Special thanks to the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California for keeping our newsletters all these years and supporting this history. Alice Board member Nathan Purkiss wrote this history in the winter of 2005/2006 and edited it in 2009.
Dedication: To all the Alice Co-Chairs and Board Members who have made our club a huge success. This history was written in honor of your hard work.
A History of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club
By Nathan Purkiss
The Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club of San Francisco was the first registered Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic Club in the nation. Forming only two years after the Stonewall riots in the infancy of the LGBT civil rights movement, Alice grew to become a vibrant organization that has made a profound impact on San Francisco, California and American politics. Alice made its impact by training activists over four decades to become political professionals and electing candidates that have fought for the issues that are important to the LGBT community. The club has been instrumental in growing new leaders who would rise to the highest levels of government in the nation, such as Dianne Feinstein, an early friend of the club. Alice has been critical to the fight for LGBT leaders to win office, such as Mark Leno, the first gay man elected to the California State Senate. These leaders have helped make San Francisco the epicenter of the LGBT political movement, advancing causes such as equal benefits, domestic partnership, transgender health care, and marriage equality. Alice continues to be a major player in local, state and national politics and remains an inspiring and effective organization to this day.
Beginnings of the Club:
In 1971, it had only been a couple years since the Stonewall Riots, homosexuality was still registered as a pathology by the American Psychiatric Association, the Women’s Movement was just forming, President Richard Nixon was playing
to his “silent majority,” and the issue of homosexuality was still thought of in the popular consciousness as “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name.” For gay people to sign up publicly for a gay democratic club at this time, and for politicians to be associated with the issue of homosexuality, was an act of bravery.
Jim Foster founded the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club in December 1971. Foster was a gay rights activist who had been organizing with the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) to elect pro-gay candidates in San Francisco for the previous several years. Prior to Alice there had been a few gay and lesbian advocacy groups such as SIR, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society and others, but gay political goals had never been incorporated directly into the platform of a major American political party. In 1971 Foster chartered Alice to initiate gay advocacy within the Democratic Party and started a
collaborative relationship that continues to this day.
Why Alice B. Toklas?
Alice B. Toklas was the partner of the famous writer Gertrude Stein. The original 20 members of the Club chose “Alice B. Toklas” because the name served as a code to protect the confidentiality of members. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – only gay people would know that the “Alice” club referred to gay people.
Alice’s first political Campaign – 1972 McGovern vs. Nixon
Alice and Jim Foster played an important role in the Democratic Party’s selection of George McGovern as the Democratic Party candidate of 1972. Alice endorsed McGovern, opened a ‘McGovern for President’ campaign office, and became a Bay Area political operation for McGovern in one of the Democratic strongholds in the state of California. At a critical point in the campaign, Foster helped implement a midnight signature gathering campaign in San Francisco gay bars in advance of the state primary deadline that helped McGovern be the first candidate to submit the required signatures that morning. This placed McGovern’s name first
on the list of candidates on the California ballot. McGovern won California with a 5-point edge over Hubert Humphrey, and ballot placement was considered one of the reasons for his win.
After McGovern became the candidate, Foster also represented Alice at the Democratic Party national convention of 1972, and brought a “Gay Liberation Plank” to the national platform committee. This motion was extremely significant for the Democratic Party because it brought gay rights policy before the national party for the first time ever. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party was not yet ready to adopt gay rights in its platform. Kathy Wilch, a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, gave a divisive speech opposing the Gay Liberation Plank and halted approval of its inclusion in the Democratic Party Platform. This action angered many gay activists, prompting McGovern to send a letter clarifying:
“Her views in no way reflect my views on the subject… I have long supported civil rights of all Americans and have in no way altered my commitment to these rights and I have no intention of doing so.”
McGovern didn’t specifically say he supported gay rights, but in referencing the Wilch incident, he included gay rights in the broader context of civil rights, which was a victory. Gay rights had never been recognized as civil rights by a previous national party leader. Alice and Jim Foster’s platform effort thus initiated a national effort to incorporate gay rights within the Democratic Party platform, and this relationship between the gay community and the Democratic Party would continue and grow for decades.
1973 – A club of professional advocates working from the inside
The people who started Alice were experienced in politics, many of them working previously for the Society for Individual Rights. Jim Foster, Jack Hubbs, Steve Swanson and Tere Roderick, the original officers, got the club off to a quick start. The club began raising “Dollars for Democrats”, started a door-to-door canvassing program, and outreached to Democratic Party members, including Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, Supervisor Quentin Kopp, Supervisor Peter Tamaras, Senator Milton Marks, Senator George Moscone, and other elected officials. At that time, Jim Foster met and built an especially close relationship with one of California’s most successful politicians: Supervisor Dianne
Feinstein. At the request of Jim Foster, Supervisor Feinstein introduced legislation on behalf of the club to add the words “sex and sexual orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. Following this action, Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, another close ally of Foster’s, appointed Alice member Jo Daly to a television oversight commission, paving the way for lesbians and gay men to be appointed to public positions.
A major concern of the club in the early years was police harassment and substandard conditions in the San Francisco County jail. Gay men and lesbians dealt with police harassment issues with raids on bars and mistreatment by officers of people in the community. The jails were also a highly unsafe environment for gay detainees and the club made it a priority to change conditions in the jails. Jim Foster wrote Mayor Alioto a letter on behalf of the club criticizing him for not doing enough to address the problem of poor jail facilities. In this time, Alice began a long relationship with Sheriff Michael Hennessey who became a friend of the club, often performing as a disc jockey at the clubs annual holiday party. Hennessey worked with the community to institute changes in holding conditions for gay inmates.
Although the concept of “medical marijuana” was not a common political concept in this era, Alice supported efforts to decriminalize the overall possession and cultivation of marijuana.
In November 1973, Alice worked to elect Dianne Feinstein, Jack Morrison, Jeff Masonek and Dorothy von Beroldingen to the Board of Supervisors. It was the first “Alice Slate” of candidates, and became a model for future efforts. (The Pipe will come back some day as a political campaign prop…)
1974-1977 Post Watergate Era – Beginnings of Political Change:
With Richard Nixon’s resignation and the wind blowing at the back of Democrats, it was an exciting time. Jo Daly and Jim Foster went to the Democratic National Convention in New York, 1976, representing Alice. Despite the excitement about Democrats heading towards a win, Gay people were upset at the removal of the gay rights plank from the Democratic Platform to avoid ‘controversy.’ Gay delegates organized a protest outside of the convention hall while Jo and Jim registered their disappointment to other delegates inside the convention. The ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ suppressing advocacy for gay rights on the national political level continued to be a pervasive stance of the Democratic Party during this era.
After the Democratic Convention, Carter made some efforts to reach out to lesbian and gay constituents through adult media. Playboy Magazine released an interview where Carter made it clear that he would sign a bill to extend equal rights to gay people, and his wife said at the time “I do not think that homosexuals should be harassed.” Carter’s choice of Playboy Magazine as the context for discussing gay rights cloaked gay rights in an adult context, and reinforced the idea that gayness is strictly about sex, but Carter’s outreach was an important start for a Democratic Party that was still finding its way on the issue of gay
rights. It was the first time a Presidential candidate specifically committed to support gay rights legislation and this began to break the ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding the issue.
A Young Assemblyman Willie L. Brown.
