Thanks to Hank Documentary Project


Thanks to Hank is the story of a gay saint, a liberation movement, a plague, and an approach to gay activism that puts poor people first.


Meet Hank Wilson, the fiercest gay activist you never heard of.  In San Francisco during the 1970s and 80s, Hank was the Johnny Appleseed of gay liberation. Everywhere he went new organizations sprang up. Many are still with us. The AIDS Candlelight vigil he put together, five years before the formation 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 young queers fleeing to San Francisco after being kicked out of their homes, He quit teaching to manage the Ambassador Hotel, 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 running the hotel as an unfunded hospice for the homeless and drug-addicted who were dying of AIDS. Many hundreds of poor people died in the Ambassador.

To survive a plague you need to laugh, so somewhere Hank found the time to start the first queer comedy club in San Francisco, where Whoopi Goldberg and Lea Delaria got their start.


Through it all he maintained a modesty so extreme even his closest friends found it odd. He slept on the floor of a one room roach-infested apartment, and invited homeless people to sleep in his car.

Hank's Bed.jpeg

Like the residents of his hotel, Hank contracted AIDS and died way too soon. 

We talk so much about community these days, but what do we actually mean? Hank Wilson had a definition even his kindergarten students could understand: a community is something that takes care of its least privileged members. If this simple thing cannot be done, then you don’t have much in the way of community. This was Hank’s life project, his singular, profound gift to the queer community, and to the city of Saint Francis.

Please join star of Orange is the New Black Lea DeLaria, former California State Assembyperson Tom Ammiano, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Kronos Quartet, and  Bob Ostertag to help pass this gift on to future generations.

The Team

Bob Ostertag: Producer, Director, Writer, Editor.

Composer, historian, instrument builder, journalist, activist:  Bob Ostertag’s work cannot easily be summarized or pigeon-holed. He has published more than twenty CDs of music, two DVDs, and five books. His writings on contemporary politics have been published on every continent and in many languages. He has performed at music, film, and multi-media festivals around the globe. His radically diverse collaborators include the Kronos Quartet, postmodernist John Zorn, heavy metal star Mike Patton, transgender cabaret start Justin Vivian Bond, British guitar innovator Fred Frith, EDM star Rrose, and many others. He is rumored to have connections to the shadowy media guerrilla group The Yes Men. In March 2006 Ostertag made all of his recordings to which he owns the rights available as free digital downloads under a Creative Commons license. Though his Living Cinema duo with Pierre Hébert has done live cinematic performances at major international film festivals around the world since 2000, this will be his first conventional feature film.
You can learn more about Bob’s work at his web site.

Jeremy Rourke: Animation.

Jeremy Rourke is a self taught animator, musician and performer.  His experimental animation includes the use of photo-puppetry, line animation, claymation, glass, text, paint, pens, pencils, lights, shadows, flora and myriad paper ephemera. During live performances he has been known to sing and tell stories in conjunction with instrumental music, sound samples, multiple projectors and real time interactions with the screen. He has shared these expanded cinema performances around the San Francisco Bay Area (including the Exploratorium, Other Cinema, Shapeshifters Cinema, Recology AIR), around the country (including Ashland Independent Film Festival, Cinema Pacific Film Festival, Houston Cinema Arts Festival) and internationally at the Antimatter Media Art Festival.  
You can see some of Jeremy’s beautiful animation on his web site.


The Kronos Quartet: Music

Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 60 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 950 works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos has received over 40 awards, including  a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America. 


Tin Hat: Music

Since their formation in San Francisco in 1997, Tin Hat has produced an extraordinary string of 6 CDs of acoustic music combines many genres of music, including jazz, southern blues, bluegrass, neoclassical, eastern European folk music, and avant-garde. All of their CDs feature guests, including Tom Waits, Mike Patton and Willie Nelson.



Lea DeLaria


Lea DeLaria is an actress and comedian best known for her portrayal of inmate Carrie “Big Boo” Black on Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black. She was the first openly gay comic to appear on a late-night talk show, with her 1993 appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show. In the 1980s she was deeply associated with the Valencia Rose, San Francisco’s first gay comedy club, co-founded by Hank Wilson.

Tom Ammiano

Comedian,  Former California State Assemblyperson and Former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Tom Ammiano is San Francisco’s highest profile politician since Harvey Milk. In the 1970s, Tom and Hank Wilson were inseparable friends and allies, starting the Gay Teachers Coalition and, together with Harvey Milk, the Bay Area Coalition Against the Briggs Initiative which played a key role in defeating the national wave of homophobic campaigns spearheaded by Anita Bryant. Tom is also a stand-up comedian, and the man who famously told then-CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to “kiss my gay ass.”


Singer-songwriter, co-founder of Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL) and longtime San Francisco Bay Area gay activist.
And more…
  • Randy Alfred: longtime gay journalist,
  • Stephany Joy Ashley: former President of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, former director of the Saint James Infirmary, and homeless Advocate,
  • Esteban Rodriguez:  Community Health RN with the SF Department of Public Health, former Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center intern,
  • Rev. Penny Sarvis and Rev. Glenda Hope: San Francisco Network Ministries,
  • and more.

And with the support of…

 The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Founded in San Francisco in 1979, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are a global order of outrageously dressed queer “nuns” who devote themselves to community service, outreach to those on the edges, human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. Today they have houses throughout the US and in many other countries. In 1983 The Sisters worked closely with Hank Wilson to organize the first AIDS Candlelight Vigil. The Sisters canonized Hank Wilson as a saint in December 2000, and perform a ritual in the Thanks to Hank movie declaring Hank the Patron Saint of Housing Justice, Plague Survivors, Queer Underdogs, and Compassionate Action.

The GLBT Historical Society

Founded in 1985 with, you guessed it, the support of Hank Wilson, The GLBT Historical Society collects, preserves, exhibits and makes accessible to the public materials and knowledge to support and promote understanding of LGBTQ history, culture and arts in all their diversity. Hank’s personal papers are housed in The GLBT Historical Society archives. The GLBT Historical Society is a registered 501(c)3 educational nonprofit organization, and is the fiscal sponsor for this movie. 
Historical Society
Links and Further Information
Organizations Founded or Co-Founded by Hank Wilson
  • Gay Community Center  (1974)
  • Bay Area Gay Liberation (1975)
  • Gay Teachers Coalition (1975) 
  • San Francisco Gay Democratic Club (1976), renamed the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club
  • Butterfly Brigade (1976)
  • Carry a Whistle Defense Campaign (1976)
  • Bay Area Coalition Against the Briggs Initiative (1978)
  • Community United Against Violence (1979)
  • Valencia Rose (1981)
  • Committee to Monitor Poppers (1981)
  • AIDS Political Action Network (1982)
  • AIDS Memorial Candlelight March (1983)
  • Gay Lesbian Youth Advocacy Council (1985) 
  • Tenderloin AIDS Network (1985)
  • Gay Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force (1985)
  • Mobilization Against AIDS (1985)
  • Citizens for Medical Justice in (1987)
  • Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC) (1988)
  • Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center (1988)
  • People with AIDS (1989)
  • ACTUP San Francisco (1989), renamed ACTUP Golden Gate, then Survive AIDS!