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In his own words ...
Strange de Jim Wanders Backstage at San Francisco's 2013 Gay Pride Parade

June 30, 2013

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Hi, I'm Strange. Harvey Milk popped up everywhere on Gay Parade day. I ran into Allan Baird, one of Harvey's best friends and most powerful political allies, on Castro Street on my way to the MUNI underground.

Allan had been the Teamster official charged with getting all the bars in San Francisco to quit serving Coors beer. He went into Harvey's camera shop on Castro and asked if Harvey could get Coors taken out of gay bars. A short time later, Coors had been dropped, not just in San Francisco, but in gay bars from Oregon to the Mexican border. Allan knew he'd teamed up with a real firecracker. He asked what Harvey wanted in return for his feat, and was immensely impressed when, instead of asking for support in his own run for political office, Harvey asked for the hiring of a few gay truck drivers. The teamsters were leery, but Allan convinced them it was the right thing to do. When Harvey ran for office, Teamsters came into the camera store to work the phones and stuff envelopes, and learned gay people were just people. Amazingly, Harvey became an openly gay candidate endorsed by the Teamsters, firefighters and construction workers unions. Harvey and Allan were staunch allies up until Harvey's death.
And, no, James Franco didn't play him. Allan was delighted to play himself in the "Milk" movie.

Now I hopped on the subway and hit backstage at the Pride Parade.

As soon as I arrived, Stu Smith (left) grabbed me and said, "I have someone you have to meet."

montandon and smith

Lord love a duck, it was Pat Montandon, whose new barn burner of a book is "Peeing on Hot Coals." I assume it's something to do with replenishing the ozone layer.


Matt DeCoster caught our meeting and posted it on Facebook.
montandon Strange

I assume "Dave Earl" must be the name Pat uses when she checks into a honeymoon hotel. Matt also caught Pat not peeing on hot coals.
pat portapotty

Anyway, Pat and I have known OF each other for decades, and we're FB friends who regularly "like" each other's posts. Two books written by her son Sean Wilsey and herself shook up San Francisco high society and fascinated me. As I remember it, in "Oh the Glory of It All"

Sean tells how his dad Al Wilsey moved out of the penthouse, leaving his mom, Pat, for her best friend, Dede, who immediately became Sean's best friend, spending hours a day with him, taking him wonderful places, sharing all his troubles and concerns. Then Al's and Dede's respective divorces became final and they married. Half the time, Sean lived with his dad and Dede and two new step-brothers in a Pacific Heights mansion. Sean was stuck in a little room in the attic and was forced to sit apart from the others at meals. Dede told him that, frankly, he didn't fit in. Sean cites evidence that Al and/or Dede used Al's key to sneak into the penthouse, take Pat's jewels out of the safe, and hide them under Sean's mattress. Luckily, Sean had found the jewels and taken them to Pat before Al (I think) called and told Pat he and Dede thought Sean was a thief. The story hit home with me, because, after our mom died. the woman dating our dad was my brother John's and my best friend. At her house or our house she was always asking if she could get us a drink, fix us some food. Every Saturday while our dad was golfing she'd take John and me to the movies and go out for hamburgers and ice cream sodas afterwards. When we came home after the wedding I asked for a sandwich and was told I was a lazy good-for-nothing who could get his own damn sandwich. She never took us to the movies again. But it's ok, I'm over it now. Oh, and after our dad died, she gave John and me a good home and helped pay our ways through college.

Anyway, then Pat took her turn.

Pat's book, "Oh the Hell of it All" tells what it's like for your husband and best friend to screw you and mistreat your son. Then she tells of the international children's peace movement she started that had her mixing with heads of state and world religious leaders and got her proposed by several countries for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Oh, and Dede went on to become the main force behind building San Francisco's new De Young Museum. She's raised billions for the arts.  We're all good and bad. Very hard to judge.

And if you fall in love with "Oh the Hell of it All," you might try ...


