Dennis Peron is the one person in San Francisco best known for his advocacy of marijuana decriminalization. Brownie Mary briefly shared the media spotlight during the AIDS crises when she was arrested for providing chocolate baked edibles.
Home Baked by Alia Volz published 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt tells the story of a lesser known purveyor of magic brownies who managed to operate surreptitiously in the city for several decades. The book focuses primarily on her mother Meridy Domnitz Volz, an aspiring artist who moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee.
Meridy Volz cautiously began selling Sticky Fingers Brownies in the 70s to street artists along Fishermen’s Wharf, a primarily tourist area on the northern part of San Francisco. But a decade later when the AIDS pandemic was devastating the gay male population, her brownies not only provided a tasty treat but helped many overcome wasting syndrome by stimulating appetites.
What went on behind the scenes was much more complicated both in terms of the personal dynamics and the unexpected business challenges. The author reveals a part of San Francisco history that comes as a surprise even to a native and long-term resident like myself.
In 1989 I was impressed by the extensive LGBT exhibition at the 42nd Street New York Public Library, which included several items related to organizations or projects I was involved with nearly two decades earlier.
Returning thirty years later I felt very removed from three Stonewall 50 exhibits I visited at Leslie-Loman Gallery, New York Public Library, and New York Historical Society Museum. Having returned to San Francisco nearly half a century ago, my East Coast ties are now in the distant past.
We Are Everywhere by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown published 2019 by Ten Speed Press covers more than a century of LGBTQ activism in the US. The huge collection of photos immediately drew my attention. More than a few are of people I know or knew starting with the one of Marsha P. Johnson on the front cover.
Reading the four-part history was a more demanding experience. I felt I was in a queer studies class. Interested in new material, impatient to get through the parts I already knew, and saddened by the reoccurring instances of infighting and acrimony documented. This isn’t unique to our struggle by any means.
I recommend We Are Everywhere for anyone wanting to learn about the setbacks and progress of queer liberation in the US, in a book profusely illustrated with images of individuals associated with that struggle.
San Francisco was a major epicenter of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that ravaged the city in the Eighties.
5B directed by Dan Krauss (USA) 2018 focuses on the legendary AIDS ward of San Francisco General Hospital and its pioneering effort to provide holistic medical care and comfort to the many young gay men and others hardest impacted by a frightening new deadly disease.
Nurses were at the heart of this humane endeavor that included touch and hugs for the suffering rather than the impersonal approach that was standard procedure for the profession. Helped by dedicated physicians, partners, friends, volunteers, and family members.
While the decade of the Seventies involved the struggle for liberation, the following decade was one of death and devastation as well as rampant homophobia nationwide.
However, even here in this very liberal city and inside its prime public health facility, there was fear and strong resistance to the pioneering approach of the 5B staff. Ultimately the radical ward principles prevailed and 5B became a model of care for other cities and countries.
5B was the closing night feature of the 2018 San Francisco Documentary Film Festival at the Castro Theatre.
Harvey Milk: His Lives And Death by Lillian Faderman. (2018) Yale University Press is a concise, well-written biography. A more satisfying work than either the Randy Shilts book or the Gus Van Sant feature film.
Faderman’s book chronologically follows each phase of Milk’s life beginning with his childhood in an upper middle-class Jewish family on Long Island.
Intergenerational differences and conflict are there at the very start and remain as unresolved elements throughout his life.
Milk’s realization that he wasn’t quite like other boys and young men was a factor he dealt with in numerous ways. Homosexuality was almost universally condemned when he first realized he was gay. It was one of several important aspects that defined who he was and how he related to the world around him.
He tried various approaches in pursuit of a career he hoped would bring an overall sense of purpose in his life before settling on the one that was most challenging, satisfying numerous parts of himself, and leading eventually to his tragic death.
Harvey Milk is Lillian Faderman at her best and a valuable resource of LGBT history alongside her previous hefty publication, The Gay Revolution (2015) Simon And Schuster.
The author of the popular series, Tales Of The City, tells his own story in Logical Family by Armistead Maupin, HarperCollins, 2017.
Maupin has talked about his conservative family upbringing at book signings, radio and TV interviews, and also in films about him. Much of the material in his memoir is already public knowledge.
But for his many fans that have either never seen him in person nor been exposed to recorded interviews, the book offers an additional opportunity to be entertained by his writing.
What began as a conventional life rooted in Southern tradition and politics took an unexpected turn after the author’s move to the West Coast and eventual acceptance of his sexual orientation.
Maupin, a vocal promoter of his adopted city of San Francisco, has made a successful career for himself not only through his writing and speaking engagements but also with ancillary sales. These include television shows, films, theatrical productions, musical presentations, etc.
72 countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality and in nine it’s punishable by death. In too much of the world LGBT individuals live in fear, are subject to violence, unable to fulfill their human potential. Perhaps, the most frightening thing is the risk of being murdered by one’s own father or a male sibling.
A few individuals are lucky enough to escape home and seek a new life in a country with more humane laws and attitudes. The goal is to reach one of the 22 nations that recognize the rights of LGBT citizens, the majority of which are in the Americas and Western Europe.
One successful strategy for young people is to learn the language in preparation of studying abroad. When an individual reaches a safe haven such as the United States, it’s possible to apply for asylum within the first year of arrival and begin the long, arduous process of providing proof of persecution.
The Center For Immigrant Protection in San Francisco helps people residing in the US with pro-bono legal representation and referrals to other available services in the area. More information is available at cipsf.com.
The modern gay liberation movement is most often associated with New York, leaving out what happened in the rest of the country.
When We Rise, a seven-part docudrama, focuses on San Francisco movement history.
Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black wrote the script for this ABC series. While the personal story of Harvey Milk was overshadowed by other elements in Milk, the newer work is anchored by the well-developed personal accounts.
Having lived through and survived the last four decades here, I was emotionally overwhelmed by the bigger-than-life presentation of our shared history. It didn’t quite reflect either my own experience or my knowledge of the time, but the series definitely captured the essence of what occurred during this tumultuous period.
Lance gathered material from each of the main characters and created a gripping, coherent narrative relevant to anyone open to knowing what happened in San Francisco.