News Briefs

Bob Ross, Gay Pioneer and Publisher, Dead at 69

Bob Ross, the publisher of the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) who played a key role in organizing the political power of the gay community in San Francisco, has died of complications from diabetes.

The late Harvey Milk, a city supervisor, once named Ross as his potential successor on the Board, but when Milk was assassinated in 1978, Mayor Dianne Feinstein passed him over because he had just been elected “Emperor of San Francisco,” a honorific title bestowed by a drag queen organization.

Ross founded the BAR while working at the now defunct PS restaurant on Polk Street, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. He and friend Paul Bentley felt gay folks “needed better information than that provided by the gossip sheets found in bars.” Since most information in the community was passed around in bars, they named it the BAR.

Veteran activist Cleve Jones told the Chronicle, “I don’t think Harvey Milk could have done what he did without Bob’s support.” Ross was considered a political centrist and endorsed Gavin Newsom, the Democrat, over Matt Gonzalez, the Green leftist, in the recent mayoral election that Newsom narrowly won. But in the early days of the movement, Ross founded the Tavern Guild that helped gay bar workers end the system of payoffs to the cops.

Rev. Cecil Williams, a black ally, recalled a time 40 years ago when the police raided a gay ball and “he and other ministers offered themselves to be arrested instead of the partiers,” the Chronicle reported. That led to a longtime black-gay alliance in San Francisco.

In addition to his work on the newspaper, Ross served many local gay and AIDS charities including the AIDS Emergency Fund, Meals on Wheels, and the Federation of Gay Games. He was also a member of the Golden Gate Bridge District Board and a trustee of the San Francisco Ballet.

Ross was a native New Yorker, but moved to San Francisco in 1956 after serving in the navy. A memorial service is being planned next month at the Herbst Theater.

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30 Years Since Homosexuality was “Mental Illness”

Dr. Jack Drescher, an out gay shrink in New York, told the Philadelphia Gay News, “It took 20 years for that decision to take effect… for gay people to be open and to be seen as responsible people in the world of psychiatry.” Dr. Emery Hetrick, a psychiatrist who co-founded the Hetrick-Martin Institute for lesbian and gay youth in 1979, staffed a booth for gay psychiatrists at their convention back in 1978 when the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists was founded.

Veteran gay activist Kameny, 78, reached at his Washington home by Gay City News, took this historic anniversary as an occasion for reflection: “When we initiated gay activism and militancy, here in Washington, D. C., in 1961, we were faced with a massive assault of unrelieved negativism which obstructed the achievement of the equality and basic dignity to which we were entitled and which was and remains our goal. We were allegedly criminal, sinful, and mentally and emotionally sick and disordered. We commenced disposing of each separately, packaging up the process, in 1968, with the coining of ‘Gay is Good.’ Once we had determined that there was no factual basis for the mental illness allegation, we commenced working on the psychiatrists. It took us ten years, but we succeeded on December 15, 1973 when, as the ‘keepers of mental illness’ the American Psychiatric Association formally cured us all, en masse.

Now in 2003, we are no longer criminal, we are increasingly viewed as virtuous rather than as sinful, and we can joyfully celebrate the 30th anniversary of the cure which, in one fell swoop, removed previously insurmountable obstacles, made all the rest possible, and has made our situation in 2003 comfortable beyond our wildest dreams of 1961.

Kameny and Gittings went to the 1971 APA convention to protest its anti-gay stance, with Kameny seizing the microphone to denounce them. In 1972, they had a booth called “Gay Proud and Healthy” and Kameny danced at their banquet with a local male activist. By 1994, the APA presented awards to the gay activists for their pioneering work.

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Countywide Contractors Bill Passed In Seattle

King County, which includes Seattle, has followed the city’s example and will now require businesses who sign contracts of $25,000 or above to allow each employee “to designate a legally domiciled member of the employee’s household as being eligible for spousal equivalent benefits.” Similar legislation has been enacted in San Francisco, Oakland, and the state of California.

New York City’s pending Equal Benefits Bill, which had its first hearing last month and is opposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, requires businesses, with contracts of $100,000 or above, to treat domestic partners of employees the same as spouses. The EBB, introduced by Councilmember Christine Quinn, the out lesbian Chelsea Democrat, has a veto-proof majority of 38 sponsors and is expected to pass in January or February of 2004.

