40th Anniversary

In 2011, The Alice B. Toklas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic Club of San Francisco is celebrating its 40th Anniversary. We were the first registered LGBT Democratic Club in the nation. Forming only two years after the Stonewall riots in the infancy of the LGBT civil rights movement, Alice grew to become a vibrant organization that has made a profound impact on San Francisco, California and American politics. Alice made its impact by training activists over four decades to become political professionals and electing candidates that have fought for the issues that are important to the LGBT community.

Spearheaded by Nathan Purkiss, Member of Alice’s Emeritus Board, we will mark this occasion by re-visiting some historic milestones in our club’s 40 year history over the next couple of months. Follow this link for a full history of our Club, covering 1971 to 2005.

Below you can find articles from our 40th Anniversary History Series and well as a list of events planned for this year. This page is being updated continuously, so please check back often.

Alice 40th Anniversary History Series

Alice Pre-History

Photo of Jim Foster Founder and first President of Alice, Source: Alice Reports, November, 1990 Photo: By Rink

This is a very exciting year at Alice as we approach December, 2011, the 40th anniversary of our organization. We have planned many events and activities to celebrate. In our newsletter, we will be featuring Alice History articles through December. This first article will be about Alice Pre-History, recounting the period that led to the formation of our club.

Before Alice was chartered by the Democratic Party in December, 1971, the LGBT community in San Francisco had already been forming into the beginnings of an organized movement. LGBT people had been in San Francisco since the Gold Rush, but San Francisco became recognized as a refuge for LGBT people after WWII. During the war, LGBT Americans found an easy way to leave their small towns and find other LGBT people in the armed services (especially the Navy). After the war during the 1950’s McCarthy Era, the military began psychiatric screenings of armed service members and began a mass discharge of LGBT service members.

San Francisco, a major port town where service members were discharged, became a new home for many of these discharged service members, and this helped establish San Francisco’s reputation as a refuge for the LGBT community. Many of the cooks and stewards who worked on ships in the Navy started a new life in San Francisco opening the first LGBT bars in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, such as the Black Cat, a bar that became renowned for drag performances.

While San Francisco was becoming a refuge for LGBT people, homosexuality was still treated with great hostility even in San Francisco. California sodomy and dress code laws banned homosexuality and drag, and these laws were used by police as justification to raid bars and jail queer people.

It was in this context that Jim Foster, the founder of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, began to organize to fight oppression. In September, 1964, he founded a precursor organization to Alice, The Society for Individual Rights (SIR), the first gay rights organization for men in San Francisco (following Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon’s founding of The Daughter’s of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in San Francisco and America).

Next month this column will continue with the story of the founding of Alice. Also, be sure to join us in August for two evenings of Alice History at the GLBT History Museum!

Nathan Purkiss, Emeritus Board
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club

Formation of Alice

Alice B. Toklas Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 1

Last month this column told the story of how San Francisco became a destination point for LGBT people throughout America. This article will recount the formation of Alice by the work of Jim Foster and an organization called the Society for Individual Rights.

Gay political activism in San Francisco was formed almost entirely out of a reaction to police crackdowns on local gay bars and meeting places.

Bars like the Black Cat, a renowned North Beach bohemian bar known for drag performances and gay clientele, were continuously raided by police in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The heterosexual owner of the Black Cat fought this discrimination, taking his case all the way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled in 1951 that serving drinks to homosexuals was not a crime. However, Police could still use sodomy laws, dress codes, and any violation of alcohol permits to rule that bars serving homosexuals and people in drag should be shut down. The Police spent more than a decade fighting the battle with the Black Cat alone, and with mounting legal bills, in 1963 the Black Cat closed its doors.

One year after the Black Cat was closed, in 1964, Jim Foster founded the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) as the first San Francisco organization of gay men to combat this type of discrimination (following the Daughters of Bilitis, a similar lesbian organization formed earlier in San Francisco).

