Zampella and Susan Golding at AIDS Walk
I WAS FIRED FROM MY OWN NEWSPAPER! The paper I had started less than a year before had just terminated me in a most humiliating way. As I sat in my bedroom two weeks after my 22nd birthday in November 1986, I reflected on the previous year and on how this could possibly have occurred. I didn’t want to wallow in self-pity, but I had to face the facts. What I was experiencing was pure politics, something that bewildered me at a vulnerable time in my life.
Top: Golding and Zampella
Bottom: Queen Eddie, Susan Jester, Nicole Murray, Christine Kehoe, Dr. Garret Dettling
It had been a year since I “came out” in the San Diego gay community. Walking around University and Fifth avenues on Sunday afternoons, I had what I thought was a firsthand look at the inside of San Diego’s gay and lesbian community. I always stopped at my favorite shop. Paper Rose.
Bee Jay's drag show: Georgia Payne, Clint Johnson, Marylin Starr
I was a sucker for their window decorations and outrageous card racks with gay images spewing all over them. One afternoon I went to the back room to talk to one of the owners, and he mentioned to me that the Hillcrest Street Fair was about to be canceled. The controversy was over how "gay” the event had become. A local restaurant owner was causing a great deal of trouble at the Hillcrest Business Association, and the event was close to being called off.
Picketers at AIDS event Five Who Care
The owner of the Paper Rose said that Susan Jester was going to try to put the event on anyway. Hearing Susan Jester’s name, I lit up. I recognized her as a gay activist and an influential one at that. In addition, she was the head of a local gay Republican movement called the Log Cabin Club.
Susan Jester and Zampella at Bravo! anniversary party
This was something I could get interested in and identify with. I was an unabashed conservative, and the gay community offered me no political haven. Eventually I got up the courage, shortly after my 21st birthday, to attend a Log Cabin Club meeting, and there was Susan Jester, just as charismatic as she had been that day, a year ago, when I heard her speak at the annual Gay Pride Parade Festival and Rally.
Zampella's father with Jeff Marston
The evening’s discussion was about Proposition A, the antigrowth initiative, and about County Supervisor Susan Golding. Apparently, she had recently visited the club when other politicians were ignoring us. Jester was obviously an ardent supporter of Golding’s. I remember those moments well because they were my first impressions of San Diego politics. Susan had such a grasp of the local scene. I remember wishing I could articulate the positions as well as she did. She was definitely someone I wanted to get to know better.
Bravo! cartoonist David Sheehan and office manager Norman Bricker
At that meeting I supported Jester’s positions on Proposition A, not so much from conviction, but as a loyal supporter who wanted Susan to succeed. She had opposition, but I used my loud mouth and encouraged support of her. At one point, the whole club turned to me as if to ask, "Who does that little shit think he is?” Regardless, Jester won.
Queen Eddie and Nicole Murray
After the meeting, Susan approached me and asked if I was interested in becoming a member of the club. I said yes, and she asked me out to lunch. I was thrilled that a 21 -year-old conservative gay Republican Catholic could feel welcome in the gay and lesbian community of San Diego. That feeling rarely returned again over the next eight years of my activism.
Zampella, Murray, John Hartley
LESSON #1: I can be myself and be gay.
Lunch with Susan Jester meant that she would arrive late, her head cluttered with the many projects she was juggling. It was thrilling just to watch her organize her life and calendar with the skill of a U.S. senator. I found her to be thoroughly challenging, and I was flattered to spend time with her.
Peter Navarro and wife with Zampella, c. 1992
After that first lunch, Susan asked if I was interested in serving on the board of the Log Cabin Club. I was ecstatic, but what would I do? She asked if I had any experience in dealing with the media. I said I had worked on my high school newspaper as an investigative reporter and that I had a knack for publicity, if that is what she wanted. I asked why she needed me, since she had worked for the Update, the oldest gay newspaper in San Diego.
Zampella at 11
Jester said the challenge was to get articles placed in the San Diego Gayzette, the community’s other newspaper. She explained that the paper was anti-Republican, and she and the editor, Chris Kehoe, did not get along. As a result, they wouldn’t print any of the club’s press releases. Susan said that Chris had just brought on an assistant editor, Jim Glaiser, and that I might have better luck with him. I became public relations chair, and Log Cabin soon had articles in the Gayzette, and the club seemed grateful.
Zampella at 16
Susan and I became very close, and she suggested I apply for an advertising job at the Update. She introduced me to the publisher, Don Hauck, who hired me that afternoon. I was now working in a field that I enjoyed and with a person I greatly admired. Somehow, this seemed too good to he true. I was proud to become a gay activist of sorts, but I still asked myself what I was going to do with my life. I didn’t think there was such a thing as a professional gay activist — at least until I met Nicole Murray.
I had desperately wanted to meet Murray. I didn’t know why. He was more a character than anything else — a drag queen and gossipy writer who had an acid tongue in print. I must admit, though, upon further investigation, the drag queen Nicole began to look, at least on the surface, like an influential leader. He was shrewd, articulate, knowledgeable, and used humor effectively to move his agenda. Even his enemies feared and respected him, and this impressed me for some reason.
San Diego’s large gay community even had an annual awards show named after him. The Nickys were Oscar-like leadership awards. The audiences, sometimes as large as 800, included some of the most respected members in the community. Whether I believed it or not, movers and shakers seemed to sanction the awards and, tacitly, Nicole’s power base. Inasmuch as perception is reality, Murray seemed to be the power broker and the only voice the straight media used when they profiled our community.
My first real encounter with Murray was when I was the Log Cabin representative at a monthly meeting of Network, an organization that coordinated community activities. It was Log Cabin’s turn to host, and I was organizing the event. Murray showed up, and to my surprise, he was not in drag and was taken seriously by the participants. After that meeting, I called Susan Jester and she told me about Nicole, saying I would never meet anyone else like him in our community. But no matter who else I talked to about him, the opinions were not flattering. I was constantly warned of what an alliance with this gentleman would mean.
LESSON #2: The idea of leadership in the gay community isn’t based on the same criteria I am accustomed to.
This Murray fellow seemed to wield a lot of power, which easily seduced others. Without knowing it, I too had been overwhelmed. I was drawn to him for guidance, and around him I acted as if I were invincible. He gave me a false sense of security. How many 21 -year-olds, just out of the closet, could feel so powerful so quickly? It was a lot different from the days of getting negative attention from people who may have suspected I was gay. Here, I was gay, I could flaunt it, and I could get positive attention, power, and dates. There were many dates. I went out with a great many men. Despite the AIDS crisis, in my arrogance I believed it didn’t affect me. After all, the community talk was that there would soon be a cure that would take care of all of us.
My conservative upbringing, however. had imposed much Catholic guilt into my life. I played around a lot but didn’t take any real risks. Most of the lust remained in my mind. It may be one reason why I am alive today to talk about it.
LESSON #3: Sex is a big part of the gay community.
Murray, Jester, and I formed an alliance. But it would soon break when I wanted to leave the Update nod start my own publication. I wasn’t sure what I was doing; perhaps that is why I was so confident.
Murray jumped at the chance to get into the newspaper business with me. In retrospect, it was to his advantage, but at the time he made me believe he was doing me a great favor and I was indebted to him. Susan Jester, my soul mate, felt spurned by my decision, as if I had betrayed her trust. I felt bad, but Murray knew how to play on my ambitions. Besides, owning a newspaper would be fun, I thought.
I never saw my paper as competition to the Update or the Gayzette (but they certainly did). Mine was going to be different. It was going to be mainly fun and social. (The biggest complaint I heard from Update advertisers was that the paper had too much AIDS news and had become too depressing to read. At the time this complaint seemed valid. I now believe the Update was right in its editorial style and selection of articles. The readership wanted gay publications more for entertainment and escape than for serious journalism.)
But in addition to the “fun,” I wanted to have one page of hard news. And in that one page would be all the news, whether it was complimentary or critical of the community that we served. I couldn’t understand why the Union and the Tribune were the only papers that covered the hard news about us.
For example, the San Diego Union broke a story about a scandal at the San Diego AIDS Project that involved drugs, misappropriation of funds, and fraud. Both the Gayzette and the Update knew about the story but never printed it. I wondered, what was the purpose of a community newspaper if it didn’t print all the important news? That incident weighed heavily on the beginnings of my journalistic philosophy.
LESSON #4: Journalism, as I knew it, didn’t exist in the gay community.
My new paper, San Diego Scene, typewritten on a brand-new word processor, rolled off the presses on March 16, 1986 as a biweekly. I made Murray a full partner in the venture, although I did all the work.
That was fine with me as long as he was able to garner us a lot of attention. Initially, though, that attention was negative. Our first issue was thrown out of bars because of Nicole’s increasingly controversial personality. I never understood all of the negativity that surrounded this man, but somehow I was drawn to it like nails to a magnet.
One day he shared with me his philosophy about the gay community. He said, “You can always tell the gay leaders, Tony, by how many knives are in their backs.” That sent a chill up my spine. He then continued to advise me that you must strike first; “Stab or be stabbed,” he would say. All of my beliefs about a “gay family” soon dwindled away, and I began to believe that Murray was right. After all, he was the recognized leader in the community; he seemed to have the most exposure, the only visible agenda, and an incredible amount of power. Additionally, it appeared that he had influence in every venue of activism — AIDS, politics, gay pride events. Imperial Court, the gay and lesbian center, the gay media, and even the drag shows. It would take me a few years, but I would soon realize the difference between perception and reality and that valuable lesson would not come easily.
LESSON #5: Perception is reality.
The Scene moved from my condominium to the back of the Great Earth Vitamin Store in North Park. The owner. Bob Mitchell, was gracious and donated the space. He had joined the publication as a health columnist along with another discovery. Queen Eddie.
Queen Eddie would be our advice columnist, and I hoped that this idea would take off in the community. This decision was something very personal. Before I was active in the gay community, I would enjoy the drag shows at Bee Jays on University Avenue. At the time, two drag queens I particularly remembered were Marylin Starr, because s/he was so funny, and Queen Eddie, because of his singing. After performances and at parties, I would often ask him what I thought were weird questions. He always answered them in a motherly fashion — a polite, caring, but firm style. I fell in love with Eddie’s character and just knew everyone else would as well. On this prediction, I was right.
After our premiere issue, Eddie’s first letter arrived. I remember picking it up with much excitement. It was from a person who had just tested positive for the AIDS virus, seeking social advice. In 1986 you didn’t talk about the subject in that way in the media. My idea that was supposed to be cute and camp and fun all of a sudden became serious. Eddie answered that letter as if it were from his own son. His research with local physicians and therapists made that first answer so sincere and genuine that it set the tone for the “just ask Queen Eddie" phenomenon. He got the attention of the San Diego Tribune, which did an article on him, and he was featured on Channel 10’s Inside San Diego. Eight years later, he still reigns as one of our most positive influences, writing for the Update.
