B.A.R. readers share their memories

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday March 31, 2021
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A 1993 issue of the B.A.R. with "The Betrayer" inserted in the caption of then-President Bill Clinton's photo. Photo: B.A.R. Archive
A 1993 issue of the B.A.R. with "The Betrayer" inserted in the caption of then-President Bill Clinton's photo. Photo: B.A.R. Archive

A couple of weeks ago, we asked Bay Area Reporter readers to share some of their memories of the newspaper as it turns 50. Here are their stories.

Remembering Mike Salinas

I freelanced for the late B.A.R. news editor Mike Salinas in the 1990s, sending him political and AIDS-related stories from Los Angeles. As a former mainstream journalist, I often argued with him when he included activist terms under my byline; he once inserted "The Betrayer" in a Bill Clinton photo caption. But we worked well together.

Salinas was also insightful. He called me an "environmental reporter" because I wrote about fundraisers in a "you-are-there" style. He was right. I imagined my reader as a homebound person with AIDS who had tickets for the event but was too sick to go. I imagined a partner or friend reading him my coverage so that a person living with AIDS could picture himself there. Mike got a chuckle over the fashion fundraisers. One time I thought Sandra Bernhard was wearing a mustard yellow shag-carpet jacket strutting down the runaway. Luckily, I was seated next to a gay guy from the Gap who said she was wearing gay fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi's latest, then explained who Mizrahi was and why the jacket was cool. Salinas and I made a good team putting that story together. I still think of myself as an environment reporter. Thanks, Mike and CONGRATS B.A.R.!

Karen Ocamb

Los Angeles, California

B.A.R.'s first full-time reporter shares his experiences

I was 18 when I picked up my first copy of the Bay Area Reporter, just a few months after moving to San Francisco in 1971.

It's hard to believe that next year I will be 70 years old — and that once upon a time, a couple of decades and some years ago, I was the newspaper's first full-time staff reporter — followed by a stellar line of writers and assistant editors.

I had worked for the Tenderloin Times, a community monthly, for three years, and briefly, for the San Francisco Sentinel when then-B.A.R. editor Brett Averill called me up and offered me a freelance gig at the paper.

I remember my first story — a controversy in the straight Black community over the distribution of free condoms by local activists. Prominent figures had denounced the effort as genocide.

Just as I was settling in, the 1989 earthquake threw everything into an uproar but, even with the power down for several days, the B.A.R. staff worked endless hours to put the paper into the hands of readers.

There were so many stories — from important political stories like the Lavender Sweep of lesbian and gay members to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and other offices to health issues such as AIDS, mental health, and the then-growing scourge of methamphetamine use among gay men.

I covered crime and wrote crime stories about gay people being killed — and killing — gay bashings, legal issues like sexual abuse, domestic violence, problems with nonprofits serving our communities, and problems with government responses to LGBTQIA. I tried to keep a special eye on poverty, mental illness, and homelessness in our community. I was well versed in all three from painful personal experience — and knew many, many others impacted as well.

Your basic hard-boiled urban news.

Times change, communities' needs change, and so do writers. It was an important time of community building. To be frank, I made my fair share of mistakes, most duly noted and corrected by the editors. I also burned some bridges along the way that I still deeply regret.

Historians will decide what importance and value and impact my reporting had. It's all there in the archives.

When it was time for me to go, I knew it and I left without a lot of fanfare. It wasn't about celebrity or stardom for me it was about community service.

I truly gave it my best shot.

I will forever deeply grateful for the opportunity.

Dennis Conkin is a former journalist. A disabled artist and abstract expressionist painter, he lives in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.

Missing Mister Marcus

I most miss the weekly columns penned by the late Mister Marcus (aka Marcus Hernandez) wherein one would eagerly read about the dish, dirt, debauchery, and doings of those in the community at large and the leather community in particular. Getting your name in the column of the "Herb Caen of the B.A.R." was seen as a badge of honor for anyone who was anyone in the San Francisco gay scene at the time. And NOT getting your name in his column was more devastating than a mention! It is sad that today so many people are unaware of Madam M's sway over the city back in the day. Perhaps it's time to bring "The Best of Mister Marcus" to the B.A.R. at 50.

Patrick Batt

San Francisco

To the B.A.R. I say, thank you

In 1988 at the age of 30 I moved to San Francisco from New York to attend graduate school in psychology. Shortly after, I started working in HIV prevention at UCSF.

