On a Wednesday afternoon, I sat for more than two hours through a grilling interview for a memoir I wrote about coming out in the 1970’s in San Francisco during the fight for LGBT rights. Afterward, I walked down Market Street to the Castro and met a group of friends, most of them in their eighties now. Among them was a notable musician, retired Hollywood make-up artist and the grandson of a retired Supreme Court justice. We sat at a table next to the huge plate-glass windows in Twin Peaks Tavern - also known as “the glass casket” for the age of customers during the afternoon and early evening. Outside, a small group of ten or fifteen people gathered on the corner. Suddenly five or six beat police appeared near them.
While our group inside commiserated an overwhelming sense of hopelessness from the presidential election the night before, outside on the street, more people and police were arriving. When local news media’s satellite trucks appeared everyone at our table stopped talking. I went out to see what I could learn and practically collided with Cleve Jones. “What’s going on?”
“There’s a group of more than twenty-thousand near City Hall right now. A couple thousand of them are marching up Market Street toward the Castro.” He said. “I expect the group here will grow to about two-thousand in the next hour before the two merge.” He strained to look down Market Street over the heads of the police and traffic. “I’m getting too old for this. It’s time for someone younger to take over.”
Cleve and I had shared our existence in the Castro of the 1970’s on parallel but very different paths. He worked in Harvey Milk’s office while going to San Francisco State to study political science and was there to help the gay community through their grief when Harvey was assassinated and during the White Night riots. Later he co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and started the Aid’s Memorial Quilt. My path was simply trying to find enough work to survive and make a life for myself in the city. People like Harvey and Scott and many other Castro business owners who appreciated my carpentry skills, befriended me and helped channel work my way.
Tonight the people gathering were mostly young.
Suddenly I felt very old.
The looks on their faces were all the same, afraid and defeated. Overnight hope had evaporated, not only for a first woman president, but one who would be welcoming, inclusive and working for equal right for everyone. It was unimaginable that someone who hated all minorities and races except his own, who would take away basic human rights that had been fought for and earned over more than two centuries would become president.
I spoke with a young woman in the group and the first words out of her mouth were “We felt hopeless and didn’t know what to do, so here we are.”
I have been living hundreds of miles outside the city for almost two decades, but suddenly a recollection of a time long ago took my breath away. I told her I had stood on this very spot on Monday, November 27th, 1978 about this same hour – just before dark on the day Dan White murdered our Mayor and Harvey. Suddenly those same feelings of cold, hopelessness, anger, dread, sorrow and numbness came flooding back. This was the same scenario; a small group began to gather, joined by more and more until – on that night - thirty or forty thousand of us ended up marching down Market Street to City Hall. I hugged her. Embarrassed by my lack of self-control, I began to cry and so did she.
This new young crowd of gay and straight men and women, White, Asian, Latino, Muslin - some carrying their children, came to march with their candles, signs, banners and megaphones. I marveled at how well organized they were, how quickly they turned their despair, hopelessness and anger into action. Perhaps tonight Cleve would get his wish. I felt a deep sense of pride and comfort knowing this generation is certainly going to be as active and, thanks to social media, mobilized and a hell of a lot larger. They will continue and expand the fight we started for LGBT rights so long ago.
Why had fate placed me in this exact same spot at this moment thirty-eight years later? I’m not sure, but I was inspired and know I will continue to use my writing to help keep our struggle for universal human rights alive and well with this younger generation. They seem more than happy to pick up the mantle, expand it and carry it forward. It’s clear that even through a flood of tears, all hope is not lost.