Not everything in the paper was social and upbeat, as hard news forced us to look at controversial issues. Proposition 64, authored by Lyndon LaRouche, was soon to be on the California ballot. It was designed to quarantine AIDS patients, his solution to the AIDS crisis. This didn’t seem like the kind of subject that I wanted to cover in a socially oriented publication, but something told me that I had an obligation to address it.
I attended the local community meetings on the topic and eventually became as much an expert as anyone else. I also realized that it was people in my age group who most needed to hear about this issue. But the dilemma for me was, how could I bring up the subject while keeping the integrity of a publication based on a fun and social bent?
I found my answer in news anchor Michael Tuck. Channel 10 allowed him to have an opinion segment, called “Michael Tuck's Perspective.” This was an inspiration for me, in every issue of the Scene, to bring up a topic of concern to me to let readers know what I, the publisher, felt about it. Also, no other gay paper did this. A good place to start was the LaRouche initiative.
The response to my first column was incredible. It seemed that people were longing to read something like this. They also listened to me. I was, to say the least, developing a readership that soon became interested in my ideas, as I became interested in theirs. I was never to be the same again. Politics had bitten me, and using my paper as a vehicle to promote discussion and dialogue on the community’s agenda now consumed my life.
But, was the community setting my agenda or I theirs? In the beginning, I strived to become a politically correct gay activist, but in the process I lost a lot of my own identity. I even questioned my Republican philosophy. Since the community did not approve, I began to place that in the background of my gay identity.
LESSON #6: Changing to meet the gay community’s standards is good and is expected.
In September of 1986, the Scene announced that we were going to publish weekly, like the community’s other gay papers. Nicole did not agree with the decision until it attracted the attention of the other news media. Nicole seemed to discourage my ideals and dreams if he couldn’t comprehend them.
I began to challenge his advice and believe more in myself. I think Nicole saw this as a threat rather than a growing experience. He never saw me as I saw him — as the parent I never had accepting my sexuality, someone I would rebel against, as you do against your parents to claim your freedom. He never realized that my personal regard for him gave him much more than mere influence. I began to doubt our relationship as I grew up rather quickly and became independent.
After going weekly, I realized that I could not run a weekly newspaper. Nicole convinced me to sell the Scene to Greg Vasic of the F Street Corporation. I agreed with this because it meant more financial security; and Nicole wanted the money that I had never been able to pay him for a weekly column. I sold the paper, and two weeks later the Gayzette folded. I felt sad but looked forward to changing the Scene to reflect some of the positive contributions of the Gayzette, which had helped inspire me to come out of the closet and be proudly gay. At one time, it had been my only link to the gay community.
LESSON #7: Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem.
After only ten weeks, Greg Vasic tired of the political pressures of running a newspaper. Instead of people coming to me, the publisher, with their problems, they went right over my head to him and undermined every dream I had for the publication. This was turning into a nightmare. Vasic one day announced that he was selling the Scene to two gentlemen who were going to put Susan Jester in the editor’s seat. I knew this was bad news for me. jester had never forgiven me for starting the publication in the first place. A week later the new owners fired me.
I retreated angrily to my home and sank into a deep depression. For the next 30 days, I watched television — the unfolding of the Iran-Contra affair and the making of Oliver North. I decided I was not going to give up and that I had learned some valuable lessons about the community I was serving. I really believed I was ready for another challenge. On December 12, 1986, I announced the beginning of a new gay publication, Bravo! San Diego.
I joined forces with former Scene art director Robert Hyre, and we began a biweekly paper in a tabloid format. We were going to look different and we were going to be different. I was still idealistic and full of ideas. I talked to my father and borrowed $3000 to launch the paper.
Robert was a genius as an art director. He introduced me to the new desktop technology. He convinced me we could put out a publication that looked better than our competitors for a fraction of the cost. With his line of credit we purchased a Macintosh Plus. With my money we had enough for the first issue and purchased a photostat camera from the Update for $1500. It was like deja vu, as our first issues were again produced from my condo, where the stains on the carpet had barely been cleaned off from the inception of the Scene, less than a year ago.
Rob was motivated by the freedom he had to design a different publication. His only problem was that he was too good and needed too much time in designing. My impatience drove him crazy. I learned that we needed to stick to a rigid time line if we were to be successful, but the beauty of his layouts and design really did make the first few issues. We selected the name Bravo! because of what it meant to me. Being Italian, I felt it an honor to include my heritage in the publication. And the translation was simply “with fanfare” or the “best performance.” We made a commitment to make the publication the best performance we could.
The first issue of Bravo! appeared in full color on February 12, 1987, almost one year after the first issue of Scene. I continued to write my perspectives and took the paper in a different, more political direction. We soon named Chris Kehoe our politics editor. I had admired her style while she was at the Gayzette.
I was ready to take on the world, but to my dismay, again I was discouraged by Nicole, who thought the idea of a new paper was foolish. He had been retained at the Scene by Jester, who seemed convinced that I had undermined her. Queen Eddie encouraged me and said he would consider leaving the Scene if I stuck with Bravo! for a while. I was motivated by his honesty and sincerity.
Sometimes, when I went to the local bars to pick up all three local gay publications, I realized that I had created two of them, and they were influencing the community. It seemed as if I had actually accomplished something. That recognition from others would never be mine, though. I never sought it nor was anyone outside my circle of friends kind enough to offer the words of encouragement.
When our first issue hit the stands, the San Diego Union took notice of us. Our debut was marked by controversy because of my relationship with Scene editor Susan Jester, but I was too delighted at all of the attention to really care.
LESSON #8: Attention, any attention, is good.
The community, from my young and naive perspective, was struggling for identity. All of the dialogue was about leadership and who really represented the community. Now that Nicole was not on my staff, I was getting a different perspective on him and the community. The dissatisfaction, I realized, clearly was with Nicole’s leadership, as people began to question his style and anyone who staunchly supported him. Those supporters, mostly, were Susan Jester and I. Each of us in our own way paid the price for our loyalty.
My leadership was being challenged from all sides. The more I was confronted, the weaker I became. My strength was in my ideas, and many tried to take those away from me, but I was stubborn.
By August of 1987 I decided to take Bravo! weekly. This time, however, I was prepared for the challenges that would entail. This move once again was opposed by my closest confidante, Nicole, who by this point Just didn’t see our relationship as I did at all. I always had a feeling that there had to be a reason for his “friendship” with me. For me, there were maternal feelings, but I could never tell him that.
On my 24th birthday, November 5, 1987, Susan Jester called to tell me she was closing the Scene. My heart sank, but I admired her for making that call. While we were bitter with each other, our competition was just that, a professional rivalry, and rarely involved personal attacks. This was the last time for several years that I would enjoy this type of competition.
It was just the Update and Bravo! now, but that would last for only six weeks. The last day of the year in 1987 saw the debut of the San Diego Gay Times. From the beginning, I could never understand the paper’s animosity toward me, yet at times, it totally consumed me. In my life I had developed strong beliefs, but when I disagreed with someone it was only on the issue involved, and that was it. It seemed that in most of the community, one point of disagreement made you a personal enemy. People wrote one another off rather quickly; they wouldn’t sit down together and work out their differences. I knew this was wrong, but I also knew it was true. The community seemed truly dysfunctional.
My first attempts to deal with this problem were through raw power. My frustration was intense, and I tried using my publication to satisfy my ego. I wanted so desperately to be heard that for the first year I shouted in print rather than speaking quietly. I was inflexible and wanted to teach rather than learn.
I remember that in December of 1987 I was furious at the way the whole issue of bathhouses had erupted in our community. Apparently Dr. Brad Truax, an avid but pragmatic Democrat, had met with then-Supervisor Susan Golding to discuss the subject. Golding intended to author legislation to regulate the bathhouses locally. I felt angry. I liked Golding, remembering Susan Jester’s comments about her; she was a fresh change for the Republican Party, and her intelligence overrode her opportunistic tendencies. But my anger caused me to write an editorial chastising her for that decision. While not advocating the position of the bathhouse owners, I clearly called Golding an opportunist. The 1988 mayoral election was approaching, and it was commonly thought that she intended to run. While taking such a strong position, I played into the hands of the gay liberal radicals, who never saw Golding as an open door to our community. Further, I was constantly identified with a Bravo! commentary written by our then-editor Mark Conlan supporting the closure of the bathhouses.
This brought the wrath of the bathhouse owners down on me. I was confused. After all, we were a community paper, and I felt that both sides needed to be heard. The bathhouse owners informed me that we were a “gay publication” and that therefore we had an obligation to advocate for the gay community and not give a platform to the opposition. To me this seemed totally inappropriate for a publication with integrity. But no one else defended us, and we were thrown out of bathhouses, labeled as anti-gay, and later lost all advertising from the establishments. At the time Nicole had encouraged me to allow the editorial, and I soon began to question his motives.
LESSON #9: Trust no one.
The only positive dialogue that occurred during the whole bathhouse debate had come from Susan Golding. She called me at home twice and encouraged me to meet with her. I met with Golding and a member of her staff, Myrna Zambrano, in early 1988 and was impressed with her candor. She said she felt secure in her decision on the bathhouse regulation based on conversations with Brad Truax. She sounded naive and confused about the community, and I was afraid to admit that I was equally confused about it. I assured her that open and fair dialogue would continue in Bravo!, and she promised to be open to our community as well. To this day she has lived by those words.
This incident taught me a lot about how the community saw its publications and how certain issues were not to be covered in the gay press because they were not “politically correct” or “supportive.”
LESSON # 10: A gay newspaper is to promote the gay agenda, not question it.
After Bravo!'s first year, I began to see that this was my life. I wanted to make a mark. My biggest dilemmas came in the community’s insatiable appetite for challenging its leadership. It seemed to happen constantly.
Out of the closet now for only three years, I didn’t fully understand how a community could be so angry from within. I talked to many people about my observations, and I began to realize that this community, preaching inclusion and diversity, would write off anyone or anything it didn’t understand.
By the end of 1987 Nicole and Queen Eddie had returned to work for me. Nicole had the hardest time adjusting because he was now at a publication that had its own ideals, separate from his, where he wasn’t the center of attention. He tried to use his influence over me but quickly found that he would have to share that spot with others who had helped me over the preceding year.
Nicole never seemed to see me as his employer or treat me as such, and he never spoke of me in the community with that type of respect. Ultimately, this was my fault; I didn’t insist that we realign our relationship on a professional level. I was too insecure and afraid of losing Nicole’s friendship. This showed in my actions, and Nicole took advantage of his leverage.