Victories in California:
One of the important victories for gay rights during the post Watergate era, was Willie Brown’s passage of “consensual sex legislation”, Assembly Bill 992. The 1975 bill removed California’s anti-sodomy laws that criminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender. Sodomy laws had long been used in states around the nation to portray gay people as criminals. While the laws had been used in practice sporadically, the political impact was to silence lesbians and gay men about their sexuality. If someone came out about being gay and having a partner, sodomy laws made it that this person was in effect admitting to being a criminal. Since the formation of Alice, the organization had been working to remove California’s sodomy laws. Passage of this legislation marked an important step in protecting the civil rights of gay people and an important legislative victory for Alice.
Alice in 1977
With the election of President Carter, the passage of Willie Brown’s consensual sex acts legislation, and the election of Alice’s slate of candidates, Alice became better known to the community. With all of this success, more people wanted to get involved in politics and the Alice B. Toklas Club. An election was held in 1977 for Club President, and membership grew significantly. 107 members showed up to vote for the elections and 26 members were elected as officers to the club. With these elections, Alice’s moderate, professional insider style became a sore point for some in the community who felt the club didn’t speak for them at that time.
1977-1978 – the Moscone / Milk Period:
Social change brings about the most raw human emotions and Harvey Milk’s rise to power awakened the city, bringing about new possibilities, and unfortunately new hostilities that had not been experienced in the past.
After two unsuccessful bids for Supervisor in 1973 and 1975, Harvey Milk was elected Supervisor after a new system of district elections was established in 1977. Known as the “Mayor of Castro Street”, Harvey was the first openly gay man elected to the Board of Supervisors, and he won as a grassroots candidate without the support of Alice. Members of Alice believed Harvey was too left in his politics to win, so the Club backed another gay candidate, Rick Stokes. But
Harvey did win the election and made history, leaving Alice to consider its decision. One important historic aspect of Milk’s win was the recognition that grassroots politics could be successful. Alice members believed that politics was an ‘insider’ game, and that outsiders couldn’t make it into positions of power. Milk’s win disproved this and set about a rethinking of San Francisco politics for years to come.
Because Alice did not support Harvey, his supporters formed the “Gay Democratic Club” which eventually became the Harvey Milk Democratic Club after Harvey was assassinated. The ‘Milk Club’ ultimately became the left-leaning voice in LGBT politics for the city, while Alice became positioned as the ‘moderate’ voice in LGBT politics. A third club, the Stonewall Democratic Club, formed as well and became quite influential for a time under the leadership of Gary Parker, giving gay activists three clubs to choose from, whereas Alice had been the only game in town just a few years before.
In 1977, when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were newly elected, the Alice B. Toklas Club met with Mayor Moscone. At this meeting he made commitments to Alice members about many issues.
- Community Center: Moscone supported city funding for a Gay Community Center, explaining that the Center at 330 Grove was in a building that was to be torn down for construction of the Performing Arts Center. He promised funds would be available.
- Mayor’s Open Door: The Mayor established himself as a gay political ally, encouraging activists to work with Supervisor Harvey Milk to get gay legislation sent for him to sign. He also announced he had out gay people on his staff that would work with the community on our goals.
- Funding: He said he favored city funding of the annual Gay Freedom Day Parade from the city hotel tax, a long-time goal of the community.
- Police Commission: The Mayor agreed to appoint a gay person to the city Police Commission. He also praised the Toklas club for its resolution in support of Police Chief Charles Gain, a liberal police chief he appointed.
- Unity: Moscone urged Alice members to put aside their feelings that were evident from the campaign about Harvey Milk and to unite behind the winner for progress that could benefit the gay community.
Political Action and Progress:
1978 was a year of clashes between the newly active “religious right” and the “feminist left.” Five years after the Supreme Court made it’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade, the religious right began to organize all over the country, linking feminism and gay rights as shared targets in their cultural war. Jerry Falwell created his “Moral Majority” and Anita Bryant waged a “Save our Children” campaign in Florida, while in California, State Senator Briggs jumped into the act by placing his
Measure 6 on the ballot to ban gay people from teaching. The “No on 6 Campaign” backfired on Briggs and turned out to be a huge success story for LGBT Californians. Briggs lost his initiative after Alice and other LGBT organizations rallied together across the state. The campaign became a context for training young activists and supported networking among LGBT organizations. The conservative loss temporarily slowed the religious right’s crusade against gays. Progress was made on other fronts that year as well. The American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from its list of pathologies in 1978, which was a crucial step in helping American culture to shift its attitudes towards gay men and lesbians.
Violence and Turmoil:
While some progress was made in 1978, ultimately the year will be remembered most for its great tragedies. On November 27th, 1978, Supervisor Dan White climbed through an open window of City Hall and gunned down Supervisor Harvey Milk as well as Mayor George Moscone. It was a day when everyone grieved and the assassination changed San Francisco forever.
White Nights Riot Photo from Uncle Donald’s website, http://thecastro.net/milk/whitenight.html
Dan White assassinated Milk and Moscone just days after the Mayor signed into law Milk’s Gay Rights Ordinance that White opposed. The LGBT Community held a massive, peaceful candle light vigil in Harvey’s memory following news of the murders. Later that year, White was brought to trial outside of San Francisco, and a suburban jury found him guilty of “voluntary manslaughter” and gave White 7 years in prison, a sentence widely criticized as too lenient. The jury supported the verdict on the grounds that he had eaten too many Twinkies and his blood sugar was so high, that he snapped and went temporarily insane. This infamous “Twinkie” defense sparked outrage within the LGBT community, for justice had not been done. Following the verdict, the “White Night Riots” broke out in San Francisco, and over 160 people ended up in the hospital. The riots directed anger at the SFPD, as Dan White had been a former police officer, and a string of police related incidents occurring around the time of the verdict led to an environment of tension between the community and the police. (For more about the Police and LGBT community tensions at that time, Uncle Donald’s Castro Street history has some interesting information: http://thecastro.net/milk/whitenight.html )
Amidst all of this turmoil, the leadership of Alice was torn about how to respond. Club President Steve Walters remarked:
It’s been almost two weeks since the infamous Dan White non-verdict, and I’ve read and heard an infinity of comments and reactions about the trial, and events that night at City Hall. I remain conflicted, torn between my dislike of violence and my rage at the injustice of the jury’s decision. Harsh critics have emerged, focusing on the violence of that night, but ignoring the events that led up to it: the murders of George and Harvey, increased physical attacks against gay men and women, the infamous Pegs Place affair, and the equally infamous police investigative whitewashing, removal from the Dan White jury of a man solely because he was gay, and finally, the
ultimate immorality and insult of the jury’s decision.
As Walters mentioned, a string of issues had been creating tension between the community and the SFPD. The Pegs Place incident involved officers entering a lesbian establishment and assaulting women patrons with little action taken afterwards by the SFPD to respond to the incident. Walters and other members of the community charged that the SFPD had ‘whitewashed’ the facts of the Dan White case to protect one of their former officers. With anger mounting over all of these police issues, Alice became even more intensely focused on the issue of police misconduct, writing letters to the Mayor and requesting action to address the situation.
The Early 80’s – Growing Pains, Separatism, and Different Agendas.
Lesbians and gay men shared some common political goals in the early 80’s (such as supporting Senator Art Agnos’s Assembly Bill 1, banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians), but issues such as economic justice for women and gay men’s sexual revolution came to be viewed at times as conflicting sets of priorities. When members of the community were appointed to positions of power, people began to raise questions such as “Can gay men in power truly speak for lesbians?” or “Are lesbians truly sensitive to the issues of importance to gay men?”
