The Lion Sleeps Tonight

The Lion’s Roar is Quiet Tonight

I lived in San Francisco in 1978.  November 27th, 1978 to be exact.

I was sure that after moving to the Left Coast after college I had truly landed in the land of promise, possibility, and perfection.  The skies were always blue (it was an historic drought but who knew then), the men were always handsome and available, and there seemed to be a lack of the judgement that, as a gay person, was ever-present in life in those days.

And then it got real.  Everything changed Forever.

I was at work in Daly City that afternoon when the radio erupted and none of us could quite format what was happening to our world.  The Mayor and the first openly gay elected supervisor had been shot and killed.  In City Hall.  In their offices.

By a de-frocked cop.

Our boss closed the office and sent us all home to we knew not what.  I was living at 717 Castro then, two blocks up from the heart of the Castro.  Until that moment it was Mecca.  From that moment, it was a battleground that has never ceased in the ensuing decades.

CNN was brand new; the TV blared the shock and awe that was unfolding outside our door.  Quite quickly the crowds emerged, the candle cups were distributed and the crowd, thousands of San Franciscans silently marched, sobbing, down Market Street and stood in front of City Hall waiting.  For answers? For solace? For healing? For what?

Dianne Feinstein was there, in that critical moment, to try and smear salve on our wounded souls and begin the process of reconstructing order out of chaos.  She spent the next decades of her illustrious and legendary career doing much the same for the entire country.  It was not a moment after the Mayoral murders that Jonestown blew us all up again in the national eye.  Jim Jones, the homegrown lunatic that would presage the coming maelstrom of religious fanatics, became the Electric Kool-Aid Acid test for what was to come. And then hot on the heels of ALL this horror AIDS crept into town on bedroom slippers, disguising itself well until it was firmly seated at the table and then proceeded to stomp all over us, and the world, with combat boots of the strongest Kevlar ever.

And still, DiFi was there.  Advocating always.

Yet when I will think of her in the future, I will always remember those early days. Aside from that helmet of always coiffed jet-black hair, she had a connectivity gene that worked across borders even back then in the 70’s.  It is what made her career such a success ever after. 

Back then We used to hang out after work at The Lion Pub. The logo says it all.

It was a trendy gay cocktail bar on Divisadero in the heart of trendoid Pacific Heights.  DiFi lived around the corner.  Ever the consummate politician even then, she knew, in San Francisco and particularly in Pacific Heights, where her “market” for votes and money was rooted.

It was not a one-time occurrence to stroll in for a drink with friends and find her perched atop the bar, legs demurely crossed, tweed suit and pearls in place, buying the entire bar rounds of drinks. Once we were lubricated, she asked what our concerns were.  Safety topped the list, followed by housing, access to ALL places freely, and an end to homophobic violence that would eventually entail a revamp of the entire SFPD.  Her leavings were always greeted with warm applause, thanks, and a real amazement on our parts that a political hopeful was (maybe?) listening to us.

As she ascended the bloody hill laid before her to the Mayorship, she did not forget those conversations.  She appointed gay advisors, courted the gay media (then the only real powerful tool we as a community had), campaigned for gay candidates to take their places on the city council.  She delivered on a huge majority of what she had promised keeping in mind that politicians, the nature of their makeup and their job description, must be effective compromisers in the end.

I drove a limousine in those days giving new and frightening reality to the Streets of San Francisco.  As such, I ferried a lot of notables to city, charity, and other public events. I would frequently bump into DiFi (and her driver and security) a\ these events.  She was never anything but gracious, present and always had a friendly shout out to me as a remembered constituent.  A small town really, now thrust into a national spotlight because of horrific events and history.

As a Californian, I was proud as she rose through the ranks to ner vaunted position iin the Senate.  Yes, there were votes and positions she took over the years that I would have wished were different, more friendly to my specific community perhaps but I would refer to the above; politics, good p[olitics, require people in highplace to often make difficult decisions that not all would agree upon.  Martin  Luther King is credited with the quote “The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice”.  The rest of the story is thus: “But this in turn harks back to a speech by the American preacher Theodore Parker in 1853: ‘I do not pretend to understand the moral universe: the arc is a long one… And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice’.

Theodore Parker died in Firenze and is buried in the English Cemetery here.

It is my belief that Dianne Feinstein had a heavy foot on the pedal of history and helped bend that arc like no other before her.