Also, speaking of the arts, I could see this image of a young lady in red balloons hanging on the wall of the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art when it reopens in a few years.
lady in balloons.

Here's Robert Potter, whom I've known for a few years. He's very active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars. When he was a young man he used to frequent the Black Cat and other gay bars, which the S.F. police would raid, cart the patrons off to jail, and then print their names and addresses in the "S.F. Chronicle," often ruining their lives. Robert survived.

Then I spotted Smirnoff showing us what a gay bar SHOULD look like in today's enlightened times. I soaked up the atmosphere for a few minutes, then made a graceful exit.
Smirnoff front

And speaking of graceful exits ...
Smirnoff reaar

At this point, oddly enough, I ran into Steven Underhill, one of the best photographers around, famous for his photos of gorgeous men.


Steven's a Facebook friend. That night he posted a photo he'd taken of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and philanthropist Jim Hormel. Representative Pelosi had strongly supported Jim in his successful bid to become the first openly gay U.S. Ambassador.

pelosi hormel
Photo Steven Underhill

I was really sorry I hadn't run into them. I'd met Jim Hormel and his partner Michael Nguyen at the 2010 Pride Parade when he was Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal. He knew me from my quips in Herb Caen's "Chronicle" column ( We traded e-mail addresses and have had a few intereactions in the intervening years. He's always been exceptionally caring and courteous.

hormel michael me

In 2011 he wrote "Fit to Serve: Reflections on a Secret Life, Private Struggle, and Public Battle to Become the First Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador." When he was 6 months old, "James Caterwood Hormel" topped a list of kidnap prospects found in the pocket of a dead gangster. He thus grew up in Austin, Minnesota, in a house with 26 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms, but whose 200 acres were patrolled by armed guards. He and his two older brothers were driven by the guards to the school door in the morning and picked up at the school door each afternoon. I was fascinated by his story of growing up heir to the Hormel Foods fortune, marrying and fathering children, finally admitting to himself and others that he was gay, being divorced in the '60s, and becoming immersed in the New Age spiritual movement, especially est, Erhard Seminary Training. In fact, he and his lover moved to San Francisco, where he met David Goodstein, publisher of the national gay magazine "The Advocate," and ended up running the San Francisco office of The Advocate Experience, a gay version of est.

In the 80's he supported the Human Rights Campaign, StopAids, The Shanti Project, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Project Open Hand, California Pacific Medical Center Foundation and AMFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. He donated $4 million to more than 40 AIDS organizations and joined more than a dozen boards. He donated $500,000, his largest gift ever, to establish the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center at San Francisco's Main Library.

Then things got interesting. I won't even try to relate all the things that happened when President Clinton proposed him as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. I highly recommend reading his description of it.

And while we're being political, back at the parade, here's State Senator Mark Leno: popular, powerful, effective, seemingly quite intelligent ...
Mark Leno
But do you know what he did just under a year ago? For my 70th birthday he wrote a lot of nice things, including, "Your zest for living is matched only by the ecstasy you share with each person whose life you touch. The world becomes a better place thanks to the role you continue to play in it. Congratulations, thanks and joyeux anniversaire!"

Sometimes it's nice to be completely misunderstood! Mark got the Senate to approve this Certificate of Recognition and had his aide Anna Damiani present it to me at my birthday party at the internationally something-or-othered Cafe Flore.

And speaking of Mark's aide Anna Damiani, here's the photo I posted on Facebook last week of Anna air-kissing Sister Roma at the Castro Street party celebrating the Supreme Court victories.

Anna Roma

At that same Castro Street celebration I ran into Dan Nicoletta.


Here's Dan in the 1970s when he worked in Harvey Milk's camera store on Castro Street.

nicoletta young

Harvey and his lover Scott Smith and Dan were like family. They went everywhere together, and Dan acted as Harvey's personal photographer. When Arcadia Publishing asked me to compile the photo history "San Francisco's Castro," Dan offered his entire Harvey photo file, and we figured out which pictures would best tell the story. I'd talked to other people and read all the books on Harvey, so I told what I'd learned in photos and captions, and then Dan read it and made corrections.