Former Alice Co-Chair Jo Daly was the first member of the lesbian and gay community to be appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission, but Alice member Bruce Petit wrote a letter to the club raising concerns about her appointment that echoed many of the divisions of the time. He said:
Feinstein fulfilled her major campaign pledge to the Gay community by appointing one of their own to the five-member body that directs the police department. But some activist elements faulted Daly as short on progressive credentials, too close of an ally to the Mayor, and unable to represent Gay men—who are said to have more problems with the police than lesbians”
Bruce Petit continued his letter, quoting lesbian Police Commissioner Jo Daly as saying:
“Women make 53cents for every dollar men make. Two white gay men putting their incomes together are better off than anybody else in society. For Gay activist males to make their major concentration maintaining glory holes—when La Casa, the only home in the county where battered women and children can go, is going out of business because there is no money—that leaves us angry!”
The tension between lesbians and gay men in this period was heated, and some of the accusations on both sides now seem unfair. The conflicts were perhaps especially acrimonious in Alice because male leadership had up to that point dominated the club. But despite the divisions that erupted at this time, there were also important unique perspectives that were affirmed out of that discourse. The community began to affirm that women have a truly unique perspective from men, and people of both genders have unique contributions to make. “Gay” was no longer used as an umbrella term for the community – gay was a word largely designated for men, and lesbian became an important, distinctive term of choice for women.
Women in Leadership Positions
One of the most significant areas of progress for the community in the early 80’s was the rise of women to leadership positions, beginning the careers of some women who would go on to the highest offices in the nation. Barbara Boxer was elected to congress with outspoken support for LGBT issues as a central part of her campaign message. Carole Migden became the President of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and ran for Community College Board, laying the groundwork for her later Board of Supervisors, Assembly and State Senate races.
Because of the male dominance of gay democratic clubs in the early years, lesbians worked outside of the Democratic Club system to become
politically active in their own right. After Harvey Milk was assassinated and Harry Britt was appointed as his replacement, there was a feeling among many women that a woman should have been appointed to support gender balanced leadership. Out of the frustration of many
women at being held out of political office, a group of politically active women formed the Lesbian Agenda for Action. Women like Roma Guy,
Pat Norman, Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Carole Migden began to work outside the democratic club establishment in this organization as a way to assert power outside of a system that was heavily dominated by men. Out of this activism, Carole Migden eventually became the chair of the
Democratic Party bringing gay staff with her. Roger Sanders, her staffer, computerized the Democratic Party system and helped her modernize the Democratic Party’s voter turnout process.
After the Milk/Moscone assassinations, San Francisco moved back to citywide elections for supervisorial races. It was believed by some that district elections were a large part of the divisiveness that led to Milk’s assassination. Others felt that district elections were crucial to representing San Francisco’s diversity. Alice membership overwhelmingly supported the concept of district elections in 1980, with 200 members voting to support district elections and only two members dissenting.
1980 Democratic National Platform:
Alice worked very closely with the Harvey Milk Democratic Club in 1980 to successfully lobby Jimmy Carter (with the help of Mayor Feinstein) to include a gay plank in the Democratic Platform. The convention that year had a record 71 openly lesbian and gay delegates, with 17 coming from California. Alice Delegates included Harry Britt, Gwenn Craig, Jim Foster, Bill Kraus and Anne Kronenberg (one of Harvey Milk’s Aides). Mike Thistle went on behalf of the Milk Club and Alice member Larry Eppinette attended as a Carter delegate. Alice also sent many non-gay delegates including Kevin Shelley, among others.
Fighting Police Entrapment:
Law enforcement issues continued to be a major issue of concern for Alice, as Senator John Foran authored SB 1216 to legalize police entrapment and require that a defendant prove he/she is of ‘good character’, not predisposed to commit a crime, if loitering.
An ad for Tom Ammiano’s first run for School Board in the September, 1980 edition of Alice Reports
Gay Men campaigning for office:
John Newmeyer became the first openly gay man to run for congress in the 2nd District, and Alice endorsed his unsuccessful, but historic first bid. Tom Ammiano ran for School Board for the first time in 1980, starting a long career in San Francisco politics, and Alice endorsed Tom in his first race. Harry Britt was also appointed by Dianne Feinstein to replace Harvey Milk in office. This appointment was a source of contention for some in the community as many women felt that Ann Kronenberg, Harvey Milk’s legislative aide, should have been appointed to office to support gender balance. Britt continued to serve on the Board in the 1980’s focusing particularly on tenant’s rights issues.
Alice comes out as “Gay Democratic Club” under Club President Connie O’Conner
During the early eighties Connie O’Conner was elected President of Alice and ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee. Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner all won as Alice’s candidates in 1980. Connie also successfully made a motion to change the name of the club to the “Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club.” This was very controversial at the time and many longtime Alice members such as Jim Foster and Robert Barnes argued that straight club members might feel alienated if the club was explicitly identified as a “gay democratic club”. Alice voted to change its name and move towards greater openness, while straight San Francisco allies continue to this day to sign up to be a part of Alice.
Mayor Feinstein Recall Fight
In 1983, a heated battle ensued over attempts to recall Mayor Feinstein,
with recall supporters citing her veto of domestic partners legislation
and her support of landlords over tenants. Anti-recall supporters cited
Feinstein’s longtime support for gay legislation and her willingness to
put funds towards helping people with KS and AIDS at the very beginning
of the epidemic. Alice voted 137 to 73 to oppose the recall effort and
became very active in fighting the recall. Afterward, Feinstein was
very grateful to Alice and instituted regular meetings with the club to
keep in communication with the community about issues.
HIV and AIDS – The Total Focus of the Mid 1980’s and Early 90’s
fight over the Feinstein recall was one of the last divisive fights
between left and moderate LGBT democrats for a while, as the energy and
focus had to go 100% to saving lives. San Francisco was hit especially
hard by the AIDS epidemic and some of our brightest people in the
community were lost. With them went much knowledge and skill that could
be shared and passed down in the community. Many died early in the
epidemic, such as Alice Founder Jim Foster and former Alice President
Robert Cramer who passed away in 1991, just three years before protease
inhibitors were introduced. Many continued to die after 1994, and this
had enormous impact on the community. Tony Leone, a longtime member of
Alice, and a dedicated activist for gay rights, passed away in 1999.
Dick Pabich, the legislative aide to Harvey Milk who went on to become
a campaign consultant to Carole Migden passed away in 2000. Many
friends in politics of these brilliant, dedicated people wondered how
they could continue without their guidance and years of experience. A
whole generation of knowledge was lost.
1985 photo by Keni Ankeny of AIDS Mobilization Meeting Pictured here:
Democratic Party Chair Linda Post, Alice President Sal Rosselli, Board
of Supervisors President Jack Molinari, and Alice AIDS Mobilization
Chair Paul Boneberg.
Alice jumped into the fight against
AIDS early, as friends were dying, and the Federal Government was being
completely unresponsive. Bay Area representatives Phil Burton and
Barbara Boxer worked tirelessly to get federal support, while President
Reagan still refused to even mention the word AIDS. It was a battle to
get government to pay attention about something that was killing our
The 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco
1984 the Democratic Convention was held in San Francisco at the peak of
the epidemic before effective treatments were available. Alice
representatives Sal Rosselli and Connie O’Conner were both elected as
openly gay Gary Hart delegates to the Convention, and they watched
Jesse Jackson make his Rainbow Coalition speech on the floor of the
Convention where he famously included “gay Americans” as part of the
Rainbow Coalition. Mondale lost the election by historic proportions,
but a small step had been made when the Democratic Party began to
publicly include gay people as part of their public agenda.
progress on some fronts, the fight against AIDS continued to be
enormous and at sometimes overwhelming for the members of Alice. Club
President Sal Rosselli wrote in the January 1985 edition of Alice
“While talking to friends over the Holidays, I often heard
this statement characterizing 1984: Too intense, too much work; here’s
to a relaxing 1985. Thanks to our active membership of almost 600,
Alice has accomplished a great deal during the last year… Of course
there is still so much to be done; but let us be proud and grateful for
all we have accomplished. The year ahead looks like it may be less
hectic and may afford us… more time to organize from within and focus
on our primary agenda. That primary focus must be developing national,
statewide and local plans to combat AIDS.”