A study on San Francisco’s 1997 contractors’ law, the first in the nation, was just concluded by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Studies in Massachusetts. The group found the law caused 3,000 employers to offer domestic partner benefits, insuring an additional 26,000 people. The increased costs to the city were estimated at one tenth of one percent or less. The report also noted the city’s “flexibility” in helping contractors comply with the law.

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Episcopal Bishop Stalls on Blessing Gay Unions

Rt. Rev. Rob O’Neill, the new Episcopal bishop of Colorado, is following the lead of New York’s Bishop Mark Sisk in not instituting a diocesan same-sex union rite. Both men say that a resolution passed at the church’s national convention last summer did not provide for such a diocesan option even though it tacitly recognized some instances of local parishes celebrating same-sex union liturgies. O’Neill told the Denver Post that language in the resolution calling for the establishment of a national liturgy was removed, and confusion over what was intended became confused. “The spirit of that was to make it a moderate statement, but people didn’t realize the door had been opened in phraseology,” he said, indicating that he wouldn’t act until the national church addresses the issue at the next national convention three years hence.

O’Neill, moving cautiously on an issue that has split the Episcopal Church, promised to establish a task force “to weigh sexual questions,” but not to take any action on such matters for at least six months.

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One-Quarter of Americans Say No to Gay Candidates

A new poll from Scripps-Howard found that 27 percent of Americans would not vote for a candidate who was openly gay or lesbian. Out gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the news service that when he came out in 1987, the percentage of people who said they would be less likely to vote for him was 22. “That was a higher percentage than this poll is showing in the Northeast now,” he said, where 19 percent of those polled expressed trouble with voting for a gay candidate.

The survey also found 42 percent of Americans “strongly opposed” to same-sex marriage, 10 percent “somewhat opposed,” and 27 percent strongly or mildly in favor. On civil unions, 36 percent supported them, 44 percent opposed, and 20 percent were undecided.

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German Memorial to Gay Victims of Nazis

The German Parliament has appropriated $610,000 for a memorial to commemorate gays and lesbians persecuted by the Nazis, the BBC reported, noting that “50,000 gays were branded criminals and degenerates by the third Reich and 10,000 to 15,000 went to concentration camps, from which few ever returned.” Only last year did Germany officially pardon gays persecuted under the Nuremberg laws. The memorial will be situated along Tiergarten Park in Berlin near a major upcoming Holocaust memorial.

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How Sir Ian Gets to Sleep

Ian McKellan, in the U.S. to promote the latest release of the “Lord of the Rings” series in which he plays Gandalf, told The New York Times that when he stays in a hotel, he routinely takes the Gideon Bible out of the drawer and rips out the hateful passage from Leviticus condemning homosexual activity. Leviticus 18:22 calls lying “with a man as with a woman” an “abomination” and orders for the perpetrators to be “put to death.” McKellan said it is a ritual “that lets him sleep more soundly.”

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Crazy Nannies Going Straight

Longtime lesbian bar Crazy Nanny’s in Greenwich Village is going to be turned into a “hetero-friendly neighborhood watering hole called Luke and Leroy’s,” the New York Post’s “Page Six” reported. The owner, Elaine Romagnoli, a lesbian, said that catering to the current clientele, who are mostly African American lesbians, wasn’t paying the bills.

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Latest Kushner Show to Broadway

Tony Kushner’s new musical “Caroline, or Change,” now running at the Public Theatre under the direction of George Wolfe, may be transferring to Broadway. Michael Riedel of the New York Post reports that the creators are “rifling through some of their friends’ deep pockets” in search of $6 million for the move, thus far having raised half that.

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Many Gay Men Unaware of Hepatitis Risk

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association surveyed gay men at pride parades this year and found that despite being at high risk, many men had not obtained available vaccines for hepatitis A and B. Forty percent of those surveyed lacked immunity to A and 32 percent to B. Those who were out to their doctors were much more likely to have gotten the vaccines.

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Go to Jail, Get HIV Test

New York City is making available to city inmates an H.I.V. test that produces results in 30 minutes. The New York Times reports that as much as 20 percent of the city’s jail population has HIV. Bob Berding, who runs the corrections unit at the Department of Health, told the newspaper that eight percent of inmates tested did not know they had HIV and that many had in the past turned down the chance at getting a test which took longer to yield results “because they wouldn’t be around for the answer.” The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided the city test kits to last six months, after which time the city will purchase its own.

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