The B.A.R. was an important part of my life on a weekly basis. While the articles were interesting my go-to pages were the obituaries and advertisements for massage. As beautiful as San Francisco was, for me the 10 years between 1988-1998 were especially dark, as the community was being decimated by AIDS. I found receiving massage (practically on a weekly basis) was a great way to cope with all of the death and dying. I am forever grateful to those men.

Then came the day on August 13, 1998 where the front page in bold letters read: "No obits." How great a feeling that was to begin to see a glimmer of hope.

Adding to my psychology background I also started doing massage, and like many gay men moved to Palm Springs in 2003.

Once again, thank you B.A.R. for helping me get through a very difficult time in San Francisco.

Michael Crosby

Cathedral City, California

Recalling a call to action

"If this article doesn't scare the shit out of you, we're in real trouble. If this article doesn't rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get."

With that figurative scream on the front page of the Bay Area Reporter, in the March 17, 1983 reprint of "1,112 and Counting," Larry Kramer sent out that terrifying wake-up call for AIDS awareness and action at a time when the disease was rapidly spreading, and rapidly deadly. That article, and many more in all the years since, when the B.A.R. published news and information that others didn't or didn't do as well, have helped save my life and that of my friends and our community and our world. And keep us aware of a lot of important things, AIDS and beyond.

As a contributor and someone whose work has been covered by B.A.R., I'm glad the paper has helped alert people to important concerns in my area of particular interest, including the privacy threats that our city's library unfortunately has underestimated. We wrote about the threats to privacy that BiblioCommons installation has brought, and I know that it has been read when I get the occasional contact from people, sometimes quite far away, who appreciate, and want to contact, an independent critic of a range of library activities.

I've also greatly appreciated David Lamble's reviews of the offerings at the LGBTQ film festival, helping anyone interested to find the movies most likely to be of interest. And the B.A.R.'s current affairs and cultural coverage have helped me tremendously to know and understand what is going on in our city and beyond and where I might go for pleasure, to do good, to maintain an understanding of our world.

Thank you, B.A.R.! I hope you may last not just another 50 years, but just never stop!

With all best wishes for your, and our, collective future.

Peter Warfield

San Francisco

David Fink. Photo: Courtesy David Fink  

Flipping through the pages
In July 1979, I arrived in San Francisco a naïve 20-year-old, melon-assed, slim blond boy looking to find acceptance and community. Day one while getting a burrito at Polk and Sutter streets, I came across the B.A.R. and saw headlines about gay events. Flipping to the back and seeing all the personal ads, I felt this was information that was relevant to me and the community I was now part of. Through the B.A.R., I found art, social, and political events that led to meeting friends — the articles were insightful and passionate — like Mike Hippler's writings, and through the B.A.R. I was introduced to bars, clubs, and a number of other venues that expanded my, umm, social network.

Over the years, whether looking for a good time, an apartment, a job, an electrician, contractor, or a Realtor — my first stop was and is the B.A.R. The B.A.R has been a great resource to help me keep connected to the community and if the walls of boredom or loneliness close in, I know I can easily pick up a copy to find something to do. As an aside, I am not the David Fink who in the past has sent political commentaries to the B.A.R.; that is another David Fink — who I happen to know.

David Fink
San Francisco

Jokie X Wilson. Photo: Courtesy Jokie X Wilson  

The paper as a forum
From the time I first visited San Francisco in 1986, I saw the B.A.R. as a forum in which I would like to be involved. I was living in the Washington, D.C. area at the time, moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1988, and planned to move to San Francisco in 1990 to make good trouble. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake upset those plans and I was not able to move here permanently until 1997. From then until now, I have been mentioned in a few articles, but the two that stand out for me were the review of my art show at Magnet and later my shenanigans involving the then-new pissoir in Mission Dolores Park. I felt honored to have my art show reviewed in the B.A.R. and to have such eloquent writing document it. I later enjoyed having my picture published as I advocated for joyful bladder relief. I appreciated the noting of my efforts over the years to oversee the San Francisco Pride board elections. Your support has meant the world to me! I wish you continued success!