By 1985, as can be seen in this statement, Alice was exhausted by
the fight against AIDS. After a depressing election loss against Ronald
Reagan, and continuing struggles to save friends with few treatments
available, these were difficult times. Alice’s primary focus would
continue to be fighting AIDS until the partial success of halting the
virus came with protease inhibitors in the mid ‘90’s, which allowed for
a broadening of the political agenda.
Registering voters to fight the Larouche Initiative in 1986, new Alice member Robert Barnes
The Larouche Initiative:
and AIDS activists did not get a reprieve after 1985 – things got worse
before they got better. In 1986, Lyndon Larouche capitalized on
AIDS-phobia and placed his infamous initiative on the ballot to
quarantine people with AIDS, using the clearly faulty logic that AIDS
could be spread by mosquitoes. Even in the early stages of the virus,
it was obvious that mosquitoes could not spread the disease; otherwise
it would not have disproportionately impacted specific groups.
Fortunately, California voters struck down the initiative, once again
sending a message to the radical right that measures like the Briggs
and Larouche Initiatives would not be supported in California. Alice
worked very hard to defeat the Larouche Initiative, contributing to the
Alice Pickets KQED over PBS Frontline Special on AIDS
1986 Alice became very involved in the fight against media defamation
of people with AIDS under the leadership of Club President Roberto
Esteves. San Francisco’s local television station KQED ran a PBS
Frontline news story on a man with AIDS named Fabian Bridges who they
presented as a ‘typhoid mary’. The reporters described Bridges as an
HIV positive homosexual who had six partners a night and refused to
stop having sex, regardless of his HIV status. The reporters didn’t
mention that Bridges continued to have sex because he was in financial
dire straights and he was a prostitute. The reporters also failed to
mention that they paid Bridges to set up their exploitative interview.
Alice joined with the Milk Club to protest the KQED Bay Area showing of
this story to fight the media stereotype of presenting people with AIDS
as predators. After this protest, KQED responded by appointing its
first openly gay member to their community advisory board. This effort
was one of the early efforts to fight media defamation of gays
happening right after the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance
Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1985.
1987 Art Agnos wins race for Mayor
Alice shocked many in 1987 with its decision to make no endorsement in
the race for Mayor between liberal Assemblyman Art Agnos and centrist
Supervisor John Molinari. Molinari had been the favorite of Alice for
some time and it was assumed by many that Alice would endorse him, but
Agnos had many supporters who were able to block an endorsement of
Molinari on a 275 to 206 vote.
Roberta Achtenberg, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon and Donna Hitchens, after the 1990 win.
The Lavender Sweeps
San Francisco was confronting AIDS, there was an urgent sense that LGBT
people needed to be in positions of power. It was not enough anymore to
have friends of our community supporting us. We needed a place at the
table. 1990 saw the culmination of two decades of political work by
Alice and the Milk Club to bring our community to the table. All the
hard work had finally come to success when the two clubs worked
together in the historic 1990 Lavender Sweep (the first of two sweeps,
the second being in 1994).
The 1990 sweep successfully pushed
several candidates over the top to become elected leaders. Lesbian
Donna Hitchens won citywide as Superior Court Judge. Lesbians Carole
Migden and Roberta Achtenberg won races to join the Board of
Supervisors, and Tom Ammiano became the first gay man elected to the
San Francisco School Board. Years of work had paid off for all the
candidates who had been trying to get into office, and work by Alice
was crucial to these victories.
Alice Involvement in the Lavender Sweeps and broader community work:
are not won by leaders simply rising to power. It takes incredible work
and commitment of people in the community to make a difference. It
takes fundraising. It takes strategy. It takes coalition building. It
takes development of successful messages and professional campaign
materials. It takes enlisting support, one endorsement at a time. And
it takes courage to stand by your vision even in the face of
opposition. That’s exactly what Alice and the community did to create
the 1990 and 1994 landmark elections. There are countless heroes in
these efforts that deserve to be recognized, and a few of these are
Dick Pabich, Jim Hormel and Mark Leno who raised money for numerous
community efforts throughout these years. Jim Hormel not only supported
LGBT candidates, but also raised enormous sums for the new Public
Library’s Hormel Center for LGBT research. Mark Leno became a lead
fundraiser and strategist for building the new LGBT Community Center
and one of Carole Migden’s top fundraisers. Dick Pabich not only helped
Carole Migden raise funds to get into office, but he became a chief
fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, paving the way for one of our
nation’s most outspoken national advocates for LGBT rights in the
United States Senate. Robert Barnes and campaign consultant Jim Rivaldo
were instrumental in establishing a professional campaign operation for
LGBT advocacy. Barnes became a key advisor to LGBT leaders and Rivaldo
became a lead graphics designer for slate cards, billboards, and
countless materials done pro-bono for LGBT causes during this time.
Carole Cullum at the law firm of Cullum and Sena also provided crucial
legal advice to LGBT campaigns while long time LGBT activists Martha
Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Denny Edelman gave non-stop volunteer work on
behalf of community causes throughout these years as well. There were
so many others, but this gives a small sense of the broad coalition of
work that was being done to lay the foundation for LGBT political power
and LGBT social services in San Francisco.
Jim Rivaldo, Harvey Milk’s first campaign manager, and longtime member of Alice & Milk
National Repercussions of the 1990 Lavender Sweep
Lavender sweep had national repercussions as it became a precursor to
LGBT campaign organizing prior to the 1992 presidential election, and
established the San Francisco lesbian and gay community as a base of
power that could help win local, state and national elections in the
U.S. Senator and Alice Hero Barbara Boxer.
1992 “The Year of the Woman”
1992 California made history by sending Dianne Feinstein and Barbara
Boxer to the U.S. Senate and the LGBT community played a key role in
that success. Political pundits billed 1992 as “the year of the woman”
because women candidates made successful efforts to break into the male
dominated US Senate, which had only 2 female members in office at that
time. Feinstein’s campaign used the slogan ‘2% is good for milk but not
for equality in the US Senate’. Senator Barbara Boxer won the election
for US Senator in 1992 against radio commentator Bruce Herschensohn by
5% of the vote with the crucial assistance of the LGBT community. Her
openly gay political consultant and fundraiser Dick Pabich was a key
strategist for the Boxer campaign. Pabich adopted a strategy for Boxer
to explicitly build a California majority of women, gay men and
minority constituencies. Alice helped boost turnout in San Francisco to
provide the margin of difference in that campaign.
Bill Clinton becomes President
year Alice became an important player in Democratic Presidential
politics as well. Robert Barnes, chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club had
this to say about the approaching presidential election in the May 1992
edition of Alice Reports:
“Alice demonstrated its Democratic Party savvy in putting
together a winning slate of delegates for the Clinton Presidential
Caucus. Alice is the first major Democratic Club, and thus far the only
Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, to endorse Bill Clinton for President…
With Alice’s support, lesbian Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg was the
caucus’ top female vote getter.”
