Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Support the Hank Wilson film

Guest Opinion

Activists Michael Petrelis, left, and Hank Wilson disrupt a speech by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on July 26, 2007. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Ten years ago, in July 2007 when I heard the new United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would be speaking at the Fairmont Hotel, I called my friend Hank Wilson and asked if he was up to zapping the world leader to make sure he addressed LGBT issues during his visit. Wilson had two questions: he wanted to know where and when to report for activist duty.

Wilson searched the web for evidence that Ban or his immediate predecessor had addressed global gay issues in any of their public statements and speeches, finding none he rustled up a few friends to join us.

As Ban began his talk before the packed hotel ballroom, Wilson and I stood up and held banners over our heads reading "Gay Rights Are UNiversal!" We demanded he speak about gay rights and he did.

Here is what Bay Area Reporter international columnist Heather Cassell said happened next: "Surprised by the interruption, Ban said, 'That is the most unusual welcome for me ... as secretary-general I'm supposed to answer all questions ... the gay rights issue is very sensitive in many cultures and traditions.' Ban then told the audience that he 'hoped to answer all questions' but he held back about making any statements about LGBT issues, stating that he 'reserved' to answer questions about 'gay issues for a later time.'"

This decade-old episode perfectly shows how Wilson spoke, nay, shouted truth to power and is a reminder of his long years of unstinting service to the LGBT community, people with AIDS and HIV, folks getting clean and sober, and the less fortunate.

Four days after his candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama, was elected president in November 2008, Wilson quietly passed away and a gentle giant of proud and loud activism was mourned, his life and legacy celebrated by many. His many accomplishments would easily fill up a book.

What are some of the achievements he brought about that have directly benefited our communities? This is what his Wikipedia entry says:

"Wilson founded or co-founded many organizations, including the Gay Teachers Coalition; the Butterfly Brigade, which became the Castro Street Safety Patrol; San Francisco Gay Democratic Club, which became the  Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club; the Tenderloin AIDS Network, which became Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center; the PWA Coalition; Mobilization Against AIDS; a film festival that grew into the Frameline Film Festival; the AIDS Candlelight Vigil, which became the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial; the Committee to Monitor Poppers; and ACT UP/Golden Gate, which became Survive AIDS."

He also ran for District 6 supervisor in 2000 and didn't win, but his race was one more way he practiced direct democracy and put his issues out there. Creative and effective are two words I associated with Wilson before I met him in the 1980s, as the AIDS plague was decimating the gay male community.

It pleases me to share the news that a film about Wilson is in the works. According to an announcement on Facebook, "Nearly a decade has passed since the death of our beloved Hank Wilson. There have been starts on documentary projects, but nothing reached fruition. Finally, the film is getting underway. The pieces are falling into place. We have a wonderful director, Joan Grossman. Now we need you."

A fundraiser is being held Saturday, September 9 at the home of Dr. Laura Norell and Academy Award-winner Lora Hirschberg, located at 350 Page Street in San Francisco.

Organizers of the event state that everyone who knew and loved Wilson and want to share stories about him for the documentary, and all who wish to contribute money, are invited to attend.

I rarely donate money to such film projects, but I'll be at the fundraiser to chip in some bucks to help get this movie made. My hope is that you will also contribute to getting this project off the ground and eventually shown at film festivals, in theaters, and available on all streaming services.

Hank Wilson more than deserves a documentary.


The fundraiser starts at 7 p.m. To RSVP, email


Michael Petrelis is a long-term AIDS survivor, human rights activist, and is marking 22 years of love and partnership with Mike Merrigan.

[Editor's note: After publication, Mr. Ostertag called to say that the event is private, despite the information being posted on Facebook.

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