Harvey Milk's friends: Interview

I'm wondering what you think about the Castro neighborhood as it is today compared to how it was in the 70s, and do you think young men and women have the same passion that you guys did?

Cleve Jones: I often say to younger people, 'You know, things are only new once. Sorry, you missed it.' (laughs)

Anne Kronenberg: You asshole!

Cleve Jones: But you can look at all the economic changes in San Francisco, it was much easier to live in this city then, much cheaper. Artists, students, young people could live on very little money. My first apartment was shared with people, we paid $50 a month rent each, for a fabulous six-bedroom flat on Central and Page. But I'm not being facetious, things are only new once. And all of us who were participating in the movement and being there on Castro Street were keenly aware that we were participating in something that had never before been seen. And you didn't have to be political. You didn't have to be educated. You didn't really have to be all that smart to get that this was brand new. And we were all very conscious of that, even... and this will sound really silly, but I think I remember the first dance party where gay men began to take off their shirts. I'm not kidding. I was with Bill Kraus at one of those galleria parties, and there was this hot guy and he took his shirt off. And people were looking around like, 'Are we allowed to do that?!' (laughs) And then everyone started to take off their clothes. It was just an amazing time and everything was new: the first marching band, the first gay synagogue, the first gay film festival, all these institutions and structures that we now take for granted were new and brought forward by individual men and women who had these ideas and made them happen.

*You didn't leave us much... You took all the firsts.

Cleve Jones: I'm sorry.

*Since I do write for a youth audience, and I'm trying to position how to make Harvey relevant to them and not something that happened before they were born... I was even 10 when he died, so I guess, do you have an idea how that message can be conveyed?

Cleve Jones: I think they need to be encouraged to find what they're going to do that is new and exciting and will change the world. And they need to be comforted and included and allowed to do that for themselves. But I am worried about them, because despite all the communications technology, I see them as being increasingly isolated and disconnected. So my first advice would be to turn off their computers, go outside, make eye contact.

Before someone said they felt the gay community is disconnecting from itself, and that gay youth are apathetic, but one thing I saw represented is you started out as rather apathetic to the whole movement that he was trying to make, and it took an event to inspire you...

Cleve Jones: I was not apathetic. I was involved in the Vietnam War protests. I was Quaker, I marched with farm workers in Arizona, and so I was not interested electoral or mainstream politics. I was all about smashing the patriarchy and eating the rich. And it was Harvey who persuaded me that there was value in that. And I don't agree that young people are apathetic. I think young people are very concerned about the world, and frightened and confused about how to take action against the many complex issues they're facing.

When I saw the film, one thing that really struck me was the battle against Prop 6, and the battle against Prop 8 that's going now, and I was thinking the reaction is going to be very different depending if that wins or loses. Can you compare how that campaign maybe is alike or different from the current one?

Anne Kronenberg: Prop 6 was a basic, fundamental right of gay men and women being allowed to teach in our schools. It was based on a morality that gays would be recruiting the kids and trying to turn them over into homosexuals, which is so bizarre. I think the same right-wing, Christian born-again ... certainly plays a role in Prop 8 currently. But we're talking about an equality issue here. Will we continue to have the equality of marriage for lesbians and gay men. If you think in 30 years the difference of 'I have a teacher and they're going to make me a dyke' to now we're talking about marriage, I don't know what you guys think, but I think Harvey is smiling that we're even there. That's a huge issue. I firmly believe we're going to defeat it.

Cleve Jones: I think we're going to win, but I don't feel the level of fear that I felt then. History is on our side, that we're moving in the right direction. And if we do lose, it will be a setback, and we'll be angry and disappointed, but I won't feel the same gut-level fear that we felt then. If Proposition 6 passed we were going down a slippery slope right to fascism. That was an outrage. How would they determine who was homosexual? How would you even test it? And it also include language for those who advocated for gay teachers, so there was a much more acute sense of real fear in the pit of your stomach and the violence that could be unleashed.

Anne Kronenberg: Plus there was the terror of what was happening across the country. It seemed to be a snowball effect. Starting in Florida, it was just like, 'Is this going to happen to us, too?'

Cleve Jones: It was Florida, Oklahoma, Wichita, Eugene, St. Paul... we were just losing. All of the early gay ordinances that had been passed by slim majorities on city councils were being subjected to referenda and we were losing and losing and losing. So, it's very different now. We are winning and winning and winning. And, if we lose this one, it will be, in my view, a minor and temporary setback.