As an early endorser of Bill Clinton, Alice established itself
as a “Friend of Bill’s” before other Democratic Clubs had gotten in the
act, and Alice helped propel Roberta Achtenberg into the limelight of
the Democratic Convention, supporting her eventual selection as Housing
Bill Clinton was outspoken in his support of
the LGBT Community at the Democratic Convention, breaking the
‘conspiracy of silence’ that had long dominated national discussions of
gay issues, even among Democratic politics. At the 1992 Democratic
Convention, Clinton specifically talked about “gay people”, whereas in
the past, democratic presidential contenders such as George McGovern
and Jimmy Carter had said they supported “Civil Rights” when referring
to LGBT people, but not actually identifying directly with our
community at the Democratic Conventions. Clinton went on to appoint
Roberta Achtenberg as Undersecretary of Housing, prompting
archconservative Jesse Helms to famously refer to her as “that damn
lesbian!” Clinton also appointed Democratic fundraiser and gay
philanthropist Jim Hormel to be a U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, the
first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. Ambassador.
Alice supports Mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz in his 1993 run for Assembly:
September, 1993, many Alice members volunteered in the campaign to
elect openly gay mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz to the State Assembly,
as was reported by co-chair Mathew Rothschild in the Sept. 1993 edition
of Alice Reports. Nearly a decade later, John joined Mark Leno as the
first two gay men to be elected to the Assembly in 2002.
John Laird, the openly gay mayor of Santa Cruz who later became a state assemblyman.
Susan Leal Replaces Roberta Achtenberg on the Board of Supervisors.
Leal was appointed June 7th, 1993 by Mayor Frank Jordan to serve on the
Board of Supervisors succeeding Roberta Achtenberg. Susan joined Alice
in endorsing Willie Brown in 1995 and began a strong relationship with
the club, building towards her run for mayor, which Alice endorsed, in
2003. As a Latina lesbian, she continued the tradition of broadening
San Francisco’s LGBT leadership diversity.
The 1994 Lavender Sweep:
1994 San Francisco had a second “Lavender Sweep” with openly gay
candidates Susan Leal, Carole Migden and Tom Ammiano being elected to
the Board of Supervisors, and Leslie Katz and Lawrence Wong winning
election to the Community College Board. Alice was instrumental in the
fight, working in coalition with the Milk Club. Susan Leal went on to
Chair the powerful Finance Committee on the Board of Supervisors,
ensuring that much needed funds would be directed towards HIV and AIDS
services. With the 1994 Lavender Sweep, Alice and the LGBT Community
demonstrated a firmly established base of power in San Francisco. The
community that previously needed district elections to win a single
elected office was now a major power broker sweeping several candidates
into numerous offices for a second time. San Francisco’s political
establishment would from this point forward be walking in close step
with the LGBT community and its political goals.
Willie Brown Elected Mayor:
newly imposed term limits, longtime community ally Assemblyman Willie
Brown was forced out of office and ran for Mayor in 1995. A major power
broker for the state, it was believed that he could beat conservative
Mayor Frank Jordan and bring unity to a deeply divided city. Prior to
his campaign, Willie Brown met with Carole Migden, Alice Chair Mathew
Rothschild, Milk Club Chair Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and other LGBT
community members to plan his run for Mayor. In the past, the lesbian
and gay community had been on the ‘outside’ in brokering power for the
city, but with the Lavender Sweep, lesbian and gay leaders were now
recognized as a strong political force in San Francisco and Speaker
Brown formed a direct alliance with the community in his race for
Mayor. Brown won the election and went on to appoint more LGBT people
to lead city departments and commissions than ever before in the city’s
history. He also signed the Equal Benefits Ordinance to require
businesses that contract with the city to provide equal benefits to
domestic partners that are offered to married couples.
Labor Organizing – Training for Alice Members
Gribbon was a labor organizer who trained Alice members how to organize
during the Willie Brown Campaign for Mayor. A waiter who organized
thousands of hospitality workers in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant
Employees Union Local 2 (H.E.R.E), Jack ran Willie Brown’s 1995 field
campaign and enlisted Alice members to spend months before the Mayoral
election tirelessly calling voter lists, identifying Brown supporters
and walking precincts to turn voters out on Election Day. Jack
originally got involved with Alice during the Domestic Partnership
campaigns of the 1980’s, and his training became a model that worked.
Alice member Fran Kipnis, for instance, turned out 99% of her own
precinct in 1992, the same year that Barbara Boxer won her U.S. Senate
race by 5%. Alice would sign up precinct captains, identify voters and
track down if they were voting by mail or voting on Election Day, and
would work relentlessly on Election Day until the polls closed, taking
nothing for granted until the fight was over. Gribbon’s approach
continues to be the model the club uses to this day, and LGBT areas of
San Francisco such as the Castro District are known to be some of the
highest turnout districts in the city every Election Day.
Leslie Katz Elected to the Board of Supervisors:In
1996 Leslie Katz was elected to the Board of Supervisors after being
appointed by Mayor Brown earlier that year. Alice worked tirelessly on
Supervisor Katz’s campaign, as Leslie had been a longstanding member of
the club who had already shown her strong leadership capabilities over
Tom Radulovich elected to BART Board: Tom Radulovich
was elected to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors in
November 1996 representing the 9th District in San Francisco. An Alice
supported candidate over the years and gay official, Tom later made a
run for the Board of Supervisors. He has served on the BART Board for a
decade while working tirelessly on housing and transit issues, taking a
strong leadership role in groups like the San Francisco Planning and
Urban Research (SPUR) and the Housing Action Coalition (HAC).
The Equal Benefits Ordinance: Supervisor Leslie
Katz, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, and Mayor Willie Brown championed San
Francisco’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance to require that
businesses that contract with the
City of San Francisco must provide equal benefits to domestic partners
that they give to married partners. This law swept the nation in its
impact, paving the way for hundreds of businesses to adopt domestic
partnership benefits. Businesses like United Airlines initially fought
the ordinance but San Francisco leaders stood firm in demanding
equality. The ordinance became a model for similar laws passed
throughout the nation, and the model for Christine Kehoe’s Assembly
Bill 17, signed by Governor Davis, to require businesses which contract
with the state of California to provide equal benefits to domestic
partners. This is one clear example where a San Francisco ordinance
passed by Alice supported legislators managed to change not only the
City of San Francisco, but also California and the nation.
Susan Leal Becomes San Francisco City Treasurer: In
1998 Susan Leal was appointed to become the City Treasurer, where she
managed the City’s $3 billion portfolio. Her investment policies and
decisions produced a greater return during her period of service than
any major county in the state. In 2001 Susan was elected Treasurer for
another term with 87% of the vote, due to her reputation as a strong,
effective manager of the city’s finances. Alice endorsed Susan’s
candidacy and campaigned hard for her victory.
Carole Migden 15 years before she arrived in the Assembly, in 1983 as chair of the Milk Club.
Carole Migden replaces Willie Brown in the Assembly:
Willie Brown, the legendary “Ayatollah of the Assembly” who represented
San Francisco and the Democratic Party incredibly well for decades,
including early support for LGBT rights through his consensual sex
laws, stepped down due to newly imposed term limits and Carole Migden
replaced him. Alice’s longstanding relationship with Willie Brown and
Carole Migden helped position Migden to become the second LGBT person
ever sent to the California State Legislature. Carole won election to
the seat later in 1998.
