In March, Gary Miller
, who spent many of his
early years in Kansas City, celebrated his
65th birthday with friends and loved ones in Roseville, Calif.
Those gathered took a few moments to reflect on Miller's accomplishments thus far.
was part of a pre-Stonewall gay rights organization headquartered in Kansas City.
moved to San Francisco as a young man, he
continued living out his
beliefs in peace, equality and education.
In Northern California, his
appetite for politics and public service had him working for and witnessing many advancements in social justice, some of them incremental and others gigantic leaps.
has served longer -- in various positions -- than any other openly gay elected official in the country with the exception of former U.S. Rep.
sometimes jokes that this is the reason he
aunt and uncle both came from several generations of circus performers.
place of origin and his
extended family's unusual occupation, Miller
started life amid a diverse group of people.
According to Miller
biological father chose not to support his
mother and him, causing his
mother to return to Kansas City when he
was 2 years old.
Even before entering grade school, Miller
displayed an independent spirit.
mother had placed him in day care in downtown Kansas City, where she
older brother would collect him daily via bus.
One day, no one came to pick him up, and while the day-care manager was across the street phoning his
knew the way and started walking the two-mile bus route home.
arrived home, he
was greeted by a policeman who invited him into his
then saw his
mother in another police car and he
started to cry because he
had been arrested.
Miller attended Longfellow Elementary School.
During that time, the circus for which his
aunt and uncle worked would come to Kansas City around the first week of March.
Several times, his
birthday parties were held on the circus grounds.
For a kid, that's pretty great stuff.
When Miller was young, his Uncle Dime, who worked as a professional clown, would put him in a costume and makeup to help warm up crowds.
During that time, Miller
said, "I remember my friends would go to Fairyland Park.
Miller attended his mother's alma mater, Westport High School, where he was the editor of the school newspaper, The Westport Crier.
"I had a girlfriend in high school," Miller
It was during high school that Miller
was attracted to other men, but he
didn't know what to make of his
experience, homosexuals were drag queens or pedophiles.
knew that he
was neither of those things.
reasoned that he
was not a homosexual.
He received some counseling from a Baptist minister in Westport - the area where he usually hung out.
The minister managed to convince Miller
was not gay.
So after his
1967 graduation, he
was off to college to look for "the woman of his
Miller attended Central Methodist College (now University) in Fayette, Mo.
heard the Rev. Vann Anderson talk to a religious club about gay people.
Anderson said gay people were just people like everyone else.
That statement and a romantic engagement with a classmate led Miller
to realize that it was OK to be gay.
first love at age 19.
It was with a man whose church had caused him to have all sorts of confusion about his
After several months of dating, the man ended their relationship without bothering to tell Miller
Obviously, this was heartbreaking.
Miller had met his future partner Ronald Bentley at Phoenix House in 1968 before the aforementioned college breakup.
Bentley was a good listener and was interested in Miller
romantically, but Miller
was faithful to his then-current relationship.
"Ron lived above the Phoenix House, edited The Phoenixmagazine and was serving in the Air Force all at the same time," said Miller, who later wrote for The Phoenix himself.
went by Jerry Mills, and Bentley was known as Chris Gordon.
During the first year of their partnership, the couple lived apart, as Miller
was still away at college.
has many memories of the gay bars in Kansas City.
Another was Yolanda, who only sang one song - 'Say a Little Prayer for Me,'" Miller
"Then there was The Tent or Arabian Nights; it had a bouncer.
To anyone who appeared to be straight, the bouncer would say that this was a private club."
said that many people would enter the Redhead Lounge via the back door so no one would see them entering a gay bar.
contrasts this with modern gay bars in San Francisco and New Orleans, which have big picture windows.
"There was a coffeehouse for those of us who were underage," Miller
"Same-sex couples could slow dance together.
We were told if the lights in the place flashed, that meant the cops were coming in and sit down, pretend to be straight."
mentioned the rumor that many Kansas City gay bars of this era were run by the Mafia.
Bentley and Miller
moved to San Francisco in 1970.
In 1971, they had a religious ceremony to affirm their union at the Metropolitan Community Church
"Even though we were young and in good health, we decided to have wills done just in case something happened to one of us," Miller
"The attorney also suggested that one of us adopt the other.
We thought this was a little excessive, but we did it and filed the adoption papers."
first arrived in San Francisco, he
applied for a job at the phone company.
The interviewer asked about his
draft status, which was 4F (unfit for service).
"Because the military does not accept gays," replied Miller
"We don't either.
A decade or so later, with the help of gay law school students, Miller
sued and won back wages.
Miller was a founding member of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, a group that combined his interests of politics and civil rights.
He served as its president in 1975.
He was a member of the board of directors (publications director) of the Society for Individual Rights, the largest gay rights group in the country at the time.
was also involved with the Council on Religion
and the Homosexual and participated in a large number of Democratic Party activities.
In 1974, Miller
ran for the 16th District Democratic Party Central Committee
also helped with George Moscone's run for San Francisco mayor.
went to work as a lobbyist for the Society of Friends
(Quakers), and he
and Bentley moved to Sacramento in 1976.
During the Carter administration, thousands of Cubans left their country and headed to the United States.
The Metropolitan Community Church
said, "coordinated trying to find sponsors for the many gay Cubans who were arriving."
A young man named Orte and his brother came to Sacramento, and Miller
and Bentley took Orte in.
was 19 going on 13," Miller
spoke no English and we spoke no Spanish.
We got him into English classes and got him oriented to the U.S. way of doing things.
lived with us for at least a year."
In 1978, Miller served as the Sacramento campaign manager against Prop 6 (the Briggs Initiative), which was an effort to ban gays and lesbians, as well as anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools.
After the defeat of Prop 6, Miller received a thank you letter from MCC's founder, the Rev. Troy Perry.
Miller was the first openly gay (the term "out-front gay" was used at the time) person to serve on the Sacramento County Democratic Party board, where he was chair for eight years.
Miller was a Clinton delegate to the National Democratic Party Convention in 1992.
He helped form several Democratic clubs and was the first openly gay Sacramento human rights commissioner.
In a run for Sacramento City Council
in 1981, Miller
came in third.
Regularly regarded as low-key or soft-spoken in demeanor, he
was identified as gay during the contest, which may have played a part in the loss.
During the 1985 Robla Elementary School District election in north Sacramento, Miller