My marketing director, Linda Sabo, was politically savvy. I trusted her because she had the best interests of the paper as her priority. She would advise me on the tensions in the office and try to make everything work out in a diplomatic manner. It was obvious to Nicole that I trusted Linda more than anyone else. Nicole wasn’t accustomed to this, and he became frustrated with his role at Bravo! Everything in our relationship, personally and professionally, unfolded at Christmastime 1987, my first break from the paper since its inception.
This vacation with my parents was the first time we had spent together since I came out of the closet. My father, who comes from the farm country in Italy, was trying to accept my sexual orientation. It was hard for him. His wife Millie and I hadn’t spoken for years, but we were finally beginning to develop a relationship, and I wanted it to flourish. All of these tensions were dealt with during a brief five-day visit at Christmas. Finding out what Nicole had done in my absence made a difficult situation even worse.
When I returned from Seattle, I found the note Nicole had written to tell me he was leaving the paper. (It occurred to me that this was the same way he had told Don Hauck, publisher of the Update, that he was leaving him to come work for me.) Nicole went back to the Update and became the editor of a new weekly publication, San Diego Live, that many people felt had been established specifically for him. It seemed that he must have been working on this project with the Update for some time, since the new publication was launched, with a full staff and designed format, within two weeks of his departure from Bravo! But Nicole had waited until I left town to make his move, which really hurt me.
This single incident influenced my judgment of Nicole more than anything else had. I was beginning to understand the warnings I had received over the years. I felt that he didn’t really care about me, our relationship, or my efforts and that he was off to his next more exciting adventure. When our professional relationship ended, so did our personal one. He didn’t even attempt to make it appear that we were friends. I was too hurt to even deal with it, or him.
Nicole’s new paper was all social and gossipy, and he used it to attack me. I fell into the trap and attacked back. Nicole had won; I had stooped to his level. Again, I was confused. Couldn’t he just sit down and talk to me if he was angry? Must everything be played for public consumption? I found out the hard way that Nicole really wanted my attention, and the readership in San Diego’s gay and lesbian community was held hostage until he got it. His new publication lasted only 13 weeks.
LESSON #11: I am no match for Nicole on his level.
At this time however, the gay community was experiencing tensions as powerful as an earthquake, with Nicole at the epicenter. They involved improprieties in the administration of the AIDS Assistance Fund, of which Nicole was chairman. One of our columnists at Bravo!, Dr. Garret G. Dettling, had seen the problems caused by Nicole’s leadership style and presented details about his true past life to the AIDS Assistance Fund board in an effort to convince the board to oust him. The board ultimately sided with Nicole, who was able to form a loosely knit coalition of support perhaps for the last time on a community-wide basis. Nicole’s goals here were twofold; to solidify his position on the fund board and to discredit Dr. Dettling to the point where he could never make another attempt at deposing Nicole.
The entire escapade made it into the straight media as one more example of how we deal with leadership and our leaders’ conflicts. The Reader mentioned Murray’s “past life,” noting he had a “string of arrests for prostitution.” The exposure and ensuing pressures forced Dettling to resign from the board of the AIDS agency and strengthened Murray’s hand. But Murray created a perception of support from the community that everyone was afraid to challenge, so the perception, by default, became reality.
There was little room for logic in an emotionally charged issue like AIDS. The F Street Corporation, which donated over $100,000 to the AIDS Assistance Fund, believed Murray and so did a couple of bars. We at Bravo! were devastated. Much of our time in 1988 was consumed with planning ways to deal with the guerrilla tactics that were used against us.
LESSON #12: Fear — not respect, logic, or reason — rules in the gay community.
As all this unfolded, I received threatening phone calls and had sugar placed in my car’s gas tank.
I bought a gun for my own protection. I began to wonder, “What is the prize? Why such extreme tactics?”
Someone once told me, “It’s when the stakes are low that people become petty.” This is so true.
Eventually I realized that this leadership issue was an all-out power struggle, and somehow Bravo!, because of its boldness, was square in the middle. If I were to fold the paper now, the struggle might be ongoing. Many people had resigned from active participation in the community and even moved out of San Diego, concluding that the situation was too destructive for them to participate in. I didn’t see that things were going to change on their own. Was there a way I could make it better?
By the summer of 1988, Bravo! had grown so much that I hired an office manager, Norman Bricker, to help keep things together. We were becoming known as a political publication, not afraid to tackle the real political issues. This was a new course for us.
In the spring of 1988 I had an offer by the owner of Uptown Publications Inc. to merge with Bravo! The publisher, Michael Portantino, put forth a plan and tried to push the proposal through. Portantino was an interesting businessman. He would talk to me a great deal about his desire for political involvement and once told me he would be mayor of San Diego in ten years.
I saw Michael as a shrewd businessman. This was not my style, but I knew that Bravo! needed tough management. Portantino offered an opportunity for success and growth. I admired his qualities even though I questioned his principles.
Based on what my attorney and I saw as Michael’s machinations to control the merged company, I called him to pull out of the deal. His response was to refuse to accept the message, but instead try to intimidate me. I said, “I would rather struggle alone than survive with you.” He hung up, and we’ve never spoken again.
In the end, Portantino bought the Gay Times in the fall of 1990. He was able to invest considerable funds in the publication. But since Portantino has had the paper, I feel that no story about anything I have been involved with has been positive or fair. I should have realized the messages that most people were giving me — “Ignore him, Tony.”
In early 1989 I sat down to talk to city council candidate John Hartley about supporting him against 3rd District incumbent Councilwoman Gloria McColl. Bravo! was the only publication to do so. I didn’t feel comfortable with John on an ideological basis, but I was gay first with a great deal of pride, and I saw John as the best person to give the gay community the representation that it needed. The decision was also pragmatic. We could not influence the halls of power if we’re not even in the corridor. Because of Hartley’s commitment to our community, I was obsessed with getting him elected. This race was interesting because Nicole and Susan Jester backed Gloria McColl. I had formed a coalition with the most liberal elements of the gay community to elect Hartley.
At about this same time, in early ’89, Mayor Maureen O’Connor presented her annual “State of the City” address. The gay community had the bright idea of turning this event into a protest against some perceived lack of action from a mayor who arguably was the best friend we ever had in that office. I was furious, to say the least. In this case, because a politician had not acted on the time schedule that the community thought was appropriate, we were going to protest. The group leading the protest against O’Connor was ACT-UP, in conjunction with Nicole.
ACT-UP was founded in 1987 at the second national March on Washington. The founder, Larry Kramer, was a playwright and recognized in the arts community. He was a fascinating leader with noble motives who had grown tired of government’s lack of response to the AIDS crisis, a health issue that was being ignored simply because it affected the gay community.
My objection to the group was when ACT-UP acted in a counterproductive manner, often protesting certain efforts simply because the group didn’t see the merits of working within the system. My philosophy is that government responds to all pressures. Everyone’s participation is needed to make the changes ACT-UP advocates. Locally, ACT-UP saw their way as the only way and harassed many in the gay community who were working within the system and those in the political arena who simply wanted to be educated.
In response to the ACT-UP protest at Mayor O’Connor’s speech, I wrote an editorial called “Act Up, Grow Up.” The mayor, I wrote, “has proven her friendship for us by appointing openly gay Ben Dillingham to the position of chief of staff.” I didn’t understand how our community could he so blind to the potential benefits from this action.
The protest was a success in terms of numbers and because of a “dirty politics” maneuver, orchestrated by Nicole, that used the occasion to secure AIDS dollars from O’Connor’s nemesis at that time. Councilman Ed Struiksma. I began to appreciate the advice of my friend Garret Dettling, who warned me to watch out for the Machiavellian ways of the community. That had an enormous impact on my philosophy of leadership. I began to see Nicole Murray as Niccolo Machiavelli. Perhaps this was the best way to proceed in our community, alter all, Murray was succeeding.
LESSON #13: The ends justify the means.
Becoming political and taking a lead on political issues created some natural adversaries besides Portantino. This seemed to be a part of the ball game. Bravo! managed to move forward, though, with community concerns. The one that probably changed our community, me, and the players in the community the most was the controversy surrounding the AIDS Assistance Fund. The entire year of 1989 seemed most consumed by this debacle, and it could have been very different if not for the style of one person: Nicole Murray. The AIDS Assistance Fund was as much a testament of the way our community dealt with an emotional issue as it was to the way it dealt with its most volatile personality.
Chairmanship of the fund was the last respectable position that Murray held in the public arena. He was head of the most respectable AIDS agency in San Diego County. While we were not speaking to one another at this time, he often saw my lack of homage towards him as a personal affront. Of course, it was not. Unfortunately, Nicole saw all of his public roles as extensions of his personality — simple moves on a chessboard, where he was the queen who controlled the playing field and maneuvered himself to avoid capture.
The AIDS Assistance Fund controversy developed a life of its own as a result of Nicole’s leadership style. To be fair, Nicole’s style cut both ways, often drawing the attention that was needed to bring necessary dollars to organizations. Nicole’s flaw was that he didn’t know when to make his contribution and leave on a high note. In the past, he had been able to run community organizations when leaders were scarce and accountability was even more scarce.
This seemed to change because of the AIDS issue. People were dying, and all the rhetoric of a past leader could not change the new reality, which included funerals as a regular part of the community’s life. But Nicole had been the one who schooled me in knowing when to fight and when not to. I began to realize that the teachings he had provided as my mentor did not apply to him.
LESSON # 14: There is a time to let go of one’s ego to achieve the greater good. No one is indispensable.
Terry Cunningham, the executive director of the AIDS Assistance Fund, challenged Murray’s leadership style, the first time a respected public figure had challenged Murray in the public arena. Murray issued a press release stating that Cunningham was burned out and really didn’t know what he was doing. This was a common tactic for Murray, who was excellent at tearing down his challengers, making opposition seem futile. Cunningham, in turn, seemed to feel that he had nothing to lose in challenging Murray.
I didn't want this to all go before the public, knowing it would cost us to focus our energies away from people with AIDS. I called Nicole and told him that we had respectable and credible people who were on the record as opposing his leadership. He called my bluff and basically said that I didn’t have the credibility to question him.
Terry Cunningham said, in the February 16, 1989 issue of Bravo! that Murray had called him to say that he was “stupid to continue his protests” and suggested that Cunningham “quietly resign” to avoid adverse media attention. In a phone call to Cunningham the day before the incident came to a head, Murray told Cunningham, “Listen, you take-it-in-the-ass dog, I am the president of this organization and you will do exactly as I say.”
