Karen Ocamb

Milk Photographer Jerry Pritikin is OK with HRC at Castro Landmark

Filed By Karen Ocamb | December 20, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics, The Movement
Tags: camera store, Castro, Harvey Milk, HRC, Human Rights Campaign

Photographer Jerry Pritikin emailed me saying he has a different opinion from those who are upset that the Human Rights Campaign is setting up an “Action Center” in the storefront once occupied by the late LGBT hero, Harvey Milk. I asked for his opinion, plus some background to help round out the picture of why he might care so much. Pritikin responded with a note that adds to our collective knowledge of that time and spirit in the late 1970s when Anita Bryant and the religious antigay movement were catching fire. Here’s Pritikin’s recollection and opinion, with a headline and a few slight edits from me – Karen Ocamb

Jerry Pritikin with Harvey Milk in 1978 Photo by Danny Nicoletta

Harvey Would Not Be Mad if HRC Took Over His Old Location

By Jerry Pritikin

I knew Harvey Milk and my image of him on "Orange Tuesday," 6/7/77, introduced Harvey nationally, 5 months before he was elected. Here are a few images and tidbits to understand how I feel about the Human Rights Campaign and the possibility of them using my iconic image of Harvey as a mural at the famed 575 Castro landmark.

I left Chicago because just knowing someone “queer” (that is what we were called) or being gay yourself was considered Taboo! I moved to San Francisco in 1960. I bought a cheap camera to send tourist-like images of the bridges, wharf and cable cars back home to friends and family. I soon found left-over beatniks, aging hippies and flower children and peace mongers marching against the Vietnam War.

I remember seeing an unknown band at a downtown gay bar called the “Rendezvous” – no cover charge and 25 cents in a bottle. The owner was happy that 30 new customers came to see a band called “The Grateful Dead” in the ’67 "Summer of Love." A one-ounce lid of pot sold for $7 bucks! By the end of the 60′s, there was a man walking on the moon – but the Haight-Ashbury had lost most of it’s luster when the Sight-seeing buses showed up and McDonalds built a new franchise right across from Golden Gate Park.

I moved between the Haight and a changing neighborhood in the Eureka Valley called "the Castro" to start the 1970s. I was renting a 2-bedroom house with an in-law apartment, a front and back yard and two garages for $250 bucks a month. There were still quite a few mom and pop stores and family-owned bars. When businesses changed hands, they were usually was sold to a gay person. Storefront rents seldom ran over a couple of hundred bucks. In 1972, I asked the owner of Georgianna Bakery shop at 420 Castro (just yards away from today’s Harvey Milk Plaza) if I could put some of my photos in her storefront window, and she complied. It was a popular transfer stop for buses and streetcars.

Shortly after, I heard that a new camera shop opened about a block away at 575 Castro. I bought and had my film developed there. I made friends with the owners, Harvey Milk, and Scott Smith. Within a short time, 575 Castro Street became a popular place to hang out and talk local politics, pet Harvey’s dog or just stare out the front window at the passing parade of good looking and healthy guys.

Over the next few years, Harvey ran for public office, using his camera store for a headquarters. The first two times, he lost. But the Gay Community was growing. In 1973 the Gay Community Softball League formed with 6 teams, becoming the first gay sports association in the country. Today there are over 50 cities with gay softball leagues and sports associations.

In 1974, Harvey produced the first Castro Street Fair. It was extremely successful, and not one booth was corporate sponsored. 1976 was a Bicentennial year, and several times the Presidential race came to the City. I got to meet and photograph [Democratic presidential candidate] Jimmy Carter.

In May of 1977, Orange Juice spokesperson and former Miss America contestant Anita Bryant began to get national attention, by making anti-gay remarks and leading a campaign to overturn a new Dade County, Florida, Gay Housing Ordinance. I created the “Anita Bryant’s Husband is a Homo Sapien!” T-shirt and outed myself nationally via a United Press Wire Service and two weeks later I was able to get Jane Fonda to wear one at a gay fund raiser.

However it was on June 7, that my AP wire photo introduced Harvey to the nation, via the Associated Press – 5 months before he was elected. On that day, Anita Bryant led-forces overturned that gay rights ordinance. Over 5,000 people took part in an impromptu march from the Castro, with Harvey Milk yelling through his Bullhorn “out of the bars and into the street!” We past City Hall and marched down to Union Square. The biggest hand of the night came when a young girl climbed a flagpole and unfurled a “Gay Power” flag.

Harvey Milk was one of a few speakers, warning through his bullhorn that if it can happen in Dade County, it could happen here in San Francisco!

I took my film over to AP at Fox Plaza and at first they were not interested. But I convinced them that an impromptu march of 5,000 in response to a local election almost 1500 miles away warranted national attention – and then they ran it.

