Brian Dewitt, associate editor for the Gay People's Chronicle, discusses being homosexual in Cleveland, coming out, and his experiences and interactions with the local gay community. With a wealth of knowledge pertaining to so many facets of the gay and lesbian community, Dewitt is an important source for material on this segment of society from his coming out in the 1970s through the present. His various roles behind the scenes are explored. He also reflects on how AIDS impacted the gay and lesbian community.
Dewitt, Brian (interviewee)
Miller, Emily (interviewer)
Emily Miller [00:00:01] Today is March 3rd, 2008, and I'm here with Brian Dewitt, the associate editor of the Gay People's Chronicle. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Dewitt [00:00:10] Well, thank you.
Emily Miller [00:00:13] I've read, we've talked through e-mail and have a little bit about you, but I just wondering if maybe you can give me some background as far as your involvement in Cleveland. Were you born here?
Brian Dewitt [00:00:25] Yes, I was born in Cleveland in University Hospitals McDonald Hospital in 1955, grew up in Cleveland Heights. I've lived here all my life, with the exception of about three months spent in my grandparents house in St. Augustine, Florida, as a teenager. Let's see. So, grew up in Cleveland Heights, attending the two Roxboro schools there and Cleveland Heights High School. Came out in 1976, pretty much in February of 1976. Prior to that, as far as gay and lesbian community memories in Cleveland, I don't have very many. I mean, I know what I've heard. I have a dim memory of, in 1969, at the end of 1969--my parents took... my mother took Life magazine--and seeing a year-end issue of Life magazine that recapped the year of 1969, along with the moon shot and everything else that was in there, was the Stonewall riots, just a little thing and thinking, what? And that was, I think, the first I'd heard of the Stonewall riots that year-end Life magazine issue.
Emily Miller [00:01:50] So when you came out, when did you become aware of the gay community in Cleveland as it is, or as it was?
Brian Dewitt [00:01:56] Almost immediately. Okay. Coming out is a process that continues lifelong. Knowing, knowing that, you know, the first coming out is coming out to yourself. And I think I was unusual for my time in that I did that at puberty. I think a lot of, a lot of people did do that in my time. I just don't I have an older friend who was in denial from puberty, and I guess a lot of folks are in denial until into their 20s or 30s or, and some folks I met, 50s. This is back in the '70s, back prior, I mean, Stonewall had happened four years prior. I mean, people that grew up in the '30s and '40s and '50s definitely had a different, different view of life. And you can speak to them about that. [inaudible] a great Pride thing on Wednesday nights. There's, there's too, I mean, if you really want to find out what went on way before, because I started in 1975 or '76, there is a gay lesbian senior group that meets the Cleveland Lesbian Gay Center. There's also another group called Gray Pride that has monthly potlucks on the second Wednesday night of the month, which would be the 12th at the Lakewood Senior Center at six o'clock. The Senior Center West, which is on Madison. I can get you an address, but it's like Madison, just west of Hilliard, or whatever the diagonal street is. I think that's Hilliard. But, and you can, my partner runs those so we can contact him. Doug. You've, you've spoken with him?
Emily Miller [00:03:49] No, you tell me about him and then I kind of looked him up, so I know about, he's involved in Equality Ohio?
Brian Dewitt [00:03:56] Equality Ohio, and very much so. Right now, Election Day being tomorrow, they're doing this huge project. Have you signed one of their fired cards? OK. Good. OK. Well, they're trying to get 100 of those for every Ohio House district. And so some of the ones that are harder to get, like Ashtabula, you know, Darke County, they're working those on Election Day because that's a very fertile group of these people really are voters. They're motivated, they're at the polls in a primary election. So that's what he's very busy with. In fact, I have a bag over there of materials for one of his volunteers to take to a polling place for him.
Emily Miller [00:04:36] OK, so.
Brian Dewitt [00:04:38] Oh, I was just saying. Well, coming out in the '70s, you know, the long, drawn-out process. So I was out with myself from puberty onward, although immediately got the message from my peers that this is not to be talked about. So, I didn't talk about it all, probably 19 or 20. I was 19 in a vacation spot that my parents went to every year in the mountains of North Carolina and chatted with a man there that I'd known before. We'd seen them every year, another vacation or there. And he came out to me, and I'd made this little rule when I'd silenced myself at age 13, that if anyone came out to me, I had to come out to them. And so I live by the rules. So I came out to him. But, you know, coming out to friends and family and anything like that, well, family much came later, but coming out to friends happened in pretty much in February. I had a girlfriend in high school. And she and I, she had, I came out to her and she'd wonder, well, that's why I had to throw myself at you. And then she came back to me with this... The Scene, it was the Scene, the same Cleveland Scene that's publishing today, it was back then it was more of a bar rag. But they did have classified ads at the back of the paper. You know, it's rock and roll paper. And she said, here's a gay rap group, it's meeting at the Free Clinic on Friday nights. And you're going, oh, no, that's not what she said. And you and Glenn are going because I told her about my sister's friend. Oh, for Sherry? One moment.
Emily Miller [00:06:32] You talked about the rap groups?
Brian Dewitt [00:06:33] Yeah. I'd come out to a friend of my older sister's and so like in January or February of 1976, which his response was, what was it, it was in his house and he stands up and says, well, I'm pretty much coming from the same place. And he walks up to the kitchen and says, I'm going to make tea now. It's like, okay, what did he say just then? So you and Glenn are going. These were at the old Free Clinic--which was torn down in like 2000, they built the new one--every Friday night, and so I pretty much came out into the community. The first--we went to the rap group, sat down... Is that term quaint? Rap group? Is that used anymore?
Emily Miller [00:07:24] Well, I was thinking, is that similar to the feminist consciousness raising group? What exactly happened?
Brian Dewitt [00:07:30] Well, there were two levels of this. There is an internal personal growth, one that we got involved with later that I think was just organized by one of the guys there. This was kind of a coming out group. I think if I went to the center looking for a group very similar to this one, it would be the coming out group. And it was just a way to chat with people. For many people it was a way to chat with people that wasn't the bars, which was the only other outlet at the time. So you know you could actually sit in a well-lit room and no alcohol, no loud music and just talk to people.
Emily Miller [00:08:06] Did you find it helpful?
[00:08:06] Oh, yeah. It was like, OK, meet people. This is the first. my first exposure to the community was this group, about 20 people sitting in overstuffed, old, overstuffed furniture in a circle and a guy walks in and starts handing out issues of High Gear, which I never knew existed. And I'm looking at this thing going, there's a newspaper in Cleveland?! You know, I'm thinking this is that the organized gay and lesbian community was pretty much a New York and maybe San Francisco thing. I don't know, I think I was aware of San Francisco then. My sister lived in San Francisco. My sister lived three blocks from the Castro. So like that following year, we went to visit my sister in the Castro! It's like, OK, this is... We stayed at Beck's Motor Lodge, which is 2222 Market Street, which was like one block east of Castro and Market, so I think it's actually still there, Beck's Motor Lodge. So it's OK.
Emily Miller [00:09:06] I want to talk about maybe the differences that you'ven see between Cleveland, a Midwestern industrial city, versus New York and San Francisco.
Brian Dewitt [00:09:13] I've not been to New York by then and San Francisco... My exposure then was basically visiting my sister. You know, I wasn't actually going out in the community, are going to the bars or anything. I was like 20 and not into bars at all. Kind of walked up and down Castro Street a couple of times and thought it was fascinating that, you know, there are guys walking up and down the street holding hands and it wasn't a problem. But this was very nice. And then all the bars had plate glass windows and you could look in and bars here don't. To this day they don't with some very rare exceptions. Twist is the rare exception that comes to mind.