Alice strongly supported
Carole Migden as she went to the Assembly and introduced AB 26, which
created a registry for Domestic Partnership and gave Domestic Partners
many of the same rights (such as hospital visitation rights) that
married couples enjoy. Later, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg would
introduce AB 205, an extensive set of rights and responsibilities for
domestic partners that almost mirrored marriage, building on Carole’s
Mark Leno Elected to the Board of Supervisors
1998 candidate Mark Leno won election to the Board of Supervisors after
being appointed earlier that year. Leno had spent years prior to his
time on the Board of Supervisors working as a lead organizer and
fundraiser for the LGBT Center. He was a key player in getting the
Center built. Leno was also a longstanding member of Alice before his
rise to office. As a Supervisor, Leno led the effort to create a
transitional housing facility designed specifically to address the
needs of LGBT homeless youth as well as passing the City’s first
Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to mandate that developers construct a
percentage of affordable housing as they develop in a city with
skyrocketing housing costs.
Proposition 22 – The Knight Initiative:
2000, California voters were subjected to a divisive ballot measure
that was designed to turn back the clock on LGBT rights – Proposition
22, the Knight Initiative. The measure was written to clarify that
out-of-state marriages could not impact California marriage law
regarding same sex couples. Voters passed the measure, despite the
vigorous efforts of Alice and our LGBT leaders. Mark Leno (who would
later introduce AB 849, the Marriage Equality Bill) worked especially
hard to stop the initiative, traveling as a statewide campaign
spokesman against the measure. Alice worked tirelessly to stop the
Knight Initiative, and continues to be part of marriage equality
deserves special mention because of his work on behalf of Alice, his
commitment to LGBT rights, his work at the California Democratic Party,
and his often-controversial approach to politics that dominated Alice
for much of the late ‘90’s. He was an Alice Co-Chair who became a close
advisor to many of San Francisco’s most successful politicians. Carole
Migden, Mark Leno, Willie Brown, Dennis Herrera, Leslie Katz, Susan
Leal, Tom Radulovich, Natalie Berg, Mabel Teng, Donna Hitchens, Kevin
McCarthy, School Board members Dan Kelly, Juanita Owens, Lawrence Wong,
and many other San Francisco officials worked closely with Robert
Barnes at various points in their careers.
grew up in San Francisco in a working class family closely connected to
politics. His father was a machinist and labor activist and in 1977 ran
for District Supervisor against Dan White. Robert got into politics
himself running for the BART Board and the Board of Education, but
after losing these races, (one of them being to Tom Ammiano in his race
for the Board of Education) Robert got involved in politics behind the
scenes. He was particularly involved in Democratic Party activities and
was the Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Gay Caucus for many
San Francisco has some of the most colorful, bombastic,
and sometimes brilliant people in politics. Robert was one of them. He
had an incredible sense of humor and got away with controversial jokes
that most professionals would never dream of trying. He could say
things that were unthinkable, throwing insiders out of their comfort
zone, then warming them back up with charm, and closing the deal with
masterful delivery. He was an extremely funny person in a somewhat
bland professional scene.
Robert Barnes, Chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club and Prominent
Democratic Party Activist, died August 9th, 2002 of Guillain-Barre
Syndrome, just months before his candidate, Mark Leno, became the first
gay man elected to the California State Assembly.
Robert’s work in the Alice B. Toklas Club:
several years the Alice B. Toklas Club had been struggling during the
AIDS epidemic, as members became focused on saving lives and had little
time or energy to spare on Democratic politics. People were exhausted.
During this vacuum of leadership at Alice, Robert Barnes almost
single-handedly resurrected the club to continue political work.
Robert took on leadership at Alice, he simultaneously developed a
business in political consulting specializing in slate mail. The period
where Robert took the lead at Alice was controversial because many of
the political goals of the club seemed to be designed by Robert with
his business clients in mind. Some people in the community felt that
Robert was serving his own goals at the expense of the community. This
fueled the Alice/Milk longstanding rivalry – the belief that Alice was
becoming a front for Robert’s political work. But Robert worked on a
variety of projects that were widely supported as well, such as the
1997 School Bond campaign and the 1994 Lavender Sweep. He worked
relentlessly on the Octavia Boulevard campaign and worked very closely
with Alice to promote the San Francisco Women’s Building, supporting
their right to remove a bar from the premise and make it a safe space
for all women using the facility. Robert also ran the campaigns of many
important LGBT candidates and he worked tirelessly as the State Party
Chair of the LGBT Caucus. His positioning Alice early with the Clinton
campaign also proved to be invaluable for the community.
Robert’s most important contribution was to bring numerous young people
into politics, showing them how to be professional advocates for the
LGBT community. He invited people who had no experience with politics
to get involved, teaching them how to manage campaigns, how to work
with elected officials, how to put together slate cards, how to design
ballot arguments, how to raise money, how to write press releases, how
to work with the state party, how to craft a winning message, and how
to become successful in advancing the LGBT cause. He taught many people
how to be professional leaders.
Alice / Milk Rivalries
Alice and Milk Democratic clubs have throughout their existence been
somewhat at odds with each other by virtue of the fact that the Milk
Club formed out of a difference in political orientation and approach
from Alice. Sometimes this rivalry has overshadowed any ability of the
clubs to work together, and sometimes the two clubs have worked as if
there were no rivalry at all. It’s fair to say that having two
Democratic Clubs offers checks and balances on whether either club is
acting genuinely in the interest of the community. Open dialogue and
critique is definitely positive.
The history of tensions
between the clubs could be seen from the beginning but grew to a high
point in 1995 during the Willie Brown and Roberta Achtenberg campaign
for Mayor. Alice endorsed Willie Brown citing his years of leadership
and commitment to the community, as well as the desire to unseat Mayor
Jordan with a strong, viable candidate at a time when no one could be
certain that Mayor Jordan could be beaten. Roberta Achtenberg entered
the race later and many members of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club
supported her, wanting to see the first lesbian Mayor of San Francisco.
Brown beat Jordan and Alice was absolutely critical to his victory.
Achtenberg/Brown election was only one episode of a long period of
division between the clubs. An event that further crystallized the
tension was the Mayoral Election of 1999 when Tom Ammiano put himself
forward as a write-in candidate late in the election cycle against
Mayor Willie Brown. Ammiano waged a spirited campaign with his write-in
candidacy, garnering national attention and enthusiasm, but the race
exacerbated long-standing tensions between the Alice and Milk Clubs.
Alice members were conflicted about the election because the club
promotes LGBT empowerment, but Alice members had a long-standing
relationship with Mayor Brown and were proud of his important work for
the LGBT community, such as the landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance.
Alice had already made its commitment to Brown before Ammiano got into
the race with his write-in candidacy, so the club would have had to
back out of its endorsement of a longstanding ally. Alice’s decision to
stick with endorsing Mayor Brown hastened a growing divide between the
The next major event that accelerated the rise in
tension between the clubs was the 2000 supervisorial race between Mark
Leno and Eileen Hansen. District elections had been reinstated that
year and the Milk Club endorsed lesbian candidate Eileen Hansen for
District 8, while Alice endorsed gay incumbent supervisor Mark Leno.
