Today was one of the most incredible days of my life. We interview Dan Nicoletta. If you have seen the film, Milk, then you will remember “Danny” Nicoletta as the young guy working in Harvey’s camera shop. Dan was played by the actor Lucas Grabeel. He has been photographing the queer community for over 30 years. Dan started working in Harvey Milk’s camera shop on Castro Street in 1975. We talked with Dan about his friendship with Harvey and about his life documenting queer history.
I have looked up to Harvey Milk as a role model since I came out in 1996. I was 14 at the time and hung a quote from Harvey Milk’s “Hope Speech” on my wall. In 2008, when the film Milk opened, I organized a candlelight vigil to remember Harvey. Folks from all over came to the vigil and then to the opening of Milk at Kendall Cinema in Cambridge, MA.
When I was planning this trip, I was looking for people to interview. A friend told me that he knew Dan Nicoletta and that I should contact him. Dan was actually the very first interview I scheduled for the Driving Equality project. It was an honor to meet him and learn a little about his life.
You should check out some of Dan’s photography here. There are some great photos of Harvey Milk that I’m sure you’ve never seen before.
Dan also took these famous photos of Harvey that I’m sure you have seen. This first photo of Harvey has been used in countless ways by a number of different people. Dan helped get a memorial statue of Harvey Milk in San Francisco City Hall. The statue is based off of this photograph. Even I used this iconic photo on the Harvey Milk buttons that I designed. It is interesting to me that I used Dan’s photo on buttons that I sold to raise money for Driving Equality in order to interview people like Dan across the country, and in interviewing Dan I learned that Dan actually took the photo on the buttons. I sold the buttons at rallies and activist events in the year leading up to the drive. Since Dan took the photo that I used on the buttons, which raised about $500, I am now listing him as a National Sponsor.
I love history, and I especially love queer history. For me to sit down with Dan Nicoletta and ask him questions and see old photographs was like winning the big gay lottery. I was high on life and queer history after this interview. Check out the clips below. There are three parts to this interview, but it is only a small portion of our discussion with Dan.
After our interview with Dan, with hurried over to San Francisco City Hall to meet with Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis. This was another incredible interview! Stuart and John were plaintiffs in the California case for marriage equality, decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They were first married in San Francisco City Hall the day that Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the doors to same-sex couples back in 2004. Those marriages were later found invalid by the California Supreme Court. But Stuart and John took their case to court and won marriage equality in the state of California. After 22 years together, they legally married on June 17, 2008.
Stuart and John have been activists for a long time. They were both fighting the fight back in the 80’s, so when the marriage issue heated up in California, they were right there to lead the way. It was great to hear about their excitement when the court ruled in favor of marriage equality. But it was hard to talk about their disappointment with the passage of Prop 8. They have been on a marriage equality roller coaster for five years. It is not easy being a couple in the spotlight during the ups and downs of this fight. I applaud them both for their courage and activism.
After an interview outside in front of City Hall, we went in and they showed me where they first rushed to get their marriage license in 2004, and then where they were legally married in 2008. It is interesting to note that Stuart and John were married at the top of the steps in City Hall, right next to the new Harvey Milk statue. The same statue that Dan Nicoletta fought so hard to bring to City Hall. In fact, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples were married with Harvey Milk looking over them.
These were two beautiful interviews that came together so well. Stuart and John were one of the first legally married couples in California, and they were married in front of the statue of Harvey Milk that was sculpted using a photo by Dan Nicoletta. How amazing is that!? I am still in awe of this incredible day.
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(This video was taken with the ‘behind-the-scenes’ blog camera and is not the actual footage for the documentary.)