Some of Dan's photos of Harvey are behind glass in Harvey Milk Plaza under the giant Rainbow Flag. Dan was instrumental in getting a bust of Harvey in City Hall. He was official photographer on the "Milk" movie, in which he was played by Lucas Grabeel.

nicoletta grabeel

Dan gave copies of "San Francisco's Castro" to all the principals on the "Milk" movie, so they all already knew who I was. I chanced upon (l. to r.) the two producers, Harvey Milk's cousin Stuart Milk, director Gus Van Sant, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black at the 2008 Pride Parade, and we had a friendly chat. Stuart, Dusty and I later became Facebook friends.

milk van sant

Dan Nicoletta has taken thusands of photos of gay people and events, even some snaps of yours truly. I really like this one with the legendary Connie Champagne.


Dan let me use his photos for an online biography of Harvey Milk ( and of the "Milk" movie (

(Whew, back at the Pride Parade.) I looked across the street. There was Liam Mayclem, Emmy award-winning host and producer of CBS 5 TV's "Eye on the Bay."
We've met at several events, and he's a really nice guy. We chatted for a minute. Then ...


Here was one of my heroes! Now he's California's Lieutenant Governor. When he was Mayor of San Francisco, in 2004, Gavin Newsom began allowing gay couple's to marry, even if he might not have had the authority.
When we first met he knew of me from my hundreds of quips in Herb Caen's "San Francisco Chronicle" column. I gave him a copy of my then-new photo history "San Francisco's Castro." He told our mutual friend, Dr. John Newmeyer, that he liked it, so when I ran into him at the next Pride Parade, I dared to pop the question. He graciously moved my camera strap from in front of my lens and posed for a publicity picture, which may help account for the healthy sales of the book.
Gavin book

Today de Gavin was holding his daughter Montana while greeting well wishers.

Now, unless I've mixed up the photos, this is where de Gavin spotted me and dropped Montana. That's his wife Jennifer on the left.

But everything was OK. Montana was clinging or reclinging to his neck as de Gavin came over and said, "Hi, Strange."
Gavin to me

I told him my Supreme Court gay marriage joke, and he said Herb Caen would have loved it.
I reluctantly left de Gavin, Jennifer and their 2-1/2 kids. (She would give birth July 3 to a daughter Brooklynn.)
Gavin family

Oops! I kicked myself. I forgot to tell Gavin how impressed I am with his new book "Citizenville." It has amazing ideas on how government on all levels can be  brought into the digital age. For instance, since it's nearly impossible for the government to hire enough ace programmers, why not make public data accessible and open a government app store, just like the Apple app store? "Apple makes millions of dollars annually by selling apps that other people have created for it. Simply by offering an open API -- a platform on which people can build apps easily -- Apple created immense value, not only for itself, but also for its customers."

People love games. Farmville players spend millions of real dollars to buy fantasy assets to help them win. But in Citienville people would spend money or effort on actual improvements in the player's neighborhood -- say, an hour of professional landscaping or fresh paint to cover up graffiti. It would be a competition that would benefit everybody.

How about putting government agencies on Yelp? You go to the DMV and describe the service you receive. Sure, they're a monopoly, but soon everyone could compare the San Francisco DMV to all the others in the state or to other government departments in San Francisco. Do you think government employees and supervisors wouldn't take note of what people were saying about them and what their ratings were?

Instead of using the slow, expensive, sometimes-corrupt government procurement system to hire someone to design something or solve a particular problem, make it a competition and let anyone enter. Actually, this has already been started. is a first-of-its kind Web site where federal agencies can launch and publicize their contests. A quick scroll through reveals a huge range of contests from agencies across the board and tells you how much money you'll get if you win.

