Reclaiming Lesbian Space and Fighting Erasure with Sally Miller Gearhart

Hey, Lesbians and Feminists Let’s start with a much watch documentary: A Great Ride

It is Pride month. This year San Francisco Pride’s theme is Generations of Resistance. In 2017 San Francisco Pride honored Sally Miller Gearhart with a long overdue Heritage of Pride, Pride Freedom Award.  Now Sally shines in a new documentary directed by Deborah Craig, which is critical, not only to Sally’s legacy, it is also important for us all as we strive to honor our elders, our courageous pioneers as well as work to reclaim and assert our heritage and spaces.

Sally Miller Gearhart born in 1931, an American teacher, feminist, science-fiction writer, and political activist, became the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position when she was hired by San Francisco State University in the seventies, where she helped establish one of the first women and gender study programs in the country. She later became a nationally known gay rights activist, working together with Harvey Milk to stand up to the Anita Bryant attacks and to defeat the Briggs initiative.


I implore upon my Lesbian community especially and all you feminists to view this documentary to honor one of our courageous pioneers and the people who are going to great lengths to support and prop up our important history. We lesbians have been experiencing erasure of our place in history, through silence and disinterest and our spaces are disappearing at an alarming rate. Reclamation starts with honoring our elders.


LEST we forget that Dustin Lance Black not only ERASED Sally’s critical role out of the academy award winning movie MILK – now used as an historic marker, but also STOLE her TV DEBATE lines and scripted those very lines to Harvey Milk: See my article I wrote in the Advocate in February 2013:

Had Harvey Milk lived, he might have been the one to set the benchmark for full equality, something our LGBT movement has yet to do. Harvey did not survive and never had the opportunity, yet his legacy has provided inspiration to so many. What remains often untold and so profoundly significant is Harvey’s absolute insistence on full inclusion within the gay movement itself.

“I think it’s vital,” he said, “that the minorities, the traditional ethnic minorities, and the gays and the feminists link together.”

Harvey had met Sally and they did link together.

Sally Miller Gearhart, the famed feminist activist and scholar, fought alongside Milk to help defeat California’s Proposition 6, known as the “Briggs Initiative” for its sponsor, state senator John Briggs. Proposition 6 sought to bar gay people from academic and teaching positions, playing on myth and fear that gays were out to recruit and hurt children.

Teaching at San Francisco State University, Sally was the first out lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the United States, and together with Harvey cochaired the United Fund Against the Briggs Initiative, a rainbow coalition of minorities, feminists, and gay people that spear-headed many of the events in the fight against Briggs.

Sally famously debated John Briggs on TV together with Harvey. The debate was reenacted in the Hollywood feature film Milk, which in 2009 won two Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay. But Sally was not featured in the film.

In the actual TV debate, Briggs said, “We cannot prevent child molestation, so let’s cut our odds down and take out the homosexual group [of teachers] and keep in the heterosexual group.” Sally retorted, “Why take out the homosexual group when it is more than overwhelmingly true that it is the heterosexual men, I might add, that are the child molesters?” Briggs responded, “Well I believe that’s a myth,” and Sally jumped back by citing government data: “Ah, senator, the FBI, the National Council on Family Relations, the Santa Clara County Child Abuse and Sexual Treatment Center, and on and on and on [report this].”

Not only was Sally Gearhart’s role ignored in the film Milk, but also these lines from the actual debate were modified and given to Harvey instead.

“That was not history, that was Hollywood,” Sally told filmmaker Kristina Lapinski in an interview for the film Gay U.S.A. the Movie.

I am the coproducer of this documentary, which is scheduled to wrap after the United States Supreme Court rules on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 cases. Throughout production, I sat in on the interviews with Sally. It became clear that she felt hurt at being snubbed by the film, but she was more concerned that the critical feminist role had been excluded from Milk.

As it happened, Sally was preparing to archive her memorabilia, and after the interview she showed us the numerous pictures and newspaper articles of her involvement with Harvey. It was clear Sally Gearhart’s personal impact on the movement was inextricably woven with that of Harvey Milk.

Even though Anne Kronenberg, Harvey’s campaign manager, was depicted in Milk, Sally saw her own omission from the film as a “rejection by gay men in Hollywood” of the importance of the feminists at the time and perhaps an indication of an ongoing marginalization of women in the movement.

Feminism and the gay movement were both developing in the ’70s, and “feminism was part of Harvey’s fight,” noted Sally. Harvey’s magnificent legacy is one in which he made it clear that all should be embraced and full inclusion would be imperative to the success of our movement.

It has been 34 years since Harvey Milk was assassinated, and women have yet to attain equality, and LGBT Americans remain with limited legal rights.

Surely the LGBT movement should take the added cue from President Obama’s historic inauguration speech, in which he in essence calls for full equality, and inclusion: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” Obama said. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”

Embracing the Harvey Milk philosophy, the time could not be better than now, when we would be best served to fully realize the importance of feminists, as imperative allies, while we all move together in our quest for full equality.

AND so I say thank you and well done to Deborah Craig for her current work with Sally and all she is doing to preserve Sally’s crucial legacy.

Here is the much watch documentary – spreading it around is critical to honoring our pioneers:

Featuring Sally Gearhart, LGBT activist who fought alongside Harvey Milk, A Great Ride is a documentary about lesbians aging with dynamism and zest for life. Deep friendships, determination, engagement, and quirky death-defying humor color this group portrait of women who are courageous role models for aging.” Director, Deborah Craig, Veronica Deliz, Starring Sally Gearhart, Brenda Crawford.




Fighting to reclaim our space will start with nurturing its spot in history! To that end lets hug and embrace our elders – and so please support this critical work!

#AGreatRide #SALLYlegacy



Advocacy: African Human Rights Coalition
Speaker: Melnathan
Mediation: Private Courts

Follow me on Twitter – @MelanieNathan1
Instagram: @commissionermelnathan


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