Leno ultimately won the race because of his strong progressive
credentials and history of accomplishment on the Board.
crescendo in the long rift between the clubs came when Supervisor Leno
ran for State Assembly in 2002 with the strong endorsement of Alice,
while the Milk Club endorsed Harry Britt (who had been retired from
elective office for over a decade). Mark Leno went on to pass
progressive legislation to protect transgender people in employment and
housing (AB 196) and passed the historic marriage equality bill (AB
Healing the Rift
After the 2000 Leno/Hansen race, and after the 2002 Assembly race,
leaders from Alice and Milk made a concerted effort to improve
relations between the two clubs. Alice Co-Chair Rich Kowalewski, one of
many who has been credited with working tirelessly to improve the
Alice/Milk relationship, had this to say about the dynamics between the
“Through these years, Alice has developed a good working
relationship with the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. This
cooperation has been possible because of ongoing dialogue between the
leaders of the two clubs. I know I speak for Paul Hogan, Theresa
Sparks, and Laura Spanjian when I say “thank you” Jerry Threat, Debra
Walker, Robert Haaland, and Michael Goldstein for your leadership in
the bridge building. We have learned to focus on the 90% on which we
agree rather than the 10% on which we disagree.”
Rich, Paul, Theresa, Laura, Jerry, Debra, Robert, Michael, Scott
Wiener and many others did an excellent job of changing course in the
direction of relationships between our two clubs. The community
continues to benefit from Milk and Alice working together.
Throughout Alice’s history,
most of the focus on issues and candidates had been on gay and lesbian
rights. As the new millennium was ushered in, Alice supported
officeholders took a lead in addressing transgender rights, making it a
top priority with huge success. Shortly after his election in 2000,
Supervisor Leno created the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation
Task Force, which advanced changes in city policy related to
transgender people. Following task force identified goals, Mayor Willie
Brown named task force member Theresa Sparks to become the first
Transgender Human Rights Commissioner. Leno authored the Employer
Notification Law signed by Mayor Brown, requiring employers to post
anti-discrimination notifications in places of business that specify
that the city bans discrimination against transgender people. The Task
Force addressed law enforcement issues and a joint task force between
the Police and Human Rights Commission was created to address law
enforcement treatment of transgender citizens. The Police Departments
Office of Citizens Complaints (OCC) also adopted recommendations from
the task force to implement sensitivity training and protocols
regarding police interactions with transgender people. Theresa Sparks
moved on to become San Francisco’s first transgender Police
Commissioner, and Cecilia Chung replaced Theresa on the Human Rights
Commission, thus maintaining two important commission seats. Cecilia,
Theresa and other transgender leaders went beyond the work of this task
force to join with community leaders in creating the transgender pride
march on LGBT Pride weekend, and participated in the formation of the
Transgender Political Caucus among many other remarkable efforts during
Alice Co-Chair Theresa Sparks in the Board of Supervisors
Chamber with exuberant friends watching the Board make a razor-thin
vote to support Supervisor Leno’s Transgender Health Benefit.
The City Health Plan – Inclusion of the Transgender Health Benefit
most historic advancement that came out of the work of the Task Force
was a change to San Francisco’s health plan for city employees.
Supervisor Leno authored and Mayor Brown signed a bill to change the
city’s health plan to include sex reassignment surgeries, hormone
therapy and other care for transgender people as part of the city
health plan. The impact of this change went far beyond city employees.
Insurance providers that contract with the city were now required to
include transgender care as part of the benefit options available in
their health coverage, paving the way for transgender healthcare
benefits to be available to businesses around California and the
nation. Previously, insurance providers had not even offered these
benefits. Task force members were written up in full-page stories in
the New York Times and other national newspapers, while Leno appeared
on television and talk radio stations throughout the country to discuss
the issue. The media coverage reached South America, Europe, Australia,
Asia and all over the United States. This is yet another clear example
of Alice supported legislators passing legislation that had an impact
far beyond the City of San Francisco.
Alice Chair Paul Hogan
Changing Alice’s name
2001 under the leadership of Chair Paul Hogan, Alice made an important
change to rename the club “The Alice B Toklas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender Democratic Club.” Alice took the lead in outreaching to
the transgender community and was the first of the two major LGBT
Democratic Clubs in San Francisco to include “Transgender” in its
official name. The vote to change the club’s name was unanimous.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera on the California Supreme Court steps after defending same sex marriage.
Alice Candidate Dennis Herrera becomes City Attorney
member and our endorsed candidate for City Attorney Dennis Herrera made
a successful run for the job first in 2000, then again in 2005. A close
friend of former Alice Co-Chair Robert Barnes, Herrera has been a
steadfast ally of the club, continuing his longstanding commitment to
LGBT rights. Herrera took the lead in defending the City’s action to
marry same-sex couples and never wavered in his commitment to LGBT
Mark Leno Elected to State Assembly
Alice hero Mark Leno became the first gay man elected to the State
Assembly, along with John Laird of Santa Cruz. Leno continued his
groundbreaking work for the LGBT community with legislation such as
Assembly Bill 196, signed by Governor Davis, which banned
discrimination against transgender people in housing and employment.
The bill protects transgender people in all areas of California from
discrimination, and even strengthened protection in localities that
previously banned transgender discrimination before the law. San
Francisco’s local ordinance banning discrimination against transgender
people had few actual remedies for violation of the law. With changes
to state law, employers and landlords now face serious charges if they
discriminate against transgender people in employment or housing.
Alice hero Mark Leno shaking hands with Presidential Candidate Al Gore.
California Legislature creates the LGBT Caucus
statewide activism showed enormous progress in the year 2002 as
Assemblymembers Mark Leno, John Laird, Jackie Goldberg, Christine Kehoe
and Senator Sheila Kuehl formed the California Legislature’s first LGBT
Caucus. The five members saw the passage of crucial legislation signed
into law including Leno’s AB 196 to ban discrimination against
transgender people in employment and housing; Kehoe’s AB 17 to require
companies that do business with the state of California to provide
equal benefits offered to domestic partners and married couples;
Goldberg’s AB 205 which upgraded domestic partnership legal rights and
responsibilities in California to almost equal status to marriage; and
Laird’s AB 1400 amending the Unruh Act to include sexual orientation
and gender identity to the categories protected from discrimination in
Bevan Dufty Elected to the Board of Supervisors
2002, Longtime Alice member and gay candidate Bevan Dufty was elected
as the Supervisor for the Castro in District 8. Dufty created an
Improvement District for the Castro and worked closely with local
neighborhood groups on a series of local changes that were designed to
keep the Castro safe, clean and a place we can all take pride in. Bevan
has worked with the State Library Commission to pursue funding for the
LGBT Historical Society to expand its operations into a Castro
facility, and he has been a tireless fighter for LGBT issues at City
Alice Friend Nancy Pelosi Becomes Democratic House Minority Leader
2003 Nancy Pelosi made a successful run for leader of the Democratic
Party in Congress, which preceded her becoming Speaker of the House in
2006. The highest-ranking woman in office in American history, Nancy
got there largely because of her impressive legislative record,
fundraising, tactical skill for the party and with critical help from
Alice. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against
Harry Britt, and Alice was vital to her victory, narrowly winning the
special election to replace former Congressman Philip Burton. From Day
One, Alice was there to help Pelosi become one of the most powerful
leaders in America, and one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies.
As a liberal from San Francisco, she would never have won the
confidence of the national party if she could not back up her
progressive values with financial leadership. Alice’s longtime support
was an asset to her rise in power. Nancy has proven to be a true friend
of the community for her years of leadership in supporting Ryan White
Care Act funding for people with AIDS, her support of domestic
partnership rights and other LGBT causes. Nancy is an historic American
leader and Alice can be proud of playing a role in her success.
Susan Leal runs for Mayor
Alice friend Susan Leal made history as the first Latina lesbian to run
for Mayor in San Francisco in 2003. Alice endorsed her candidacy and
worked hard on her behalf. Leal said about the race in Curve Magazine:
“what my candidacy does is it sends a message to women, whether they’re
queer or women of color, that the last barriers could be broken.”
