November 2002 will see the release of A Lavender Look at the Temple, an in-depth research report that explores the relationship between the gay and lesbian community of San Francisco in the 1970’s and Peoples Temple. Although the Temple’s approach to the issue of homosexuality was often contradictory, this project considers the Temple’s well documented public support for gay and lesbian teachers, as well as its consistent opposition to discrimination and violence towards gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered folks.
Using a number of articles from Bay Area gay newspapers, A Lavender Look at the Temple interprets how the gay community viewed the progressive works of Peoples Temple before the tragedy in Jonestown in November 1978. “A Lavender Look” also examines the personal and political relationships between San Francisco’s first elected gay official, slain supervisor Harvey Milk, and Peoples Temple.
The project analyzes and interprets a number of letters, some which Milk wrote to Jim Jones, and others Milk wrote to various elected officials on behalf of Peoples Temple. These letters were recently discovered at the California Historical Society. Through interviews with former Milk staffers and contemporary letters from other prominent gays and lesbians, the reader is introduced to a detailed account of the complex relationship and mutual support shared by Jim Jones and Harvey Milk. Additionally the project critically analyzes the accounts of the Milk/Temple relationship that have appeared in print to date. In reviewing Milk’s relationship with the Temple, the project also briefly explores the roles of Jewish people in Peoples Temple.
Though A Lavender Look is detailed and well researched, it lacks a first-hand account of a gay or lesbian Temple member, giving it the feel of an outsider’s perspective. Hopefully surviving gay and lesbian members who realize the importance of their Peoples Temple experience will feel enough support to come forward with their stories. Additionally it is hoped that future research will focus not only on the internal roles of Temple members known to have identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, but also on the often ignored experiences of religious gay and lesbian African Americans.
(Editor’s note: Michael Bellefountaine was a frequent contributor to the jonestown report before his death in May 2007. His complete collection of writings for the site may be found here.
(A Lavender Look at the Temple was published in 2011 and is available through Amazon.)