8 Montrose Voice / Dec. 16,1983
Better Business in Baghdad by the Bay
On the Job
By Arthur S. Lazere, C.P.A.
The assassinations of Supervisor Harvey
Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978
changed the course of gay activism in San
Francisco. Milk, on his third try, had been
elected to the Board of Supervisors the
year before, becoming the first upfront
gay elected official of a major city. Euphoria prevailed in the gay community.
Established activists experienced a surge
of optimism and renewed energy in their
quest for social change and legal protection. Many who were previously inactive
were insEi£gd_J^fcfcig success to get
After lMDH ^^Kooting spree, the
mood changee^a^^Teuphoria to bitterness, from hope to gloom, from a sense of
genuine possibilities for positive change
to a despairing of such an eventual outcome. The example of violence against a
gay man, spread as it was across the front
pages and the television screens, quickly
elicited imitators. Violence against gay
men and women, always a problem, grew
markedly in frequency, a trend further
stimulated by the implicit message contained in the leniency of the Dan White
verdict. Many observed a new and pervading sense of anxiety in the community.
In that crucible of thwarted expectations and dashed hopes, a new strength
was emerging from a previously unexpected place—San Francisco's gay business community and its fledgling
chamber of commerce, the Golden Gate
Business Association. Founded in 1974,
GGBA had kept a low and closeted profile.
(The Tavern Guild, which dates back to
the early 1960s, was for many years the
more visible and politically-oriented
organization of bars, bar employees and
San Francisco politicians saw the
potential clout of GGBA, even before it
was perceived by the membership of the
organization itself. GGBA's annual
dinner, at which the board of directors for
the new year is installed in office, was the
first GGBA event I attended, back in 1977.
Prominent on the dais and at the speaker's
rostrom were Harvey Milk (the proprietor
of a camera shop) and George Moscone.
Vocal in their support for this emerging
gay constituency, the politicians received
enthusiatic ovations from an audience
grateful for their friendship and awed by
such fervent wooing. For many, it was the
first awareness of an enfranchisement for
gay identity. It certainly felt good to a then
recently-arrived immigrant from New
York and its City Council's monotonous
and disheartening annual rejection of gay
Late in 1977, I attended a monthly
GGBA membership meeting and unexpectedly found myself elected to the board
of directors for 1978. In the class of 1978
were a number of new faces, young and
energetic professionals, some emerging
from the closet for the first time. (Local
gay business groups have found that
many of their newer members do not
belong to other gay organizations; the business group provides a relatively comfortable, nonpolitical environment for
participation by some who feel threatened
by the contentiousness, both internal and
external, which seems inherent in political clubs.) It was this new energy which
brought GGBA firmly out of the closet at
the 1979 installation dinner. The dinner
program described the organization as
"business people who happen to be gay,
working together to build a better community." It was the first time the word
"gay" had appeared in writing in a GGBA
document. The description was sincere in
intent and not unsophisticated in its public relations message. "Working together
to build a better community" is about as
unassailable as motherhood and apple
The board was sworn in by supervisor
Harry Britt, appointed by Mayor Feinstein just a few weeks before to the vacant
Milk seat My speech that evening—as
newly elected president—was an articulation of the concerns I had heard expressed
by GGBA's board and membership. The
tumultuous and disturbing events
through which we had lived in recent
months called for a more outspoken stance
on issues that could only be effectively
pursued by an upfront organization.
During 1979, two situations arose in
which the newly-energized GGBA was
able to flex its political muscle. An anonymous, aggrieved gay employee of
Oakland-based World Airways sent me a
copy of a memorandum, addressed by
president Ed Daly to all employees. It
included the line: "This company doesn't
need hoodlums, racketeers (or) queers "
GGBA wrote to Daly, but its protests were
ignored. A Coors-type boycott was considered. A key problem was that World Airways was outside of San Francisco and
subject to no law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
When World later opened a sales office in
San Francisco, we immediately registered
a complaint with the San Francisco
Human Rights Commission. With the
cooperation—and legal force—of the Commission, we were able to obtain a pledge of
nondiscrimination from the recalcitrant
The second confrontation of 1979 was of
more lasting significance. After the White
Night riots, the then-president of the powerful San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Bill Dauer, wrote a scathingly
critical piece about the riot in the
Chamber's widely-circulated magazine.
In a television interview with gay journalist Randy Shilts, Mr. Dauer was asked
about the importance of gay tourist dol
lars. "There are more legitimate ways to
get money," he replied. He was quoted in
the San Jose Mercury: "The positive
effects of the gay community? There are
no positive effects." It seemed to me that,
as our community's chamber of commerce, it was the responsibility of GGBA
to confront our downtown peers. A delegation of GGBA board members met with
Dauer and explained its concerns. To Dau-
er's credit, we never heard an anti-gay
remark from him again, and not long
after, he hired two well-known gay activists to work for the chamber.
The San Francisco Chamber, observing '
the rapid growth of GGBA membership,
sent its well-commissioned salespeople
into the gay community seeking new
members. There was always some overlap
between the memberships of the two
groups. But the GGBA board and membership have long understood that the differences between GGBA and the chamber are
not only those of sexual orientation. The
chamber is controlled by, and works in the
interests of, the major downtown corporations. GGBA, on the other hand, is a group
of small merchants and professionals. On
issue after issue, we would not be able to
work with the chamber. Nevertheless, the
chamber was certainly viewing GGBA in
a new light. Under Dauer's successor,
executive director John Jacobs, the relationship between the organizations
improved to the point where, in 1983, when
a new delegation from the GGBA board
called upon Mr. Jacobs, we were able to
secure an endorsement by the chamber of
the gay employment rights bill, AB-1, currently pending in the state legislature.
Of continuing interest to GGBA has
been the thorny problem of police/gay
relations. In my installation speech in
1979,1 promised: "If there are incidents of
police harassment of gay businesses, as
has been suggested in the press recently,
GGBA will speak out and make it clear
that anywhere, but least of all in San
Francisco, such activity is not acceptable
and will not be tolerated by this community." Police Chief Charles Gain, an
was nofsufficWnTto combat homophobia
in the police force. A March 1979 GGBA
program on the subject drew an unusually
large crowd, some of whom were angry
over problems with permits and threatened closings of baths and other sexually
oriented establishments. A Chronicle
front page headline the next day trumpeted: "Gay Businessmen Boo Police
Chief." Since 1979, GGBA has played an
active and continuing role in programs to
educate police recruits and familiarize
them with our community. In addition, we
have supported efforts to recruit lesbian
and gay officers into the San Francisco
Lazere is on the board of the San Francisco Industrial Development Authority.
His column originates at the "Bay Area
Reporter," a San Francisco gay newspaper.
You Put Your
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or the Magazine?
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