Alice Candidate Kamala Harris becomes District Attorney
December of 2003, Kamala Harris was elected District Attorney with the
overwhelming support of Alice early in her campaign. A longtime
advocate for LGBT rights, Kamala has proven to be an effective champion
for our issues as the City’s DA. One of her most important fights on
behalf of the community has been to combat the gay/transgender panic
defense used in California to defend acts of violence against our
community. Law enforcement issues such as these have been critical to
Alice since it’s beginning. The ‘Twinkie Defense’ used to give Dan
White a lenient defense in his trial for the murder of Harvey Milk, and
the ‘Transgender Panic’ argument used to defend the murderers of
transgender high school student Gwen Araujo are just two examples where
legal arguments have been designed to play upon homo/transphobia in the
judicial response to violence against the LGBT community. Our community
must demand equal treatment by the judicial system and equal protection
from law enforcement, and Kamala has been a very effective leader in
fighting for these principles with the support of Alice.
Carole Migden Elected to State Senate
on years of support from Alice, Carole Migden was elected in 2004 as
the second lesbian ever (following Senator Sheila Kuehl) to the
California State Senate. Migden had spent the interim years after she
left the State Assembly as the Chair of the Board of Equalization prior
to running for Senate.
Former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros becomes City Treasurer
September 2004 Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed former Alice Board Member
Jose Cisneros to become the city Treasurer. Once again, the work of
Alice paid off with an effective city treasurer who is one of our
closest allies. Cisneros went on to win a full term as treasurer later
that year and continues to be a strong voice working with Alice in
Police Chief Heather Fong with Police Commissioner Theresa Sparks, Center.
Theresa Sparks becomes first Transgender Police Commissioner in San Francisco
2004 former Alice Chair Theresa Sparks was sworn in as San Francisco’s
first transgender Police Commissioner and would later become elected
President of that Commission. After years of advocacy around police
issues, Alice saw one of its chairs take a leadership role directly on
the police commission and transgender advocates saw transgender leaders
serve as officials in the City.
Alice Candidate Phil Ting Becomes San Francisco’s Assessor / Recorder
2005 another close friend of Alice made a successful run for office as
Phil Ting won election to City Assessor/Recorder. Mayor Newsom
appointed Phil because of his strong progressive credentials, long
history of professional work at the Assessor/Recorder’s office, and his
reputation as a non-political choice for the job. Phil Ting was the
most qualified candidate for Assessor / Recorder and the electorate
voted him in with Alice’s strong support.
Alice Joins Coalition Effort – “And Castro For All”
2005 Alice participated in a broad campaign to address charges of
racism at a Castro business as the community had an important dialogue
about racial justice. Many African Americans have felt that the Castro
is not an inclusive space for communities of color. In this context,
the Human Rights Commission issued a report about a Castro
establishment finding the business had engaged in racially biased
business practices. During this time, Alice Board Member John Newsome
had this to say about the issue:
“Sometimes, the Truth matters most when it’s the most unpopular… Truth and, ultimately, Justice are well worth the effort.”
Alice joined the campaign to address racism and once again
worked with all of the LGBT community to open a dialogue between people
and foster healing within our diverse community.
LGBT Rights Leaders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon married at last.
Marriage – The New Beginning
Valentines Day 2004, “the Winter of Love,” was not the beginning of the
fight for marriage equality. But the rush of people to City Hall where
Mayor Newsom started marrying gay men and lesbians certainly did feel
like a new beginning. For once, the Milk Club, Alice, the Bay Guardian,
the Chronicle, Willie Brown, Tom Ammiano and all of San Francisco could
stand together and be proud of our city. Not since the days of Milk and
Moscone had there been such hope in San Francisco.
It would be unimaginable that Mayor Newsom would feel empowered to
take that stand for marriage without the support of groups like Alice.
All the years of work building political support behind the idea that
gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are just as
deserving of basic dignity as everyone else paid off big when Mayor
Newsom made the ‘radical’ act of recognizing our love. Gavin Newsom did
not start the fight for marriage, but he boldly ushered in a new day
that everyone in San Francisco could be proud of.
carried the torch of marriage equality through the summer in the
legislature with Assembly Bill 849, making California the first
legislature in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill without the
prompting of a court order. Standing up to many who were fearful in his
own party that the timing was inappropriate, Leno pressed ahead and
through relentless tenacity passed the Marriage Equality bill out of
the California Legislature. Leno and Newsom’s efforts helped educate
the public and move the issue forward. Polling in California showed
that as AB 849 passed the legislature, the California public moved from
being decisively opposed to same sex marriage, to being evenly divided
over the issue. Despite Governor Schwarzenneger’s veto of AB 849, and
despite the rumblings of discontent over Newsom’s act of courage, Leno
and Newsom’s efforts, with the work of Alice, Equality California, and
countless activists around the state had moved California opinion
significantly in our favor. As history continues to move forward, we
can be more and more proud of standing up for what is right at a time
when others were afraid.
At right: Alice’s fabulous 2005 Co-Chairs Laura Spanjian, Scott Wiener, and Endorsement Chair Rafael Mandelman
The Next Generation of Alice Leaders:
As many of
Alice’s longtime members gained notoriety, rising to power at all
levels of government, Alice continued to provide a training ground for
new leadership. Former Alice Co-Chairs Laura Spanjian and Scott Wiener
have joined the Democratic County Central Committee, working with
veteran Alice leaders Connie O’Conner and Leslie Katz to shape the
future of San Francisco politics. Working with them is longtime Harvey
Milk Club leader and recent Alice Board Member Robert Halaand, working
together in a new partnership of LGBT collaboration. Alice again made
history by appointing first Julius Turman (2007), and then Susan
Christian (2008), as the club’s first African American co-chairs,
furthering Alice’s commitment to diversity. Alice has a history of
grooming leaders, and if anything, it is working even more successfully
today than it ever has before.
We should all be proud of the work
we do at Alice. One can see from work with our leaders Mark Leno, Tom
Ammiano, Carole Migden, Bevan Dufty, Susan Leal, Jose Cisneros, Leslie
Katz, Theresa Sparks, Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Willie Brown, Dennis
Herrera, Kamala Harris, Phil Ting, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer,
Bill Clinton, and countless others – the work we do counts. Our club
has been instrumental in transforming law and sentiment towards LGBT
people. We should dream big for the future, because we have transformed
San Francisco, California, and the nation in our past. We have been at
the forefront of national change for Equal Benefits, Domestic
Partnership, Transgender Health and Marriage Equality to name just a
few of the causes we have championed. We created our political destiny
and it’s important to remember that our efforts, even the small tasks
we do along the way, really do change the world.
Nathan Purkiss is a
Board Member of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club who first
joined the club in 1997. Purkiss grew up in Irvine, California and got
involved in politics first as an activist with ACT UP Los Angeles.
Purkiss moved to San Francisco in 1993 and completed his Masters Degree
in History at San Francisco State University, specializing in the
history of gender and sexuality. He was hired out of college by Robert
Barnes to work as a political consultant, and managed several campaigns
including Dan Kelly for School Board. Purkiss worked as a Senior
Legislative Aide to Mark Leno both at the Board of Supervisors and at
the California State Assembly. His projects included staffing the
Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, the San Francisco
Transgender Health Benefit, designing the San Francisco Entertainment
Commission, staffing Proposition B (the Solar Revenue Bond), Assembly
Bill 196 (Employment Protections and Housing for Transgender People),
and many other projects. Nathan currently serves as the Government
Relations Manager to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Alice B Toklas LGBT Democratic Club History by Nathan Purkiss is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.