SIR was an organization that began the process of declaring that it was okay to be gay. They renovated a union hall building on 6th Street at Market, turning it into their meeting and working place, with a large room upstairs that could be used as a theater, office space, and at one point they even had a storefront. The upstairs theater became a kind of community center, with drag performances and musicals like Hello Dolly and Mame being shown as community events. SIR also published a glossy, monthly magazine called Vector that was an important vehicle for people in California and around the nation to read about the fact that there were other gay people in the world like them.

SIR was a non-partisan organization, but this became a point of contention when organizers like Jim Foster wanted to invite political leaders to engage the organization. Foster recognized that the gay community in San Francisco was growing, guessing that there may be 50,000-90,000 people in the community. He realized that the community could be outreached to as a ‘gay vote’, and he began to meet with people like Phillip Burton, John Burton and Willie Brown to argue that gay civil rights concerns could be seen as a natural extension of their liberal constituent base, and might prove to be a large new voting bloc.

Foster had his first major political success in 1969 with a brand new candidate on the local political scene: Dianne Feinstein. He asked her to come speak in front of SIR before her first run for Supervisor in 1969. She spoke before the group with grace and a willingness to hear their concerns. A woman had never won a race for Supervisor in this town dominated by Irish Catholic politics, and this sharp, moderate, impressive speaker deeply impressed the members of SIR. After her speech, many members went out and worked on her campaign.

Feinstein shocked the City by becoming not just San Francisco’s first female Supervisor, but she came in first as the top vote getter that year, launching to become the new President of the Board of Supervisors. The ‘gay vote’ was considered a very significant part of her coalition for victory. It was the first time in history the gay community demonstrated that it could turn out voters, and with this fresh momentum and focus on politics, the need for direct political action became more apparent to Foster.

Foster decided to form the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club, an organization which could operate directly as a voice for gay rights within the Democratic Party. The club was chartered in December 1971 as the first Democratic club in America to make its mission to advocate for the civil rights of gay people. The founding members were a group of men and women, moving away from the male organizational structure of SIR (but fully representing the diversity of the LGBT community would be a decades-long challenge to address – a challenge that continues to this day).

After Alice became Chartered in December, the club held its first public meeting on Valentines Day, 1972 in the SIR Office Building (the regular meeting place for Alice for its first years) and the first action the club took was to pass a resolution calling for the legalization of Marijuana. The Club also immediately got to work on its first campaign, the 1972 Presidential contest of George McGovern.

It was a great start that would be quickly followed by others. Within four years of the chartering of Alice, Morris Kight formed the Stonewall Democratic Club of Los Angeles in 1975, and shortly after the Harvey Milk Democratic Club would also come along. Later other clubs started to charter in places throughout America, and within the span of a few years, Alice became a model for LGBT civil rights advocacy for the entire nation.

Link to Alice Newsletter Volume 1, Number 1: Page 1Page 2Page 3

Next month this column will continue with Alice in its first decade, from McGovern to Milk.

Nathan Purkiss, Emeritus Board
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club

Article about Dianne Feinstein by Jim Ross

Article by Jim Foster, Alice Reports Newsletter

Why Alice B. Toklas?

Alice B. Toklas, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

The first question many people ask about Alice is, why the organization was named after Alice B. Toklas?

Alice was chartered in December, 1971, just two years after the Stonewall Riots at a time when there was enormous hostility towards gay people.

By 1971, the year Alice was chartered, an average of 2,800 gay men were being arrested annually by the SFPD from raids on gay bars and meeting areas. Convictions of any kind of morals charge often carried the requirement that the defendant register as a sex offender. In the 1970’s, almost all professional licenses (even for people who worked as hairdressers) had to be cleared by the police, and so a conviction could destroy a person’s ability to work. People’s lives could be ruined by coming out.
Alice was formed as an organization that would fight discrimination through political action, but getting people to join the club and come out publicly in support of gay rights was a hard thing to do in this context.

To make people feel more comfortable, the club was called “Alice”, referring to Alice B. Toklas, the lesbian partner of the famous author Gertrude Stein. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying you were a “Friend of Dorothy”. This would protect the anonymity of new members who might be coming out, while still allowing Club members to recruit newcomers.

If you are interested in learning more about Alice B. Toklas, there is a fantastic exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum currently on Gertrude Stein that also has a section on Alice B. Toklas. Follow this link to Find out more info about the exhibit.