Emily Miller [00:10:00] Okay, well let's keep going chronologically. So when did you become active in this community because I notice you are very active in the community, so when was that transition when you got more involved?
Brian Dewitt [00:10:12] Oh, the rap group? I kept coming back to that. And there was movement. There was talk in the rap group. Oh, we're gonna get a lesbian gay center started actually they didn't say, gay, lesbian, gay. They just said, we're gonna get a gay community center started. The folks around the rap group were kind of very closely related to the core organizational... How would I describe that? I called back then I called them movement-oriented gays as opposed to bar-oriented gays. But that was just my own term. And this was, this group was entirely male, I think was entirely male, if not almost entirely. It was an entirely male group. I have very little interaction with the women's community back then, although I did discover very quickly that there was something called the women's community and women in that usage was a synonym for lesbian. No, you're right. I don't know how pausing while you're writing. Going back through audio recordings is a pain. So take notes.
Emily Miller [00:11:32] When you became active in the community...
Brian Dewitt [00:11:33] When I became active in the community. I'm trying to figure when that first started, but it was almost right away. I mean, the people I was running around with were the activist group and that I felt very much at home. That's where I wanted to be. They were the ones who were going to start the gay community center. They were the folks from the GEAR Foundation. I don't think I met John Nosek and Leon Stevens right away. They were the publishers of High Gear. Did I ever give you their current... I only have an address for them.
Emily Miller [00:12:05] Yeah. You told me about it, but I never got it, so we can...
Brian Dewitt [00:12:08] Dig that up. They live around here in Ohio City somewhere. And you know, it was just talk. Well, first thing we're gonna do is get a hotline going. That, that was something, before the Internet, that was a vital link, was to just publish a number, gay hotline written in the phone book. And I think there was an issue with getting that written that way in the phone book, but it did get into the phone book. And start operating a hotline, but they had started the GEAR Foundation. Now this I don't know if this is true. So I don't know if I should repeat this on the record.
Emily Miller [00:12:45] Well, we don't know if this is true!
Brian Dewitt [00:12:46] But I heard that the reason why it was called the Gay Education and Awareness Resources Foundation was because the original organization had been the Gay Activist Alliance of Case Western Reserve University. And at the end of some school year, that organization had owed the university two thousand dollars and they walked away from the debt. And so they needed to change their name to something that was very much not like that. So the university wouldn't have to come back after them from the debt. This is what I was told. Whether. But that's why they came up with such an odd sounding name. And there was a Gay Activist Alliance. In fact, I remember prior to coming out officially, but of course, being out to myself like in 1973, driving up Cornell Road or riding with somebody up Cornell Road and seeing wheat pasted to all the steel light posts, "Gay Dance." And of course, they had to wheat paste 'em on because if they did anything else, they'd get torn down.
Emily Miller [00:13:48] So were you involved? Did you volunteer for the hotline?
Brian Dewitt [00:13:54] I volunteered for a hotline much later on, I didn't volunteer at first because you had to answer it at home. And I was living with my mom and I would not with her. Not until I started doing Gay Waves in the 1980s did I come out to my mom because I'm not going to deny my mother knowing your son's on the radio every week. I'm going to hide that from you? That's not something you hide from your mom. She can be proud of that. So and she was glad that I told her and everything was like, yeah, the early 1980s when I got involved with... Gay Waves is actually still on the air, but it's different now than what it was then. When we did it, it was a new show. I was early on involved with John Vogel, who did the predecessor of Gay Waves, Radio Free Lambda, is what it was called, and he and Wade Tolleson, and here's someone else to talk to. Wade Tolleson's been involved with WRUW for 30 years and he was very important to that station. But as a gay man, he was also behind the scenes doing Radio Free Lambda, but he did it himself when WRUW was a 10-watt station and could only be heard on the Case campus and near portions of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights because he was a teacher at Chagrin Falls Middle School and High School and couldn't be out as a teacher. The minute the wattage went up to a thousand watts, Wade had to stop, and that was in 1978 that the wattage went up. It's now, I think, 15 kilowatts and you can hear it throughout the region. Yeah, going to the rap group, going to the Shaker Club afterward was always, and I was 20 and not quite old enough to get into the bars, but managed to get in anyway. You walk in with a big crowd and while someone else is being crowded, carded, yes, just go in. And oddly, they never really challenged you on that. Dick Deutsch was the owner of the Shaker Club. I don't know if you want to know the history of the bars or anything. It was. What is that space now at Shaker Square? It's. Was a National City Bank. I think it's still a bank building. I would just park next to it on South More.... Are you familiar with Shaker Square? Well, there there's Shaker Boulevard goes east-west through it. Moreland Road goes north-south through it. And on the southern arm of Moreland Road across from what I believe is Dave's grocery store is a building separate from the Square buildings that I... There's a gas station on the corner of Drexmore. Then there's the Shaker Square building on the corner of Shaker Square. And in between was another building that I'm wanting to say National City Bank. But I don't. Yes, that bank is still in operation. That's what's in there. Well, under, next door to that was when I was a kid was Caminati's Restaurant. But by this time, Caminati's had closed and had been turned into a gay bar called the Shaker Club, which was probably the only successful gay bar on the East Side ever. They're all either downtown or west, or south for lesbian bars. Patty Harris here, owns the Five Cent Decision. Yeah, while she wants to say it's mixed, it's open to men. Tony's a bartender there. And Doug and I go there, they have free pasta dinner, or not free, take that back, two dollar and fifty cent--might as well be free--pasta dinners on Wednesday nights.
Emily Miller [00:17:50] OK, so we talked about, what you did do when you were on Gay Waves?
Brian Dewitt [00:17:54] On Gay Waves. That was in the early 1980s. There was a group of six of us myself, Glenn Gunderson is my friend that, my sister's older friend that I came out to before I started going to the rap group. I was involved very late a little bit with High Gear when they were pasting up in the upper top floor of the Call and Post building at 105th and Chester, I went to those paste ups a couple of times. It was at the time that John and Leon decided they were going to leave the paper and no longer be involved with it, and some other people were coming in to take it over, to keep it going. It was a monthly paper and not all of those other... I was one of those other people, only I didn't know it. I was just, oh I'll help out with the paper. And at that moment when I walked in was the moment when they decided to leave and so they had been doing 99 percent of the work and now it was a bunch of other people going to do it and none of us knew what we we're doing.
Emily Miller [00:18:54] It was a transition time where it just kind of fizzled out and then...
Brian Dewitt [00:18:57] There were several of those transitions. This was one of them. I think it was 1978 or '77. Yeah. Cause I had an apartment by that time and they were one of the meetings was was at my apartment and I was so rude to Archie Rothman who lit up a cigarette in my apartment and I freaked out. He had a radio show on WMMS or WNCR at the time of all these and came to this thing and I was so rude to him. Sorry, Archie.
Emily Miller [00:19:33] OK and then, so, you were kind of involved in High Gear and then it fizzled out.
Brian Dewitt [00:19:38] I can't. Why did I stop being involved? I worked with it through a summer and it was the summer after the first, first ever in Ohio, Gay Pride March, which wait a minute let me get this going here... Because I believe that was 1978, and I should print this out for you. Just a history of the gay pride marches. Very. Not for public consumption here! Eventually will print below. Cough it up!
