as the weather turned gray and they were packing up the booths. I picked up a postcard that said "Dear Anita, Having a gay time. Wish you were here." I cannot find that card right now.
I moved back home to the Bay Area the year that Harvey Milk was shot. I was busing tables during the lunch shift when someone told me the news. I was stunned and couldn't tell anyone why. I saw the candlelight march on TV with my dad with whom I was living at the time. I very much wanted to jump in the family station wagon and drive up there to join them, but I couldn't tell him why. I was out to him, but we didn't discuss it much past the initial conversation. I was also watching TV with him when the twinkie verdict came down and the gay community went to city hall and busted a window or two and overturned three cop cars and set fire to them. That part wasn't mentioned in the film. "That will be the end of the gays," said my dad who anticipated a crack down on the gay community. He couldn't have been more wrong.
Harvey's message was that we had to come out. I realized when I saw the film that that was the message I politicized and lived for the next decade (and the rest of my life). In 1981 I got myself a motorcycle and a full suit of black leather. The jacket pictured here. My kung fu thighs won't fit in the pants anymore. The whistle and the leathers and later martial arts were my response to the fag bashing of the times.
The second button in this line-up is from 1979 when I went to Gay Night at the local amusement park on the eve of my 21st birthday with my pal Stacy. That was something, to infiltrate such a family park with us perverts. It made the staff rather nervous. At midnight we were at the local lesbian bar, the Daybreak (named after Joan Baez for her bisexual leanings—all true). There I had my first legal drink.
The next few years were marked by the Dykes on Bikes. I wasn't actually a member, but they allowed any woman with a motorcycle to follow behind them in the parade. Stacy rode on the back of her lover Angel's bike and we rode side by side, my then lover behind me. The first year we rode, they put us at the middle of the parade in an attempt to molify those who wanted to purge the event of the pervert aspects of the community in the hopes of becoming more acceptable. This included drag queens, us and that naked guy wearing the boa constrictor. (I still say it won't work; they'll hate us more because we look normal, but we still do the nasty in ways that revolt them—men at least, lesbians are just male porn fodder.) Nevertheless it was one of the highlights of my young life to be so out in the open being cheered like that. The following year we were back at the head of the parade. Soon after that we were wearing black ribbons to mark the appearance of AIDS. Everything I learned about community and crisis came in the years that followed.
Under parental pressure I sold my bike in exchange for the safer transport of a car. So no more dykes on bikes. There's a gap in my collection because nothing could compare to being in the parade and I got tired of the lesbian community and the political correctness of it. I do remember I was there for the appearance of the first lipstick lesbians. I had returned to the community when I was living with a woman who was best friends with a lesbian celebrity. There's a 1991 button from Living Sober, the humongous LGBT AA event where she often did her best speaking appearances. Five years or so later she got together with a man and the lesbian community never let her hear the end of it (we are still friends though). Her public appearances were demoted to introducing other "cliteratti" some of whom I got to know too.
When I met Catherine, she was a filmmaker and had a press pass. She and her husband and I were free to roam the parade beyond the barricades. The next year her movie "Queers Among Queers" was in the film festival. By that time the parade was so big, it wasn't worth going to and we retired to the comfort of the film festival for the Sunday shorts. So no more parade buttons after '95. The buttons from the DC march and AIDS walk were gifts. I did not actually attend. I threw out all the souvenir condoms thrown from floats; they disintegrated.