An Activist Reflects
BY Michelle Garcia
April 12 2010 6:20 PM ET
Exactly, I came out because of Anita Bryant. I was in the closet, I was helping behind the scenes fighting her, and then she came to California with the Briggs Initiative [1978’s Proposition 6, which would have barred gays from teaching in the state’s public schools]. My partner, Peter Scott, and I were picked to run the entire campaign. Harvey was doing Northern California. The only reason we were picked was because no one would do it. Ironically, at the time everyone said, “Don’t do it, we can’t win. Don’t put the money in.” No one would run the campaign. There was a guy named Don Bradley and Michael Levitt who came in who were the straight figureheads. They gave a lot. They were two straight people who came in to help. Here I had all these experiences organizing in the South and antiwar politics and I was on the McGovern reform commission and working for Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, so they came to me and Peter said, “You’ve gotta run this. You know how to do it.” And I said, “I can’t because they’ll know I’m gay.” So I turned them down. Finally Peter Scott said to me, “It won’t make any difference whether they know or not if this thing passes,” and that made sense to me and I came out. I came out by sending a fund-raising letter asking people to contribute money to [fighting] Prop. 6, and because of Harvey’s good work in the north and because of Ivy Bottini’s good work in the south, with our good work statewide, we won. Big.
It illustrates that one of the things we have to get over as a community is wanting to be liked. Or proving to others that we’re just like them. These ads where we have, “This is my straight daughter, this is my lesbian daughter. We’re just like you, and they’re just like each other.” First of all, nobody’s gonna buy it, not in a million years. We can try to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge before we tell them a homosexual is just like them. But second of all, we’re not. In some ways we bring remarkable gifts to this table of society. How can I be like them when I’ve lost 300 friends to AIDS? When my best friend, Freddie Davis, killed himself at 16? When I know people who had forced lobotomies in the ’50s? When people were rounded up in parks and had their names printed in newspapers and their careers destroyed? When police raided the bars and lined people up outside? How can we be like them? Our experience is so different from them. But what we did in all of that, we triumphed because we had a different, unique journey. When our friends got sick with AIDS we created new health care systems; we created dental clinics for everybody. And we can show society we know how to do this. If they will embrace us and our gifts and talents because we’re not like them. They need us.
Another issue that truly is about young people, when you think about it, is “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Interestingly, a lot of the activists of the 1960s were against the war in Vietnam, but in 1992 a lot of gays who were involved in the anti-Vietnam movement started working on repealing the ban on gays serving in the military. Can you explain if there was a transition made?
I don’t think a transition was made. I think there was some wisdom shown. I’m still a pacifist. I haven’t changed my personal values or belief systems. My supporting the right of LGBT citizens to serve in the military still has nothing to do with my personal beliefs. I hope as I talk and share and write that I might inspire more people to my viewpoint on war and nonviolence. However, I do not have the right to force anyone I disagree with to be discriminated against and denied the choice to make their life choices and career journeys. I have a lot of relatives, because I come from a poor family, that serve in the military. And they come from rural areas and rural poor areas and they go into the military to get an education because it’s the largest education program in America. We don’t have an education program of that size. Now, ironically, the ROTC won’t allow gays in. We’re not allowed to get an education.
Were you ever drafted or close to being drafted?
Yes. I wrote my draft board a wonderful little note saying, “Fuck you, and fuck your war.” I did. And then I was going to be indicted, but I got beaten up badly at the Chicago convention. My leg was so badly permanently damaged that I really couldn’t serve, so I got out for those reasons. You know, all I had to do was tell them I was gay. For me, and I made this choice consciously, it was better for me to go to prison for five years for refusing to serve than to tell my family I was gay. I made that decision because I was going to prison for five years because I couldn’t tell anyone I was gay.
How old were you when you decided to come out?
Oh, I was 30. I had a nervous breakdown; my parents disowned me for a while; I wasn’t home; I lost all my businesspeople who I worked with for 20 years in politics. It was a brutal coming-out. It wasn’t one of those, “Oh, my God, what a pleasant surprise!”
Sign Up For Email Updates
- Health News Canada Lifts Lifetime Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men 50 min 52 sec ago
- Youth Does AIDS in the Endzone Fumble? 2 hours 31 min ago
- Theater Five Decades Remembered At the Flash 10:07 AM
- Film Why is Behind the Candelabra Like Valley of the Dolls? 9:27 AM
- The Wedding Channel PHOTOS: Real Weddings, Real People 6:00 AM
- Youth WATCH: What Happens When Scout Comes Out at Camp 5:00 AM
- Commentary Op-ed: Are We More Successful Because We’re Gay? 4:34 AM