Emily Miller [00:20:23] Yeah I have been going through the, I read through a lot of the High Gear interviews, and I noticed that was confusion that it was the first parade. So were you involved in that?
Brian Dewitt [00:20:34] No, not at all. Actually there were two parades, and when I pull this up, I'll tell you what it was. But one of them, I don't think it was reported in High Gear. But I don't think it was really a gay parade. It was Youth Against War and Fascism. I may have thought other things, but the memory that comes to my... that I remember now was I thought it was going to be a huge bust and I didn't want to be involved in a huge bust that, "No one's gonna show up for this?" I'm not going down there and I sort of regret that now. But that's that's the way it was. Let's see. Yeah. 1977 June 25, 1977. Youth Against War and Fascism March, which I don't think was truly a gay march. And then the MCC March, 200 people at Public Square and I remember seeing a photo of that one. Francis Dostle.
Emily Miller [00:21:59] Speaking of MCC, were you involved in any religious affiliated, open and affirming churches at all?
Brian Dewitt [00:22:18] Let's see what I'm giving you here? Yeah. Oh, look, blank sheets of paper. Okay, well. Yeah. Cause I have an issue of some stuff in there. Columbus, I think inflates their counts a lot. I do the parade counts. There's no way to count a festival. Actually, if you have controlled entry, there is a way to count a festival. But, so there's some of me yakking in there about counting the porta potties as a way to count the real festival number. And it's true. That's, you know, if they say they have 100,000 people and they buy enough toilets for 20,000 and the last three and the line never even get used, they're inflating their figures. Anyways, I'm not real religious and, not religious at all, in fact, and so I had no attraction toward any of the religious groups. I was very marginally involved in Dignity for a very short period of time early on when they were meeting at St. Francis, which is no longer existing. It used to be on Woodland, next to the YMCA, next to the Boy Scout headquarters. Between actually, Tri-C's built a new building in that location, but it was next to the Boy Scout headquarters. Old German church had burned burned in the 1980s and then was torn down by the diocese. But they used to meet in the friary behind there for a while. It was right about the time when they got kicked out by the church. Why was I go... I must've been dating somebody that was going to Dignity or something like that. But I don't recall how I was going to Dignity. I think that's what it was.
Emily Miller [00:24:07] Anything specific that you were there that may be memorable about what the meeting entailed? Was it just kind of more like [inaudible]?
Brian Dewitt [00:24:17] It was very similar to just... That was what I was getting out of it was the meeting that, I didn't then and don't now, meeting people in bars was just not something I could do. So I was attracted to any of these other alternative, usually billed as an alternative to the bars type of thing. I mean, now we have this huge array of sports groups. I'm not really attracted to sports either. And similar groups. And I would probably be doing that if I wasn't doing this. But that was how I met people was going to these groups because bars didn't work at all. I mean, they went to the bars. Bars were nice for drinking and dancing, but attempting to meet someone in a bar was just... not successful. And then I used to subscribe to the old idea that if you meet people in bars, the people you're meeting are bar people. But.
Emily Miller [00:25:17] All right. Sorry we kind of got off track here but the, your mom and Gay Waves in the early '80s next week. Did you actually speak on the radio?
Brian Dewitt [00:25:28] Very little. I was the board controller and it's sort of my life. I've always sort of been in the background of everything. When I was in high school, I was on stage crew and very involved in drama there. Today, I'm involved with the North Coast Men's Chorus on their stage crew. So it's you know, I'm associate editor of the paper. I, I, it's just me. I just tend to like to stand in the background and pull the ropes, but not actually show my face.
Emily Miller [00:26:03] Do you remember any of the topics that they talked out?
Brian Dewitt [00:26:07] By the way, the entire set of Gay Waves recordings that I made is sitting in the Western Reserve Historical Society, and they've digitized a bunch of them. So they're quite available.
Emily Miller [00:26:21] They may not be processed yet because they're not available on the website, but you can look at their search engine.
Brian Dewitt [00:26:27] Ask, ask, ask 'em about it, because they had some they had a gathering there last spring and they had some of the Gay... I was so surprised to see some of the Gay Waves programs where they had laptop computers playing them. So they have some of them are digitized, maybe only two. Maybe only the two they had playing and they were not sequential. They were like one from '82 and one from '85 or something like that. I think I did that from somewhere in the early... I was involved with Radio Free Lambda very briefly and then it went off the air. Wade Tolleson was in the background doing... Dan Schaefer, my boyfriend at the time, and I did it for a very short period of time. None of those tapes exist like 1981. Gay Waves. I got involved myself. Glenn Gunderson. Ken Stoli. Who else was involved? There were six of us. Drew Cari, how could I forget, not that Drew Carey, you're familiar, with an "I". Yes, OK. He definitely Drew Cari and Bob Laycock and Michael Anderson. Bob Laycock and Michael Anderson were a couple at the time. Both of them still live in town, by the way.
Emily Miller [00:27:58] Sounds like a lot of the people that were involved in creating Cleveland Pride.
Brian Dewitt [00:28:01] Yeah, it's the same group, you know, Martha Pontone and Drew Cari founded Cleveland Pride. Yes.
Emily Miller [00:28:11] We'll talk about that later.
Brian Dewitt [00:28:11] Yeah. That's later. That's 1989. Except for the 1977 or whatever year it was. And we decide, well, OK, we're gonna get this going. And we had this got on WRUW's schedule, which is actually easy to do because of all Wade is sort of the the parental figure at WRUW 'cause he's been there for so long. Most of the... A lot of the, what they call community programmers as opposed to student programmers. And they also had a great need for, to keep up their license. They had to have X number of hours a week of public affairs programing locally produced. They couldn't just buy tapes from somewhere and run 'em. So we were a locally produced public affairs program. They loved us. We would pick a topic for the week, which would often be from the news, but a lot of, a lot of what we did was we would read about, it would be somebody in other cities. We have called them up on the air. We never did the show live. We were always scared to do it like we'd call them up on tape. And then I would manually edit the tapes--this is cutting quarter-inch tape and splicing it back together--into about a 15-minute segment of an interview with somebody, usually over a telephone from another city. The first 10, 7 or 10 minutes of the show was National Gay News with Tom Post in San Francisco. His real name was Timothy John O'Malley, and he decided he was going to run a national gay news show from from actually Oakland. He pretty much did it as a hobby singlehandedly and then put it out over phone lines to various stations. He was trying to get the stations to pay him for it, but we didn't have any budget for it and he was letting us do it anyway. That went on for a couple of, about three, couple or three years that we were getting NGN news from San... from Tom Post in San Francisco. Remember, we broke the silence. That was his tagline. But that was the beginning of each Gay Waves show, and then we'd have an interview with somebody, or we'd have a segment of, a segment of a speech and we would get a huge amount of this material from Case. Case Western Reserve University used to have an annual gay and lesbian conference in the spring in March or April. This is a weekend-long thing. It took took over most of Thwing Center, and they would have speaker... national speakers come in, you know, using student activity fee budget that they would get. And you know the school paid for this, I mean, the school has because the school has a whole effort toward bringing in national speakers for lectures and stuff. And so these were you know, we had Valerie Terrigno, the first lesbian mayor of West Hollywood, California. Who else? Oh, I think we had Patricia Nell Warren, who wrote The Front Runner. She, she came in and spoke once. One of the better, of course, because he's a preacher, Troy Perry, the founder of MCC, came and I have a memory of. And we would tape these speeches and I would edit them down into 20 minute segments to run on... And Troy Perry was one of the best ones because he's... He spoke like, like a standup comedian. He had segments and you... I could almost. OK. OK. Cut there. And I cut his speech up, a recording of it of two speeches up into segments, put them all back together into a little 20 minute pieces. And we have Troy Perry and he would go on and you would be standing and applauding, listening to the tape at the end of that 20 minute segment.
