November 15, 2012

Howard Wallace - 1936-2012: Socialist, Union Activist, LGBT Icon



About 20 years ago I was able to spend some time with Howard after a West Coast SEIU Lavender Caucus Conference.  He was on staff with SEIU Local 250 and was reminiscing about the past.  It seemed like the most important work of his life for him was organizing members of the Gay Community to march with Cesar Chavez from Delano to Sacramento which resulted in his life long friendship with Delores Huerta.

But there was much more to the life of Howard Wallace.  One of his major contributions was  bringing together the LGBT Movement and the Labor Movement.  He founded the Lesbian-Gay Labor Alliance and later Pride At Work.  

In 1974 he worked with the Teamsters Union on a boycott of Coors Beer.  Coors was not only anti-union but all employees had to take a lie-detector test that included the question, "are you a homosexual?".  It was Howard who convinced Harvey Milk to take on the boycott and they succeeded in getting Coors Beer out of most of the gay bars in the Castro.

In 1975 he helped form  Bay Area Gay Liberation with other leftists.  Their radical politics contrasted with the traditional Democratic Party politics of Jim Foster's Alice B. Toklas Club.  Hundreds of men and some women attended these meetings.

Tommi Mecca, LGBT historian said of Howard, "He was always there for the rights of union members, the poor, the working class, antiwar activists.  You could count on him.  He saw the connections between the LGBT Movement and disenfranchised people everywhere.  He saw the Queer struggle as part of a larger struggle for social and economic justice."

His activism started when he was a member of the Denver Branch of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).  In 1962 he was involved in organizing the Denver Fair Play For Cuba Committee.  In 1965 he was the  SWP candidate for the Denver School Board.  The FBI COINTELPRO Program was targeting the SWP and they created a disinformation campaign against him.

ILWU Local 34 has offered their building  next to Giants Park for a memorial meeting.  It will be scheduled after the first of the year.

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