Pride Month 2020: How Mayor George Moscone paved the way for representation and inclusivity in San Francisco
Moscone was a pivotal figure in the city of San Francisco becoming more inclusive, setting a model for other states to follow
When Harvey Milk was assassinated by Dan White, a former supervisor, on November 27, 1978, he wasn't the main target. White's main target was George Moscone, who was the mayor of San Francisco. White was angry that Moscone had refused to reappoint him to his seat on the Board of Supervisors, from which he had just resigned. With Milk being the first openly gay political leader, Moscone has mostly been relegated to the sidelines when it comes to discussing the LGBTQ+ movement of the 1970s, however, what most fail to understand is that Milk's successes came about because of Moscone support for inclusivity, which was also a reason why Dan White was not reappointed by him.
Moscone was born as the Great Depression began and was raised by a single mother who struggled to support the family — his parents divorced when he was nine. The Catholic Moscone got through college on a basketball scholarship, after which he put himself through law school and served in the Navy before starting a private law practice.
In 1960, Moscone ran for the California State Assembly and lost, however, he made an indelible mark through his charisma. Three years later, in 1963, he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city's legislative body. By 1966, he won a seat in the State Senate, just as Ronald Reagan became governor. He was elected by the California Democratic Party to serve as a majority leader soon after his election to the State Senate and became mayor of San Francisco in 1976.
Moscone was a pivotal figure in the city of San Francisco becoming more inclusive, setting a model for other states to follow. As a supervisor, he was best known for his defense of poor, racial minorities and small business figures. As a senator, Moscone backed the California Clean Air Act, championed a school-lunch program for Califonia schools and supported a proposition for coastal zone conservation.
When Assembly member Willie Brown introduced a bill to decriminalize sodomy and other private sexual acts between consenting adults, Moscone became the Senate co-author of the legislation, which finally passed in 1975, partly aided by Moscone's plan to lock senators in the Senate Chamber until Lt. Gov Mervyn Dymally came in from out of state to cast the deciding vote.
When Moscone ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1975, he stressed in his announcement that his campaign would include "all types of people". San Francisco, he said, "is a city of talented women, and Blacks and Latinos; of Asians, of young and old people, of gays and straights, immigrants from all corners of the world," a sentiment his administration continued as he solicited the input of neighborhood and minority groups to help put a diverse array of people on the city's all-important commissions.
One of them was Harvey Milk, whom he named to the Board of Permit Appeals. Milk had helped get out the vote for Moscone after the success of his legislation with Willie Brown passed. Moscone also appointed reformer Charles Gain as police chief. Gain was committed to the LGBTQ+ movement. After taking the job as police chief, he told a reporter that he would support any gay officer who came out. Though it caused national outrage, Gain began actively recruiting gay officers.
In 1976, Moscone's support of a new districting plan would see the Board of Supervisors become more representative of San Francisco's diverse neighborhoods. The results of the 1977 elections saw the first Chinese-American, the first African-American woman, the first single mother and an openly gay man (Harvey Milk) elected to the Board.
Moscone, along with Milk and a coalition of activists, led a successful fight against Proposition 6, an initiative proposed by State Senator John Briggs that would have barred gay people from teaching in California public schools. Moscone's would-be murderer, Dan White had many clashes with him, including Moscone's efforts to integrate the police and fire departments. When White was not reappointed to the Board of Supervisors, a disgruntled White assassinated both Moscone and Milk.
White served only five years for the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone — he infamously copped out of a first-degree murder charge with the "Twinkie defense", as his lawyers successfully argued that eating junk food had deteriorated his mental state. The ruling resulted in the White Night Riots, where the gay community took to Castro Street and City Hall in protest. Charles Gain, appointed by Moscone, refused to let the police attack rioters, a stance that the San Francisco Police Officers Association later criticized as too soft.
Moscone was a true ally of the LGBTQ movement who showed support for the community even in small ways. Besides paving the way for people like Milk, he gave the first mayoral proclamation for the Gay Freedom Day Parade, now the Pride Parade, in 1976, and ordered the City Hall flag flown at half-mast to honor a gay man killed in a street attack the next year.
Each week during Pride Month, MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) will cover one politician who played a significant role in the history of the LGBTQ+ movement.