Hank Wilson was an extremely modest man who avoided the spotlight, so his story is largely unknown. That’s why I’m working with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the GLBT Historical Society to make a documentary about him, “Thanks to Hank.” Fortunately, the Historical Society’s archives hold not only Hank’s personal papers, but also organizational records, photos, ephemera, and audio and video recordings reflecting his work and the times in which he lived.
The GLBT Historical Society archives are providing crucial materials for telling these stories — and what’s more, the society is serving as fiscal sponsor for the documentary. Please consider making a donation to show your support to this amazing project and ensure that Hank’s story eternally lives on.
Meet Hank Wilson, the fiercest gay activist you never heard of.
In San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s, Hank was the Johnny Appleseed of gay liberation. Everywhere he went new organizations sprang up. Beginning in the 1970s, he started more than 20 organizations, nearly 30 altogether. Many are still with us.
LYRIC remains the main organization for queer youth in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Gay Film Festival Hank organized in 1977, with home movies projected on bed sheets pinned to the wall, is now the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, the longest-running and largest LGBTQ film exhibition event in the world with annual attendance over 60,000. The AIDS Memorial Candlelight March he co-founded in 1983, five years before the beginning of ACTUP, is now the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, organized by 1,200 community organizations in 115 countries.
A kindergarten teacher, Hank took the lead in providing for the many queer youth fleeing to San Francisco after being kicked out of their homes. He quit teaching to manage a derelict 150-room residency hotel in the toughest part of town as a refuge for street kids and anyone else with nowhere to go. AIDS arrived, and Hank spent the next 20 years Hank running the Ambassador Hotel as an unfunded informal hospice for the homeless and drug-addicted. Thousands of people with HIV found housing and care at the Ambassador. Many hundreds died there.
Oh, and since you have to maintain your sense of humor to survive a plague, Hank co-founded the Valencia Rose, San Francisco’s first gay comedy club, where Whoopi Goldberg and Lea DeLaria got their start.
Through it all, he lived with a modesty and frugality that even his closest friends found odd. He slept on the floor of a dingy one-room apartment, and invited homeless people to sleep in his car.
Like many of the residents of his hotel, Hank contracted AIDS and died way too soon. Many of those he touched felt like they never had a chance to say thank you. This movie is our thank you letter to Hank.
We talk so much about “community” these days, but what do we actually mean? Hank Wilson had a definition his kindergarten students could understand: a community was something that took care of its least privileged members. If this simple thing could not be done, then you didn’t have much in the way of community. This was Hank’s life project, and his profound contribution to the queer community and the city of Saint Francis.
Please help us pass on this gift to future generations.
- Hank Wilson Wikipedia
- The City of Saint Francis Loses Its Own Saint Henry, by Bob Ostertag
- Hank Wilson: Teresa of the Tenderloin, by Tom Carter
Hank was an extremely modest man who avoided the spotlight in general and cameras in particular. In place of all the pictures and footage Hank managed to avoid, the film will feature the animation of Jeremy Rourke.
Bob Ostertag has published more than 20 CDs of music, 5 books, and, as part of Living Cinema, several movies. His writings on contemporary politics have been published on every continent and in many languages. Bob was an intimate friend of Hank Wilson.
The GLBT Historical Society, whose archives hold the Hank Wilson papers, is serving as the fiscal sponsor for the movie.
Thanks to Hank is also supported by The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who canonized Hank as the Patron Saint of Plague Survivors, Queer Underdogs, Housing Justice, and Compassionate Action.