Emily Miller [00:32:18] Did you ever interview anyone locally?
Brian Dewitt [00:32:22] Oh, yes. Linus Harrell, who founded Body Language. We interviewed him. We tried to keep it as local as we could. Win Weizer, who was recently a University Heights Council member, she was very active in Dignity back then. We had a few... There was a couple of issues with Dignity that came up. Bob Davis was, he's still living in Cleveland. A musician. He. Bob Davis is, don't let me get this wrong, either the music director or the artistic director of Cleveland Near West Theater. That's what he's doing today. Then he was our music instructor at Erieview Catholic High School, and he had wanted to have a commitment ceremony with his partner, either in the school or somehow involving the school. And they said no. And somehow that blew up and he ended up getting fired. And. There was a big dispute with Dignity on whether or not Dignity was gonna go after the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland for firing him. The Gay People's Chronicle, which I was not involved with then, it was being run by our founder Charlie Callender, basically as a hobby publication out of his Edgehill Road house in Cleveland Heights. I can point out the house. I don't know the address, it's the second house up from Kenilworth. Second house east of Kenilworth. On the west side of the street. No, that's the Bieber's house. Third house east of Kenilworth. He, you know, he had taken one point and Dignity ought to go after the Catholic Diocese for this. Dignity had taken the point that we're kind of small and they're kind of big. It wouldn't amount to a whole lot. It's... and I stayed out of it. Gay Waves was praised by both sides for being very evenhanded in everything else, which pretty much stayed out of it. My personal opinion was like, that's like telling the mafia not to kill people. I mean, it's like, you know, going after this, going after Nazi Germany for being homophobic. Wait a minute, I don't. Whoops. Take that out of the tape. I don't want anybody on. I compare the Catholic Church to Nazi Germany.
Emily Miller [00:34:59] OK, so so those are some of the issues you talked about. The Gay Waves. But was there? What was your next jump, what was the next thing you were involved in?
Brian Dewitt [00:35:12] This paper. I'm pretty sure it was this paper. Did Gay Waves through much of the '70s or, excuse me, through much of the '80s and got involved in fall of 1988. Because in the spring of 1988, I got very involved with the NAMES Project quilt that came to town, Dale Melsness and Rick, his partner--and I forget Rick's last name, I think it began with an R--were very instrumental in bringing the NAMES Project quilt to the Cleveland Convention Center. The city basically donated the use of the convention center. It spread out that whole quilt in there. And I was became, there was a call for volunteers of, what were they called, not docents. I mean, I would say docents, but you wore all white and you were basically guides to the thing to people that came in, many of whom had lost family members to AIDS. It was another one of the early interviews we did with Gay Waves was Dr. Leonard Calabrese us at the very beginning. And that one would almost be interesting to hear at the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic before it had really hit Cleveland. This is back in the early '80s. We interviewed Dr. Calabrese at the Cleveland Clinic and it was that interview and actually a discussion before then where I suddenly got this could be something really big. We know it is. It was at the time it was like news from the coasts of gay men dying of some mysterious disease. I was at the time involved with the Case Western Reserve, involved with, I was attending the meetings of, because Case Western Reserve Lesbian Gay Bisexual Union, which I believe is now called Spectrum, but it's... And Charlie Callender was... Charlie Callender, Jerry Bores. And why am I not remembering the third guy's name? We're kind of the faculty advisors, [inaudible], Jerry Boras worked in the student finance office, Charlie Callender was head of the anthropology department, and a third man whose name I can't remember and I'm upset about that because he was the first person I ever knew that died of AIDS and, and that was kind of a shock to the, you know, to our little side of the community there. Michael or Matthew. Hopefully it'll come to me later. I'm not gonna stick on it. But that, that was, and this is like 1970, it's like 1980 or '81. I actually suspect that someone else, a member of one of those rap groups I was involved in those in the '70s. One of those guys died of a mysterious illness in 1979 and it was never reported, and you know, oh, he had leukemia. That was what we were told. He had some kind of leukemia, but no one really knew. We didn't know him well enough to explore it. His name was Al Morrill. And I always wonder now, you know, was... Did he actually die of AIDS and he just wasn't diagnosed? It was 1979 or 1980. Al Morrill, he was a piano tuner and member of one of these groups. M-O-R-R-I-L-L. Lived in, lived on Detroit in Lakewood. But OK. Back to... Moving back up to the NAMES Project quilt in 1988, spring of... June of 1988. The hot and it was, yeah, that was... During that week was the hottest, hottest days on record ever for Cleveland. Was that the exact same time. It was 103 degrees. By the way, for a job, for a living, I was working, I was doing electrical work for Heights Hardware on Coventry Road at the time. I still work there on Sundays. Not doing electrical work, but just working counter to make ends meet. But yeah, so in the fall of '88, November of '88, was when I first got involved with proofreading the Gay People's Chronicle on... Bob Downing's dining room table on West 14th Street in Tremont. He and Jamie Purdon lived in this huge house that had been cut up into a fourplex, but they had put it back together into a single-family house. I don't know the actual address. I could point out the house, but I mean, I'm sure Martha would be able to look up Bob Downing's address on 14th Street. This is down the street from the lesbian gay center. Well, yeah, I guess it was called the lesbian, no it is the GEAR Community Center was what it was called. When it was at 14th and Auburn. Presently Grumpy's parking lot. But yeah, I was involved with that, proofreading it after the boards had already been pasted, going through and noticing a lot of little, little detail. I am, I'm one of those detail queens when it comes to this kind of thing and eventually got into, OK, well, maybe you should be proofreading this while it's still in the computer. And so that's when I started copyediting the Chronicle. And I would go to Martha... Martha Pontone and Christine Hahn, the art director, lived in a house on the northwest corner of Goodnor and Kildare in Cleveland Heights, and I would go in there after work in the evening and sit in these guest spare bedroom, which was the Chronicle office and copyedit the paper, copyedit stories that were then later printed out and some... And then Christine would paste them up on Bob Downing's table. And she, she just walked out. I was going to call her in there.