Nathan Purkiss, Emeritus Board
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club

1970’s “McGovern to Milk”

The second article of this column explained the formation of Alice. This article will review the 1970’s, from the Presidential Campaign of George McGovern, to the time of Harvey Milk at City Hall.

Alice Reports, Volume 4, Number 2

Alice’s Important Role in the McGovern for President Campaign:
Soon after Alice was chartered, the club became very involved in the George McGovern for President Campaign. McGovern was a grassroots candidate that ran against the party establishment to win the nomination, and he needed all the support he could get. In this uncertain political context, Alice Founder Jim Foster was able to play a key role in helping McGovern to win the Democratic Primary in California.

The California ballot organized candidate name placement in order of who gathered signatures first. Jim Foster came up with a creative idea to help McGovern win first ballot placement, working with Alice. At 12:01AM the first day signatures could be gathered, Alice members hit the bars in the Castro and gathered the needed signatures to put McGovern on the ballot first, six hours before any of his competitors were able to deliver their signatures. McGovern won California by a five-point margin, and his top placement on the ballot was considered part of the reason for his victory, and Alice was credited with making his ballot placement happen.

First national appeal for gay rights at the Democratic Convention of 1972:
McGovern was thankful to Foster for his signature gathering campaign, and because of this, Foster was able to strike a deal with McGovern to give the first gay rights speech in American History before the Democratic National Convention.

July 12th, 1972, at 5AM in Miami, during the marathon convention which still was being waged by McGovern to win his nomination, Alice President Jim Foster gave a powerful gay rights speech that was the first of its kind in America. He said “We do not come to you pleading for understanding or begging for your tolerance – we come to you affirming our pride in our lifestyles, affirming the validity of our right to seek and maintain meaningful emotional relationships, and affirming our right to participate in the life of the country on an equal basis with every other citizen.” He called for a “Gay Plank” to be added to the Democratic Party Platform, as part of the Democratic Party’s civil rights vision.

The Democratic Party was not ready for this message, and voted down Foster’s “Gay Plank”, but it was the very beginning of advocacy for LGBT Rights in the Party.

AB 489 removal of California Sodomy Laws:
In 1975 Alice helped win a major victory that had been years in the making, with the passage of Willie Brown’s AB 489 (The Consenting Adult Sex Law), which decriminalized sodomy in California. For years, bars had been raided by police with the justification that patrons of LGBT bars were criminals by virtue of sodomy laws. AB 489 was first brought to Willie Brown and John Burton by Alice President Jim Foster, and each year Foster and Alice made it their top legislative priority until it finally passed in 1975. This was perhaps Jim Foster’s most lasting legacy, the decriminalization of homosexuality in California, which he basically created Alice to achieve.

Progress in law enforcement:
Locally, Alice worked hard to change the culture of law enforcement, which had a history of abusive treatment of LGBT people. Sherriff’s Dick Hongisto and Mike Hennessey were both elected with LGBT support, and worked publicly to make changes in law enforcement relations with the community. Mike Hennessey became an especially close ally of Alice, meeting with the club to work through changes in policy, marching in the parade carrying Alice’s banner, and even participating as a regular DJ at Alice Christmas parties. Alice was also successful in working with Mayor Feinstein to make former Alice President Jo Daly the first lesbian Police Commissioner in San Francisco.

Much work to be done in the area of diversity:
While progress was made in many areas, challenges of diversity continued to present an enormous learning curve for many gay community organizations, including Alice. Women often felt that men weren’t sharing in the fight for women’s rights, or supporting women getting into positions of power; Transgender people felt left out of the prioritization of our movement, not even part of the nomenclature of community organizations; communities of color felt that their goals were not a priority; and many divisions combined to threaten the very idea of a shared LGBT community. It would take a yet unknown battle in the next decade against AIDS for our community to begin making greater progress in healing these divisions.

