Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

LGBT ally Elliott Blackstone dies


Former San Francisco Police Sergeant Elliott Blackstone. Photo: Bill Wilson
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Former San Francisco Police Sergeant Elliott Blackstone, a longtime ally of the LGBT community, died October 25, a month shy of his 82nd birthday.

According to an obituary placed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Sgt. Blackstone suffered a major stroke.

Starting in the 1960s, Sgt. Blackstone was an early advocate for the gay and transgender communities. In June, he was honored as lifetime achievement grand marshal of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade.

"Elliott Blackstone's life is a lesson for all of us in how allies can come from the most unexpected places and transform our daily lives through the dignity that they bring to the work they do," said Don Romesburg, a board member of the GLBT Historical Society.

Sgt. Blackstone was born November 30, 1924, and grew up in Chinook, Montana. After finishing high school, he served in the Navy during World War II. He joined the San Francisco Police Department in 1949.

Sgt. Blackstone was a pioneer of community-based policing, once remarking that being a cop was like being "a social worker with a badge." In 1962, after a "gayola" scandal involving police demanding payoffs from gay bar owners, he was appointed the first SFPD liaison to the homophile community, working with groups such as the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, and the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. He was present during a police raid of the CORH's New Year's ball in 1965, where an officer shoved his wife, assuming she was a drag queen.

Sgt. Blackstone helped establish the Central City Anti-Poverty Program, worked to change police department policies regarding bar raids and public restroom entrapment, and conducted some of the first police sensitivity trainings, bringing in community members to talk to recruits.

Following a historic riot at Gene Compton's Cafeteria in the Tenderloin in August 1966 – in which transgender women and young hustlers fought back against police harassment – Sgt. Blackstone became an advocate for the transgender community, working to establish support groups and abolish laws against cross-dressing. In 1968, with financial support from transgender philanthropist Reed Erickson, he started the National Transsexual Counseling Unit, the first-ever peer-staffed transgender social services agency. He even took up a collection at his church to help transgender women pay for hormone therapy.

Sgt. Blackstone's efforts on behalf of the queer community were not appreciated by more conservative members of the department. In 1973 the SFPD TAC Squad raided the NCTU offices and attempted to frame him on drug charges with marijuana planted in his desk. Though he avoided criminal prosecution, he lost his position as a community relations officer and was assigned to a foot patrol in the Mission/Castro until his retirement in 1975.

Sgt. Blackstone, who was featured in historian Susan Stryker's documentary Screaming Queens, was honored at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Compton's riot this summer. "Elliott Blackstone was a pioneering advocate for transgender as well as gay people," Stryker said. "At a time when most cops were simply arresting people they thought of as deviants and perverts, Blackstone was working within the system to try to change laws that criminalized homosexuality and cross dressing, and to treat everybody with respect."

"He planted the seed to ensure that San Francisco is welcoming and that all people are treated equal," SFPD Chief Heather Fong said at the June ceremony, as she presented Sgt. Blackstone with the first-ever department commendation to a retired officer.

Asked why he, as a straight man, took such an active role on behalf of gay and transgender people, Sgt. Blackstone replied, "Because it was the right thing to do."

In addition to being named Pride grand marshal, Sgt. Blackstone also received commendations from the California State Senate, the California State Assembly, and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

Said Human Rights Commissioner Cecilia Chung, "Unexpected allies like Sgt. Blackstone fought by our side against prejudice and stigma at a time when our cries seemed to be ignored, and helped to create a ripple of positive change."

Sgt. Blackstone is survived by three former spouses, Lois Saunders Lindstrom, Constance Cloney Blackstone, and JoAn Blackstone, and several children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. A memorial service was held on November 11. Donations in his name may be made to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Broadmoor Presbyterian Church Memorial Fund, or San Francisco Network Ministries.

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