One Struggle, One Fight.
– Cleve Jones –
It’s been over 50 years since I “came out” to myself and to my then small world of Oklahoma City. Little did I know that only four years later, those first frightening steps would catapult me into a life-long struggle for LGBT acceptance and for our fundamental civil rights. On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall riot in New York City changed my life in ways I could have never imagined.
In 2016, despite the tragedies and losses of the horrific AIDS Pandemic years, the previous decade had been politically amazing for us. We were particularly proud of our Transgendered Brother’s & Sister’s progress in their difficult fight for acceptance. Who of my generation could have ever imagined that we might one day legally marry? And a Black President of the United States would propose a national monument to Stonewall and that it would be announced in the New York Times? Wow!
Sadly, our euphoria was short lived, because with the November 2016, election of Donald Trump and his Radical Right cronies, we are under attack by the Conservative Christian Right like never before. As I write, a national debate between social and political liberals of all stripes is in progress and the results remain a distant unknown. Suffice to say, the violent pro-Nazi & white supremacist/KKK rallies which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, were beyond frightening
By a great cosmic coincidence, When We Rise, an eight-hour, four-part miniseries premiered on February 27, 2017, on ABC Television: “This mini-series chronicles the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement.”
Beginning with the opening credits, I was unexpectedly catapulted back in time as much of my own life story was played out on prime-time network television. There on-screen were many of the people I had known and worked with through the years and as the memories of many long-forgotten others rushed in, my tears began to flow and I wondered why I was putting myself through all of this sad saga again by watching it on TV?
That question was soon answered when I realized that the writer and producer of this seminal series, 43-year old Dustin Lance Black, had detailed the history of how the Viet Nam peace movement and the Black, the Women’s and the LGBT movements had coalesced around the AIDS issue and the modern Democratic Party was created.
The message was made very clear in the final segment. The organizing principles we had all utilized were exactly what is needed now to win the current political war. From my perspective, all of the articles, emails, social network communications, on line petitions, conference calls and meetings in the world will not attract the voters and potential voters we must now bring over to our viewpoint and politically activate. Our path is obvious to those of us who were politically active during the 1960s and forward. – Scott Foster
Openly Gay since the mid-1960s, Scott Foster became politically active in his home state of Oklahoma after New York’s Stonewall Riot in June of 1969. Scott remembers, “Even in conservative Oklahoma, Stonewall was a call to arms. The fact that New York City LGBTs would stand up and defend themselves against unwarranted police harassment gave us all the courage to begin to change things in our own cities and towns.”
Because of his long-time friend and personal attorney, the late William B. Rogers, Esq., Scott wrote one of the first checks to help found the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and their mutual friend and associate Dr. Bruce Voeller became the first Executive Director.
Dr. Voeller was the biologist and AIDS researcher who pioneered the use of nonoxynol-9 as a spermicide and topical virus-transmission preventative. With the NGLTF organization in place with a professional staff, for the first time in history, a visible and powerful national Gay political organization began to speak with a united voice.
And then came the 1978 Dade County, Florida referendum, led by pop singer and Florida Orange Juice spokesperson, Anita Bryant. Bryant, was from Oklahoma and her hate-filled political actions in Florida and later California stirred up a firestorm back in her home state. “In January of 1977, the Dade County Commission passed a gay-rights ordinance, making Miami the fortieth US city with such a law. The repeal in Miami led to a wave of repeals and gay-rights defeats in other states, including the passage of an Oklahoma law banning gay men and lesbians from teaching in the public schools.” Out of nowhere, Scott’s first major political fight had just landed in his lap – in his home state of Oklahoma.
Scott said, “After her appearance on the Miss America Pageant as Miss Oklahoma, Anita Bryant was generally known as ‘Oklahoma’s sweetheart’ and was the Oklahoma’s ‘most famous woman’ according to one state legislator. Indeed, much of the South and Midwest had a crush on her too. She was pretty, very talented with a string of Pop hits on Columbia Records and she was wholesome. However, she was also a Right Wing conservative and an evangelical Christian. Supporters believed that she was the perfect spokesperson for the ‘New Right,’ and she proved very adept at pitching her own brand of conservative wholesomeness.
