story and photos by Jim Stewart
It was Tuesday, October 31, 1978. Halloween.
Prop 6 would be on the ballot in a week. It was sponsored by state legislator John Briggs of Orange County and better known as the Briggs Initiative. If passed, it would ban gay and lesbian teachers and staff from employment in the California public schools.
We needed money to defeat it. We needed a fundraiser.
Hey, let’s put on a show! What could be more American than Mickey and Judy! What could be more patriotic than a World War II USO Canteen Show!
I was building a catwalk on which Halloween revelers could strut their stuff in a cavernous two-story building (now gone) near the northeast corner of Market and Castro.
“Are you sure that thing’s not going to collapse?” Harvey Milk said, as he nodded at my catwalk. He had just come into the building on his way to his new minuscule camera shop. He’d moved to the building from Castro Street after his election. He didn’t do much business there. He was busy at City Hall.
“It’ll be fine,” I said. I finished toenailing the support struts in place.
“Some of those queens are pretty hefty. The last thing we need is a disaster,” Harvey said.
“Everything’s safe,” I said.
We opened when it got dark and the Halloween crowd on Castro grew. Red, white, and blue bunting and American flags decorated the hall. Everything was a dollar. Coffee a dollar. Doughnuts a dollar. A dollar a dance with a pin-up gal, in drag or for real. A dollar a dance with a GI Joe or one of America’s finest officers.
The DJ kept the tunes coming. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” held court. Disco played second fiddle. From an inside balcony across the back, Wakefield Poole projected onto screens hung from the ceiling slide shows of hot men and scenes from his famous porno-art films Boys in the Sand and Bijou. Kate Smith sang out her famous “God Bless America” from an old black and white Movietone newsreel clip.
Two lesbians were dressed as slices of toast, one hung with garlands of peanuts, the other draped in clusters of grapes. They hugged and kissed and became a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Drag queens, Greek gods, and leatherfolk filled the hall. A man dressed as a cock walked hunched over until he saw what he liked, then stood up tall and ejaculated Ivory Liquid.
The music stopped. The hall went dark.
Damn World War II fuse box!
I dashed out the door, fought my way across Market Street traffic, and down Castro to Cliff’s hardware. Ernie was locking up.
“I’m sorry. We’re closed.”
I yelled my tale of woe through the glass door, ending with a vague threat of “hundreds of drag queens” descending on Cliff’s in protest. I got the fuses.
The lights went back on. The night continued.
“We can all thank Ernie at Cliff’s for coming to our rescue,” I said over the loud speaker.
Cheers went up in the hall. Kate Smith burst out singing “God Bless America” and the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” started the dollars flowing again.
A week later, on November 7, 1978, the Briggs Initiative was soundly defeated at the polls with over a 58% “no” vote. We felt safe again.
Less than a month later, on November 27, 1978, Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated in his office at City Hall by Dan White.
Copyright 2012 Jim Stewart. For further true gay adventures check out the award-winning Folsom Street Blues: A Memoir of 1970s SoMa and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco by Jim Stewart.
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