Cunningham publicly stated his frustrations with Murray, claiming that he was “tired of the whole struggle” that was going on and “tired of the politics, especially of the backroom, backstabbing politics that Nicole is so adept at.”
I realized that there was nothing I could do but to run the story that we had about improprieties at the fund and the lack of leadership on Nicole’s part. It was a very difficult decision, partly because I didn’t want to get into a war with Nicole. But there was also the question of whether the story would hurt the fund and leave a lot of people without needed services. But we had interviewed dozens of people, both on and off the record, and our editor had boxes of files on the entire incident. So perhaps it was time that we became a real newspaper and exposed what was going on at the fund.
When word got out that Bravo! would publish the story, people called to encourage us. When the February 16 issue was delivered from the printer, people grabbed copies off the truck, and we could not keep up with the requests for that paper. We received more responses to that article than to any other in the history of the publication.
Murray, not seeing the reality as it existed, seemed to feel that he was vindicated when he was not immediately removed from.the AIDS Assistance Fund board. In reality the longer he stayed on and dug in, the worse it got for him. He and the entire board were eventually forced to resign. Ironically, Garrett Dettling would eventually return, more than a year after resigning, and would resume the chairmanship. But the last act of the old board before resigning was to appoint Michael Fortantino as a member who would guide the board’s next phase.
Those calling for the removal of the board organized a town hall meeting. About 200 AIDS patients, activists, and supporters met with the fund’s new executive director, requesting that Portantino not be seated. They’ feared this would create the impression of acting in bad faith and further discredit the organization.
Portantino was adamant about being seated on the new board and pointed to me in the audience as the reason for all the animosity toward him. In the end, executive director Bill Freeman said he could not lead the organization with Portantino setting policy. Freeman then walked out of the meeting, and Portantino resigned.
The yearlong affair of the AIDS Assistance Fund was most embarrassing for the gay community. If a bit more skill and a lot less ego had been involved in some of the decisionmaking, the entire thing could have been avoided.
As more fallout from the fund scandal, other groups with which Murray was connected began to receive complaints about his participating in and identification with their organizations. But most significantly, Nicole's coveted Nicky Awards show for 1989 was canceled due to lack of interest and support. In fact, Murray’s critics created a new event, the Stonewall Awards. They only lasted for three years, but they had served their purpose — to provide a visible alternative to Murray’s style.
LESSON # 15: What is leadership in the gay community? What is acceptable?
I came to realize that three factors were working together to create the dynamics and tensions in the local gay and lesbian community:
- The change in leadership from a confrontational style to a more mainstream approach. In the 70s we needed to be loud and confrontational to get any attention at all; but now attention wasn’t enough for most of the leadership. It wasn’t so much that Nicole’s leadership was wrong, it was just outdated.
- With the advent of AIDS, gay leaders were fed up with fighting the system, even though they had never really tried working within the system. AIDS and the increase in deaths in our community created a state of emergency that became our way of life. Life in the gay community in the late ’80s was about death, grief, and how we dealt with it.
- The political capital accumulated by our community was about to be spent. .The question was, who would set the new agenda and would there be a chance for community participating in the decision? The answer was, not really.
Perhaps it was this battle, its ensuing consequences, and the leadership questions that by 1990 helped put Bravo! on the political front lines and often in controversial positions. We definitely had a niche. We had opened up city hall to the community. We had interviewed and established relationships with the last three chiefs of police, Kollender, Burgreen, and Sanders; and with nearly every candidate running for office, whether friend or foe. We took a lead in the sheriff's race even before Sheriff Duffy dropped out. And we were one of only two gay publications in the state to support Pete Wilson for governor. Many said we didn’t represent the community in that decision. I said we took a leadership role; why assume that gays aren’t as interested in the pocketbook issues that Wilson represented as anyone else. It seemed that gay leadership didn’t want to celebrate that type of political diversity.
As 1990 closed, I made a major decision to endorse Senator Pete Wilson for governor in his race against Diane Feinstein. Wilson, in my view, was the better candidate and I believed the local gay community was ready to move actively into both political parties. The Feinstein camp in our community had raised S10,000, and a political machine was developed.
I was not a partisan Republican at the time, having left the Log Cabin Club in 1986, but I believed the election of Pete Wilson would be a victory for our community; not because he was a Republican, but because we could never really possess political clout until we had significant influence in both political parties.
Those that spoke the loudest about diversity in the community were actually talking about a form of tokenism that would never be accepted in the real world. Because of this, a number of community leaders decided that since Hartley had been elected, 1990 was the year to pass a gay rights ordinance in San Diego.
As I saw it, the problem was that friend or not, John Hartley was elected for the entire 3rd District, and he had to deliver for the whole district or he would lose his effectiveness. My influence with John angered many of the gay activists, especially the Democrats. They wanted John to carry the rainbow flag for the gay and lesbian community with no regard for his political career. I disagreed.
Additionally, John Hartley was in a battle of his own. During his first days in office, he had sided with Councilman Bob Filner and newly elected Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt against the mayor and became part of a group eventually called the “Gang of Five." There was no way the mayor was going to support anything Hartley might put forward.
I was adamant that John be careful in advancing the gay rights ordinance, the Human Dignity Ordinance (HDO), if it might render him politically impotent. John spoke openly to the media of my confidential advice to him, and the following week on the front page of the Gay Times was the headline, “Lone gay activist works against HDO.” O/course, this was the farthest thing from the truth, and it caused me a great deal of emotional pain.
My biggest concern was whether we could pass the local ordinance at all. And I was concerned about an impending campaign initiative to overturn the HDO, should it be passed.
In the preceding year, three local ordinances in California had been overturned, and many felt the most pragmatic approach might be to work for a statewide ordinance instead.
But for the half-dozen articles that appeared in the Gay Times about this issue, no reporter ever called me to get my side.
It was also ironic that the local HDO task force was meeting in secrecy and being very exclusive. Many of them, including lesbian activist Jeri Dilno, were the same ones who would derail other community projects because they were not completely “open” from the beginning. But in this case, they could claim the moral high ground and say it was done in the best interests of the gay and lesbian community.
LESSON #16: The community runs by a double standard, when it serves its purpose.
AIDS activist Bob Battenburg and gay attorney Leo Wilson convinced me that Bravo! was the only local paper that would help them air their concerns about the whole HDO debate. Once we published their comments and an editorial questioning the timing of the HDO proposal, we began to hear some real community discussion of the subject. But that dialogue quickly moved from the issues to the personalities and finally ended in a smear campaign.
Both the paper and I were lambasted as homophobic. Looking at the arguments against what I was doing, the most horrible thing I was called by my critics was “too rational.” It seems the community did not want logic or reason as part of the political debate, but merely to play on emotions.
HDO passed the city council with Bruce Henderson as the lone opposition. The initiative to overturn the ordinance never even made the ballot. I was delighted. I also believed the different points of view that Bravo! aired were helpful to the entire campaign.
While the HDO victory was something to celebrate, I was busy trying to get John Hartley to look hard at the entire district when developing his political agenda. My suggestion was an official hate crimes task force for the City of San Diego. My rationale was that he had run on a crime agenda, and hate crime was becoming rampant. Hartley’s plan, when presented, was merged by councilmembers Wes Pratt and Abbe Wolfsheimer into an already shelved Human Relations Commission, which was resuscitated.
The commission was quickly approved in concept by the mayor, and the process was completed and in place by early 1991. John invited a cross-section of the gay community to one of the early organizing meetings. I was present only because I had assisted in the formation of the commission, otherwise the room once again filed by the most liberal elements of our community. They all proceeded to complain that as it was proposed, the commission would not have subpoena power. This angered me; once again our community was looking to take revenge for abuses we have suffered. By my reasoning, there were definite problems with the procedure required to incorporate a subpoena power provision. We would be better off using our energies to establish an adequate budget that allowed us to fully fund the commission's programs. In the end, the commission was approved with a decent budget and without subpoena power.
Coming off of the victories with HDO and the Human Relations Commission, I felt that it was time to help enact a statewide civil rights bill. With Pete Wilson as governor and good signals coming from his press secretary Otto Bos, there was no doubt in my mind that we would soon have a statewide bill against discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation. I was proud to work on the state committee to pass AB101.
This experience taught me how politically unsophisticated many in the gay community’s leadership were. They acted as if there were no difference between Pete Wilson and our friends in the Democratic Party. I would try to explain that the Democrats had years of experience with our community, while Wilson had to chart a course in new waters. Additionally, there are the fundamental differences in political philosophy, party structure, and leadership. These concerns didn’t seem to faze those in our community who were considered the politically astute leadership.
A personal frustration was my inability to find a role model on a state level that I could respect and learn from. A Susan Jester-type. The gay leaders at the state level were liberal, and very few had any respect for gay Republicans. Most didn’t even understand the need to work within the GOP. I saw this approach as shortsighted and personally disappointing. It also told me I would have to look outside the gay community to find political happiness.
We on the state and local task forces worked for nearly a year on AB101, which passed the Assembly without a vote to spare. I was thrilled to be a part of this history’ and was certain the bill would be signed by the governor. When we received the news of the death of Otto Bos, I feared this also meant the death of AB101. But we went forward locally with our efforts. The only opposition was a small sector of the religious Right, and even most Republicans didn’t see them as a threat. I had the pleasure of debating the Reverend Lou Sheldon on Stacey Taylor’s show and raised 90 percent of the money for our local committee.
AB101 had attracted national attention. Wilson’s signature on this bill was going to ring loud. This was an opportunity to redefine the GOP, and Wilson could well lead the ensuing dialogue. But we were hearing a rumor that consultants had advised Wilson against the bill because of his alleged presidential aspirations.
The bill was sent to him in September of 1991 and stayed on his desk more than three weeks before he took action. I will never forget the Sunday evening in October when I got the call from a Los Angeles insider who said the governor had just vetoed the bill.
It seemed that no sooner had the bill been vetoed than everyone in San Diego’s gay community looked for someone to blame, and that someone was me. People were genuinely angry, as if I had personally whispered into the governor’s ear, “Hey, Pete, veto this one.” I wish I could have spent ten minutes with the governor on this issue. All of the people he consulted were either political strategists or gay Republicans out of the community’s loop. But because Bravo! had endorsed Wilson, we were the object of the community’s anger.
With the AB101 veto, Governor Wilson created a legitimate avenue for every radical in the community to have a voice. With a stroke of the pen, he turned over part of the mantle of our community leadership to ACT-UP and Queer Nation, not a particularly comforting thought. People were asking, “Why should we even bother to work inside the system when this is the result?” (Queer Nation is a radical activist group established on the model of ACT-UP but with a broader gay agenda. And for the record, I have always objected to the word “queer.")