Bryant’s fame rocketed the moment she became the national spokesperson for Florida’s Minute Maid orange juice.”Vowing to stop the ‘insidious attack on God and His laws,’ Bryant and her husband Bob Green formed the Save Our Children movement.
Using her powerful appeal and fundraising prowess, Bryant argued that homosexuality was ‘perverse and dangerous,’ and charged that these ‘human garbage heaps’ recruited children into their flock. She received help from conservative politicos like George Will and religious leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson – who later traveled to Hawai`i to fight “Gay Marriage.” All of them equated attempts to pass legislation ensuring equality for homosexuals with the ruin of American society.” View original source HERE. The Dade County referendum repealed Florida’s landmark law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and permitted the wholesale firing of Florida’s Lesbian and Gay Teachers. On the up-side, Bryant’s offensive, inflammatory rhetoric brought legions of once-closeted Gays to the cause. The explosive issue came to a decisive conclusion in 1978 with the ultimate defeat of the Brigg’s Inititive (Proposition 6) in California, where Harvey Milk had just been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Indeed, Bryant’s ugly actions inspired a national Conservative push-back which continues to this day. See “Anita Bryant and the Myth of the Militant Homosexual” HERE.
Scott notes, “These were all seminal events in LGBT history and they resonated across the country with amazing results. LGBTs across the nation began raising money to support the Florida and California battles and for the first time in history, Gays could expect financial and hands-on support from their sisters and brothers in other states. People came out of their closets in droves and the sea-change set the mechanisms in place that would later be far more important that anyone might have imagined. “When the AIDS pandemic struck in 1981, Scott helped organize Oklahoma City’s first Gay political organization, Oklahoman’s For Human Rights (OHR). which brought in national experts to educate his community about the mysterious new killer disease, then mislabeled as “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” (GRID). As Scott put it, “There’s nothing Gay about a bloodborne virus. Just look at what’s happening in Africa.”
In late 1984, after a simultaneous economic collapse of the oil industry and the failure of his two once-popular Gay owned and staffed restaurants & catering business, Scott moved to Los Angeles. Scott recalls, “When AIDS hit, my business dropped to nothing and I sold my remaining real estate and left my home of 42 years.”
With the government still ignoring the HIV carnage, during his two-years in LA, Scott continued to raise money to fund Voeller’s cutting-edge research but when AIDS took Dr. Voeller, Scott moved to Honolulu later saying, “LA was not a happy place to be or to do business as an openly Gay man during those years. Our world had been forever changed.”
Moving to Honolulu in 1986 with the AIDS pandemic raging, Scott was stunned to learn there was no politically-organized Gay community and there was not even a Gay Pride celebration. He remembers: “I looked for a Gay publication and there wasn’t one and the community simply had no credible, visible role models speaking out. It was a very divided and closeted community.”
Scott was soon elected to the Board of Honolulu’s small Gay Community Center. He founded and became the Editor of The Gay Community News – seeing their four-page newsletter with a total distribution of 400 literally explode as a tabloid newspaper with distribution growing from 400 to 18,000 in a mere 18 months. Scott attributes much of the paper’s success the humorous drag character he created. In addition to his serious editorial writing, the “mysterious” LaVerne da Gooche’s column, “Local Dirt” was an immediate hit in Hawai`i and soon spread to an international audience.
When the charismatic Feminist leader, Virginia Apuzzo succeeded Dr. Bruce Voeller as ED of the NGLTF, things really began to change. In 1987, Apuzzo was arrested outside the White House protesting the Reagan Administration’s lack of response to AIDS. Exactly 10-years later, President Clinton appointed Apuzzo Assistant to the President for Management and Administration, “a move that made her the nation’s highest ranking openly gay or lesbian government official.”
Scott notes: “Shortly after ‘Ginny’ was arrested at the Reagan White House, we invited her to Hawaii to speak to our new political organization, the Hawai`i Alliance For Equal Rights. She indeed came and the related publicity assured our success. Over 300 people turned out. Hearing her empowering speech was a ‘chicken skin’ moment for us all. After that, many previously skeptical women in Hawaii became actively involved in the AIDS effort and later with our political efforts.”
