Op-ed: Why Gavin Newsom Is as Much a Gay Rights Hero as Harvey Milk

If you live in California and plan to marry now, you owe him a heap of thanks for paving the way.



At left: Just after we signed our first domestic-partnership certificate over 20 years ago in West Hollywood

Later we moved to San Francisco, which by then also offered domestic partnerships, so we registered there as well. When the state of California enacted a statewide registry, it invalidated those other two partnerships, making us register with the state. 

Slowly we started to get wind of marriage equality and jumped onboard as activists, mostly as advocacy journalists spreading the word. It was the 1990s in San Francisco, and I started to realize that although I called Suzy my wife, we had few protections outside the city.

Around this time, I met Gavin Newsom, who is currently California’s 49th lieutenant governor. Back in 1996, he was on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. I lived there and was running my first lesbian magazine, Girlfriends, in the Mission District, where crime was a little high and we often had to walk past (or over) groups of homeless men to get into our tiny upstairs office on Cesar Chavez Street. Newsom and I were both coming into our own power in the city, only his power came with more clout and money.  

I did not like him. He was too handsome, had too much money, and most importantly was behind a new program called Care Not Cash, which eliminated welfare assistance to the city’s homeless population and became a euphemism for all that was wrong in the city. We had been essentially homeless for our first six months in San Francisco, so I was keenly aware of how important assistance was to low-income people trying to live in a city with a 99% occupancy rate.

That same year, we got wind that San Francisco’s then-mayor, Willie Brown, was going to marry long-term gay and lesbian couples — did we want to participate? We hadn’t been together quite a decade yet, but we begged to get married. Brown was fulfilling a campaign promise, and he presided over the ceremony for about 150 couples (many of whom had been together decades). The marriages weren’t recognized anywhere, but it was an act of rebellion and pride and  protest. And after burying so many of our friends, lost to AIDS during the height of it, the phrase “in sickness and in health” took on a special meaning.