What the governor didn’t realize was that most moderates (63 percent) and many conservatives (25 percent) in his own party were in favor of the bill, according to a Los Angeles Times survey. Many Republicans saw the issue as a defining one for the party. This issue didn’t affect just the gay community, it affected the human rights community. Many of these people worked diligently to elect Wilson, believing that a Republican could also have a human rights agenda. He let a lot of people down.
The community’s anger erupted in protests across the state. During a rally at San Diego’s Federal Building, someone held up a picture of Pete Wilson and me with the caption, “You can’t trust any Republican.” What I once saw as a community moving toward a bipartisan approach in politics was now a community hell-bent on accepting ACT-UP and Queer Nation, labeling all gay Republicans as traitors to the gay cause. This was definitely a step back in the maturing process.
After all of the community protests and a failed recall effort against the governor, a few of us came together to create another bill, this one based on the governor’s four-page veto message. None of the protesters were anywhere around to help us when the real work needed to be done.
The new bill, AB2601, was introduced in the ’92 legislative session. Our expectations this time were much lower; we retained the provisions against discrimination in employment but abandoned the housing provisions. Governor Wilson did sign this new bill.
LESSON # 17: The political process is hard and lonely, but it can work, if you work with it.
After Wilson’s veto of AB101, I concluded that what we needed in the Republican Party was more education on these types of issues. It was time for me to get off the fence where it was safe and where I was playing bipartisan politics and create an opportunity for gay Republicans to advance and educate within the party. This was going to be difficult, because many gays left the Republican Party after AB101. The president of the local chapter of the Log Cabin Club had resigned in protest to Wilson’s actions.
To me, these reactions seemed shortsighted. I talked to gays and tried to explain that we have always had to fight the political establishment for equal rights, whether at Stonewall in 1969 or today’s military establishment. The GOP was no different, just a little more difficult. While our timetable for equality in the Republican Party may be behind that of the Democratic Party, that was no reason to quit.
By the end of ’91 I decided to try to lead a gay Republican movement. I ran for president of the San Diego County Log Cabin Club and have been reelected two times since. I didn’t realize the risk I’d be taking. It would be hard for me to run a gay newspaper and at the same time be president of an organization that advocated a narrower agenda than I encouraged at the paper. I would soon get used to my new “gay Republican” label: an oxymoron.
I felt that I might get some support from those in the community that I had so vigorously helped on the other side of the aisle. Again, I was sorely mistaken. People now saw Bravo! and every decision I made as purely partisan.
This right-wing label was a slick campaign by those who didn’t want dialogue in the gay community to include the Republican Party. Basically, the Democrats own the community lock, stock, and barrel. They promised community representation through their favorite method, the quota—a guaranteed 5 percent representation. Political tokenism. After all, keeping gays happy with 5 percent is a small price to pay. We fall in line for anyone who issues proclamations about us and pays attention to us, especially in politics.
Nonetheless, the community’s leadership has bought into the Democratic Party as the only representative of the gay and lesbian agenda. Therefore, the Democrats really don’t have to do much for the community because they assume gays and lesbians have nowhere else to go. So the community, in its infinite wisdom, cuts off all dialogue and opportunity to become genuinely powerful by playing politics in both parties. To limit one’s political options to a single party leaves that community vulnerable and powerless. The excuses are as funny as the logic.
The leadership claims to be diverse, but really it strives to be monolithic — at least politically. Philosophically, the pressure to come out of the closet is so intense that those accepting the challenge shouldn’t feel inadequate if they do not fall into the politically correct liberal slot. As an example, you do not see any Democratic gay community activists practicing inclusion on topics like abortion, feminism, or other issues where Democrats might tend to be more moderate or conservative.
In contrast, while most in the Log Cabin Club espouse a pro-choice position on abortion, we are first inclusive and welcome those who disagree with that position. We believe the need to show the true diversity of the community means including the voices of dissent as well.
Places like the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Center have never been comfortable to people who do not fit the community’s current liberal definitions. The center is supposed to be there for all in the community who need direction. I remember once when two young gentlemen called the center asking for information about the Log Cabin Club. The person who answered the phone laughed at them and asked them why they were Republican. In eight years I have been asked to speak twice at the center, only once on politics as a Republican and then only when flanked by a Democrat for “equal time.”
I believe the center actually reinforces some dysfunctional behaviors in our community, especially some women’s separatist views. The center doesn’t try to deal with these issues as they are — dysfunctional — instead they have established a “women-only” space, where men are basically not allowed. This is supposed to make women feel comfortable. Having a room for women’s resources is one thing, but a women-only room sends the wrong signal. I often wondered what would happen if they had a men-only room. The center needs to be available to our community, preparing us for the world as gays and lesbians, not making us feel comfortable with ideas and feelings that are clearly dysfunctional in the broader world around us.
What the leadership is not used to, or interested in, is new dialogue. New dialogue represents new ideas, which represent new ways of accomplishing the same tasks. This removes most of the leadership from the comfort zone they now reside in and enjoy. Ironically, all that I had learned about journalism and newsworthiness guided me in making the decisions that most angered the leadership in the community. My conclusion was that it was the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, where the real news, regarding our community, was occurring.
From the point of view of a publisher in the gay community, I was constantly frustrated because Republicans kept making the news no matter what they did. When the Republicans accepted gays and pushed legislation in favor of the community, it was an item no reputable news organization could ignore. When the opposite occurred, either a demagogue spoke out against us or a discrimination claim was made, all of the media clamored to cover it.
What about the local gay press? Not one mention about any GOP news. One had to read about it in the straight newspapers or in Bravo! The frustration for me was the fact that if the gay press covered stories about Republicans, they were extreme and negative, the same problems our community has with the mainstream media bias against gays and lesbians. Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans (a national gay Republican educational forum), said it most accurately, “The gay press is the ghetto echo chamber.”
Bravo! covered the religious Right in the 1992 election campaigns, and we were able to prevent most of the “stealth”-type campaigns, such as those that succeeded in 1990. When we covered an election or exposed the real intentions of a candidate, our influence was felt, not because we had a large readership, but because we were plugged into the circle of opinion leaders. Our news was picked up by the straight media, which was an important thing for our community, yet it was never appreciated as such.
All of this effort was enlightening to me and many others in the community; only the leadership was threatened. But they are as dogmatic as our opponents. One of my biggest goals at Bravo! was to show how truly diverse the gay community was, not just ethnically but politically as well. When gays and lesbians are asked for their political affiliations, about 35 percent say Republican and 55 percent say Democratic. But when you remove the labels and describe the beliefs of either party, most gays and lesbians will subscribe to the principles or ideals of the Republican Party, particularly in fiscal matters. This must make the community leadership fearful, otherwise why do they put so much pressure on Republicans to switch parties by making them feel so uncomfortable in the community?
The pressure on me was particularly intense. I was in a different category. I used logic to defy the politically correct liberal assumptions. I used articulate arguments to make them look emotional and irrational. So instead of attacking my ideas, they began to attack me and make me the enemy. By hating me, you will hate my ideas. Though even when I won, I lost; I was labeled as having “internalized homophobia” because I didn’t conform to the politically correct norms of the community.
A good example of this was the infamous Coors debate. The company had clearly discriminated against several communities, including gays and lesbians, in the late 1970s. A coalition of those who claimed damage put together a successful boycott of Coors products. As a result, the gay community, in particular, proved two things: We were a valuable market that could not be ignored, and we were powerful.
But this was only worthwhile if we could use our newfound influence to benefit our community. All of the other groups in the coalition, including the labor unions, had called off their boycotts by the late ’80s, after finding sufficient remedies for their constituencies. Many of these negotiated settlements were sophisticated, not only settlements but ongoing relationships with Coors that would involve the company’s sponsorship of special projects.
Only the gay community clung onto the idea of a boycott for pure emotional, not pragmatic reasons. But by the early ’90s, even much of the gay community nationwide had either called off the boycott or were accepting negotiated settlements from Coors to support a variety of activities and partnerships.
When I went to a Latino function that was sponsored by Coors in San Diego, I tried to get the same attention from the company for our local gay community. We needed a great deal of help with our annual AIDS Walk, which never really was as successful as it might have been. The AIDS Walk committee was desperately trying to secure corporate dollars and to expand into the non-gay community. A partnership withCoors would have been an excellent way to accomplish both goals.
I approached Coors and broached the idea of them as a corporate sponsor. Representatives from the AIDS Walk unofficially stated that they would be willing to entertain the idea of Coors as a major sponsor of the event, if Coors paid $10,000, twice as much as any other major sponsor. This was going to be difficult because, at the time, Coors was already into its new fiscal year.
After some tough negotiations, it seemed an agreement was struck, and for the first time the AIDS Walk would receive front money from a sponsor, allowing them to launch a professional campaign. As part of my research into the gay community, I was even able to secure commitments from many bars in the community to give Coors a try, to see how it would move.
Then came the leadership of the local gay community, claiming that nothing about the Coors company had changed. They reasoned that because Joseph Coors was still giving money (privately) to Senator Jesse Helms, we could not accept money from the company for the AIDS Walk. This type of scrutiny seemed to be reserved for Coors only. We never used this reasoning with any other corporation.When challenged, the Gay and Lesbian Times spoke with the voice of the extreme Left. Ironically, not mentioned during the debate were the full-page ads that the Gay Times had solicited and accepted just a couple of years earlier from the Coors brewery. Bravo! pointed this out and damaged the credibility of much of the anti-Coors rhetoric.
The campaign against Coors consisted of accusing them of trying to buy the community. But it wasn’t Coons’s idea to donate the money. This idea came from the gay community.
When the gay and lesbian community won the original boycott battle, Coors asked what their demands were. They replied that an anti-discrimination policy in hiring and management was mandatory. Coors complied. Then, when Coors tried to sell its products in the community, the leadership stated that the company should be a good business partner by donating to various community functions. Lists were forwarded to Coors and the corporate money began to roll in. Then Coors was accused of trying to buy off the community and, once again, it appeared there was no way to please us.
There was even a campaign of telephone calls to the AIDS Walk office from gay activists threatening to protest and picket the AIDS Walk event. I couldn’t believe that anyone would actually want to protest an AIDS walk. This was repulsive to me. But as a result of the threats, the AIDS Walk committee turned down the $10,000 from Coors.
Some in the local community even saw this shortsighted solution as a victory. Even now there are those who cite the Coors debacle as an example of the community’s power. Sadly, we not only lost an immediate $10,000, but by now, through continued participation, the company’s donation surely would be close to $50,000 for the AIDS Walk alone. Additionally, Coors was willing to give the money early in the year, allowing the walk to make itself a year-round organization and begin the fundraising calendar with early media. Unfortunately, the local walk committee has only been able to raise about $250,000, the smallest amount of any major city in the nation. Other AIDS walks around the country raise between $1 million and $7 million, and many take contributions from Coors.