Jokie X Wilson
San Francisco

A connection
I moved to SF in 1985 — pre-internet and during the worst of the AIDS crisis. From the start of those challenging years, the B.A.R. was a great source of gay-related news and connection to the community. The events and groups I discovered in its pages were pivotal in meeting real people who shared my values and gave me support. One thing I recall vividly: after reading about the upcoming "Gay Day" at Angel Island sponsored by Front Runners, I joined the fun even though I wasn't a runner. For the first time in my life I felt I was surrounded by friends, though I knew almost nobody there. I found myself completely relaxed, comfortable in public — a feeling of true liberation and connection with others like me. For that and all the other important news, I'm grateful to the B.A.R. May its voice and mission continue to bring us together!

Steve Share
San Francisco

Chester Chin. Photo: Courtesy Chester Chin  

I remember the day my boyfriend called me at work to tell me that Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk had been assassinated at City Hall. Every week the B.A.R., with its articles and editorials, attempted to ease our pain and make sense of how this could have happened in our beautiful city. As a gay Asian American I'm still astounded that I was able to survive the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. I remember how shocked I was when I recognized someone I had slept with in the obituaries! I remember the racism I encountered when I frequented the various bars in the Castro. Your paper covered this topic in several issues, regarding the door policies at an infamous Castro bar. Ironically, it was at this very establishment years later that I picked up and fell in love with my current husband. KARMA! Employed as a commercial artist and loving pop culture, the entertainment section has always been my favorite. After reading about television shows and movies with gay characters, I would make certain to watch them and recommend to others. I have saved clippings of LGBTQ film reviews so I won't forget them. Thank you, Bay Area Reporter.

Chester Chin
San Francisco

Wayne Friday, left, and Harvey Milk on election night 1977. Photo: Collection of Mark Leno  

Remembering Wayne Friday
No celebration of the B.A.R.'s 50 historic years would be complete without remembering the late Wayne Friday, who wrote the paper's political column for over 35 years. Every San Francisco candidate fiercely pursued Friday's endorsement, which was a powerful one.

Harvey Milk handed his B.A.R. column to Friday once he won his supervisorial seat in 1977. This photo was taken the night of his victory.

Though the "Milk" film made no mention of him, Friday was Milk's best friend with whom he shared dinner the night before the assassinations.

Friday was my dear friend who is greatly missed by all those who knew and admired him. He and the B.A.R. were perfect partners.

Heartfelt congratulations B.A.R. for an astounding half-century of nurturing and advancing our community with your groundbreaking journalism. Thank you.

Mark Leno
Former Supervisor, Assemblyman, and State Senator
San Francisco

'Raised' by the B.A.R.
I'm 54, almost the same age as this publication. I discovered the B.A.R. in the late 1980s as a newly out college student hanging around Cafe Flore. The first time I read it, I remember being surprised by both the diversity and divisiveness within my newfound community. I thought sharing a sexuality meant we'd all get along. Pre-internet, papers like the B.A.R. were one of the only ways for us to find one another.

When the AIDS crisis hit, our papers became truly essential, reporting on the crisis way before anyone else cared. In addition to measuring the human toll (so many, many obituaries), the B.A.R. ran stories on protests, treatment, culture, life-saving stuff. Our homegrown paper rallied us into action and offered a place to reflect and mourn.

As the world whirled on and the internet exploded, the B.A.R. felt a bit quaint and maybe a tad less relevant. I'm certainly guilty of taking it for granted at times. Yet I still reflexively grab a copy when I find myself wandering through the Castro. Only now, I'm a grumpy, old queen who worries. Everything has changed, positively in some regards and not enough in others. What hasn't changed, for me anyway, is a belief we still need one another and this sleepy little "bar rag" continues to be a beacon for the idea of community. Thank you, B.A.R., for keeping that light burning.

Eric Wallner
San Francisco

The luckiest
LGBTQ people with 50 years of the Bay Area Reporter's service to LGBTQ people are the luckiest LGBTQ people in the world.

Reese Aaron Isbell
San Francisco Rent Board
San Francisco

John Caldera stands next to a bust of Harvey Milk in San Francisco City Hall. Photo: Courtesy John Caldera  

Happy anniversary, baby
I got you on my mind. But seriously, as a San Francisco veteran and longtime reader of the B.A.R., congratulations on your milestone anniversary.

I have always appreciated your coverage of the multitude and many-sided issues pertaining to our LGBTQ veterans and the military.

Furthermore, I commend you on your in-depth coverage of Chelsea Manning, a modern day American war hero and persecuted member of our community.