Emily Miller [00:42:02] I'm curious, the bigger picture that kind of like, what was the mission statement behind, the goal behind the Gay People's Chronicle. I know there was a split between, when High Gear kind of fizzled away for good, and when Gay People's Chronicle. So, I know you said Charles Callender was in charge of that as a hobby. But what, I mean, what was the motivation? Was it something the community needed? Was it [inaudible]
Brian Dewitt [00:42:32] It was, it was a view. I mean, there was no interaction between Charlie Callender and his, by the way, he formed a group called the Cleveland Gay People's Press Associates, who is Charlie Callender, Lee Cochums, who later went on... He was a student. He was a student at Case. He went on to work for the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York. And a few other people, which eventually included Martha, Martha Pontone and Bob Downing. When Charlie died a year and a half later, that's when they took it over. But the High Gear, High Gear was always sort of an arm of the GEAR Foundation, and that's why it was able to keep reconstituting itself for many years during the house. Another link that I forgot during the 19-, late 1970s, Dan Mieczynikowski was who actually took it over. And I can write down that name if you want. You have it ok, because it's a long Polish name. But Dan Mieczynikowski, who lived on Lake Avenue in Lakewood, four ones and a nine Lake Avenue. That's how I remember the... 1 1 1 1 9. The first floor apartment. The other half of the U-shaped building is four ones and a five Lake Avenue. Yeah, that's who eventually, went it shook out after John and Leon left. Dan MieczynikowskitTook it over and he was the editor and essentially the publisher. But it was always an arm of the GEAR Foundation. GEAR Foundation at the time was opening lesbian gay community centers, the first one in Coventry. And that sheet I sent you. And somewhere in a High Gear is is a photograph of me with a blond ponytail hanging a door in 1977, probably in the summer, July of 1977, August of 1977. On the third floor of CoventrYard, which is now a one-story building. It burned down the following January, but the masonry and concrete frame is now the building that's there now. But then they were at some... That's the one change. To digress for a minute, back to the rap groups. When they... that building burned down on Coventry, they then moved to 1012 1/2 Sumner Court, which was next to New Dimensions at 1012 Sumner Court. That was the Empire Concert Club for long. It's a sports bar now. They're building still there. If you drive by the 1012 1/2 door is the next one east of the main entrance. It's just an unmarked door, and that was a little room, but they would have the rap group in there. What was different then was that New Dimensions was the premier dance club in that period, and it opened at 9 o'clock. The rap group started at 7. Guys that would come down to go to Dimensions would come down a little earlier, come into the rap group. So we had a huge number of, we had 40 people in there every week, Friday night, again, almost entirely male. So I can't tell you a lot what the women's community was doing during this time. But that was just a huge number of people that met there. And then we would all, the rap group would break up at 10 o'clock and pretty much everybody would go upstairs to the dance club. And so I had an in with, you know, I can go into a dance club and there's people here I know from the rap group. So I could meet people in dance club because I had actually met them at the rap group. The hotline was answered in a little anteroom off of that same rap group room. An old table with two phones. You know, again, little background things. They needed special phones for the hotline. They couldn't afford them. I kind of acquired them and wired them up for them. This kind of thing. With old style telephones, there's a way to if you remove one wire, you can hear but not be heard. It's. I mean, even without, you don't even need to hang... The thing is off the hook--is on the hook. But you can still hear it's hung up, but you can put it to you and hear things. And I put it in a switch on these phones that would enable to do that, to train volunteers so that someone could listen in and without even knowing that they were listening into the use of the hotline training funds. I made those form two lines. That's all I had. There is. Yeah. They're still operating a gay hotline now, but it's just the center's number, but they do have someone answering it in the night. Most of the questions were, where are the bars? Which is why every... High Gear, us, every paper in the world, every gay paper in the world has what we call the research directory 'cause got everything in there. Its purpose is as bar list. Even the bar [inaudible] have a bar list. It's. Now a half hour, we got a lot of the coming out calls, crank calls, and where are the bars. The coming out calls were kind of why the hotline existed, was to help people with that. Where did we leave off?
Emily Miller [00:47:43] We were transitioning from the arm of the GEAR into [inaudible].
Brian Dewitt [00:47:45] Yeah, because High Gear... The GEAR Foundation had moved from Sumner Court to the ill-fated building at, I think it was 2641 West 14th Street. They bought that building. It was a big deal. The folks that were running GEAR at the time, John Lehner, Melinda McGeorge and Earl... Yeah, and Earl Korb and John Lehner worked for the city pretty much in a position, I think the same position that Bob Laycock has now within City Hall. I think John Lehner moved on. I think he either works for the city of Dayton in a similar position or Indianapolis, but I'm not sure. But he and his partner, Frank Wurm, Melinda McGeorge, who was very instrumental in a lot of the early GEAR Foundation stuff. She died in a car accident, I believe, in 1981. And Earl Korb. Earl Korb has an interesting story. He was very out when he was a teenager and young adult in the 1930s. And then as he got into architecture and got into his career, he went back in the closet, which is what you did in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. And he would cruise up and down Lorain Avenue and new pick up hustlers in the late 1970s. And one of the hustlers he picked up stole his truck with all his tools. He had rental properties, had like 40 duplex houses on the, on the west side of Cleveland. And he had all these tools to maintain these houses with. That was what he did for a living at the time, was run and run his properties. These two kids jumped in the truck, you know, stuck a knife in his throat to get out. And they took the truck and they took the tools. He went to report this to the police. And back then, you know. Okay, my truck was stolen. What were you doing on Lorain Avenue? I can't tell you. How did these kids get the truck? Well, I can't tell you. It was one of those. He came to the GEAR Foundation for help and walked into the center on 1012 1/2 Sumner Court. And they helped him out. And he came out all over again as a 70-something-year-old. There was the late '60s, early '70s. I don't know how old he was then. And as often happens with small nonprofit organizations, came out, got very enthusiastically involved and within months was on the board of directors! There is such a need for volunteers and organizations like that that anybody who seems to be good people and comes out and is enthusiastic and is of course, you know, self-employed, semi-retired, self-employed. I believe he was involved with no Van Petten. I don't think Earl was involved in designing the current Center. Van Petten was. But Earl wasn't being a property owner or was what he and John Lehner were very into. Buy this building in Tremont at 2641 West 14th. The Bernard Furniture. Yeah. And it was this crummy old firm. It had been a nice furniture store, maybe in the '40s and '50s. It was 1980, '81, and a crummy old furniture store. It was a crummy old building. It had structural problems. I don't know what they paid for... and back in those days you couldn't get a bank loan for any property in that area. Cleveland, it was, it was land contract. So they bought this building land contract from the Bernard family. Old man Bernard was sick. He was always described to me as sick. But it was a long term, probably cancer type of illness... Would you like anything to drink? Okay. So they bought this building, moved in. They were gonna. There were five apartments on the top floor, one of which was actually a dentist's office. They were going rent out the apartments to rent out two of the others to cut the Bernard Furniture space into three storefronts, rent out the other two, and have the middle one be the community center. And they already had a tenant for one of the store, storefronts, the Tremont West Development Corporation that still operates in Tremont today, but they moved in. I think that was the John Lehner had some connection with them. Bob Laycock, I don't think was involved with it. He was a director of Tremont West at one point, in later years before he went to work for the city... Community center in the center. And they were gonna, that was going to pay for the building to pay the, pay the mortgage on the building. They bit off way more than they could chew and maintaining the rental property, I mean, you know, the hot water heater failed and they couldn't get it together to get another hot water heater. Finally, Earl Korb, you know, grabbed one of the ones... He had three lying around for his houses, 40 duplex houses is 80 hot water heaters. So, you know, you're constantly replacing them. So he grabbed one and put it in. But it was his, it wasn't, you know the organization just... The other problem was was moving from downtown into Tremont. Tremont then was a crappy neighborhood. It was, it was 10 years in the future that it would gent... begin to gentrify. Then it was it was completely unfashionable. No one would go there. Everybody was afraid that their cars would get, you know, broken into or batteries stolen or whole car stolen. So