Kim Winchester – Activism

“Harvey Milk gave hope to people.”

Harvey Milk.[1] I remember him speaking at Castro. And I remember voting for him, because we wanted a change. We wanted a gay mayor. We wanted change.

[Sighs.] I remember when Harvey Milk was killed. I remember the march. My girlfriend and I both walked in that march, with a candle. We went up to Castro. Castro: they didn’t like us there. They didn’t like us working girls there. “Girls behave yourself while you’re here!” “Okay! [Laughs.] We’re just out looking for some trade, not some money.”

[The march] was very violent. It was very heartbreaking. When we got down to the office, you could see police cars turned over, and fires, and fighting. Just a lot of fighting. Policeman fighting, and angry people. I just wanted to go hide. I didn’t want to be there. I just didn’t want to be there.

What did I do during all that confusion? With all that violence and stuff going on? I ran and got high. That was the only peace of mind I could find at the time. I ended up working the streets that night. I just didn’t want to be where I was.

There’s probably still a lot more about that particular day that I have shoved in my mind, that I can’t remember right now—but I remember the outrage.

It wasn’t so much the fact that [Milk] was gay . . . He was not opinionated because he was gay. He wanted equal rights for everybody. Just because he was gay doesn’t mean you get equal rights. It just means that he wanted equal rights for everybody. It didn’t make any difference if you were gay. You were still entitled to these benefits.

It was almost like, in San Francisco, gays were put on the back burner. We knew that they were there but, “Don’t worry about them.” All of a sudden, you know, we get together and [said,] “This ain’t right. We can’t what? We’re sick? We’re pathetic?”

[People said,] “This is your little corner of the world. Don’t make any noise.” Harvey Milk didn’t stand for that. It wasn’t about being so much as being gay. It was for what he stood for: people are people, and they need to have equal rights. These are human beings that just happen to be gay. They’re not gay and just happen to be human. They need protection. That was a big thing. A guy could come up and beat gay guys, and nothing happened. They could beat transgenders up. They could kill them and nothing happened. That’s how we felt.

I dated one of the [police] officers [in San Francisco]. Then the bastard had the nerve, the audacity, to arrest me! I went to court and I says, “Ask him about his tattoo by his penis.” And the judge said, “Is there a tattoo there?” There was. And [the judge] says, “Case dismissed. You are off the force.” I was furious. I says [to the officer], “You nasty person! You took me during rush hour.” I was . . . I just got tired!

Harvey Milk gave hope to people that were sick and tired of being sick and tired. He was hope! And then to have somebody come and kill that hope! Did you think nothing was going to happen?

These were people that have been suppressed for a long time. He was the beginning of the beginning. It has not ended since. It’s just been going forward. Harvey Milk was the beginning of same-sex marriage. I give him that credit. He was very openly gay. He was very openly in a relationship with somebody. He was very openly happy. I thought that was beautiful.

He didn’t have just gay and lesbian on his team. He had compassionate people on his team. “I don’t care if you’re gay or lesbian. What is your compassion level?” That was important.

He was right up on Castro. Oh, I dreaded to go up there. I feared that area because I heard they beat us working girls up and sent us home. The gays were anti-transgender too!

So, [the march] wasn’t just about the gays. It was about the opening of a whole new dawn. I was there for a reason. I had to see it. It was too much for me to digest all at once. I was scared to death.

[1]Milk was an openly-gay man who won a position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He and then Mayor Moscone were shot to death by a disgruntled former Supervisor, Dan White, in 1978. The march that Winchester recalls was part of protests that erupted in May 1979, when White was found guilty of manslaughter, but avoided conviction for first-degree murder.

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Sources: Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 22 February 2013 and August 28, 2013.