Competing visions for the future:
As San Francisco exploded in the 1970’s with a booming LGBT Community, Alice as an organization began to grow quickly as well. Many people in the growing club had different visions of what they wanted the political agenda to be. Jim Foster and the original organizers of Alice believed politics was rooted in institutions that were not easily changed. They believed that if the gay community was to become influential in politics, the community needed to win by the rules of political institutions. But a new paradigm of politics emerged in the early ‘70’s that challenged this thinking. After the Vietnam War protests and the radicalism of the ‘60’s, people were moving to San Francisco with a different orientation for politics. It was in this context that Harvey Milk came to challenge the existing political paradigm.

Formation of new Democratic Clubs:
Harvey Milk and others created a “Gay Democratic Club” (which later became the Harvey Milk Democratic Club) partly as a reaction to Alice not being a fit for their politics. Morris Kight also created the Stonewall Democratic Club in 1975, and for a time, there was a “Stonewall San Francisco Chapter”, affording San Franciscans three different options for gay Democratic Party clubs to choose from. These new organizations also struggled with the issue of diversity that challenged our community, but new organizations provided a new way to respect different visions.

During this time of change with new and competing visions, one thing that Alice could absorb was the idea that politics could be much broader than the founders of Alice had originally envisioned. The organization would work to expand its vision over the following years, even as Alice continued to respect the great achievements and courage of the early pioneers of our club.

Next Month, this column will continue as we move forward into the 1980’s, a decade of challenge and change for our community.

Nathan Purkiss, Emeritus Board
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club

Follow this link to read the full Alice Reports, Volume 4, Number 2

1980’s – “A Decade of Challenge and Change”

The last article of this column recounted the 1970’s, from the Presidential campaign of George McGovern through the time of Harvey Milk. This article will review the 1980’s, a time of enormous challenge and change for the community.

Alice Reports, May 1987

In the 1970’s, Alice had played a significant role in many great successes for the community. Alice was the first Democratic organization in America to champion LGBT rights. Alice’s first goal, decriminalizing homosexuality, had been significantly achieved in California with the passage of Willie Brown’s AB 489 to decriminalize sodomy. As Alice became a success, other Democratic organizations began to appear throughout America following Alice’s model. With the successful election of gay elected officials in San Francisco, it would seem that the 1980’s would be the start of a new era of positive changes for the community. But as we all know, with the onset of AIDS, this was a decade of enormous challenge.

In 1980 Alice worked successfully to help accomplish one if its founding goals, by establishing the first lesbian and gay rights platform within the Democratic National Party (adding “sexual orientation” to the civil rights section). San Francisco delegates Jim Foster, Bill Kraus, Anne Kronenberg, Larry Eppinette, Gwen Craig and Harry Britt and others successfully lobbied Jimmy Carter to include gay rights within the national party platform, eight years after Jim Foster gave the first speech before the party demanding this change. From this point forward, the Democratic Party would publicly state its goal of attaining civil rights for gay and lesbian people. It was a great victory for the trajectory of our movement, but the loss of the Carter Presidency to Ronald Reagan, coupled with the onset of AIDS shortly after, would be a devastating combination that would prove catastrophic.

The ‘Reagan Revolution’ was significantly fueled by opposition to the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade in 1978 and the growing visibility of the gay community through wins like AB 489. This was the period that the ‘culture wars’ really began to take off in America. Reactionary politics began to emerge with groups like Jerry Fallwell’s “Moral Majority”, Don Wildmon’s “American Family Association” Phyllis Schlafly’s “Eagle Forum” which were formed with the specific purpose of demonizing LGBT people as ‘anti-family’. It was in this context that the first cases of AIDS emerged, and the disease was cast immediately by American conservatives within their culture war against LGBT people. Where other illnesses might illicit a national health campaign, the religious right took this opportunity to use tragedy as a way to moralize about homosexuality. The Federal Government was entirely unresponsive to this epidemic at first, and it took several years and thousands of lives lost, and his friend Rock Hudson became ill, before finally Ronald Reagan even mentioned the word AIDS.

In this ugly context, Alice became active in several ways. First, Alice President Connie O’Conner changed the club’s name to be a “Gay and Lesbian” Democratic Club. The first and most important action of the community was to encourage everyone to ‘come out’. In the face of crisis, it was critical that voices be heard and people stand up and be counted for change.