the organization's membership just dropped off when they moved in there. Everybody disappeared. And then the core group started to get really burned out because they were doing everything. And the problem was, was instead of running the organization, they were managing this building. And failing at it. That, I mean, even I see. I went over and got involved with the Case LGBU and got involved with Gay Waves and sort of like didn't have a whole lot to do with the GEAR Foundation. I have some photos, I have to dig them up, of a meeting. I think we ran one of them of a meeting in that center of the GEAR board with Earl Korb and John Lehner the one with George. Fourth person and probably Tom David Gianfagna. G-I-A-N-F-A-G-N-A. And he was very involved in the organization then, too. He committed suicide a few years later in the mid 1980s, late 1980s. He was a Cleveland schoolteacher and I think teaching in the Cleveland public schools was very hard on him. In fact, I think he taught at Mooney at one point, which is the school down the street from the Five Cent Decision. But he was very involved. He might have been in one of the other board members. He was Tom David to most people there, only later did we find out his full name and that it's pronounced Gin-Fahn, even though it has an anti-gay slur built right into the middle of it, which I'm sure his little brat junior high school students took advantage of every other day of the week. Yeah, I drifted away from the GEAR Foundation and got involved with Gay Waves. Can only be involved with one thing at once. Still working at the hardware store, I mean, I went from the hardware store to here. GEAR left that building, and I think I just heard about this third hand, and moved into one of Earl Korb's houses at I think it's 2100 Fulton. This is like three houses south of Lorain, and they were in the first floor of a duplex and so a tenant was living on the second floor. They got to the point where they couldn't keep the apartments rented. A friend of mine, Sharon Cramer, was living in one of the apartments over the... All the tenants moved out because the hot water didn't work. I mean that the level of maintenance went worse than what the Bernards were doing. The Bernard Furniture store space was heated by two large overhead space heaters in each corner of the building. They cut it into three storefronts. This one had heat, this one had heat. The center didn't have heat. Oops. Those two heaters were connected to one gas meter. There was only one gas service for this. They didn't have the money to cut it apart and put it on separate meters. So Tremont West was paying. Or we were they were paying the gas bill for Tremont West to have heat. The other store front was empty. I think we had a junk store in there. Some some some woman from the neighborhood opened up a junk store, essentially. I don't know if they still have those, but a lot of around Near West Side you see junk stores, secondhand shops, whatever, junk stores. So she had a junk store in there and she didn't have heat. But we were paying to keep the heat going. She didn't work out. They moved her out. They cut an opening back into the wall they built so they could run that heater and have heat in the center portion because it was eaten by little bathroom heaters. And at one point, Earl brought in a construction site heater. These kerosene fired things. It looks like a jet engine. Screams. And you're not supposed to run indoors. It wasn't Earl brought that in. Was that? What's his name? Someone else that was very involved with the center and worked for Astrup Awning. Then I forget his name. We brought in this heater and he said, oh, yeah, you can run them on unleaded gas. You don't have to buy kerosene for it. So I run this one on unleaded gas. This is after it been sitting in the center running for about an hour, heating the place up and it was putting out lots of nice heat. It's like that thing's full of unleaded gas? And It's in the middle of this wooden building? Never had a problem with it, believe it or not. But, you know, that was another thing that drove people away from the center. I mean, the place was crummy looking. I mean, at one point it had roaches, crummy old 19th, 1890s wooden building that was falling down, had no heat. It was freezing cold and there. To run the hot line we had a little bathroom heater in the hotline room. Yeah, everybody. And then he finally got out of there and they basically abandoned the building. But don't let me say that, because it was a land contract and it was always in the Bernard's name. But Bernard was nowhere around, and the city ended up demolishing the building in the mid to late 1980s.
Emily Miller [00:58:43] So is that kind of the transition point as to why something like the Gay People's Chronicle popped up because it filled a need?
Brian Dewitt [00:58:48] Yeah. High Gear stopped publishing. High Gear was published out of the basement of that Bernard Furniture building, and I was involved with that marginally. I had the Together Coffeehouse when they first opened up that building. I had a fantasy of having like a coffeehouse with live performances and we actually produced a bunch of them, had singers coming in and set up candles and everything and had stage lighting which I built. Coffee can lights that I'd learned how to make from the Dobama Theater started out with them. And I still have the coffee can lights, eight of them sitting in my basement with bulbs at home and gels on them. Ten of them, actually, and the dimmer board that I built for that to have lights and make a nice club atmosphere. And there are one, two Friday nights a month or two Saturday nights a month. And we had live performers in there and it was the Together Coffeehouse. And that's what I did in that that space, until there was no heat. It worked in the summer when you didn't need heat and we had food, you know, little snack food, package snack food that we would bring in. Didn't, you know, charge admission at the door to pay the performers who were basically volunteers. I mean, no one made any money off of this, not even the center. It was just a nice center program, and of course, I got free ads in High Gear because it was a center organ, except it wasn't called the center of the GEAR Foundation. It was GEAR this GEAR that and that's and then I let walk away from that and got involved with Gay Waves, or yeah, Gay Waves. High Gear stopped publishing sometime before maybe the guy was at... The center, the GEAR Foundation hit its low point. High Gear stopped publishing in like 1984. That's when they moved into the house on Fulton Road. They ran the center there and Charlie Callender... was just a need that we need to have a newspaper in this town. I mean, the bar rags don't do it. What are the bar? Well, you've seen the bar rags. It's all just ads the way through. There's no ads, horoscope and top 10 disco heads. And that's pretty much all you get. And the bubble pictures that they go in and to some event at a bar, take dozens of photographs of drunks with their arms around each other grinning at the camera. No caption information, no knowledge of who it is in the photo. And they run all these photos. But who are they? So Charlie started up the page, Charlie and Lee Cochums and the Gay People's Press Associates, and sometimes I look out, look as look our paper up online and sometimes that name cleaving Gay People's Press Associates is still associated with this paper. In some listings, it hasn't existed since the mid '80s when Martha and Bob took it over. That's pretty much when I got involved with... November of 1988. I started actually full time job here in 1993, in April 1993, and at that point, the Chronicle had gotten an office in 2206, I think that was the address, West Superior Viaduct, which is... are you familiar with Spaces art gallery on West Superior? There are two matching clothing factory buildings from the 19th century that face... You're familiar with the Superior Viaduct? There's the Detroit Superior Bridge in downtown Cleveland. It replaced an earlier bridge that stood from like 1880 until the mid 192os when the new one was built. The approaches to that earlier bridge are still there, the stone arch approach. The Stonebridge condominium is built around that. That's the approach to the old Superior Viaduct. And the near western side of that approach has buildings built next to it, and it's like a city street except you're actually on that stone arch bridge approach. And the two, the first one you come to on the north side of the street appears to be a three-story red-brick building. It's actually four stories because it goes down the hill. That's Spaces art gallery, two smaller buildings, and then there's a matching building matches Spaces. That's the building the Chronicle was in 2206 West Superior Viaduct, a.k.a. 1285 Washington Avenue on the back of the building, is the first floor of that building. When you walk in off of Superior Viaduct, you're actually walking into the third floor of the building because you're walking off a bridge. We were on the first floor in what, in any other space... It's the only basement, the only dungeon cellar in the entire city that has a view of downtown Cleveland. A beautiful view of downtown Cleveland, the Terminal Tower, all the buildings downtown out of our huge plate glass windows. But we were in a basement because it was underground, the other three sides of the building. It was full of centipedes and dust and it was crummy. And Martha calls it the Bat Cave. Homeless people would camp between the front of the building and the footers of the bridge. It was about a 10-foot space that was sheltered because the sidewalk was built over it at the third floor level. And so there was a homeless camp in there. And at least once they kicked their way through the window and came in because the building apparently predates the bridge 'cause it had windows facing the bridge. So that was where I first started at the Chronicle, in that place, which also didn't have heat until managing editor Kevin Bini and I installed the furnace.