With a strong Hawai`i political organization up and running, Scott organized the first Gay Pride celebration in Hawaii and was instrumental in obtaining a proclamation from the governor.
Then came the Names Project Hawai`i. Working directly with the Names Project founder, Cleve Jones and the San Francisco Names Project team, Scott joined Honolulu friends Dr. Sumner Lacroix, Rita Andrade and Carmen Salazar to organize the very first public showing of the entire quilt ever presented by a state chapter. Over 25,000 people viewed the Quilt in Honolulu’s Neil Blaisdell Hall. Don’t miss the history of the Names Project Hawai`i with many photos HERE
In 1988, the World Health Organization established World AIDS Day to provide “governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community organizations, and individuals with an opportunity to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic.” Scott organized the first events in Hawai`i and for the next five years was the volunteer State Coordinator, producing A Day Without Art, and seeing the lights on the State Capitol (Mahalo to Nancy Kern!) and Aloha Tower turned off to call attention to World AIDS Day for A Night Without Light.
In 1991, Scott played a key role in the passage of legislation extending state-wide employment protection to Gays & Lesbians, and his political acumen was again put to the test during his involvement in the passing of Hawaii’s highly-praised needle exchange legislation — the first such HIV-prevention program in the US.
By then considered by many to be “… the Gay community’s senior activist,” Scott was profiled in the explosive Gay Power In Paradise cover article for the April, 1992 issue of Honolulu Magazine.
In 1993, Scott lost his business partner and friend John Winkler to AIDS. Together they had owned and operated the LA-based concert and sound engineering firm of John Winkler & Associates whose clients had included Barbara Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Barry Manilow, and Hollywood’s Universal Amphitheater and the legendary Studio One disco. Scott said, “When John died, I was literally out of business. I long ago quit counting the friends and business associates I lost to this disease. These were the people I was expecting to grow old with. I call that period, The Great Dying.”
Scott’s most haunting personal loss to AIDS was his friend, Tommy Aguilar. One of the original London cast stars of A Chorus Line, Aguilar was perhaps Honolulu’s best-known show business personality. Tommy had once said, “When I heard there was some new Gay guy in Honolulu organizing everything in sight to raise money for AIDS, I tracked down Scott. He’s one of the few professional press agents with ethics and scruples I’ve ever known; simply the very best in the business.” Together Tommy and Scott would raise over $100,000 for AIDS research during the two years before Aguilar’s tragic death.
On November 7, 1991, basketball legend, “Magic” Johnson announced he was HIV+. Scott felt his personal efforts in bringing the threat of AIDS into the national and local public consciousness was done. He later wrote, “I had simply had enough; was burned out. I had devoted the most productive decade of my life to AIDS awareness and I needed to somehow move on and reclaim my life.” But that was not in the cards.
THE NATIONAL “GAY MARRIAGE” ISSUE BEGINS
In 1994, Foster broke with many of the very Gay organizations in Hawai’i he had helped to create when he strongly advised a newly-active political segment of the Hawai`i LGBT community against using the word “marriage.” He later wrote, “While we certainly agreed that all people in committed relationships should enjoy the same economic and legal rights that marriage provides and philosophically supported the right to marry, my political ohana felt that ‘marriage’ was just not politically possible to achieve in 1994 and the very use of the word would no-doubt coalesce and empower the right-wing Christian fundamentalists. We were certain that this misguided effort would cost us very dearly were we to force our friends at the legislature to take a public stand on the issue.
We believed that we should get our state bundle of rights in place by statute and let people ‘get married’ if they wanted — or not. Either way, at that point in time it would have not affected the important federal rights such as survivorship re Social Security, retirement pensions, the military, etc. We still had a long way to go in the states before we could go after the federal benefits and much of our hard-won groundwork was being put at risk because of the use of the word ‘marriage'”.
“Besides that fact, a deal had been struck the previous year with House and Senate Leadership in order to get the State’s Employment Protection legislation passed in the first place. We had promised to not bring our next Gay-rights action — protection in housing — forward the following session because it was an election year. The Gay Marriage proponents virtually ignored all of this.” Foster tried in vain to sway the community to instead wait a year and then seek Domestic Partnership legislation but he was not able to convince the political novices.
