Gay History – July 12, 1972: First Gay Delegates Speak at the Democratic National Convention. Sort Of….
In 1972, after the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club delivered one-third of the signatures needed to secure George McGovern the first position on the California Democratic primary ballot, gay rights and political activist James Foster was added to the list of speakers at the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida. Originally, Foster had been given a prime time speaking slot, but George McGovern’s campaign manager, future U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, changed it to a 3:00 a.m. speaking slot. The campaign had decided they needed to tone down their radical image. Foster and fellow delegate Madeline Davis were the first openly LGBT people ever to address a national party convention. He called upon the Democratic Party to add a gay rights plank to the party platform, saying:
We do not come to you begging your understanding or pleading your tolerance. We come to you affirming our pride in our lifestyle, affirming the validity of our right to seek and to maintain meaningful emotional relationships and affirming our right to participate in the life of this country on an equal basis with every citizen.
Foster and other gay rights activists got a minority report to the floor, but the plank was defeated. Instead he Democrats included “the right to be different” in their 1972 platform. According to the party, this right included the right to “maintain a cultural, ethnic heritage or lifestyle, without being forced into a compelled homogeneity”
Interestingly in 1973 Foster was approached by fledgling gay politician Harvey Milk . Milk sought Foster’s endorsement for his first campaign for Supervisor. Foster, who through the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club had staked out a position that it was best for the gay community to work with liberal establishment politicians than try to elect gay candidates, refused to support Milk’s campaign. This led to an animosity between the men which lasted until Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978. It has been suggested that this event led to the founding of the alternate Harvey Milk-founded San Francisco Gay Democratic Club.