After this incident I became angry. I was beginning to hate the community I was a part of. It is so difficult to be gay, love the community, want to participate, and be told that there is no place at the table for you. And this from a community that kept preaching inclusion and diversity. The hypocrisy was evident, yet everyone was afraid to say anything because of the personal attacks that one had to endure.
At about this same time, I was involved with the proposed AIDS Memorial, an idea of the late Dr. Brad Truax, which had been dormant for about three years. For me the motivation was to have this project in Balboa Park, so the committee would have to work within the city’s existing political structure. I wanted to include Councilman John Hartley in the project since Balboa Park would be in his new district after the city’s reapportionment plan was approved.
I put together a task force proposal and began to receive opposition, not from those opposed to the idea, but from those who wanted to participate. A friend told me that several members of the San Diego Democratic Club had actually met to discuss whether I should be the person taking the lead on all of these issues. They decided I should not because of my leadership style.
The opposition enlisted the support of John Hartley to convince me to open up participation to Michael Portantino, who had tried unsuccessfully to get appointed to the boards of the gay center and the AIDS Assistance Fund. I lost respect for Hartley and questioned his political astuteness. Portantino made it onto the original task force, along with lesbian activist Jeri Dilno.
One complaint Portantino made that had some validity was that my leadership style at times was strident. While I was aggressive at times, I was no more so than other elements of the community. The difference was not my style, I believe, but rather what I stand for. The counterproductive aggressiveness of ACT-UP and Queer Nation are accepted because those groups still represent the far Left, which actually makes the mainstream leadership look good. I, on the other hand, offer an alternative to their leadership. If you stand up to them, you can win the battle of ideas, but you must have a tough constitution and pay a price.
After Portantino left the task force and the business of putting together the project moved forward, I began enjoying the experience of working with those that had assembled for this effort. Our board consisted of David Valladolid, chief of staff to Assemblyman Peter Chacon; Kara Kobey of Kobey’s Swap Meet; Ben Dillingham, chief of staff to Mayor Maureen O’Connor; Fr. Nicholas Christiana of the AIDS Chaplaincy Program; and my friends Dr. Garret Dettling, who by this time was chair of the AIDS Foundation and the AIDS Walk, Dr. Michael Clark, and Nicole among others. Both Kara Kobey and Ben Dillingham had recently experienced AIDS deaths in their families, and it was particularly hard for them when the members of the task force were criticized by ACT-UP for not being “in-the-trenches” AIDS activists.
The most impressive person on the board was its chair, former State Assemblyman Jeff Marston. I wanted a straight, well-known Republican to illustrate the support in the non-gay mainstream community. Jeff fit the bill perfectly. He took the lead on this project just prior to announcing his candidacy for the 78th Assembly District in 1992, though this was not an opportunistic move. Jeff Marston would tell me stories of crank calls and volunteers refusing to support him because of his involvement with the AIDS Memorial and “those fags.” Some of his advisors suggested that he temporarily step down as chair of the project during the campaign. Jeff refused and dug in his heels and proudly reaffirmed his support as a result of the bigotry. Marston ultimately lost his bid for the Assembly seat.
After my activities with Coors and the AIDS Memorial, I reinforced my conclusions that the gay and lesbian community was extremely dysfunctional. Not dysfunctional as I had grown to understand it, but on a level much more extreme and intense. It seemed that we came together as part of a unified effort only if someone was attacking us as a community.
Despite this dysfunctional nature, the gay community was gaining political power and influence. It was credited with defeating incumbent City Councilman Bruce Henderson and electing Valerie Stallings. Henderson was targeted by the community because of his votes against HDO and the Human Relations Commission. While the 6th city council district was not considered easily influenced by our community, we mobilized behind Valerie Stallings, providing 25 percent of her cash and many of her volunteers. As a community and a political power base, we were instrumental to her victory over Henderson. Our power and influence, however, seemed effective in the negative: fighting our enemies or fighting ourselves — not a very positive message.
Introspection began to consume my life. I began to look inside and realized that as much as I loved my community, it was a one-way relationship. One claim is that the gay Republican movement consists of some of the most pragmatic members in the gay community. If you think about it, it's logical. Gay Republicans must participate in a political party that does not want them and in a community that would prefer to deny their existence. Ill is causes us to be pragmatic in getting things accomplished or give up trying.
I used a great deal of my energy to challenge the Bravo! readership on a variety of subjects. If they were going to attack my ideas, I would give them some ideas to attack. I kept challenging the community' debate. Many of my subjects included definitions of power, leadership, and the real agenda of the community and why it really is unworkable.
I would call the leadership on its hypocrisy and often point out the double standards that existed. The funniest articles would be the ones where I pointed out the politically correct nature of the community.
One example of this involved the 1993 March on Washington. This event tried to include so many segments of the community that, in retrospect, many gays distanced themselves from participation in the march, feeling unrepresented by the groups assembled. Originally, march organizers presented 54 demands to the government. This obnoxious laundry list included passage of the Equal Rights Amendment; repeal of all English-only laws and restoration of bilingual education; an end to genocide of all indigenous people and their cultures; free substance abuse treatment on demand; and unrestricted, safe, and affordable alternative insemination. Most in the gay community didn’t even know what these demands or their consequences were.
Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to educate millions of Americans at one time about the positive attributes of the gay community, the leadership decided to play to a different audience: the gay community itself, an audience that really didn’t need much education at all. As for those in the closet looking at this event as some reaffirmation of the community or perhaps something to identify with, I believe the event failed miserably on this count as well.
The Log Cabin Federation felt it had to take the responsible stance as a matter of principle regarding the March on Washington. They boycotted it because, they said, the march did not find common ground that the majority of gays and lesbians agreed with, instead the organizers put forth a huge list of proposals that divide the community rather than the three of four that unite us. Instead of the 54 demands, most felt that issues like AIDS funding, a national civil rights bill on employment and housing, some type of domestic partnership recognition, and maybe the lifting of the military ban would have been more appropriate. While agreement on all of these issues may not be universal in the community, they were all directly relevant to the gay and lesbian community and they were issues that unite the community far more than they divide it.
We missed a historic opportunity, from a public relations point of view, to use our sheer-numbers to influence millions of Americans that we are like them. Not only did we not win favor, we actually cemented many of the stereotypes that exist about gays and lesbians. A disservice the leadership will never be held accountable for.
The real leadership in the community did not exist. They let the politically correct extremists take over and impose their view on the entire event. The main objective was to expose the American public to their ideas of what diversity is. Unfortunately, that meant women and men with earrings in the oddest places, naked individuals committing absurd actions, and more.
Just because we are diverse and free to be so in our actions doesn’t mean we must throw out all decorum to validate our worth as Americans. Just because we can have sex legally doesn’t mean we must do so on the streets in front of our nation’s capitol in front of television cameras. And if we must commit these types of acts for all to see, do we really have the right to object if the media actually uses the footage on the six o’clock news?
The media is doing their job with what we provide them. From a publicity point of view, if we want the images to change, we had better actively produce better images for the media to project.
LESSON #18: The community puts too much emphasis on political correctness.
After challenging the community as I have, I would often go to social functions where some of those most into political correctness would be so angry at me that they would not talk to me. I often wondered how these individuals, most of them political activists who considered themselves mainstream, would handle disagreement or being challenged in the real world.
It occurred to me that they would never have to deal with the possibility. These individuals were what I began to label as the “ghetto gays.” I hated using labels because this seemed to put me in the same category as the politically correct in our community. Their most powerful tool was the label. They dragged them out anytime they lacked a good argument or substance to back up their claims. I didn’t want to be included with their ilk. But as I watched this phenomenon, I realized the term “ghetto gay” was very appropriate for this group. These individuals were so wrapped in their sexual orientation that every other aspect of life either took a backseat or somehow became related to their sexual orientation.
I didn’t see myself in this “ghetto gay” manner, and it began to bother me that I was leading a life that was based nearly 100 percent on my sexual orientation. I worked, lived, and played in the gay community. I literally did not have any escape from this aspect of my life, and I was beginning to feel a little burned out. What made me feel the most energetic was working in the political structure with non-gays. I was listened to for my message rather than the fact that it came front a conservative or a gay individual. Nonetheless, I still felt a sense of emptiness.
As I pondered my dilemma, I let my political feelings take over my being. As president of the Log Cabin Club, I was interested in expanding my education in the political arena.
This couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time for me. The election of a new mayor in San Diego was about to happen, and it was going to be significant because of the effect of Maureen O’Connor on the community. I had already come to accept the fact that, no matter who was elected, we would never get the attention, early on, that we had become accustomed to from O’Connor.
The 1992 mayoral election was more a part of my life that year than anything else. I had given up on the presidential election, feeling a sense of loss over the George Bush that was elected versus the one that was running for office.
The entry of Supervisor Susan Golding made all of this even more important to me. Golding impressed me as a politician and a consensus builder; she was skilled, sometimes calculating, but extremely loyal. I had always admired that in any politician. To me she represented the potential future of the GOP and the local political leadership. I had longed to see the day when city hall would again be run like a government, rather than a venue for consensus-building. I have always believed that good government would enable good policies.
It was Susan Jester who brought the first meeting of gay activists together with Golding. It was good to see Susan taking a lead again. (That meeting saw several of us talking about Susan becoming the next mayor.) I was stunned to see Michael Portantino present. This might actually be the first time that we would work on something together for the betterment of the community. My good thought would soon be dismissed when Portantino backed out on helping Golding because of my involvement. Jester told him that this meeting was about Susan Golding, period. Either he supported her or he didn’t. Well, he didn’t. He went to work helping to elect Peter Navarro.
Navarro made our efforts difficult. He was good at telling the community what it wanted to hear. I had nicknamed him “Pandering Peter" in one of my political columns. Although in the beginning I saw Peter as a maverick with integrity that I could respect, that waned as the campaign went on.
Golding, on the other hand, was brutally honest, but that honesty didn’t seem to go far with our community. Every personal attack and unreasonable tactic was used against her. When Susan came out against needle exchange, our community labeled her a homophobe, even though the community otherwise insisted needle exchange was not a gay issue. On the issue of domestic partners, Golding was again honest, claiming that she needed to be educated. When she came out in support of the Boy Scouts in the debate about their use of Balboa Park (despite their exclusion of gays from their ranks), I knew that she was finished in our community.