By then, Scott had been retained as the Director of Communications for the underdog candidate for Governor, the Lt. Governor Ben Cayetano. Scott was pleased to learn first-hand of Cayetano’s supportive position on Domestic Partnerships. Early in the campaign (and to the great consternation to some of his campaign advisers), Cayetano said, “I think the state should get out of the business of marrying people and leave that to the churches. Government should deal only with the legal aspects of such personal relationships.”
As Scott relates, “I was in the room when Ben told the campaign leaders his position and the silence was deafening. Unfortunately, the public took Cayetano’s positive position on Domestic Partnerships [aka Civil Unions] to mean he supported ‘Gay Marriage’ — and the phones began to ring off the wall. It got very nasty. Even though I wrote a phone script for anyone answering the campaign phones to use to articulate the Lt. Governor’s position on Domestic Partnerships, I was the one to whom literally all of the calls were directed. No one else in the campaign would deal with the ‘uncomfortable’ issue.
So there I was, taking virtually all the heat on the very thing that I had warned the Gay community against. It was the most demoralizing period of my life because I had to listen to all of those hateful calls for 12 hours a day without any relief. Not one single other openly Gay person set foot near the Cayetano Campaign.” The following letter politely touches on those difficult months:
… “I was responsible for answering the switchboard and referred all ’issue’ related calls to Scott. Whether the caller was courteous or contentious, Scott exemplified professionalism…”. “He was conscientious and knowledgeable … honest and forthright in spite of the challenge imposed by the caller.”
Ben Cayetano For Governor Campaign
Complete letter HERE
During his 1998 re-election campaign, Governor Cayetano held steadfast to his original support for Domestic Partnerships and he was literally demonized by the Gay community and its supporters for his public position against “Gay Marriage.” Foster said, “The Governor had never once wavered from his original position supporting Domestic Partnerships. Hearing only what they wanted to hear, the Gay community very nearly cost the election for the most-powerful political friend we ever had.”
Along with several other LGBT political veterans, Scott completely withdrew from Hawaii’s Gay political arena and was forced to witness the ensuing political bloodbath. Scott recalled, “People fled back into their closets in droves as the debacle played out in the media and at the polls during the following years.”
The 1996 legislative elections indeed validated Scott’s original argument when the Democrats who had led the “Gay Marriage” effort in the State Legislature were virtually all targeted and all defeated by the then-well-organized Radical Right Christian fundamentalists. Supportive Representatives Devon Nekoba, Annelle Amaral, Rey Graulty, Len Pepper and Jim Shon were all turned out.
As former Representative James (Jim) Shon, one of the defeated legislators later observed:
“The issue was also important in derailing attempts to change leadership in the House, and Speaker Joe Souki [an old-guard status quo Conservative Democrat] kept his position. The Same Sex marriage issue also pretty well broke apart the integration of the Gay community with the health care agenda, as there was a lot of support for HIV funding, the needle exchange program, etc.
“Moderates were by then getting comfortable in dealing with Gay activists and organizations for common purposes relating to health. Also there are a number of progressives who might have been elected but lost because of it as well. The key is to look at the 1996 election returns, both the primary and general.
“Then in 1998 came the Hawai`i State Constitutional amendment. The Gay marriages and supportive court rulings during the last few years further heightened resentments against Liberals and have contributed to an infusion of energy and passion in the conservative religious groups, and further made it more difficult to bring back blue collar Democrats who have now gotten into the habit of voting Republican.”
Scott and his bloodied political hui could do nothing but stand and watch with mouths agape as the “Gay Marriage” issue quickly swept across the entire country; “a bitter, ugly, high-profile battle with us losing in virtually every state.” On September 21, 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). NOTE: In a surprising turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA Section 3 on June 26, 2013.
After the Hawai`i constitutional amendment debacle, 46+ states (11 in 2004 alone) passed some version of Hawaii’s Defense of Marriage statute and immediately after the 2004 elections, President George Bush again introduced a constitutional amendment. The Federal Marriage Amendment has been introduced in the United States Congress five times: in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and again in 2013 after the Supreme Court action. The legislation remains alive today. Read corroborating views HERE and HERE.