Emily Miller [01:04:36] What was the approximate, not viewing audience, but you know, like how many papers did you produce a month or a week? What was it?
Brian Dewitt [01:04:52] Back it back in those days? I don't know. And I would have to find out is from David or Patty might be able to look up in the records, but I don't know what the press run was then. I know we only distributed in Cleveland. Now we distribute statewide, we report statewide, but then we were Cleveland. I'm wanting to say somewhere in the five, six thousand range, but I don't know. Did you ask Martha this question before I page her and ask her?
Emily Miller [01:05:21] No, I didn't ask her.
Brian Dewitt [01:05:22] She's not here today. One second, David's not here today either. He's the advertising manager. Now, you heard her answer, sure sounds right, but she'd have to if you want, we can dig this up.
Emily Miller [01:05:43] No, actually, my paper [inaudible] but this is just for fun. What's the [inaudible] now?
Brian Dewitt [01:05:59] Believe it's around 12,000. And we always say that our readership is about three times that because in the publishing industry with periodical publications, you always assume four people read each copy on average. We only assume three. We're conservative with that. The Plain Dealer assumes four people who pick it up and just look at it. They define readership like that. But I believe it's around 12,000. I can get you an exact figure from the ad folks if you want, but.
Emily Miller [01:06:43] And then, would the next big jump be Cleveland Pride in chronological... okay, so that's 1989?
Brian Dewitt [01:06:47] Mm hmm, 1989, actually 1988 because in 1988 Martha and I believe Patty, I'm not sure. [Turning to Patty] You were involved in the business here in 1998? Yeah. The year before Pride behind the center. Yes. OK. Thanks! The business fair that was had. They actually had two of these. One was in the... But the first one was in 1988. In the spring, Martha got... and Patty and some other folks got us together in the patio behind the then Cleveland Lesbian Gay Center, which if you... Have you been there? The old one? It's not... It has always been the Ohio City Oasis, Man's World, Tool Shed, whatever bar. Richard Husarick has owned that building since the mid 1980s, since since the original Man's World burned down, that was at the corner of 25th and St. Clair, 26th and St. Clair, then Richard Husarick owned that one too. Richard owned this... That one burned down. He moved over to this one at the corner of 29th and Detroit, and the storefronts... The bar has always been on the corner. The storefronts, running down 29th street south on 29th, 1418 West 29th Street and 1422 were the Cleveland Lesbian Gay Center originally. It eventually took over every... There was a florist on the corner. And that patio back there, which is now the bar's patio, it's just an alley behind there, it's the space, but it's fixed up as a patio. They had this business fair in there. Which is just a nice afternoon pleasant little thing. I remember they had a string quartet and I don't know where they got that. You know, someone knew somebody and it was a nice little wine and cheese, little fair. They also had another one in the... a Christmas one. It was in early December in the Civic and Cleveland Heights, which is the old Temple on the Heights, and had one there. And then it was that January, that Martha and Drew got the idea of let's not have another business fair, let's have a Pride festival. And they were on the January, February, 1989. But Martha had done this business... Martha and Linda Malicki. I'm sorry. Linda Malicki was the other person involved with the business fair. Patty's remembering the business fair. She sold pizza to first Pride because I wired up her... I did the electrical work for the, you know, putting in cooking appliances. And she had a pizza heater. So she, yeah, so the business fair was Martha and Linda Malicki, who at the time owned Another State of Mind Bookstore, was a lesbian gay bookstore on Madison Avenue, western end of Lakewood. I don't... It was advertised in the Chronicle. I'm sure the address is in old Chronicles. But she... Linda Malicki years later would be the executive director of the center but she ran Another State of Mind Bookstore. I think her partner got a job in Tennessee or should at some point, early 19... After this point during the 1990s, she closed Another State of Mind, moved to Tennessee to be with her partner. Years after that, they broke up. She came back to Cleveland and that's when she was executive director of the center in the later 1990s. But yeah, Linda Malicki and Martha Pontone did this first business fair June of 1988 in the patio behind the Lesbian Gay Center. Then there was one. Martha and Auntie Ray and I do not know Auntie Ray's real name. But Martha will be able to tell you. I keep forgetting. Ray, something. You know, his first name was Ray. He did a column called In the Kitchen with Auntie Ray. But they did the Christmas business fair that was at the Civic. Then she and Drew got together. And I remember hearing this from Drew because I knew Drew from Gay Waves and he had dated Glenn Gunderson from Gay Waves for a while, too. And Glenn and I were real good friends. Glenn now lives with his partner. Oh, boy. Here we go again. Forgetting names. Rob. Rob Edwards in East Liverpool, Ohio. But yes, I was over at Drew's house. He was on the phone with Martha, and we're gonna get a Pride festival started. Oh, well, that sounds like a good thing to do. Columbus had had a Pride parade since 1981. They had started one and they claim to be the first. But of course, Cleveland's... That one in 1977 was really the first. But Columbus was the first festival and parade that was really organized. That was what Cleveland never got another one till then. Then Stonewall Columbus was the big organization there. Columbus is... Cleveland... People grew up in Cleveland, and many times move away or don't. Most people in the gay and lesbian community in Columbus didn't grow up there. Columbus has Ohio State University, it's this huge magnet drawing people from elsewhere in the state. They come out, they don't want to go back home to their parents, they stay there. So that Columbus has a whole different flavor as far as its community, it was much more openly gay. Stonewall Columbus was originally called Stonewall Union because they named it after the Ohio Union of Ohio State University, the student union there. That's how student oriented its heritage is. They started up their parade. They've been running it since 1981. Everybody from elsewhere in the state would bus to Columbus for this. And many groups come from other cities still, do. You know, they call it the Ohio, the Midwest. I have a T-shirt at home that says the 1988 Midwest Gay and... because it was the largest one in the Midwest, and it was, OK, Cleveland needs to have one of these so we'll start one up in Cleveland. The first one wasn't a parade. There was no parade. 1989 was just the festival, it was a street fair on West 29th Street in front of the center and was very successful. Had a stage, had music, you know, it was a wonderful time. Jay Westbrook, who was then the council president, came and spoke. Well, that was pretty much a coup, getting elected officials to acknowledge anything queer was... like pulling teeth back then. You don't know what you got now. Now I get to say that.
Emily Miller [01:14:31] All right, so what was kind of the mission statement of Cleveland Pride too? Was it just to have a parade and festival to celebrate?
Brian Dewitt [01:14:44] A celebration. Visibility was part of that. I don't know. I mean, mission statement. Use that term loosely because there's two ways you can set about organizing something. You can create an organization, come up with a mission statement, a purpose, funding, and all this other stuff. Or you could just do it. And Martha, me, Doug, we all come from the "Just Do It" way. This paper was founded on the "Just Do It." You know, later, if you need all, if you need all of the infrastructure type stuff, you can put that in. But so many times we have seen, OK, we need to have a something. OK, we're going to form an organization. We're gonna get a mission statement. We're gonna have bylaws. What to do by the time they're all done, done that it dissipates and the energy's gone. So we didn't have a mission statement.
Emily Miller [01:15:37] OK, so the goal, the energy that pushed this forward was...
