AIDS foundation's Giuliano pens memoir
by Matthew S. Bajko
In an intensely personal memoir published this week, San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Neil Giuliano opens up about his struggles to accept being gay, contemplating suicide while at college, and how he finally escaped the shackles of the closet while serving as the elected mayor of Tempe, Arizona.
Talking to the Bay Area Reporter by phone from his home in Tempe, where he conducted two days of interviews with local reporters to promote his book, Giuliano discussed not only the revelations in The Campaign Within (Magnus Books, $24.95) but also about his future ambitions.
"Most people who have served in public life are pretty guarded about their personal life. I wanted to put it out there and wanted to tell my full story and that is what I did," he said. "I am in a position where I can tell mine and tell it fully without holding back."
His is the first memoir to be written by an openly gay elected official.
"Telling our stories is what changes hearts and minds. There have not been many stories of openly gay elected officials that have been fully told," he said.
Giuliano, 55, is graduating next Thursday from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce's Leadership San Francisco training. The program aims to develop what the chamber calls "community trustees" who are concerned with the well being of San Francisco.
Asked if he was interested in running for political office, either in San Francisco or back in Arizona, Giuliano did not rule it out.
"I could get elected to anything I wanted to in Tempe, but I wouldn't want to do that. I have a wonderful job," he said. "Being mayor of San Francisco is a great gig, I wouldn't mind that."
Yet when told Mayor Ed Lee won't be termed out until 2020 (should he seek and win re-election), he doubted he would seek the seat at that time.
The single Giuliano moved to San Francisco in late 2010 after being hired to lead the AIDS foundation. While he remains registered to vote in Arizona and will serve as an alternate Obama delegate from the state at the Democratic National Convention later this summer, Giuliano spends the majority of his time in the Bay Area.
"I am down here once a month for a long weekend to check on the house," he said of his visits to Tempe. "The vast majority of my time I spend in San Francisco."
As for continuing to maintain his permanent residency in Arizona, Giuliano said it is a political consideration.
"No one needs me to vote in northern California. My political influence is pretty nil there," said Giuliano, who was a Republican while an elected official in Tempe but later switched to being a Democrat.
Book delves into the personal
Giuliano grew up Catholic in a large Italian American family in Bloomfield, New Jersey, the second oldest of four siblings. His youngest brother, John, is also gay and now lives in Key West.
His sister, Kim, and her adopted daughter, Jia, live in San Ramon, while the third brother, Gregory , lives with his family in Rancho Santa Margarita in southern California.
Giuliano was fascinated with politics from an early age and worked on his father's successful campaigns for city council as well as a losing bid in 1971 for mayor. The elder Neil Giuliano was a former Marine and a moderate Republican.
An unpopular student in high school, Giuliano writes that his peers never hazed him and credits joining Key Club as his saving grace. In 1973 he won election as a district treasurer for the statewide Key Club organization.
Shortly thereafter his family ended up moving to the Phoenix area while he stayed behind and lived with his grandmother. He would head west in 1974 after graduation to attend Arizona State University.
There, distraught over his attraction to men, Giuliano contemplated taking his own life. He writes of one evening standing at a busy intersection in Tempe ready to walk in front of oncoming traffic.
It would be decades later, following the death of a friend to AIDS, that Giuliano would finally come to terms with his sexual orientation.
After a string of jobs on campus at ASU, Giuliano decided to run for city council and won his seat in 1990 at the age of 33. Four years later he ran for mayor and ended up serving in the post for a decade.
But he was living in a glass closet. During his first mayoral run Giuliano received threatening letters and phone calls from people he believed knew he was gay.
It wouldn't be until after he ran for re-election unopposed in 1996 that his being gay would begin to bubble up publicly. That summer, wanting to handle his coming out on his own terms, Giuliano would make history when he finally acknowledged the truth a month after then Republican Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe's coming out.
He gave the hometown paper the exclusive, which ran a banner story under the headline "Mayor Says He's Gay – Feared Inquisition."
The revelation didn't hinder his political career, as he won re-election to a third term as mayor in 1998. And that June he marched with the Log Cabin Republicans in San Francisco's Pride Parade.
In 2001 he even survived an attempt to recall him from office that was whipped up by Giuliano telling a local reporter that the Boy Scouts should not receive city money due to their anti-gay policies.
Nor could his opponents harm him through a court challenge on Tempe lengthening mayoral terms to four years. He briefly sought being hired to lead the Human Rights Campaign, which in 2003 was looking for a new president.
Yet he did not want to leave office early. Instead he landed the job of president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in 2005, in which he served until 2009.
He first started work on his book while mayor, then returned to it after he left GLAAD. He finished it last October.
"The reason for the book is to help people see you can just be yourself, let it go, and embrace change," he said.
All of the proceeds from his book will benefit agencies Giuliano has worked for or supported in his career: SFAF, GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and an ASU scholarship program.
Giuliano is working with Books Inc. in the Castro on a book reading for sometime in July.
SF City Hall to go pink
Next weekend San Francisco City Hall will be bathed in pink and lavender lighting in conjunction with the city's annual Pride celebration.
In May the Political Notebook had floated the idea of seeing the city's historic governmental center awash in pink or the colors of the rainbow as another way to celebrate the annual LGBT event.
A citizens committee in Los Angeles had a similar notion, as last weekend vodka company Ciroc sponsored having pink lights on the city's City Hall during its Pride weekend. The pylons at the city's airport also were given a nighttime purple hue.
According to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 's office, it is the first time the building has been bathed in "Lavender Lights," as the project was dubbed, in honor of LGBT Heritage Month.
This week Lee's office confirmed that the nighttime lighting color scheme at San Francisco's City Hall will sport pink and lavender for the first time in honor of Pride. The switch will go live Friday, June 22 (coincidentally the same night L.A.'s lights will be turned off) and remain through Sunday, June 24, the day of the Pride parade and festival in the Civic Center.
Next Monday, June 18 the mayor's LGBT Pride flag raising will take place. The public is encouraged to gather in front of City Hall's Polk Street steps at 4:45 p.m. for the annual ceremony. A speaking program will follow on the mayor's balcony inside of City Hall.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the fight heating up again in the Castro over chain stores.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail email@example.com.