There could be government type sites where we the 100% could openly donate to pay for government projects like road repairs, public wi-fi, or day care centers to allow single parents to get off unemployment and food stamps and take jobs. We could vote directly with our dollars to restore the recent budget cuts and threatened cuts to systems like Medi-Cal, which are in place and work. I wonder if PACs, instead of buying annoying TV ads and politicians, could restore and even improve needed services. Then, instead of having to say, "We wanted to do it, but the (other-party/leaders-in-our-own-party) thwarted us," they could say, "You wanted it done. We wanted it done. So we did it. Here it is. Vote for us."
This is just scraping the surface of "Citizenville."

Meanwhile, who was happening at the Parade? It was Harvey Milk protege and gay rights leader Cleve Jones, looking good! Among many other things, Cleve started the AIDS Quilt and was instrumental in getting "Milk" filmed.

Saturday afternoon Cleve was walking down Castro Street with Oscar-winning "Milk" screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, and author of "The Towering Inferno" and Harvey Milk's speechwriter Frank Robinson. We all hugged. Afterwards I started thinking. Here are Dustin de Lance Black and James de Franco, to choose two people at random.
dusty franco

They've already worked together on "Milk." Imagine them writing, directing, and starring as themselves in "Dusty & Jimmy." I wonder if they'd come up with a romance, a comedy, a buddy film? or what. I imagine it woud be something we couldn't even imagine.

Anyway, back to Cleve Jones. Friday night he was late for his appearance at Faetopia because he was at City Hall watching California's Attorney General Kamala Harris marrying Sandra Stier and Kris Perry from the Supreme Court case. Now at the Parade I heard cheers, turned around, and Kamala Harris, of all people, was getting into her designated parade car beside gay columnist Wayne Friday.

The cheers and applause felt heartfelt. I love this photo.

After all the excitement it was time to cool down. Oops! Actor, singer and Celebrity Grand Marshal Cheyenne Jackson had spotted me. He didn't wave me over.

I walked over. I know what you're thinking. He's now saying, "Hi, Strange," in that resigned-through-gritted-teeth tone so popular with de young folks these days.

But, no. This isn't the magical 1970s. Cheyenne and I had never met. He was just obliging de old geek who'd asked to take his picture.

Ah, Community Grand Marshal Bebe Sweetbriar. Singing with her friends, she seemed a really warm person.

Celebrity Grand Marshal Alex Newell has one of the strongest voices and personalities on "Glee." Sweet and softspoken in person. And not afraid to wear horizontal stripes! Unlike the next fellow ...

Even from a block away I would have known. It was Bruce Beaudette!

bruce beaudette

Finally, Philanthropist Al Baum, an old pal, was the Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal. I'm sure he'll be thrilled to know that when I first tried tagging this photo on Facebook it kept insisting he was Strange de Jim. Well, he IS rather handsome and distinguished looking.
  Well, that's the Parade. But how can we possibly end this story? With a picture you could put on a T-shirt

church ladies
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Click for the website of my photo history of San Francisco's Castro with lots of additional photos.


Heck, you might as well check out all my books.

Click for free text

. . .


These photos from my "San Francisco's Castro" appear in David Weissman's award-winning documentary "We Were Here," which interviews heroes from the AIDS crisis. The top photo shows James Harning in his healthy days. He worked in an ice cream shop, and he'd trade me free ice cream for free massages. Win-win-win. When he got sick he locked himself away. His friend Marcus Mitchinson brought him to me for a massage. I'd volunteered to massage terminal patients, but seeing a close friend covered with lesians was heartwrenching. At the end, another friend and I carried James to the car for his final ride to the hospital. The bottom photo shows James between Marcus on the left and Stephen Pullis on the right.

I highly recommend the "We Were Here" DVD.

. Milk is out on DVD (Left) and Blu-ray (right) .

Milk movie: photos and videos of the making of the film and the subsequent openings, award ceremonies, etc. See

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Pride 2010 / Pride 2011 / Pride 2012 / History of the Castro from 1870 / Biography of Harvey Milk / Making of the "Milk" Movie / "Milk" Movie on Other Strange Sites / e-mail Strange