San Francisco City Hall
Donald's Comments - November 21, 2000


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I was driving down Van Ness tonight and had the pleasure of driving past San Francisco's beautiful City Hall. The repairs and renovation of the nearly 100 year old building were recently completed. The white granite, the copper dome, the ornate grill work, the gold leaf; they all touched me. I Love City Hall! I love what it stands for. I love what it has to say! I think everyone who is a proud San Franciscan loves City Hall. It speaks of tolerance and cooperation and hope.

City Hall says to me that we are making an effort to be civilized. As a gay man, I feel oppressed by society, but as a San Franciscan, I feel liberated. Although there are some who would deny us civil rights and some whose hatred manifests itself in physical violence against us, there is little reason to fear being perceived as gay in public in San Francisco.

"We will leave you alone as long as you remain deep in the closet." has traditionally been society's way of coping with the assumption that gays are different, and because we don't understand them, they threaten us. This resulted in a gay population which had been growing rapidly while hardly being noticed due to society' pretending that gays don't exist. By the time the gay community

In response to the gay community's quest for equal rights under the law, San Francisco turned a deaf ear as did all levels of American Society and Government. But, having a tradition of tolerance and a reputation for free thought, the City begrudgingly made room for the gay community which was pretty well established by the time it was noticed and taken seriously.


MAY 21, 1979

I wish I had pictures of the inside of City Hall. It is grand. I gawk like a tourist every time I stand in the rotunda. The ornate dome above is taller the the dome of the US Capital in Washington DC.

City Hall dominates the Civic Center, the traditional site of the Pride Festival which follows the annual Gay Parade.

San Francisco's first openly gay elected official was sworn in as Supervisor in a ceremony on the steps, walked proudly inside, and took a seat at the table.

When the San Francisco gay community was in despair over the loss of our leader Harvey Milk and our friend Mayor George Moscone, we came together carrying candles, and cried on its steps, and City Hall shared our grief. It comforted all of us San Franciscans when we gathered in silence in the Rotunda, before the coffins of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk to say goodbye. It spoke of the future and gave us strength.

So then why would we unleash our rage on the building that had welcomed us to its table? For precisely the same reason that we gathered there to celebrate, to speak out to our government, to express our sorrows. It hears us and reverberates our voice.

When a lenient sentence was given Dan White for assassinating two of our government officials, outrage swept through the gay community and we could no longer hold in the anger. We had to scream out. We needed to be heard. Where else could we go?

When I saw people begin to tear down the decorative iron grilles from around the doors of City Hall, I was astonished. How could anyone harm our gathering place, our work of art, City Hall? The building is not the enemy. I don't approve of this. It's going to hurt us. There were some cheers of approval and some loud objections, but no one moved to join or stop the attack.

Then they started using the iron bars to shatter the glass doors which were locked. I pictured an angry mob storming into that rotunda and trashing everything in sight. But the crowd didn't rush up the steps to charge into the building. I don't think anyone wanted to go inside. Even the ones who broke the glass made no effort to enter.


Police car torched - May 21, 1979
It wasn't going to impress anyone if we stood around and yelled at City Hall. But to launch an assault on the building would be to lash out at our government and the violence would stimulate the news hungry media and assure that the message would be announced to the world.

Rocks started flying and the sound of shattering glass filled the air. I got used to the idea that we had to be outrageous to get the world's attention. Then flames erupted on the right and caught everyones' attention. A police car had been torched. Now that made sense. The crowd voiced its approval and more cars were torched. Attacks on the building pretty much stopped at that point, partly because of the new, more appealing target, and partly because just about all of the ground floor windows were already broken.

This page created November 21, 2000
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