Uncle Donald recounts how he came to be a collector of buttons. “Some gay men rise to collect buttons, others have buttons thrust upon them.”
Harvey Milk gave me one of my first buttons, his first campaign button. I put it on the cork bulletin board in the kitchen. Everybody ends up with a button or two now and then, but most put them in a drawer and forget them. The next couple of buttons that came my way were added to the bulletin board and soon there was little room for messages. You know how it is; If friends notice more than 2 of something in your apartment, you’re collecting them! Now they don’t have to throw those odd buttons in a drawer anymore. Donald collects them!
Around the same time, the early 1970’s, it seems the gay community became fascinated with buttons. Bars started giving them out. I have more than 50 different ones from the STUD! Buttons were sold as fund raisers for parades, fairs, and other events. Politicians have always used buttons for campaigning. It became fashionable around then in San Francisco for gay people to run for political office. (They didn’t let us win yet, but al least they let us in the races!) That meant more buttons.
In San Francisco there is a tradition in the Gay Community to elect an Emperor and Empress, a Duke and Duchess each year. This tradition goes back to way before the seventies. This royal couple spend the year being local celebrities, making appearances, and generally helping to raise funds for charitable causes. During the campaign the candidates go from bar to bar giving out buttons to any and all who will accept them. Today I have probably 75 to 100 buttons in this category.
I swear, I didn’t have any intention of collecting buttons back in 1973 when Harvey gave me that campaign button. As a matter of fact, when it became popular to wear buttons with rude and witty slogans, I thought they were quite tacky. But my friends insisted that I collected buttons and they wouldn’t stop bringing them to me. Today I have a 4 by 6 foot board covered with over 500 gay oriented buttons: Bars; Parades; Events; Charities; Political Campaigns; Royalty; and lots of Slogans. I also have 2 more boards crammed with non-gay related buttons, and I have a couple boxes full of buttons I don’t know where to put!
BUT I DON’T COLLECT BUTTONS!