Even after the loss of so many supportive legislators in 1996, the Hawai`i Reciprocal Beneficiaries law was enacted on July 8, 1997 and provided limited state rights to same-sex couples, relatives and friends. The law represented “… a commitment to provide substantially similar government rights to those couples who are barred by law from marriage. “Among the benefits extended to non-married reciprocal beneficiaries under the law are: property rights, including joint tenancy; the right to visit your partner in a hospital and make health care decisions for her or him; ability to inherit property without a will; and protection under Hawaii’s domestic violence laws.”
“It was all absolutely insane. The original “Gay Marriage” proponents — with the best of intentions — to this day likely do not realize what grave damage their ill-conceived actions caused. In all probability, the political stature once enjoyed by Hawaii’s Gay community will not be regained for decades if ever. I have no doubt that the Same Sex Marriage issue in Hawai`i was the organizing impetus for the Radical Right here in Hawai`i AND nationally. While we may never know for certain, the misguided Hawai`i effort may have culminated in the defeat of Senator John Kerry for President of the United States and the election of George Bush.” NOTE: Read a more detailed WIKI page history of the legal battle for Marriage Equality in Hawai`i HERE.
After the Hawai`i Gay Marriage debacle, Scott returned to his long-neglected personal business, later writing, “While working with the Hawai’i State Legislature for HIV funding, job protection and Needle Exchange, I observed many issues being neglected, mismanaged or inappropriately controlled by the political powers in Hawai`i, issues affecting us all, and I want to somehow work for positive change.”
As his resume reveals, Scott Foster has continued to embrace many, many important issues affecting us all, utilizing the grassroots organizing skills and technology-based communications skills he had learned and best practices he developed during the early years of AIDS.
During the 2004 Presidential and state elections, Scott was one of four key kitchen cabinet political advisors to the Democratic Party State Chair. When Hawai`i suddenly became a “swing state” and President Bush sent Vice-President Dick Cheney over to rally his Hawai`i troops, Scott quickly organized the “Dick Cheney Halloween Party” and over 1000 people turned out, many in costume with approprite signs to protest Cheney’s appearance at the Hawai`i State Convention Center.
Hawai`i remained a Blue State and the voters indeed added to the already overwhelming majority of Democrats in both the State House and Senate. Scott was then retained by the Party as the interim Communications Director immediately after the very successful 2004 election cycle. He held the position through the 2005 State Legislative Session. Scott was also the volunteer Communications Director (2003-2005) for the O`ahu County Democratic Party organisation which represents some 80% of Hawaii’s Democrats.
Scott observed, “Having worked in and around Hawaii`s corridors of power for over a quarter of a century, I can tell you that the Democrats lost the Governor’s seat to a Republican (Linda Lingle) in 2002 and she was reelected in 2004; eight years under a Republican governor simply because Hawaii’s rank and file Democrats were just plain sick of the continuing corruption, rampant nepotism, and exclusionary attitude of the self-anointed political elite which evolved after 50 years of Democratic Party control.
We Gays must remember that the Hawai`i State Legislature and the various county councils have many elected Democrats who in reality, are Moderate or Conservative Republicans and they vote that way on social issues.”
“Anything is possible in this complex, frightened society and world, but unless something changes dramatically and the Hawai`i LGBT community again becomes better organized, one might expect more of the same dysfunction for the foreseeable future. We must strengthen our relationships with other progressive organizations by being there to support their issues (women, seniors, other minorities, and unions) just as they have historically supported us.”
“To me, the single most important thing that any LGBT person can do is to come out in anyway they can. One might begin by phoning or introducing themselves to their elected officials and telling them, ‘I am a LGBT person living in your district. My family, friends and I vote and we are asking for your support for our legislation.’ One can start there.”
Today, Scott Foster continues to work to achieve social justice equality for all of Hawaii’s consumers via the organization he help found in 1995 with the help of the American consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Advocates For Consumer Rights.
What Others Say About Scott Foster HERE
Scott’s work history HERE
Scott’s Hospitality Industry Experience HERE
Scott’s Entertainment Industry Experience HERE