Second, Alice worked closely with Federal representatives Phillip Burton and Nancy Pelosi to take the lead in fighting for research funding to fight the disease. This fight also was fought on the grounds of the American Culture Wars, and it took a boy named Ryan White to be the face of this illness, for Congress to pass an act that finally began to fund the fight more appropriately. Alice and San Francisco representatives fought at the forefront of this battle, as San Francisco had been disproportionately impacted by the disease.

Third, Alice worked with friends in the local community to help those who were sick. The disease was impacting everyone in the community, and this was a time when everyone came together to help their friends.

Fourth, Alice fought with the community to support people with AIDS, particularly in fighting against California’s LaRouche Initiative, (Proposition 64, 1986), which proposed to quarantine people with AIDS. Like the Briggs Initiative a decade earlier, the LaRouche Initiative was an attack on our community that failed, and also became an organizing point for our community to rally together. Alice was a veteran organization that helped organize politically to stop that attack.
An important role Alice also played as a veteran community organization was to help fill the gaps for services that were not yet established by the community. A great example of this was the public relations campaign to stop media exploitation of people with AIDS. In this decade, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was just getting started and needed the support of already established organizations to help fight the media response to AIDS, which was either silent in the face of the epidemic, or reported with homophobic/AIDS-phobic narratives.

In 1986, San Francisco local TV station KQED ran a PBS Frontline news story on a man with AIDS named Fabian Bridges, who they represented as a ‘Typhoid Mary’. The reporters described Bridges as an HIV positive homosexual who had six partners a night and implied that he was a prototypical man with AIDS. The reporters didn’t mention that Bridges was financially in dire straits and was working as a prostitute, and that they paid Bridges for the exploitative interview. Alice joined the Milk Club and others in the community to fight this type of exploitative reporting, and after that, KQED appointed a gay man for the first time to their Board to help maintain greater balance in their reporting. This was just one example of many in the fight for fair media reporting on this issue.

By the end of the decade, Alice played an important role in helping the community deal with a devastating crisis, but it took a great toll on the people of our club. By 1990 so many of Alice’s members had died that the future of the club remained in question. The Reagan Revolution stalled the discovery of treatments for AIDS, and the future continued to look frightening. It was in the 1990’s, with the discovery of Protease Inhibitors, that the community finally began to see progress in the fight against AIDS. It was also in the 1990’s that Alice and the San Francisco LGBT Community began to breakout as a powerhouse in local politics.

Next Month, this column will continue as we move forward into the 1990’s, a time when the San Francisco LGBT Community began to establish itself as a formidable force in local politics.

Nathan Purkiss, Emeritus Board
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club

Download the old Alice reports here:


Note to Editors:

Here are some links that would be great to use for above, wherever you think they fit:

Link to the 1980 Democratic Party Platform: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29607#axzz1Ze1S9XQO
Link for “The Reagan Revolution”: http://emayzine.com/lectures/1980S.htm

Here is a link on Reagan’s legacy on AIDS that would be good to put somewhere: http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-06-08/opinion/17428849_1_aids-in-san-francisco-aids-research-education-cases
Link for “Culture Wars”: http://www.enotes.com/culture-wars-article
Link for Jerry Fallwell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Falwell
Link for “American Family Association”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Family_Association
Link for Phyllis Schlafly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllis_Schlafly
“The first cases of AIDS Emerged…” here is an interesting link on AIDS History: http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-history.htm
Link for Ryan White: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_White
Link for Ryan White Care Act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_White_Care_Act
Link for Rock Hudson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_Hudson
Link for the LaRouche Initiative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_64_(1986)
Link for the Briggs Initiative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briggs_Initiative
Link for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation: http://www.glaad.org/
Link to 1986 LA Times story on Fabian Bridges: http://articles.latimes.com/1986-03-27/entertainment/ca-1098_1_aids-victims
“So many Alice members had died” – link to Jim Foster Alice Reports Obituary: http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/images/5/55/1990_11_Alice_Reports.pdf
Link to “Protease Inhibitors”: http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_protease_inhibitors.htm

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