May 6th, 2009

gay vigilante

How I earned my Gay Pride merit badge

I was watching 365 Gay News on Logo channel the other night, and for some story referencing Harvey Milk, up popped a “stock photo” that I hadn’t seen in many years. The photos were taken at the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade in June 1978, and Harvey Milk had been elected the previous November as San Francisco’s first openly and proudly gay Supervisor.

See all those “NO! ON THE BRIGGS INITIATIVE” signs? I made them.

I had moved to San Francisco the year before. The gay community was being attacked nationwide by Anita Bryant and her noxious “Save Our Children” campaign, and a conservative state senator put a proposition on the ballot to ban any gays and lesbians from working in schools. I became politically active with the Bay Area Comittee Against the Briggs Initiative – the B.A.C.A.B.I. on the signs. We had that unwieldy name because we didn’t waste any time in mobilizing, and propositions qualify for the ballot long before they’re assigned numbers. Later would come the flyers and signs and buttons that read “NO on 6.”

I did a lot of the publicity design and production work for the group – flyers, mailers, banners, and these protest signs. The typeface was ITC Korinna – which I tried to use consistently for most of BACABI’s printed matter – back when you handset most large display type with transfer lettering.

We made thousands of the signs, and it’s hard to find photos of that year’s parade that don’t have at least one of them in it. (Click through for a few examples found in flickr galleries, and to see what gay people looked like 30 years ago!).

I’m very proud of my work.

Although the No on 6 side trailed badly in the polls early in the campaign, by November we had turned it around, defeating the Briggs Initiative 58% to 42% -- even in Briggs’ Orange County district! It was considered California's Stonewall for mobilizing gays and lesbians and getting a lot of them to come out of the closet.

Harvey was killed just five months after these photos were taken, shot in the head by someone who didn’t think gays deserved equal rights.

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