Commentary

The night Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, the Castro exploded

By 1980 there were more out DNC delegates and the first approved gay rights plank. Primary candidates vied more and more for gay group endorsements and contributions (though Dem Michael Dukakis infamously turned down a promise of $1 million in 1988).

The climax was Bill Clinton’s 1992 speech orchestrated by his out friend and longtime civil rights and antiwar activist, David Mixner. “I have a vision for the future, and you are part of it. You represent a community of our nation’s gifted people that we’ve been willing to squander. But we can’t afford to waste the capacities, the contributions, the hearts and souls and minds of the lesbian and gay community. Gay publications swooned, mainstream media reported it, and videotapes of his speech swept the country.

Republican incumbent George Bush, père, had badly damaged the economy, and was deeply stained as Ronald Reagan’s VP and their infamous AIDS legacy. His own attitude toward gays was perceived at best as indifference. Republican National Convention keynoter Pat Buchanan demonized the Democrats’ “most pro-lesbian and pro-gay ticket in history. [This election is] a battle for the soul of America [and] Clinton and Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side.”

AIDS deaths in the U.S. alone were approaching 200,000 as HIV+ basketball legend Magic Johnson very publicly resigned from the National Commission on AIDS telling Bush: “AIDS cannot be fought with lip service and photo opportunities.”

Michael Bedwell Collection

A group of guys in wigs and “Lick Bush” t-shirts came to San Francisco’s large Castro Halloween celebration that year with a wooden coffin marked “RIP George Bush.” When Clinton’s victory was declared election night, the newly hopeful filled the intersection of 18th and Castro. In an “Only in San Francisco” moment, from giant stereo speakers on the stage set up on the back of a truck, the air was suddenly saturated with the sound of the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz singing “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead,” and the crowd parted to let six men pass through carrying the coffin down the middle of Castro Street.

They set it on the corner and, then, on fire; I can still hear the roar of approval.

Michael Bedwell Collection

 

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