The following day my photo appeared on the front page of the S.F. Examiner and the Sunday Cover of the Chronicle’s World Magazine. I believe the best thing to happen to the gay rights movement was Anita Bryant, she gave the gay rights movement… movement!

My photo introduced Harvey Milk as a gay spokesperson – 5 months before he was elected in November 1977. It also changed the status quo when Harvey ran for Supervisor of the 5th District and won. Becoming the fifth open gay elected to public office in America [see the first five listed here]. He used his camera shop for a very well organized campaign headquarters. Shortly thereafter, Harvey’s landlord, gay real estate agent Paul Langley, raised Harvey’s rent almost a thousand dollars a month and forced Harvey to move and to start the New Year looking for a new shop location.

For a couple of years, especially after Sean Penn and screenwriter Lance Black won their Academy Awards for the movie "Milk," millions of people – young and old, gay and straight, here in America and around the world – have been introduced to Harvey Milk and that era in the S.F. gay rights movement. The movie also helped to make Harvey’s 575 camera shop location a landmark for tourist and gay pilgrims to visit.

I disagree with those who say that the Human Rights Campaign is a bad choice to occupy this historic landmark location. About a month ago, I received an email from HRC saying they were interested in getting my permission to use my iconic image of Harvey as a back wall mural. Right off the bat, I told their representative, that I have had problems with too many HRC Black Tie Events because they price out gay students, seniors and hourly-wage workers from attending them. I also felt HRC was wrong for not including the transgender segment of the gay community in their agenda.

That being said, I would rather see HRC as tenants than another franchise coffee shop or x-rated magazine store – with or without my Milk image. However, if we come to agreement, I would be honored to have my photo of Harvey there.

Back in the 1980′s, Harvey Milk’s former landlord Paul Langley, raised the rent to the well known bar called The Elephant Walk at 18th and Castro from $6,000 a month to $12,000, forcing them out of business. Then Mr. Langley had the chutzpah to change the name of The Elephant Walk to Harvey’s. He then asked me to sell him several of my Milk images and memorabilia for his new bar. I refused, because I knew he forced both Harvey and the Elephant Walk out of business. I see a big difference now between Langley and the HRC.

Without a doubt, I do not believe Harvey would be mad if HRC takes over his old landmark location. Mainly because of the "Milk" movie, more and more people who come to the Castro want to see where Harvey’s store was located. Now they will be able to come and visit inside, and maybe get that old time spirit to continue the work started by Harvey over 30 years ago.

(Crossposted at LGBT POV)

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I have a problem with HRC moving into that store! Harvey Milk never used T's as a Bargaining Chip! like HRC did! He would be appalled that most of the the LBGT's can not afford a ticket to one of their dinners!I doubt he would like it one bit that they (HRC)will be selling junk out of the store!

You're kidding, right? Milk was a politician. Milk probably would be SPEAKING and FUNDRAISING at these dinners.

Furthermore, at the time he was alive the T's weren't even called transgender. As a transperson I can't stand a lot of what HRC does, but to make this about trans people is narcissistic.

Actually there was a T-word used in those days--transsexual.

Transgender was just being introduced as the term to use for people who lived full time without SRS.

I first heard Jude Patton, Joanna Clark and Sister Mary Elizabeth use it at Renaissance meetings in the Southern Cal. area in 1976 or 77.

The forgotten people of that era were Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and those queens who were part of the Court System.

General usage of transgender started happening when Tapestry wen from newsletter to magazine in 83-84.

If anyone they deserve credit for pushing the term into far more wide spread usage as prior it was sort of a support group term.

What I missed in this back and forth about Harvey's old store is that Mr Pritikin doesn't live in SF anymore. While he does have a right to the history he was part of, seems odd that he has an opinion about a neighborhood he gave up a while ago.

The reason I left S.F. was many gay landlords kept raising the rents, pricing me and many others gays out of S.F.! I have been involved in gay rights for over 40 years... and I care about San Francisco. However, when I left Chicago in 1960... it was taboo just to know someone gay, let alone be gay... at home,in school or the workplace. What I was involved in during the 1970's, not only changed S.F., but Chicago,too. Chicago is now a gay friendly city. They hosted the gay games, and next year the Gay World Series. There is a qualified gay Alderman, and the Chicago Cubs have an annual "Out" day at Wrigley. The Chicago Historical Museum has an ongoing "OUT" series that showcases the contributions gays have made to the city and elsewhere. I left high school in 1952 because I had "those" tendencies. Today, many Chicago high schools have Gay/ Straight Alliances. I am still involved in the gay rights movement, and my photos have appeared in books,documentaries and exhibits. I CARE ABOUT GAY RIGHTS, HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE. Last summer, I had an exhibit at Chicago's Roosevelt University's Gage Gallery... and their Mission Statement is Social Justice. I learned along time ago... to be honest and speakOUT at all injustice... for me it is not odd
that I still take the time to fight for equal rights... no more or less then anyone one else... straight or gay!

