Norv Giles - 2004
Reminences - 2009
The silence out of which RCBA grew refers to the vacuum that had existed in Sacramento's gay community. Any socializing that took place in those years was either at the little bars out in West Sacramento or in people's homes. Due to the driveby shootings the week end of the Installation Dinner, it was obvious that the most urgent matter at hand was to connect with law enforcement. The County Sheriff had called us 'misfits and queers' in print that he would never hire. He refused to have any meetings with us but the Deputy Police Chief in Sacramento (Lee Dahm?) was willing to meet us. It centered around the need for training and raising awareness at the Police Academy and we were asked for written input to add to their classroom instruction. We submitted about 5 pages of worthwhile information for their use. Dahm was concerned about the gay bashings happening in the city parks from time to time, expressing a desire to reach out in our gay press to inform gay people of the dangers in such activities. It was a good beginning with open lines of communication the result.
As to the redneck sheriff, I very publically told him in an interview for the evening news, that he needed to stop referring to us in those pejorative terms or we would vote him out of office. It was part of a plan to do so anyway because of his truly egregious behavior, but this gave it a premise on which to visibly proceed. We found a candidate (Robbie Waters, now a county supervisor, I believe) who was quite willing to accept our support and I organized a 'bar crawl' to host him into the Mercantile, the Wreck Room and any other bars willing to let us come in. In 2006 as I write this, and beyond, it is very difficult to conjure up the memories of the looks of slack-jawed amazement that such an audacious notion as a bar crawl for political purposes should take place such as a bar, where most in those days went to be anonymous. But I was out 'for blood' and most knew it, so I put on my best brave face and dove in. As the evening wore on, it got easier and the feedback was all positive. Robbie never seemed to feel the least uncomfortable and sincerely listened to what the patrons had to say.
The payoff came when Robbie won; and, he attributed it to his support from us, a truly satisfying moment for me. Best of all, I was voted onto the Advocate 400 List (see Advocate Issue #400-7 Aug 84 for this particular act.I was never more pleased. Linda Birner had started Gay Night at the Races and I decided that more activities such as that would be good also. I approached KVIE Ch 6 to volunteer RCBA's members, by then numbering 40 or so) to 'man the phones' for a pledge night. I had no idea where they stood on gay rights issues so I was equally prepared for a No or a Yes. They readily agreed and I organized a dozen or so who were willing to be seen on camera, even on background. I was allowed 2-3 minutes of mike time to describe who we were; suddenly, the phones began to ring (in those days they were all black and had real bells) and I was almost drowned out. By the end of the evening, the station informed us we had set a record for one night's pledges. We were ecstatic, no other word for it, a real feeling of triumph engulfed us as we left to go home. I was truly proud of what we had done. One gets a very heady feeling when one blazes trails and that's what we were doing. I made other occasional appearances, giving speeches on the Capitol Steps for Gaynin' Progress and took part in a debate about the controversial Baxter family on Ch 40.
Much of what I've described here is in the issues of MGW, possibly more that I have forgotten.
Besides our visibility in the larger community, RCBA and MGW were increasing our visibility within the gay community. I pretty much achieved my short agenda in my first year as president that also included a small business directory. I turned the gavel over to Linda Birner for the second year of RCBA's existence, but Frank Lawler chaired most of those meetings due to Linda's reticence at being in the public eye.
I was asked to return as President for the third year of RCBA and went through the motions I thought were called for, even though the 'fire wasn't in my belly' and it was plain that RCBA wouldn't get any bigger.
Linda and I had flown to NYC in Fall '79 to help try to organize a Natioal Gay Business Association, meant to be an umbrella organization under which all the other gay business groups could coalesce around as they brought themselves into existence. Two that grew that survive to this day are the Palm Springs group and San Diego's with over 500 members and which bestows endowed scholarships. By the end of the third year of RCBA's existence it had become clear that Sacramento did not want any more visibility than what we had up to then. It was also clear that no one in Sacto wanted to take over the gavel in my place so RCBA just faded away. I lived in Davis where my business was and became involved in 1980 trying to pass the Human Rights Ordinance, giving an impassioned speech at a huge open city council meeting. It failed and we had to start again. In 1984 it finally passed.
There were at least two external factors, that also contributed to RCBA's passing, one entrenched within the gay bar scene, the other a newcomer to the gay scene. In those days, most bars were straight-owned with gay managers providing the interface to our community. The most notorious of these was the partnership of Bill Christie who once owned Christie's Elbow Room (where Faces now is) and Creighton Sanders who was a chauvinistic sports caster on Ch 3.
Christie had been closed by the ABC for 'short-shotting' and needed to put his license back into use or lose it. He and Sanders bought or already owned the house where the Mercantile Saloon is and decided that the flood basement had the perfect ambience for a bar. The first manager was a bitter gay man named Ray and no one liked him. But, Ernie Brown was an early bartender who had been on the scene since the beginning and everyone liked him. The Mercantile became a cash cow despite itself. So, Christie kept his alcohol license in place, allowed his old building up the street to become a second gay venue called K Street as did the bar across the street, also straight owned. I go into this detail to illustrate the absence of support from the bars; one of the biggest problems Linda had in the early years was their refusal to pay for the ads they took out in her paper. How she kept it going for so many years is a puzzle to me; there were just so many tradeouts for houseboat rides on the Russian River that she could take in lieu of payment from the resorts over there.
It was an uphill battle for MGW to establish credibility in the early years; worst of all, it was her livelihood. RCBA's existence didn't depend on the bars or restaurants in that way, except to provide us with pleasant venues in return for which we gave them our business. The other factor was the growing presence of a new social group called Pillars of the Community that began in Davis as a small social network led by Larry Hoover. It didn't take long for the social group to eclipse, in interest and activity, the business group and it eventually grew to 100 or so, with monthly socials at a restaurant out on Auburn Blvd. It was at one of those dinners that I gave the Eulogy tribute (on file at LLACE) for Harvey Thompson, our Green Beret gay doctor whom everyone loved beyond measure. It was a heady time to be gay and I was glad to have my moment in the spotlight; never regretted the energy and effort I put in to that community and learned a new meaning of the word Courage and the phrase To Thine Ownself Be True.
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