November 30, 1924– Elliott Blackstone:
“They hated me. They thought it was wrong for a policeman to associate with these ‘faggots,’ but they needed help, so I helped.”
Those straight allies for Gay Civil Rights can come from the most unexpected places & change the daily lives of gay people through the dignity that they bring to the work they do. Thank you.
Blackstone was born in Montana on this day in 1924. After finishing high school, he served in the Navy during WW II. He joined the San Francisco Police Department in 1949.
Blackstone was one of the good cops, & there are many. He was a pioneer in the idea of “community-based policing”, once remarking that being a cop was like being “a social worker with a badge.” In 1962, after the discovery of a “Gayola” scandal involving police demands for payoffs from the gay bar owners, he was appointed the very first SFPD liaison to the gay community. He was actually in attendance at a gay New Year’s Ball in 1965, when there was a police raid where an officer roughed up Blackstone’s wife, assuming she was a drag queen.
In the summer of 1966, a riot broke out at a gay spot, Compton’s Cafeteria, & Blackstone brokered peace between the queens & the cops. He was introduced to Louise Durkin, a trans-person who schooled Blackstone, & taught him to use the correct terminology. She gave him a copy of The Transsexual Phenomenon by Harry Benjamin. Blackstone decided to help the transsexual community. He persuaded the Center For Special Problems, a division of the San Francisco Department Of Public Health, to offer hormones, counseling & referrals. Benjamin worked with Blackstone, who instructed his fellow police officers on dealing with trans-people.
Blackstone then encouraged trans-people to organize. He helped start Change: Our Goal (COG) & attended their meetings. COG help change the policy of having police arresting people for using the “wrong” toilets or cross-dressing. He helped to establish an anti-poverty office that employed transgendered folks. That office provided ID cards that enabled transsexuals to open bank accounts & apply for jobs as the opposite sex. When the National Transsexual Counseling Unit was formed in San Francisco, Blackstone served as its police liaison. He worked with people who were having problems with the law or their employers. He gave a presentation to every San Francisco Police Academy Class. He even collected donations at his own church to help pay for hormones for transsexuals who could not afford them.
Asked why, as a straight man, he took such an active role on behalf of gay & transgender people, Blackstone replied:
“Because it was the right thing to do.”
Blackstone worked with early Gay Rights organizations like Mattachine Society & The Daughters Of Bilitis, to help end police entrapment of gay guys in public bathrooms. He trained police recruits on how to handle the gay community by bringing in gay people to give talks about their lives. He attended gay galas, drag balls, & Pride rallies as the face of the San Francisco Police Department. He was a pioneer & considerably brave one. Blackstone planted a seed that grew San Francisco into that special city that welcomes everyone, a place where all people would be treated equally.
He always claimed that he was just doing his job, although much of the time, the police brass gave him little support. He was harassed by fellow officers. Drugs were also planted in Blackstone’s desk & he had to fight charges of insubordination. In 1974, he was taken off the Gay Task Force & assigned to another job. Within 2 years Blackstone retired.
Blackstone was the Grand Marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade in 2006. For all his hard work on behalf of the LGBTQ community, he received awards from the California State Senate, the California State Assembly, & the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
Blackstone fought against prejudice at a time when any sort of rights for gays was unthinkable. His actions created a ripple of positive change.
Elliott Blackstone left this world in Autumn 2006, just a few months after having served as Grand Marshall. He was taken by a stroke at 82 years old. He is a hero to me.