SF Bay Times celebrates 40th anniversary, unity between gay and lesbian communities

The San Francisco Bay Times was founded forty years ago by gay men and women — together.

That was an intentional focus for the small, local LGBT newspaper, said current co-publisher Betty Sullivan.

“I realize there are times when gay men want to be with gay men, and lesbians want to be with lesbians,” she said. But, “I think we need to unify.”

That ethos has carried the newspaper forward to its fourth decade, which the paper is celebrating through the 2018 Pride celebration and the rest of this year.

Inclusiveness is the name of the game at the Bay Times, Sullivan said, from balancing men and women to political proclivities. San Francisco’s two influential LGBT Democratic clubs, the progressive-leaning Harvey Milk LGBT Democractic Club and the moderate-leaning Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, each traditionally have representative columnists in the paper.

Sullivan even counts the number of men and women in the newspaper’s photos, to ensure equality.

“I don’t do this every issue,” Sullivan said, “but I used to.”

The same goes for diversity of ethnicity, she said. “How do we come out walking the walk here? I think it’s important to pay attention to that.”

Sullivan, the founder of the noted email list Betty’s List, runs the paper with journalist Jennifer Viegas. But the inclusive approach has been there since the beginning, when journalists Roland Schembari and Randy Alfred started the paper, Sullivan said.

In 1992 the Bay Times stood by communities of color, and ran an editorial graphic criticizing San Francisco Police Department Chief Richard Hongisto for mass arrests of hundreds of demonstrators peacefully protesting the Rodney King verdict, according to the L.A. Times, who wrote about the incident in 1992.

The Bay Times ran a graphic of Hongisto with a police baton between his legs, like a phallus. The headline read “Dick’s Cool New Tool: Martial Law.”

After allegations exploded that Hongisto tried to suppress the paper, the chief was subsequently fired by a unanimous decision of the San Francisco Police Commission.

“We believe the chief exercised poor judgment and abused his power in this incident,” said commission Chairman Harry Low, a former state appeals court judge, according to the LA Times. “His explanation of this incident is difficult for this commission to accept in light of the evidence.”

Sullivan said the paper had fallen on hard times a decade ago, when the former publisher went through health and family issues. When she and Viegas took over in 2011 “we resurrected it and took it in a new, different place.”

That much is obvious even from the paper’s look, which after Sullivan took over transitioned from text-heavy front pages to colorful, eye-catching art. Two men wrapped in a rainbow flag share a kiss in a 2014 Pride issue, and an article on the Castro District’s rising rents features Dorothy and friends trotting down the iconic yellow-brick road to the pricy neighborhood. A recent cover from December shows a paint brush rendering by artist and Building Inspection commissioner Debra Walker, depicting now-Mayor London Breed with hands clasped, eyes pensive, after the death of the late Mayor Ed Lee.

That issue demonstrates what the Bay Times does best, as it highlighted Lee’s contributions to the local LGBT community and has many appearances with LGBT leaders.

“We don’t limit to what we’re writing to LGBT people obviously, and we want to highlight our allies,” Sullivan said.

The most recent issue of the Bay Times prior to this article’s publication featured Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, outlining his “vision” for San Francisco, after his landslide electoral win to respresent The Castro and Noe Valley, among other neighborhoods, in June. But Sullivan and the paper’s readers are no stranger to Mandelman — prior to his election he was a columnist in the paper for years.

“I think the Bay Times has an illustrious history, it gives an additional voice to folks in the LGBT community,” Mandelman told the San Francisco Examiner. Despite the paper being small but mighty, Mandelman said he would often be approached by people who said they were regular readers.

The paper is a labor of love, he said, taking time, money and energy. “I know the rewards aren’t that great” financially for its publishers, Mandelman said.

But, he added, “I’m a fan of the Bay Times.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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