Intactivist Jonathon Conte dead at 34
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A gay San Francisco man who for years spoke out against male circumcision killed himself last week, according to his partner.
Jonathon Conte, 34, who went to LGBT Pride and other events and rode his bicycle carrying signs with slogans like "Got genital rights?" had made intactivism "his life's work," said Christopher Holden, 42, Mr. Conte's partner of five years.
Since Mr. Conte's death Monday, May 9 in their Alamo Square apartment, intactivists – people who oppose cutting the foreskin from penises – have expressed "so much support," Holden said, and "that helps, in a way, to know how many people cared for him."
In a YouTube video posted in October 2011, Mr. Conte indicated what drove his work was concern for others.
In the video, he talked about how he learned about circumcision when he saw a picture of an intact penis for the first time when he was about 14.
Mr. Conte said that's when he realized part of his body "had been cut away from me." That led to feelings of "incompleteness, both physically and sexually," and he decided, "If I as a victim, and other victims, don't speak out against this practice, it will continue, and more men will continue to experience the painful emotions I've had to deal with."
Holden, who described Mr. Conte as "really sweet," and "caring and vulnerable," also said he was "very deliberate" and a methodical planner.
That was sadly exemplified last Monday.
Mr. Conte made him pancakes that morning, which was "unusual," but "he seemed fine," Holden said. He recalled how his partner had also given him a "concerned" smile, which seemed a little odd.
"He was saying goodbye, essentially," Holden realized later.
When he got home from work that day, he went upstairs, played with the couple's cat, and wondered where Mr. Conte was.
Then, he said, "I heard some soft music coming from the bedroom."
He saw Mr. Conte's feet, and at first he thought he was asleep.
But Holden soon saw that there was a bag over Mr. Conte's head, with a tube that led to a helium tank.
"I went over there in shock and ripped it off and tried to do CPR, but of course it was too late," he said. "It's very fast acting."
Holden said Mr. Conte had never given any indication he was thinking of killing himself, but he'd probably been planning it for "quite some time."
"There was a side of him he kept very closely guarded," Holden said. He indicated Mr. Conte hadn't complained of major troubles, but "he was using up all his money" so he could devote his time to intactivism, and "he was too proud to ask for money."
Holden hasn't found a note, but he said that's "not really his personality. I think it speaks for itself."
The medical examiner's office hasn't confirmed the cause and manner of Mr. Conte's death.
Lloyd Schofield, 64, of San Francisco, credited Mr. Conte with building up the movement in the Bay Area.
Schofield was the proponent of a 2011 ballot measure that would have criminalized anyone practicing circumcision on boys under the age of 18 within San Francisco. Mr. Conte "was our number one signature gatherer," Schofield said. The measure was removed from the ballot by a judge.
Despite Mr. Conte's enthusiasm, Schofield said, "He said to me many, many times, 'People just don't care.' ... I think he'd just given it his all."
Schofield said friends know where Mr. Conte's bike is, but they're looking for the trailer Mr. Conte had attached to it, which regularly bore anti-circumcision signs.
"We strongly suspect he left that trailer in a very visible place so people could see it, as one last attempt to educate," he said.
In an email to the Bay Area Reporter , Cornelius Washington, 57, who writes for the paper and is also an intactivist, said Mr. Conte had "advocated for children's autonomy to be free of mutilation and restrictions. ... San Francisco has lost a very kind and special man."
Paul Tortora, 60, of San Francisco, an ally of the intactivists, said Mr. Conte "was just a lovely man, just one of those unusual people you meet once and you remember their smile for hours later."
Tortora, who said he's "genuinely heartbroken," added, "I know how much he could have done, how much more he had ahead of him."
A memorial is set to start at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at the SF Eagle, 398 12th Street.