Community activists attend a San Francisco fundraiser in June, raising money for one of the city’s two major gay and lesbian Democratic clubs. Photo by Spencer Michels.
More than 30 years ago — June of 1982 to be exact — I covered a gay pride parade in San Francisco. There was a hot race for Congress going on at the time: the powerful Democratic incumbent, Phillip Burton, was running against a popular Republican state senator, Milton Marks. Both of them marched, or rode, in the parade, surrounded by dancing, motorcycle-riding members of the gay and lesbian communities.
AIDS was just becoming known, but gay political power — at least in San Francisco — was an emerging force to be reckoned with, more so than almost anywhere else in the nation. (Burton won the election.)
At that point, the main concern of gay people was violence against them. Harvey Milk had inspired the community by becoming the city’s first openly gay supervisor. His murder, along with the murder of Mayor George Moscone, inflamed and energized the gay community to more political action. Moscone’s successor as mayor, Dianne Feinstein, endorsed the gay pride parade, but always with a bit of trepidation. As with many old-line San Franciscans, the outrage of the marching throngs made her just a little uncomfortable. (She has since become used to it.)
A few years later, in 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis reportedly turned down contributions from openly gay groups.
Politicians outside of San Francisco were concerned that many voters were not sympathetic to gay rights or to gay people, and would punish politicians who were too close to that emerging community. And gay people were often reluctant to give money to political campaigns or gay political organizations, for fear they would be outed if their names were
This article originally appeared on: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2012/07/corralling-the-gay-and-lesbian-vote.html