I will never forget when the National Organization for Women pulled their endorsement from Golding. The local chapter is heavily influenced by lesbians, and they convinced the organization that because of Golding’s stand on domestic partners and needle exchange, she should not be endorsed. What these issues had to do with advancing women into office I couldn’t understand. Yet as important as these issues seemed to be to NOW, they never appeared on the lengthy candidate’s questionnaire that Golding had filled out. It is these types of tactics that have made NOW politically impotent.
Education didn’t seem to be the way for the gay activists in San Diego. For some reason we have not tailored our approach to the needs of the city, but rather we try to follow the model of San Francisco without the successes of San Francisco because we are not San Francisco. Against Golding we used threats and intimidation.
Articles appeared in the Gay and Lesbian Times calling Golding a killer of AIDS patients, homophobic, and a bigot. Because it appeared in a gay publication, it gave the impression that it was the opinion of the whole community. This put a great burden on me at Bravo! I felt an obligation to point out the inaccuracies of the smears that were leveled in the GLT week after week. Despite all of the opposition to Golding, the gay community raised S15,000 for her to Navarro’s $20,000.
The rhetoric hit a new low after accusations from the Golding camp stated that Navarro had accepted money from bathhouses in the gay community. Rather than letting the accusations go or replying to them directly, Navarro did what he did best, he escalated the rhetoric. In a debate that week on Channel 8, Navarro accused Golding of having a former prostitute on her finance committee. He then mentioned Nicole Murray’s name. Not only was Murray not on Golding’s finance committee, he was no longer involved in prostitution and on that level had really tried to change his life.
It was obvious that Navarro was being schooled by members of our community on the whole Murray issue, as it had all been aired years earlier. Anyone interested in researching Murray’s history with the police department would have seen the string of arrests in the early to mid-’80s for prostitution or lewd conduct. Murray asked me for advice on how to handle the problem.
My recommendation was based on Navarro’s temperament. He couldn’t handle being on the defensive, so it was time to put him there. It was time to make him regret the entire issue. I encouraged Murray to confront it head-on. This would be difficult for most people, but Murray was an ideal student.
Murray held the press conference in the Bravo! offices and explained his past record. It took a lot of courage. Members of the media received a biography of Murray and an explanation of the circumstances that led to the whole situation. Three reporters from the Gay and Lesbian Times insisted on covering the story. Three reporters from one gay paper! We had received an anonymous tip that the GLT had given Navarro the original story, and Nicole was adamant that they not come in. I felt compelled to follow his wishes, regardless of my personal journalistic beliefs. Because they were left out, the three reporters tried to get the media’s attention, letting them know that they were being frozen out. I explained to the media that we would let them speak to Nicole later, after the conference. It was simple to me; I didn’t want to censure their right. However, Nicole felt victimized by them, and I wasn’t going to let him feel that pain again.
At the press conference, we were able to produce a photograph taken at the Imperial Court event earlier that summer showing Navarro with Nicole in full regal coronation drag, crown and all. We used the photo to prove that Navarro already knew Nicole. Navarro tried to squirm his way out of the incident claiming that he has many photos taken with many individuals.
After all of the animosity our community thrust at her. Mayor Golding proved she was the bigger person by not holding harsh feelings based on the actions of a vocal few when she appointed Log Cabin board member Michael Clark to her transition team. Golding’s defeat of Navarro, however, created serious rifts in the gay community, and Bravo! suffered because of our support for her. We were seen as activists for Golding rather than a news organization dealing with both sides of a story. My answer was that because the GLT was smearing Golding, we had an obligation to set the record straight.
At this time I considered participating in the Human Rights Campaign Fund. The national organization is the largest in our community, with a budget of over $6 million. I was eventually elected to the board of governors. When the appointment was announced in San Diego, again the reaction was hostile and volatile. Letters and faxes poured into the national office suggesting that I was homophobic and a traitor to the gay and lesbian movement. Never did anyone who had a problem with me ever call to talk to me about it. Instead, in typical fashion, they just began to malign and smear me as if to achieve some higher moral ground.
In retrospect, I guess I am a traitor to the gay movement as defined by the radical elements in the community. I am against many of the condoned characteristics and practices of the gay movement. I abhor the practice of “outing” (yanking people out of the closet because the leadership feels it’s time for them to be openly gay). I am against the mandate that government must solve all of our problems. And I do not buy into the laundry list of agenda items at the all-or-nothing level that many in the community do. Probably the main reason I’m perceived as a traitor is because I believe that we have choices in the way we approach society as gays — through a more conservative agenda.
In the past, when these criticisms arose, I would get angry and frustrated and at times didn’t direct that anger in the most productive way. This time, however, I made a commitment to include everyone in the Human Rights Campaign Fund activities in San Diego. We were beginning to look at bringing the first-ever HRCF dinner to San Diego. It had been a dream of mine for the last two years, and I longed to see it happen in San Diego. But it wasn't enough for it to occur, it should be done in a fashion that would actually challenge the way we played politics in the community.
Everyone seemed to be involved in the project, and the dinner was successful. For the first time, this committee actually participated in a bipartisan effort, a true diversity of cultures and ideas, which had never occurred before. I found myself involved in philosophical debate about the vision of the gay community. Unfortunately, anytime the challenges and questions came up, those who had been around for a while always personalized the debate and accused each other of personal attacks. We never were able to fully debate some of the greater philosophical questions that I felt really need to be addressed.
One example was the selection of the keynote speaker for the event. I was again in the minority, advocating for the pop icon David Geffen from Geffen Records. Geffen is probably known to most as the creator of so much of today’s popular culture trends. He did the original Little Shop of Horrors and produced many of the current rock groups. He is also a billionaire. He was on the cover of Forbes magazine within the last three years as one of the most powerful Hollywood moguls. The most impressive thing was that he used that forum to come out of the closet, announcing that he was gay. To me, Geffen was the epitome of a gay role model: someone who actually made his mark in the world without letting sexual orientation get in his way.
The committee voted instead to go with a typical selection, and Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder was the keynote. We blew a golden opportunity to redefine the gay and lesbian community with one of our own, a real living example. This void could not be filled by Schroeder or any other sympathetic straight politician. I didn’t mind it so much, but I just couldn’t properly articulate how disappointed I was at missing this golden opportunity. But I did my job and promoted Schroeder’s appearance.
The event was attended by 400 and made nearly $65,000. It was the first fundraiser of its kind in San Diego’s gay and lesbian community. For weeks I received cards, letters, and phone calls on the success of the event. Afterwards, the GLT printed stories that had no basis about the misappropriation of funds. Everyone who attended the event knew exactly where the money was going because they all made their checks out to the Human Rights Campaign Fund in Washington. The local committee never had any control of the money. Nevertheless, the articles in the GLT provoked the national organization to respond and once again congratulate the local committee on the historic event.
But with the Human Rights Campaign Fund dinner, I actually achieved a dream of mine in the gay community. This single event gave me a sense of self-worth, and no article in a biased publication was going to take that away from me. Especially when I considered how much time I spent inviting them to participate in the event from the beginning and they rebuffed all requests.
After the HRCF dinner, Mayor Golding asked me to serve as a commissioner on the city's Human Relations Commission. I had opposition from a few members of the community at the hearing to approve my nomination. Interestingly, each of the council members had received a biographical File on me days before to the vote. Every mistake I had made, including tax problems, small claims court actions, and a previous bankruptcy, was detailed there. All of this was enclosed with a letter on Uptown Publications Inc. stationery, signed by Jeri Dilno, George Biagi, and Michael Portantino, assistant editor, editor, and publisher, respectively, of the Gay and Lesbian Times, owned by Uptown Publications. Despite that, the city council unanimously approved my nomination to the commission.
Ironically, just two days after this event at city hall, the Gay and Lesbian Times, and Michael Portantino in particular, were visited by four Treasury Department officers. The GLT was delinquent in tax payments to the IRS to the tune of $78,000, past due since 1989. This was more than four times the amount I had been repaying in back taxes. The Union-Tribune noted the irony of Portantino’s misfortunes in a story the next day, considering the charges leveled against me at the city council meeting.
By now Bravo! had moved to the background of my life. My interest was almost non-existent. This was for two very different reasons.
First was the lack of challenge in the original mission of the publication. When I started the paper, there was a real need, since the mainstream press didn't cover our community on a regular basis. Now, as I looked at the overall media, their coverage was superior to most of the gay publications, from local newspapers to national networks. We could not compete with those types of resources. I concluded that we had done our job — we got the attention of the mainstream press and they were beginning to do their job. There really was no need for the “gay press” in its present form.
Second, I had my own desires to learn more about society, much more than I could learn from a gay periscope. I was always insecure about my lack of formal education. For many reasons, college didn’t seem to be in the cards for me, yet I had yearned lately to move into higher education and expand my knowledge.
I was also burned out. I had accomplished everything I thought I could with a newspaper from the gay angle. I needed another purpose or challenge in life. One of my public positions I had held for the past three years was on the San Diego City College advisory board. Through that position, I had become aware of the effect the community college system had on individual lives.
It was at the May board meeting, when we were being fitted for the robes for graduation ceremonies, that I began to feel very insecure. The fitter asked me how many stripes I should have on my robe. I asked what the stripes meant and was told that each one represented an educational degree. I quickly realized that my robe was going to be solid black with no stripes. This was too much for me to handle. I did not attend the ceremony, and I did nothing to remedy the situation either.
I remember talking to my friend Norris Nagao about college. I met Nagao at a political fundraiser a year earlier. As an American of Japanese ancestry who is both gay and a Republican, he identified with a lot of my ideas about politics and the gay community. Norris would often complain about how he was treated by the gay community, specifically the gay Asian community.
Norris would tell me that because he was Japanese and gay, he was automatically presumed to be a Democrat or liberal. When people of his own race found out that he wasn’t, they treated him as a traitor or outsider. After meeting me he joined the Log Cabin Club. As an assistant professor at Southwestern College, Norris carefully guided and influenced me on my path to education. He answered my questions and made me feel more confident that college might be a positive influence in my life. But with my hectic schedule and competing projects, I really didn’t take time to analyze the situation further.
The biggest new event taking over Bravo! was Chris Kehoe’s campaign in the 3rd District city council race. All I remembered about Chris was the things she had done with regard to gay Republicans when I first got involved in the community. I had never seen her as supportive or sensitive to the challenges and discriminations placed on gay Republicans. Those issues and the fact that her opponent was my longtime friend Evonne Schulze made it easy for me to go against the grain in the community in this race.
I made a commitment, though, that Bravo! would cover the election in a fair fashion, though we did publish editorials on the race. Many didn’t distinguish between the news articles, which were supportive of Kehoe, and the editorials, which questioned her. This was probably a mistake.
