When We Rise Left Out So Much of Our History

Commentary by Gary Miller
Who watched ABC’s When We Rise? I was given the impression it would be the history of gay rights. Before I watched the first episode, I was wondering where they would start.

Would they go back to ancient Greece? Or would they begin with researchers on the topic in the late 1800s in Germany? Would they start with the contributions of the Mattachine Society founded in 1950? Would it include the Daughters of Bilitis, which formed in 1955? Was it going to be just San Francisco or a nationwide history?

I lived in San Francisco in the early 70s. What I watched is not what I experienced or have any knowledge of.

There is no mention of the Society for Individual Rights, which was the largest gay rights organization in the country at the time. SIR was instrumental in getting Dianne Feinstein elected to the Board of Supervisors in the late 60s. No mention of that.

The show implies there were gay riots in San Francisco in the early 70s. I don’t remember any riots in San Francisco until after I left in 1976. The show doesn’t mention the Alice B. Toklas Club, which was the first gay Democratic club in the nation.

As I began to watch the show, I realized it was only for San Francisco (if it doesn’t happen in San Francisco, it doesn’t happen?) and then it seems it is a biography of Cleve Jones.

I first met Cleve Jones at a Quaker conference. He was a scared young man perhaps 19. He had not told his parents about his homosexuality and they were attending the same conference. We had a meeting for LGBT Quakers and he snuck in the back door so his parents would not see him. I have not heard from him since.

While I had experienced homophobic campaigns against me, I remember asking Mr. Jones for help. I never heard back from him.

The story implies Harvey Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors the first time he ran, which was not true. He ran twice for a seat on the Board of Supervisors and lost and once for California Assembly before he finally won a seat on the Board of Supervisors. There is an impression he was the first gay elected official in the nation, which is not true. He was the first gay elected official in California.

The show implies Cleve Jones organized the first Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. There were Pride parades in San Francisco before he even arrived in San Francisco. There were two LGBT individuals who ran for the county committee for the Democratic Party in San Francisco. I was one of them. I don’t remember Cleve Jones or Harvey Milk being involved in helping us to get elected.

The show indicates he came to Sacramento for some reason (not clear why). I moved to Sacramento in 1976 and I don’t remember ever seeing him at any gay rights activities in Sacramento.

Cleve Jones has made a wonderful contribution and I am grateful. But there have been many other people in the LGBT movement who also deserve the recognition via a documentary on their lives.

Gary Miller is a long time activist for LGBT rights and other issues and is the the first out LGBT elected official in Sacramento and Placer counties, having been elected to the Robla School Board and the Roseville City School Board. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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