It is funny that all these people are attempting to speak for Milk, even people who never met him (like Dustin Lance Black). Since the gay movement looked really different back then, I don't think that we can just assume what he would have wanted or wouldn't have wanted.

But we can know what we want right here and right now. I agree that a Starbucks would be just as bad as HRC in that spot, but what about a porn theater? If it's locally owned and regularly cleaned then there's nothing wrong with that.

HRC can have the building if we can go back to $7 for an ounce of weed. I'm willing to make that trade... :)

I'm with you Bil! Only $7???

I admit, I have a big dislike of HRC for what happened in 2007! HRC=Bad=I see red! It is a personal problem I have!

It is not Just a Trans. thing, Its a Lie thing, with no apology! It was not just a total lie, it was the total F-You that HRC did to Us! Maybe, it is ok to publicly lie to a group? It ok not to even offer an apology after being called out on the lie?
What T's organization has done that to LBG's?
If they lie to us they lie to you!

I am not even attempting to talk for Harvey Milk!
I can not personally stomach that HRC is putting a store anywhere!

A Porno theater or a public rest room or something elsw! But HRC.... Those rich people that most of the LBGT'ers can not afford to even attend diner with (the Elitist's)! The ones Claiming they were the one that got DADT passed??? THEY DO NOT BELONG THERE!
Yea! There were Transsexuals then, often called a transsexual! Also,Often called "One of those Gays"! Any one remember Stonewall? Started by Whom?
Please stop and think! Why were the T People thrown under the bus and back over again and again? LBG's we have you back please have ours?

I'm with you Bil! Only $7???

I admit, I have a big dislike of HRC for what happened in 2007! HRC=Bad=I see red! It is a personal problem I have!

It is not Just a Trans. thing, Its a Lie thing, with no apology! It was not just a total lie, it was the total F-You that HRC did to Us! Maybe, it is ok to publicly lie to a group? It ok not to even offer an apology after being called out on the lie?
What T's organization has done that to LBG's?
If they lie to us they lie to you!

I am not even attempting to talk for Harvey Milk!
I can not personally stomach that HRC is putting a store anywhere!

A Porno theater or a public rest room or something elsw! But HRC.... Those rich people that most of the LBGT'ers can not afford to even attend diner with (the Elitist's)! The ones Claiming they were the one that got DADT passed??? THEY DO NOT BELONG THERE!
Yea! There were Transsexuals then, often called a transsexual! Also,Often called "One of those Gays"! Any one remember Stonewall? Started by Whom?
Please stop and think! Why were the T People thrown under the bus and backed over again and again? LBG's we have your back please have ours?

Not sure hoe you got it twice?
Sorry!

I think Jerry Pritkin, who was fighting the good fight back in the 70's WITH Harvey Milk, has a much greater right to speak in favor of HRC than Alex Blaze has in suggesting a porn theater.

I'm not the one brining up porn theaters willy-nilly. It's from Pritikin's post.

But does knowing someone who used to own a piece of property give us a right to determine what that piece of property should be used for today?

Alex Blaze does not want HRC (or Starbucks for that matter - there already is one a few doors down) but is fine with a porn theater on the site of Harvey Milk's camera store. I think HRC will be much more respectful of Harvey's legacy, and browsers in the store will be reminded that Harvey Milk operated out of this location. Short of a Harvey Milk museum, I think any LGBT organization fighting for equal rights, including HRC, would be the best tenant for this location.
Are patrons of this site going to be inspired to continue fighting for equal rights for all LGBT people and continuing Harvey's legacy by visiting an adult video store, or a dry cleaners, or by an HRC "Action Center"? I think the latter.

A porn shop is disrespectful to "Harvy's legacy"? He was one of the West's most prominent fighters for sexual liberation! If you think he was a porn-hater, at least have some proof before accusing him of that. He's not around to defend himself.

But if we're talking ideals here, mine would be that it becomes a camera shop. The LGBT movement doesn't need a museum because it isn't done just yet.

Alex Blaze: If you can cite anyplace I wrote that Harvey Milk was a "porn-hater," please do so. Otherwise, stop misrepresenting my words. People can read here in black and white whether what you are writing is true, so it is not wise to twist language to suit your message. As I wrote, I would rather see an HRC store rather than a porn theater or a dry cleaners, because I think HRC would be more respectful of Milk's legacy, and inspirational for everyone to keep fighting.

I neither called Milk a "porn hater," nor did I suggest a museum of the LGBT movement. A Harvey Milk Museum is not a "museum of the entire LGBT movement," because, as you write, our movement is not done yet. Facts, especially in writing, are pesky things.