I had once again taken for granted that we were a newspaper first. In this race, that was not the case. The community really did not want a fair or impartial publication that challenged the community, they wanted support. Perhaps it is because there really isn’t anywhere else the community can go for this. Support is desired because of the nature of the oppression against the community. On the other hand, sometimes support can come in the form of honesty and truthful dialogue. At least, that is what I believed. In the Chris Kehoe campaign, the only thing that mattered was the election of the first lesbian to office. Kehoe, a respectable leader in the community, made this all the more believable.
As Kehoe’s campaign went forward, I was impressed with her integrity. But her supporters had misplaced loyalties and actually made threats if anyone did not come aboard the campaign. It was this attitude that kept Update, the other major gay publication in the community, from endorsing her early on. In fact, when they finally endorsed her after the primary, they mentioned that the supporters of Kehoe were not acting in her best interests.
Within months of Chris Kehoe’s election, the Gay and Lesbian Times had already criticized her for her confirmation vote of George Stevens to be deputy mayor. Kehoe did the right thing. I hope others in the community will not constantly challenge her leadership.
Confirming Stevens caused Kehoe problems because of the notion that Stevens doesn’t support us. On the other hand, we need to educate the politicians and the community on a wide array of issues that relate to us. Most in our community are close-minded on this type of education. My last attempt at offering a differing view on a subject in the form of education also backfired on me and Bravo!
The day that Connie Youngkin from the Pro-Life Council dropped by my office to place a pro-life ad in Bravo! was the event that really changed my perspective and once again challenged my feelings about the true purpose of a gay publication. This was the question that had bothered me since I began nearly eight years ago. I remember quite clearly the entire dilemma. It was whether we should accept an ad from the Pro-Life Council that spoke against the “Freedom of Choice Act” being proposed in Congress.
Youngkin had received much publicity when she ran for the State Assembly and served time in jail for her protests against abortion clinics. She had displayed a fetus in a jar on a college campus. Bravo! opposed Youngkin in her race against Tricia Hunter in 1990 and Jan Goldsmith in 1992. Given our opposition to Youngkin, I was stunned when I found out she wanted to pay for a full-page advertisement in our publication on behalf of the Pro-Life Council, but we are a newspaper and she was a client.
My feelings on the subject actually seemed irrelevant, and I assumed that the rest of the community should at least see the value of that, regardless of their personal beliefs. The ad sat in the office more than two weeks, and a few staff members asked why we were accepting it. I replied, “Why shouldn’t we accept the ad?” Their answers basically amounted to, “Because..." as if I was to understand automatically. The preconceived notion assumed that if you are gay and you are open about it, there are certain beliefs that you must assume. You must be liberal, you must be non-religious, am you must be pro-choice. Whether these are accurate beliefs or even justified doesn’t come into play.
To some this is an excellent example of intolerance. This appears on the surface to be hypocritical for the gay community. We are learning the language of our oppressors. The Pro-Life ad allowed me to grow as a person. I began to see the fangs of those in the community come out, all in the name of acceptance ant tolerance.
When the ad was published, I was again accused of being homophobic because I merely accepted the ad, which implied that I was not supportive of the community. If you are pro-life then you are automatically homophobic, the logic goes. I accepted the ad, therefore I was pro-life and therefore I, once again, was labeled homophobic. There was actually a campaign in the community to put Bravo! out of business. It didn’t go anywhere, but it did create a headache for me.
My biggest philosophical question for the community was never answered: Whether you like the Pro-Life Council or not, how can we do what we have advocated against for years in the community and discriminate? I made a decision based on the policies of the situation The only reason we would not accept an ad was because it was either sexually explicit or because it was anti-gay. Neither case applied to the ad in question. To arbitrarily discriminate would make us as guilty as those who discriminate against us.
On this issue the Pro-Life Council was more unbiased than the gay community. After all, if they really do not like us, they sought out one of our publications to get their message across Without a doubt, our community would never act this way.
LESSON #19: For a community that preaches tolerance and inclusion, we know all too well how to be intolerant and to discriminate.
By this time I had finally made the decision to enter college. I started at San Diego City College. I loved the campus on which I was serving as an advisor. The more college I experienced, the less interesting the gay ghetto was. I lost nearly all interest in Bravo! and was just going through the motions. College started to challenge me in a way that the community had not. This was a real switch for me emotionally, mentally, and intellectually. I was accomplishing something, and I was being judged on my merits alone, and I was doing great.
Then on the night of October 14, 1993, after judging a lip sync contest at the Brass Rail, I was on my way to my office to pick up some papers before going home. I stopped at a 7-Eleven and encountered two gentleman who asked me for a ride.
As I dropped the first man off and waited for directions to where the second was going, I was confronted by the first man, who extended his hand as if to shake mine and thank me. Then I saw a large spark come out of his hand and felt a sharp pain in my neck, followed by a surge of blood. I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, but I was sure that I wasn’t going to stay around to find out. The second man slammed the passenger’s door shut and said, “Get the fuck out of here,” as he was pulling the first back as if to stop him from firing another shot.
I wasn’t sure of where I was or what I was doing, but I recognized Upas Street and realized that I was close to my friend Michael Clark’s home. As I drove there, I made it a point not to look into the rearview mirror; knowing how queasy my stomach was, I was able to reason that I would probably faint at the wheel if I were to see a hole in my neck. When I got to Michael’s house, I nearly drove up on his sidewalk. I pounded on the door and was greeted by his lover. Skip. He was calm, got Michael, and called the ambulance, which quickly rushed me to Mercy Hospital, where I spent the next five days in intensive care.
When the police arrived at Michael’s house, I was stunned at how much time they spent with the fact I was gay. This fact had come out in the beginning because all over my car were copies of Bravo! in my typical throw-them-in-the-car fashion.
Michael Clark carefully told them that this incident was not gay related at all and that I wasn’t “doing” anything with these individuals, except what I had said. The police suspected more.
The police quizzed Michael, trying to find out the “real" details. The premise was that because the car door window wasn’t broken, I must have been shot outside the car and just made up the story. I heard that and thought, “Who had the time to make up stories when blood was pouring out of your neck?" Then the police said it didn’t smell as if a gun had been fired in the car and that the car wasn’t disturbed in the backseat, challenging my statement that there were two individuals.
Michael Clark said, “Have you seen how messy Tony’s back seat is? How could you tell whether anyone sat there?” After a search, the police did find a bullet shell in the car, which seemed to suggest that I was telling the truth. At that point they went on to ask if it was a hate crime. I pulled out my City of San Diego business card indicating I was a commissioner on the Human Relations Commission and looked up at them and said, “I know what a hate crime is; these individuals didn’t even know I was gay.”
Even as I was rolled into surgery, the officer asked if “at this time you want to change any part of your story.” I blurted out an angry NO! I felt as if I were on trial for something.
The doctors spent hours trying to find the bullet. They cut into both sides of my neck and had no luck locating it. The next time I awoke was on Friday with an uncomfortable tube down my throat. I couldn’t do anything but sleep and think. That is when I decided that I had to make some changes in my life. Sometimes one doesn’t quite know what they are going to change, but they know they must change. I was just lucky to be alive. The doctor finally told me how the bullet entered my neck and actually ended up in my shoulder, where it still lies. At the hospital, I received so many calls that the staff complained and we had to literally set up a hotline of sorts to answer all of the questions.
And strangely enough, I actually needed that time in the hospital, if for nothing else, to break a vicious cycle in my life. By the time I was released from the hospital, I knew what I had to do. I had to move on with my life and begin my trek out of the gay community and Bravo! This was a difficult and painful decision.
My longtime associate Norman Bricker served as the only contact while I was in the hospital. He was thrust into the limelight as the media asked him for comments, and he knew when I got out that I had changed. Only he and Queen Eddie knew what I was faced with. They both had met with me and encouraged me to do what was best for me and not to take anything else into consideration except my future. I didn’t receive this type of real support from anyone else that I had confided in. I appreciated their counsel over the next six weeks that it took me to make the final decision.
LESSON #20: It was time to challenge myself and to move out of the comfort of the “gay ghetto.”
Ironically, when the final decision was made to leave, Michael Portantino called to make an offer to purchase the publication. Somehow for me, even returning the call would have been a form of abandoning my principles. He continued to call daily and I ignored them all. I decided that as painful as it was, I wanted to close the paper in my way and let the staff know about it in advance. The last week Norman and I told everyone that we were closing down with the next issue.
I spent the entire weekend on a final editorial, as I had so much to cover over the last seven years of publishing Bravo! I was depressed, angry, and frustrated, but I didn’t want all of that to come out in my final words. All the columnists and writers had some parting words about what the publication meant to them, except Nicole.
The final week had come, and I was busy at city hall with the AIDS Memorial proposal, which had just come before the full city council for a vote. The last production night at Bravo! I had to leave around 2:()() a.m. because I had early classes. I didn’t see my copy of the paper until Friday morning, when Norman called to tell me that my editorial had been extensively tampered with. When I read the changed version, I broke into tears. I felt as if I’d been shot again.
Was I going to spend the money to reprint the issue the way it was intended, or was I going to save the money and just write this incident off as well? My decision was made. I was going to print the issue the way I wanted to. I wasn’t going to look at this paper five years from now and regret it because of my editorial. I borrowed the money from Norman and immediately reprinted the last issue.
All of my friends pitched in to help. The art director was in on the ploy, and we suspected others as well. It didn’t seem to matter to me. This was a chapter of my life that was about to close, and I was pleased that it was closing the way I planned.
Channel 10 and the Union-Tribune covered Bravo!'s closing. The following week the gay publications did. The Update was kind, saying that we didn’t always agree but they respected our positions. The Voice was gracious about my contributions to the community. It was kind and heartwarming to me. Of course, the Gay and Lesbian Times was critical and negative, calling us right-wing and negative.
As I reflect on the entire incident, it was indicative of what I had built for myself. A definite reputation, whether good or bad, for being a lightning rod on many issues. The community had changed. I had made my contribution. I just didn’t realize that lightning would strike at my most vulnerable moment as I was closing my publication down.
Having dedicated the last eight years of my life to better so many lives, I knew that this is not how I would be remembered. I decided that I had an opportunity as I turned 30 years old to gain from experience and grow stronger as an individual. My future was going to be thought out carefully. Whether it be in politics or in the media, I was going to look forward to my personal growth from my experiences. Like it or not, I had to move forward in the background to achieve the goals I am seeking. This was a situation I was unaccustomed to. The immediate gratifications of the past were not enough for the long-term happiness and sense of accomplishment that I had sought.
LESSON #21: Being gay is only part of my life. Much more of my identity as an individual lies ahead.