Howard Wallace, a longtime activist within the LGBT and labor communities, died Thursday following a battle with Alzheimer's disease. Wallace was 76 years old and residing in San Francisco.
Wallace was a trailblazer, making inroads between the LGBT and labor communities as early as the 1970s, when such a union seemed unlikely at best. In 1974, Wallace, originally from Denver, Colo., helped unite members of the Teamsters Union with gay activists to boycott Colorado-based Coors Brewing Company. Coors was entangled in a bitter labor dispute with the Teamsters, who were challenging the family-owned company on discriminatory employment practices, including requiring all employees to take a lie-detector test that asked, "are you a homosexual?" The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports that Howard connected with labor and LGBT activists to launch a campaign to get Coors out of gay bars in San Francisco's Castro district, making lasting connections with between the two communities.
San Francisco Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who with Wallace and the late Hank Wilson founded a group called Bay Area Gay Liberation, recalled to SFBG Wallace's uncanny ability to inspire and connect activists to create meaningful change.
"He's the one who brought Harvey Milk into the Coors boycott," Ammiano told SFBG. "And he was never afraid to call out labor leaders when they were being homophobic."
"He was a character," Ammiano continued. "I never knew what color his hair would be, but I always knew what color his politics would be."
Wallace was also a co-founder of the Lesbian-Gay Labor Alliance and later established Pride at Work, a labor group within the AFL-CIO focused on intersections between LGBT and labor issues.