R O B E R T    H I L L S B O R O U G H

1945 - 1977


Robert Hillsborough was a 32 year old gay man who worked for the City of San Francisco as a gardener. He was murdered by fag bashers a few days before the 1977 Pride Parade. It was one of a series of events that awakened our community and refocused the parade as a protest march, a demonstration of our strength and our unity. Many felt that the attack on Hillsborough was inspired by the Anita Bryant anti-gay campaign in Miami and the hate-murder became an emotional rallying point in the parade. Thousands of marchers carried flowers in memory of Hillsborough and piled them on the steps of City Hall where the parade ended and the pride rally began.

At the time, it seemed that Hillsborough was destined to become the "Gay Martyr" that our leaders sought to idealize as a symbol of our struggle for equality. But he was quickly forgotten when Harvey Milk's assassination created the perfect martyr. Milk has become a bigger-than-life hero and a legend that will not soon be forgotten.


Hillsborough and his friend Jerry Taylor went to a disco on the night of June 21, 1977. They stopped at a burger joint a few blocks from Robert's apartment in the Mission district around midnight. They were followed from the parking lot by 4 youths who attacked them when they parked their car. Taylor managed to escape. Hillsborough did not. As he lay dying on the sidewalk, 19 year old John Cordova knelt beside him and stabbed him 15 times while yelling "Faggot, Faggot, Faggot!". He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to ten years in prison.


There are several versions of what happened at "The Whiz" that night.

According to Randy Shilts, in 'THE MAYOR OF CASTRO STREET', 4 youths (2 latino and 2 white) taunted the 2 gay men in the parking lot. As they pulled from the lot, Taylor said 'Fuck Off!' to which the youths responded by pounding on the vehicle and yelling "Faggot!".

According to an article by Bill Sievert in the September 1977 issue of 'MOTHER JONES', Hillsborough was drunk and was having trouble maneuvering his car. One of the youths said to him, "Hey man, take it easy", to which he responded, "Fuck You!". This led to a heated verbal confrontation which ended with the youths yelling "Faggot! Faggot!", as the 2 men drove away.

Whatever actually happened, the youths then jumped into their car and followed Hillsborough's car with intentions of doing them harm. What started out as a heated exchange of words ended in a savage and senseless murder. Was it a hate-crime? It certainly appears to have been, but Shilts cites evidence that Cordova was involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a construction worker. If this is true, then what was Cordova trying to prove?



This page created May 21, 2000
modified July 9, 2005
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