Howard Wallace, Icon of LGBT & Labor Activism, Has Died at 76
Howard Wallace, best remembered as the mastermind behind the Coors boycott that began in the 1970′s after the company touted it’s discrimination of Gays, died November 14 after a difficult battle with Alzhiemer’s disease.
Howard was born in Colorado. A pivotal moment in his life came when he was forced to leave college by his father after it was discovered he was involved with United World Federalist movement which his father labeled as ‘commie’. He moved to San Francisco in 1967 and quickly found a home here. After working a series of blue collar jobs, active involvement in the Vietnam anti-war movement, he began to see how the need for a concerted effort in melding all disparate minority rights groups and labor into one cohesive movement. Howard always retained an innate sense of self and at at time when few were open about there sexuality in the blue hued environs of the workplace he was always out and never shy about calling out local labor leaders on their misguided and divisive homophobia.
In 1975 after Coors Brewery Corp’s discrimination was revealed toward LGBT people and it’s ongoing support of far right politics coupled with its Union busting practices he organized a national boycott of the brand that was kicked off in all of the Queer bars in our own beloved Castro. Howard worked extensively with the late Supervisor Harvey Milk forming strategy on the boycott from within Harvey’s infamous base of operation-the camera shop he owned on Castro now currently housing the Human Rights Campaign swag store. This Coors boycott was immensely successful and it lasted well into 1990′s until the Coors political policies began to evolve. Many groups and organizations still honor boycott however as Coors has been accused of continuing to funnel money into anti-immigrant, anti-union, far right groups.
Another of Wallace’s priceless contributions to the community was when he, along with the late, tireless, LGBT organizer, Hank Wilson, and current CA. Assemblyman for District 13, Tom Ammiano, formed the Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL) organization. BAGL’s official stated aims were, “To advance Lesbian and Gay liberation by reaching out to potential allies within the labor movement, the feminist movement and movements of people of color and national minorities.”
BAGL led Queer politics forward by painstakingly building bridges between other progressive movements most notably Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Worker’s Union and the Teamster’s union. Wallace was a founder of the Lesbian-Gay Labor Alliance and later the AFL-CIO’s, Pride at Work. Wallace was instrumental in bringing LGBT worker’s issues, concerns and needs into the Labor movement-and in return-brought Labor support to LGBT people’s struggle for equality. Howard served as president of Service Employees International Union, Local 250, which he was an active member until 2005. Howard never lost his drive for equality and desire of justice for all the people of this country. He was a lion in multiple movements and his absence will be keenly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him. A memorial is planned in the not too distant future and we’ll keep you abreast of those developments.
Rest In Power tireless warrior of the People-your work here is done.