Brian Dewitt [01:15:37] Was we need to have when enjoy going to Columbus's, but Columbus is half the size of Cleveland, no matter what they say. The city of Columbus is larger than the city of Cleveland. The metro area of Cleveland is 2.1 million. Columbus is 1.1 million. So a little bit of civic pride in there somewhere. We need to have one of these in Cleveland. We need for the visibility we needed for the self image. We need to have a good time here. We need to not be going down to... Thank you... The layout, this shows me how much after the ads are placed, how much space for editorial copy there is. This looks pretty normal. Last week we had a very exciting issue with all the all the electoral campaigns bought ads. We had a much larger issue. Plus, we had an interview with Hillary Clinton. Talk about getting getting elected officials or people, major presidential campaigns, to give an interview to not a coastal gay and lesbian paper, but a new one in the interior part of the country. Eric Resnick made that happen, and it [was] very much a feather in the cap. And plus the display ad, I have to show it off. Not that one, although that one's a nice one, too. This one got news that Barack Obama actually bought ads in the paper. A full page in our paper is very inexpensive as advertising goes. I mean, television time is like thousands upon thousands of dollars per 10 second, that full page ad is like twelve hundred dollars with color. Such a deal!
Emily Miller [01:17:45] OK. Well, we've gone through, you know, a lot as far as your involvement in the rap groups all the way up to Cleveland Pride. Is there anything else you wanted to add about anything I should I know about the community that we didn't talk about?
Brian Dewitt [01:17:59] I'm sure there is, and I can't think of it right now and kind of talked out, I'm sorry!
Emily Miller [01:18:08] I know, it's actually been more than I expected, which is fine.
Brian Dewitt [01:18:11] Well, that's fine with me. And, you know, I'm willing to talk more anytime you want. You know, keep in touch. You know. You know, and I could I could tell you more... other... you know there are the things, history of the bars. By the way, I keep all the Gay Yellow Pages that I've ever gotten.
Emily Miller [01:18:35] Oh, they have those at Western Reserve.
Brian Dewitt [01:18:39] Oh they have old ones, too? Excellent, excellent. Because that covers the whole state. Whereas ours and High Gears, I have a set of High Gears at home, they have that at Western Reserve, but with the ones...
Emily Miller [01:18:55] Do you have the first one they start?
Brian Dewitt [01:18:57] No, I don't. I bet you John and Leon do though.
Emily Miller [01:19:06] They seem to be [inaudible].
Brian Dewitt [01:19:08] Yeah, I'm sorry. Sorry to hear the historical society is missing them. I don't, I have them starting up from like when I came up and then I grabbed a few earlier ones when I sort of when the set of what all the High Gear stuff passed through my house on the way from John and Leon's to Dan Mieczynikowski's. You know, I. Some of that stuff stayed with me, but. No, I don't, I don't have any from '74. I have a couple from '75 at home, and then I have a full set of Chronicles, but I think they do too.
Emily Miller [01:19:44] May I ask you one more question?
Brian Dewitt [01:19:47] Sure.
Emily Miller [01:19:49] This is kind of a big general question. How do think or do you think the AIDS movement changed the gay and lesbian movement in Cleveland?
Brian Dewitt [01:19:57] It matured an awful lot real fast. Well, and at the same time, half of it died, literally. But it also... matured... I think the street community's view of the gay community was helped a lot by that, you know, before it was just a bunch of freaks. Then it was, there were a couple of times I remember couple of times that people made AIDS jokes, and it was pointed out to them that people are dying. I mean, this on television, they're doing this. People are dying. This is not something to joke about. It was like, you know, the gravity of the situation, when the gravity of the AIDS crisis sank into the straight community, I think their respect for the gay community went up a little, a few notches, and that helped. You know, it's a high price to pay for that, but it helped. But yeah, that, the organized gay and lesbian community learned how... how to get government money. I mean, what Act Up was kind of about. A lot more people that had been only involved with the bars suddenly found it in themselves to get involved with... Well, at first with, I mean, finding a cure was something that you couldn't do, but helping your friends and neighbors and lovers who were dying of it. That was definitely something you could do until the level of organization when, I mean AIDS Task Force of Cleveland was started, I believe and I don't know if this is accurate, but way back in the early... In the early '80s. The GEAR Foundation had started something called the Men's Action Committee and the Women's Action Committee. And I believe the Men's Action Committee morphed into the Health Issues Taskforce, which became the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland. But I may be wrong in that early... I know that HIT became the AIDS Task Force, but I think there was some kind of...'cause the early Health Issues Taskforce goal, it was pre-AIDS, it was to help out with other sexually transmitted diseases and other things that, you know, just medical issues that gay men need to bring up with their doctors. And then AIDS kind of like became the 800-pound gorilla and it changed into the AIDS Task Force of Cleveland later on and became a separate organization. It was also run out of the Civic in its early days.
Emily Miller [01:22:58] OK. And then overall the gay lesbian liberation movement in Cleveland, do you think it's been successful to this point?
Brian Dewitt [01:23:06] Yes, I. And in lots and lots of little ways. In advertising, you talk about having a background, that constellation of your brand name is everywhere. Everyone knows what Coca-Cola is and no one knows when they first discovered what Coca-Cola was. But everybody knows what it is. That kind of thing. The whole level of consciousness of the entire community, straight and gay, has slowly, almost imperceptibly been raised by hundreds of these things. I mean, just little things. And you see the effect. You don't see the actual cause so much, but you see the effect. Early on in the operation of the Gay People's Chronicle, we would go to some event and take pictures for the front page and everything, and we have as a thing, it's a permission thing with photos, but we always ask. And for the captions we always ask names. Very often, please don't put my picture in the paper, or, oh, you wanted my name? No, I can't give you my name. You know, this is, you know, back then there wasn't an issue of it's gonna be online. More lately, I've heard the, well, you put in the paper but don't put it online because they don't want it Googled. But that has become almost nonexistent anymore. Just slowly but surely, we don't have that. You know, I took that photo. This is a democratic thing. You know, there was a time when I might need to be concerned about all the other people in that picture. Not an issue. And then, you know, it's just one of those little imperceptible things. Back in the Bat Cave days, somebody there was an issue at the center that someone had sent mailings -- this was used as an example of internalized homophobia. Someone had sent mailings out from the center. And they were in sealed envelopes. And by the way, we do send the paper out still in closed envelopes and we do get asked about that. Do you send it in a sealed envelope? Yes, we send it in the sealed envelope. We do still have to do that. The Advocate once had an issue of they sent theirs out in a blue plastic bag. And they wanted to delete the bag. And so now they have that as an option. You know, they weren't going to delete the bag. And no other magazine except for porn is sent out like that. But there's the Lesbian Gay Center had sent out some mailing and two or three people got multiple copies of this mailing. And they called up and said, why are you doing that? Why, you know, yelling at them. And the answer was, I mean, mailings. Did you get from the Salvation Army this month? Three or four. Did you call them up and yell? No. Why not? Why are you yelling at us and not yelling at the Salvation Army? You know it's that, that little, that's gone, I mean, that's not gone completely but it certainly is, you know, a lot less that you have to worry about it. At the same time, we have the marriage ban amendment that was passed in 2004, but you know, it's gone in both directions that way. Baby steps, two steps forward, one step back.
Emily Miller [01:26:31] OK, well, thank you for meeting with me, I appreciate it.
Brian Dewitt [01:26:34] Well, thank you for coming in.
Emily Miller [01:26:36] All right, so I'm gonna go ahead and stop this.
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"Brian Dewitt Interview, 2008" (2008). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 695001.