It was never boring …
Published Thursday, 13-Mar-2008 in issue 1055
For those of you who know Michael Portantino, you know some of his tales have grown taller than him. He got quite a kick out of telling one about me that perhaps had more truth to it than some of his other stories. He used to say I arrived at the Gay & Lesbian Times’ office right off the bus from Indiana, hay in my hair, wearing a pink flowered dress. For those who know me, he went too far to be believable when he added the dress.
The truth is that I did have a great deal to learn about GLBT history and politics. I still consider myself incredibly fortunate to have found such knowledgeable and generous teachers as a new arrival in the big city. It was at the Gay & Lesbian Times that I received a real and enduring education.
Something I came to understand over time about the Gay & Lesbian Times was that while it is a private business, it is also a community trust. I remember attending meeting after meeting of various community organizations to talk about the paper, and how to make it better. There were, of course, frustrations about real or perceived slights in coverage. What was clear, though, was that people would engage in these conversations because it mattered – it mattered to have a voice in this publication, it mattered to be seen and represented here, it mattered to have your story told here. I believe it still does.
While there were many stories and columns that meant a great deal to me during my time at the paper – some profoundly personal – there are three that more likely stand out in the memory of others from that time period.
The first was a nearly year-long effort to make sense of the administrative mess at AIDS Foundation San Diego. Information was hard to come by – sources were reluctant at best and hostile at worst. I still very clearly recall the day Ben Dillingham, who had agreed to sort through the mess and see if it was salvageable, announced that there was “not a nickel left” to continue to operate. Even with all the months of build up, it was still shocking, still heartbreaking. But it didn’t come out of the blue, because of the reporting of the Gay & Lesbian Times, and particularly Janet Saidi. And I believe the devastating experience of losing that community institution has changed the way we hold our organizations accountable, made people care how things are being managed and made it more acceptable for the community’s newspaper to ask those tough questions.
The second story, which garnered national and even international exposure, was Andrew Cunanan’s killing spree in the summer of 1997. It impacted the local community in various ways – some people were fearful that he would return to San Diego and that their lives were at risk, others bent over backwards to speak to the unprecedented throngs of media that descended on San Diego, even if they didn’t know him. There was fear our LGBT Pride event would not go on safely while he was still on the loose. Soon FBI agents were in our offices, talking to our staff about what we knew, etc. It was a truly unique experience, and one that raised many questions internally about the ethics and appropriateness of a news organization assisting law enforcement or becoming involved with the investigation.
The third was the 1996 Republican National Convention, which took place in San Diego. While there was the typical in-fighting associated with how best to respond, and who would or should speak at the various protests, to someone still fairly new to the scene, this type of collective community response was fascinating. It was nothing short of electric to have been down in our “free speech zone,” a fenced-off area as far away from the delegates as they could put us, and see our community speak out with great dignity and passion.
In addition to the news stories of the day, the GLT’s weekly editorial, now a standard, took flight during my tenure, and I was proud to create the paper’s first editorial board, composed of a diverse array of respected community leaders. I gave the GLT my heart and soul and was rewarded with the opportunity to not only learn more about our community, I also met some of the most incredible people – some of whom I’m still proud to call friends and some of whom I dearly miss.
Congratulations to the Gay & Lesbian Times on this milestone anniversary, and special congratulations and thanks to Michael and all those who I had the privilege to work with. It was exhausting and exhilarating; it was unlike anything I’d done before or since. And it was never, ever boring.