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Keynote speakers laud martyrs to gay cause

In November 1978, in San Francisco, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were gunned down in their offices by a co-worker.

Milk served on the Board of Supervisors, the first openly gay man ever elected in that city. Moscone was mayor. They were shot by Supervisor Dan White, frustrated in his attempts to negate his resignation from the board.As gay rights activists, Moscone and Milk knew they had enemies. They continued to speak out. On Friday, in Salt Lake City, at the Intermountain Conference on Homosexuality, they were remembered by two men whose lives were changed by their deaths.

Jonathan Moscone was 14 when his father was killed. Moscone, who is now a theater director, spoke to about 250 people at Little America. He said he and his mother, brother and sisters suffered.

"For years, all I could feel was numb," he said. "Death pulls people apart, or at least it did in my family."

During his 20s he became wildly angry. Eventually, he realized his sadness. He lost a father he never felt he knew. The boy was terrified by a world he didn't get. His father was brave.

"I wanted him to know I could take a stand," Jonathan Moscone said. So at the 20-year memorial of his father's death, he mentioned he was gay. Telling the TV cameras was easier than telling his mother had been, he says.

Tom Ammiano, the current president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, also spoke. Ammiano was a teacher in 1978. Before the Moscone/Milk era, teachers lost their jobs if people knew they were gay.

After the slayings, people drew together, Ammiano says -- gay, lesbian and straight. Their message: You may take the leaders, but gay people will not go away.

After the deaths of Milk and Moscone the gay community got political muscle, Ammiano said. He was elected not because he is gay, he said, but because he represents many who are disenfranchised.

The final keynote speaker was Paul Beeman, international president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Beeman is also a Methodist minister. He advised PFLAG members to stop trying to change the far right but to keep on talking to the "movable middle."