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Life Arts

The White Night Riot and Lesbians Against Police Violence

By Maggie Jochild  Posted by Rady Ananda (about the submitter)     Permalink
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(Flyer created and distributed by Lesbians Against Police Violence and The Stonewall Coalition [mixed-gender lesbian/gay organization allied with LAPV] in summer 1979 in the aftermath of the White Night Riots; I'm pretty sure the graphic was drawn by Emily Siegel)

[Just to let you all know:
The Raw Story, the very major online newspaper which focuses on political news, ran a link on May 22 to the Group News Blog feature of my post on the White Night Riot. It's now in their archives for that date at 8:48 a.m., listed as "White Night riot, lesbians vs. cops" (LOVE it!)

Since then, my story was also linked to by Edge of the American West at
Milk and Twinkies (brilliant title, that). Edge of the American West is a stunningly written history blog that I read daily, so I'm duly honored.]

Today is the 29th anniversary of the largest lesbian and gay riot in the history of the world. Not only was I there, I was one of the women in Lesbians Against Police Violence responsible for the rally from which it arose.

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I've written about LAPV in other posts, such as Tania: 33 Years Later. In one, Dianne Feinstein, Opportunist, I give a good brief history of the events leading up to Dan White's cold-blooded assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk. I refer you to that for background.

Another excellent source is an article by LAPV members and women I worked closely with, Pam David and Lois Helmbold, in Radical America, Vol 13, no.4 July- August 1979, found online at Sexuality and the State: The Defeat of the Briggs Initiative and Beyond (scroll down about 2/5 of the document to find the pertinent Radical America extract).

And from YouTube, here's some contemporary news video from 1978-79:

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NBC News Footage on the murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk. The footage covers suspect Dan White's arrest, and a brief history of everyone. Also mentioned is Moscone's connection to Reverend Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, and the appointment of Jim Jones to head of the Housing Commission. Video ends abruptly. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUB-RCNBDnk

LAPV stood in radical opposition to police harassment of minority communities. We saw Dan White's assassination as a rage reprisal by a former cop against progressive forces (not just gay) and linked it to the larger picture of male and white domination. I think it's critical to remember that the riot which came from our agitation was the result of revolutionary lesbians speaking out against the ultimate forces of power in our society, not a bunch of "gays" upset about a verdict.

Several years ago I wrote my own memoir of the event. I'm going to include that below. Not long afterward, I was interviewed by Christina B. Hanhardt, who was writing a doctoral thesis in American Studies at New York University on "Butterflies, Whistles, and Fists: Safe Streets Patrols and the ‘New’ Gay Ghetto". Her interview with me and other LAPVers, as well as review of primary source documents (mostly from the papers I donated to the Meg Barnett Papers in the Queer Nation Collection at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Historical Society in San Francisco) formed Chapter Two of her thesis, "Safe Space: Sexual Minorities, Uneven Urban Development, and the Politics of Violence". At a later date, I will include this chapter in a post covering LAPV in more historical depth.

(March to City Hall just beginning, near 18th and Castro; perhaps an hour before all-out White Night Riot in San Francisco, 21 May 1979. Mount Sutro tower visible in background; buses are already being stopped.)


© 2008 by Maggie Jochild

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The day after the riot, my feelings about it began to change. I was driving a morning route then, delivering something called Veggie Rolls to natural foods store in San Francisco. There were dozens of such stores in 1979. I had arranged my route to go through the Mission, Noe Valley, Bernal and Potrero Hill neighborhoods first, hit SoMa and downtown during the mid morning lull, then head out to the Haight and the Avenues, ending up at Ocean Beach in the afternoon, where I fed the day-old rolls to a keening flock of gulls. On the morning of May 22, however, I began my day by driving past City Hall on the way to Polk Gulch.

I approached it from an indirect route so I could look across the square first and see if cops were there. There were scorched places near curbs here and there, but the burned-out police cars had already been towed away. There was a knot of 20-30 people standing on the sidewalk across from City Hall, standing with their arms at their sides, staring, not talking to each other. Every window on the front facade of the block-long building was covered with plywood, raw and bright in the morning light. There were no parking meters left on that block. I stopped and watched the people for a minute. They seemed to be in shock. I felt a thrill go through me.

While I chatted daily with the managers of the stores where I delivered, and with a few of them I actually conversed (mostly the dykes in the Coop
system), the majority of the stores were owned by either white boy hippies or what would soon be called yuppies, and my interest in what they had to say was limited. I knew I was identified as a lesbian by them because one of them had refused to let me help distribute his products, saying I was too “rough looking” for his clientele. I surely hated that man from then on.

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