Congratulations once again — happy 50th!

John Caldera
Past President, SF Veterans Affairs Commission
San Francisco

No obit for the B.A.R.
On a cold Wednesday evening in the summer of 1995, the former B.A.R. editor Mike Salinas and I were smoking a joint in the backyard of the Lone Star. He'd put the paper to bed and we chatted about the next day's issue.

He lamented that many in the paper's audience would read it from back to front. Those were the days of erotic photos of sex workers of all colors of the rainbow and kinkster scenes, and promises of large endowments in the sex section.

Salinas also talked with pride at bringing investigative practices he admired in The Nation to what many dismissively referred to as a bar rag, which it was and a whole lot more.

The salary of Pat Christen as executive director of the SF AIDS Foundation and oversight of city contracts with HIV service providers were two areas of interest he committed to investigate.

With a dedicated staff, tips from dedicated muckrakers, ahem, and hearings at City Hall organized through then-supervisor Tom Ammiano's office, Salinas raised the bar on gay investigative journalism that rippled out to other gay papers and captured the attention of the mainstream media and political institutions.

The global impact then and now of the famous "No obits" cover and headline is a testament to Salinas, the B.A.R. and we, the queer people.

Michael Petrelis
San Francisco

Shout out to 2 columnists
Looking back over the last 50 years (well, 44 years in my case since I came to San Francisco in 1976), I should like to give a shout out for two of the many colorful columnists who have graced the pages of B.A.R.: Paul-Francis Hartmann and John Karr.

Hartmann wrote a column, "The Men in My Life," in the late 1970s. It provided a romantic insight for young gays coming of age to an older generation and what they had endured. What's more, it was well written, graceful, and a poetic counterpoint to Polk Street Sally, Sweet Lips (aka Richard Walters), Mister Marcus, and Wayne Friday. I still have a couple of clippings of his columns. Re-reading these columns today, they still hold up and are a reminder of the searchlight they provided to young gays at the time, illuminating what went before us and how to move forward with dignity.

On the other hand, there was nothing dreamy about Karr. His Karrnal Knowledge column, reviewing pornography, was direct and straightforward. And yet, there was an intelligence and a poesy which he brought to his columns. He moved porn into the larger context of the world and helped his reader to understand that sex and pornography were perfectly natural. Something that is proved during this time of pandemic with the sizable increase of downloaded porn.

Michael ("My") Yarabinec
San Francisco

Patrick Carney, left, with his sister, Colleen Hodgkins, stand near the 2019 pink triangle installation. Photo: Hossein Carney  

Spreading the news
When the pink triangle atop Twin Peaks began in 1996, internet access for most users was still new. Not everyone had an email account and there certainly were no apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or WhatsApp. How does one gain the attention of dozens (or hundreds) of needed volunteers for a gigantic project? Community newspapers were the best option of the day. Nearly everyone picked up the Bay Area Reporter on Thursday evenings on their way home.

I initially spoke with B.A.R. editor Mike Salinas, who said, "We like to see grassroots events like this in our community and we'll get the word out." The late B.A.R. publisher Bob Ross also offered encouragement as a member of the Castro Lion's Club (the first club to help us) and told me the paper would assist. When I read Cynthia Laird was the new news editor in 1999, I walked down to their Ninth Street office to drop off a package for that year's event and I asked to meet her. She quickly reviewed the package and said, "This is something we can support." Two decades later she and the paper continue to help get the word out. B.A.R. publisher emeritus Thomas E. Horn still helps to this day via the Bob Ross Foundation, which in recent years has paid for the pink triangle T-shits that the volunteers and elected officials wear in comradery to those who were forced to wear pink triangles in concentration camps. It may be an overused phrase, but "it really does take a village." Thank you, B.A.R.

Thank you to our much-expanded LGBTQ press. Now in addition to the B.A.R., the SF Bay Times, Gloss, and others are still graciously helping get out the message of the pink triangle, but the B.A.R. was there a decade earlier when the project was getting started. Let's keep our local LGBTQ press alive and healthy — when local press thrives and has the assets it needs, we all benefit. No institutions can help our community more effectively than those that are a central part of our community. Here's to the next 50 years for the Bay Area Reporter.

Patrick Carney
Pink Triangle Co-Founder
San Francisco

Updated, 8/23/21: This article has been updated with an entry by Dennis Conkin, the paper's first full-time reporter.

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