Blacklight Interview with Melvin Boozer
See also: Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney, Out for Good, 1999, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, p. 418-420.
Summersgill corrects Metro Weekly on gay history at national conventions
To the Editor:
Scott Widmeyer's exhaustive convention diary was disappointing in its historical accuracy.
The diary asks "Who remembers 1992 when the first openly gay people - Roberta Achtenberg and Bob Hattoy - addressed the Democrats in New York?
I remember them speaking, but they were not the first. The first openly gay speakers at a National Presidential Convention were Jim Foster, founder of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club and Madeline Davis, Vice President of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier. They spoke on the need for a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform at the 1972 convention in Miami.
Widmeyer also writes "HRC's Elizabeth Birch is the first leader of a gay organization to speak at a national political convention."
This is also incorrect. Twenty years ago, in 1980, Mel Boozer, then President of the Gay Activists Alliance of Washington DC, addressed the Democratic National Convention in New York City, his name having been placed in nomination for the office of Vice President of the United States. Though Mel Boozer spoke to withdraw his candidacy, his historic address as the first leader of a gay organization to speak at a national political convention should not be forgotten, nor should his challenging words:
"Would you ask me how I'd dare to compare the civil rights struggle with the struggle for lesbian and gay rights? I can compare, and I do compare them. I know what it means to be called a nigger. I know what it means to be called a faggot. And I can sum up the difference in one word: none."
Sadly, Mel Boozer is no longer with us. But it was his efforts and his achievements - as well as Foster, Davis and numerous others - that paved the way for people such as Elizabeth Birch to follow in his footsteps two decades later.
Finally, we are offered a quiz: "What century will it be when the Republican convention acknowledges that a gay person is speaking to their convention." The answer is the current century, as openly gay Rep. Jim Kolbe from Arizona spoke this year. While his reception wasn't as positive as Elizabeth Birch received, it was more respectful than the Democratic audience gave Foster and Davis in 1972.
Bob Summersgill, President
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC