Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Dennis Peron Memoir

Dennis Peron Memoir

Well known as a determined medical and recreational marijuana activist for decades, Dennis Peron was also a gay activist, a civil rights activist, and a patron of the arts.

This journalist met Dennis when he had left the US Air Force, and had moved into a Haight-Ashbury commune where my boyfriend Monte also lived. Dennis was ecstatic to meet an openly-gay couple who did not hesitate to hold hands on the street and kiss in theaters and restaurants. This was risky behavior in 1969, even in the Haight, and we liked being joined by Dennis and friends.
Dennis invited us to a party, and we noticed an intense man playing a guitar and serenading some young women. We found out later that the intense man was Charles Manson, and that his "family" was also at the party.
Two women coordinated the commune and a food conspiracy, and we found Dennis in the kitchen many times, watching them load bright green marijuana into gelatin capsules. Dennis asked them many questions, which later helped him in his restaurant and club enterprises. Communal dining was a major attraction for the commune, and for other nearby linked communes, which belonged to the Kaliflower Collective. The collective promoted vegetarianism, sex without shame, expanding consciousness, altruism, and love.

Dennis climbed into bed with Monte and I sometimes, but there was not much climbing, since beds were actually king-size mattresses on floors, with Indian bedspreads for sheets. There was a communal consciousness and the hope that the counterculture could create a better world. Studying Hinduism was popular, since it offers reincarnation. The feeling was that maybe our families and friends would be more supportive and caring in future lives. We wore clothing and sandals from India, but we could not figure out Indian wrap-around underwear, which is now explained in online videos. Everyone knew not to knock on bedroom doors if they heard sitar music or George Harrison's "Inner Light." That was code for sex was Happening, so do not disturb. Dennis was shocked one afternoon, after we voted him off the bed. He had tried to bring a kitten with him.

Dennis, Monte, and I and about a dozen LGBTs  joined a crowd of over 200 counterculture Love-In celebrants in June 1970, to enjoy our own first Gay Pride party on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. It was a first San Francisco event to mark the Stonewall Riots that started on June 27, 1969 in New York City, the year before. My boyfriend Monte and Dennis and some lesbian and gay couples were in the midst of the throng on blankets, and on alert for very possible harassment. Instead young men who passed by said, "Cool."  One of the lesbians in my photographs said that she  thought that  they wanted to impress their girlfriends with their liberal attitudes.

Dennis and I met to discuss the organizing of a San Francisco Gay Liberation Front group, and he was excited to hear about Black Panther Party women and men appearing at a small gay meeting in 1971 in Oakland, to invite us to a Black Panther convention in Washington DC. He also enjoyed hearing about a large Berkeley Gay Liberation Front meeting that was hosted by women from the Symbionese Liberation Army. We spoke later, and Dennis said he was too busy with his business interests and romances, but that he would support gay groups, and he did.

Dennis and I had a connection even before we met. One of his jobs while serving in Viet Nam was shipping coffins back to the US. Unlike many of my friends and cousins, I was not spoiled and had to buy my own car, so I worked at Federal Express until coffins arrived from Viet Nam

Dennis owned a series of marijuana clubs, where he combined a welcoming presence with a quality product. He also endured a series of law enforcement raids, and he was shot in the leg in one incident. When I complained that people were pressing him to sell them marijuana while we spoke at Café Flore, with him still in pain and leaning on a crutch, with a Long Island accent similar to Harvey Milk's he let me know that he wanted to sell them the contraband, and that he had a stash under his bed in the hospital, and made sales there.

Dennis instantly bonded with Harvey Milk, since they had similar politics and a need to help people. Dennis financed Harvey's political campaigns, and also his successor Harry Britt's, and many other LGBT candidates and allies' campaigns.

The multi-floored Peron home on 17th Street was a fine TV viewing spot to watch Lyndon Johnson announce that he would not run for re-election and see Richard Nixon take his last official helicopter ride from the White House lawn. The home was a hotbed of anti-Viet Nam War organizing and anti-conservative Nixon legislation politicking, and the crowds at such special events felt like real San Francisco progressive values in action.

Dennis' Island Restaurant was a boost to businesses near its location at 16th and Sanchez Streets, and more than 60 people were employed there. It drew a continuous stream of guests, and many also patronized the marijuana supermarket upstairs. My German relatives were astounded when they looked into the kitchen one afternoon to see that the stoned and bleary-eyed staff were naked and mixing main courses on a table. That explained our chili merged with lentil soup lunch, and coffee blended with tea.

Dennis' largest and most successful medical marijuana club was on Market Street at Van Ness Avenue, on 4 floors with a large elevator, that employed more than 80 people. The elevator made the club accessible to disabled and ill people, and it drew many wheelchair users. They are vulnerable on streets and in parks, while seeking pain relief, and the large club had greeters helping them on every floor. It was appreciated, as was Free Dope Day on Thursdays. Grateful guests fell at Dennis' feet and kissed his hands in gratitude while standing in that special line, and they helped him when he ran a campaign for governor as a Republican, to stir things up. Gagging sounds were heard in the background while I posed him in front of an American flag for the campaign promotions.

Dennis was the center of attention at many events, even at weddings and funerals, where mostly young people gathered around him. My lover Beau and I celebrated our 8th anniversary at the Valencia Rose nightclub. Jose Sarria performed "Madame Butterfly" on stage. In attendance was famous erotic film star Scott Anderson ("Boys of San Francisco"the filmmaker thought it would be funny to include me in a parade scene, and I never asked Dennis how he knew so many of the film's stars). Owners Hank Wilson and Ron Lanza helped serve shark dinners and the large cake that we brought was served. All through the event Dennis was the center of the overflow audience's attention, even when Jose drew the film star Scott on stage to join the opera actors and be mauled. 

What drew people to Dennis was his promotion of freedom to indulge in marijuana and sexual freedom. He also gave away joints, sometimes throwing handfuls from stages into enthusiastic crowds.

A large encampment of tents welcomed friends at a Summer of Love anniversary near Ocean Beach, and as they walked closer to the tents they saw huge glittering carved marijuana leaves, and Dennis waving to them. He had a grand presence with activist followers at street fairs, parades, the Rainbow Gathering, and Burning Man.

Some of Dennis' TV appearances included his friend Jo Daly, the first lesbian police commissioner, appointed by Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Jo told multiple audiences that she lost her appetite during breast cancer treatment, and that medical marijuana had revived her interest in eating, and saved her life. Physicians and other caregivers recommended their clients to Dennis' clubs, and his warmth and caring was on view every day. He spotted people with gray or green skin tones, and others walking with difficulty, and he seated them, and brought service guides to them.

His large office at his Market Street club was a whirlwind of activity. Bay Times journalists joined CNN and CBS news crews on couches, watching giant duffle bags and suitcases of product hauled in the door, along with a huge man wearing a horned helmet and biker gear who carried THC-infused Rice Krispies squares. He introduced himself as a Hells Angels Motorcycle Club baker. 

Dennis dedicated himself to helping people with HIV/AIDS after his lover Jonathan died. Jonathan and I discussed his condition one afternoon, while Dennis placed morphine from an eyedropper onto Jonathan's tongue to alleviate the pain of Kaposi Sarcoma in his mouth. Rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker stopped on his way to the hot tub, listened to us, and then dropped his towel to break the tension in the room and get a laugh. Then I saw that people seated behind Jonathan, including Dennis, were crying. 

Dennis sponsored my photography show at A Different Light Bookstore, which was also sponsored by James Hormel. Mayor Willie Brown spoke and gave me a proclamation for Rink Foto Day in San Francisco. Dennis asked to see it and spoke about his many awards over the years from thankful leaders in the political and art spheres.

Gilbert Baker was a longtime friend of Dennis' and was given a free hand to redecorate Dennis' home, clearing away macramé, hanging bedspreads, and potted plants. It was a lavender wonderland when Gilbert was finished, and guests said that it had a new feeling of joyousness. Dennis funded Gilbert's flag and costume creations, and his art work. Gilbert provided lavish decorations for many benefits for a variety of causes hosted by Dennis.
Dennis welcomed the founder of Gay Liberation Harry Hay and his lover John Burnside to live in the home, as refugees from Southern California. More than a dozen Radical Faeries stepped forward to serve as caregivers for the thankful couple.

Wonderful events were a part of Dennis' activism, including the time that he was invited to debate with Australia's prime minister. He staged impressive gatherings all over the world, with overwhelming press coverage.

My last visit to see Dennis was a Prop 215 anniversary party at his home, which is now a B&B, and it was filled with friends of many years smoking Dennis' dope and reminiscing about his generosity. Dennis was in his bedroom, and as he had said many times before, progress has been made in furthering civil rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, anti-war activities, and many other worthwhile causes, but marijuana was still seen as a threat instead of a national treasure in too much of the US.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gay 9/11 Hero Mark Bingham Remembered: An Audacious Gay Jock Became a Hero

With the ten-year commemoration of one the most horrible tragedies in American history being marked on Sept. 11, 2011, a remarkable gay hero is also being honored. Mark Bingham was a passionate San Francisco rugby player and a charming public relations executive who found himself on hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 over the state of Pennsylvania. He led three other men into the cockpit to prevent the plane being used to attack a target in Washington, D.C. His cell phone conversation with his mother Alice Hoagland, the flight data recordings, and the calls of other passengers confirm that Bingham rose to the occasion. He had wrested a gun away from a criminal who was threatening his boyfriend on the street, and he used his 6'-4", 220-pound physique to play a determined and aggressive rugby game. Shouts of “Let's roll!” are heard on the cell phones from the doomed flight, as it is heard when a rugby team charges at a game.

Bingham played for the San Francisco Fog rugby team, and they are well known as formidable, but also as uninhibited and fun-loving. They barely blinked when emcee Donna Sachet cut off their jockstraps and they danced naked with their soccer balls at a Big Gay Fraternity House charity benefit in the Castro. The international gay rugby championship is named in Bingham’s honor, the gym at the Castro’s Eureka Valley Recreation Center features a large plaque honoring him, and his mother is adored for questioning any family’s separation from their children because of their sexual orientation.

"With You", a fascinating documentary film about Bingham, was screened to great acclaim at this year’s San Francisco Int'l LGBT Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. It was heart-rending to hear Bingham’s mother speak about her loss and to see multiple videos of Bingham with her, his boyfriends, his team, and his relatives. More than 1,200 people rose to their feet and applauded as Alice Hoagland walked down the aisle to ascend the stage.

Mark Bingham's mother Alice Hoagland on stage after the screening of "With You" at the Castro Theatre

The film’s message and the knowledge of Bingham’s actions have been a notable answering point to bigots who question the lives and morality of the LGBT community. Members of San Francisco’s congressional delegation and Senator John McCain have credited Bingham for possibly saving their lives. This journalist (and his extended family) is thankful because Flight 93 flew over his family’s farm 20 miles from the crash site when it was swarming with young relatives, and his father was at the U.S. Capitol that morning.

For more information on the Mark Bingham Foundation, visit markbingham.org.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Crescendo Fundraising Gala: A Unique Musical Artistic Event

Conductor Timothy Seelig, Grand Duchess Kylie Minono, and executive director Teddy Witherington

A unique brunch was hosted by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at the Four Seasons Hotel on Oct. 9:  The annual Crescendo fundraising gala in one of the city’s most stylish hotels started at noon, a time of the day on Sundays when many are nursing hangovers at home. The chorus drew an amazingly large turnout for a quiche and fruit parfait brunch, with accomplished musical performances and awards for the organization’s supporters.

Chorus guests who arrived early enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the hotel terrace that overlooks the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s huge tilted blue cube. The chorus’ two ensembles, the Lollipop Guild and the Vocal Minority, performed to kick off the party and they projected the positive mood of the party and enhanced the admiration of the gathered donors.

Board president Michael Tate, executive director Teddy Witherington, and honoree Stuart Milk

The chorus’ new Human Rights Champion Award was given to Harvey Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk by chorus board president Michael Tate and executive director Teddy Witherington for his advocacy of LGBT rights worldwide. Milk’s day job is working with at-risk youth and he founded the Harvey Milk Foundation to fight hate and discrimination. From his base near Ft. Lauderdale, Milk researches and then visits communities where he can do the most good—from Spain to Turkey to San Jose Pride.

The new link between the Chorus and Harvey Milk was revealed when a “Dear Harvey, We’ve Got Hope” project video was screened, and then described by Witherington. Young people are being asked for their feelings about Milk and their submissions will be formed into musical creations for the Chorus’ upcoming 35th anniversary season. Impressive board president Tate then spoke about funding for the organization for the future.

A unique talent, counter-tenor Jacques Snyman, then performed, and the expressions of surprise on faces around the ballroom has been seen before, when other blatantly masculine looking countertenors reach high notes. Diageo Americas’ Phillipa Jones (of subsidiary Sterling Vineyards) said that their commitment to the LGBT community is sincere when she accepted a Corporate Champion Award. The Bay Area Reporter (BAR) received a Media Champion Award, though the decade-long LGBT press boycott of the Chorus led by the BAR’s publisher after a controversial Chorus dinner incident was not mentioned.

The guests were thanked by event co-chairs Paul Olsen and Sean Livingston, and there was talk from table to table about the Chorus’ altruistic tours through small California cities that also finance their local LGBT groups. Providing role models and self-esteem is an important side benefit to areas of the state where that can be lacking.

The Gay Men’s Chorus has managed to prosper during a time of financial uncertainty and much of the credit is due to not only the staff and board, but also the advisory board which includes Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, Dr. Betty L. Sullivan of Betty's List and the San Francisco Bay Times, Devesh Khatu of the Horizons Foundation, and Cecilia Chung of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Hardworking artistic operations manager Mike Holland also deserves credit for presenting professional light and sound in spaces where it never existed previously.

Artistic director and conductor for the last ten years Dr. Kathleen McGuire was remembered fondly, and her replacement Dr. Timothy Seelig has been embraced by the chorus after changes were made to the repertoire.

The Chorus is also thriving thanks to the monumental talents of Paul Saccone, the music director of the Lollipop Guild ensemble and Carl Pantle, the Chorus' associate artistic director, principal pianist, and the musical director of the Vocal Minority ensemble.

A wonderful event ended with musical interludes from the Lollipop Guild and the Vocal Minority.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Berlin and Beyond Film Festival: A Daring, Shocking, and Lyrical Film Festival

Berlin and Beyond Festival President Sabine Erlenwein and Festival Director Sophoan Sorn

The 16th annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival is opening Oct. 20 at the Castro Theatre, and this  celluloid gift has been eagerly anticipated by film fans. San Francisco has always had a vibrant German-American community, and the Castro District was the home and business site for dozens of ethnic German families from the late 1800s to the post-WWII era.  When homes and garages on Collingwood Street are renovated, German-language newspapers used as insulation are found in the walls. San Francisco boasts some of the Bay Area’s best array of German restaurants, including the high camp decorated East German restaurant Walzwerk that has catered the festival with its superb goulash.

The media was invited to a Sept. 29 promotional press conference where conversations with Festival Director Sophoan Sorn and Festival President Sabine Erlenwein developed over pastry and coffee. Erlenwein is also the Director of the San Francisco branch of the Goethe Institut, the German Cultural Center that is located in large cities worldwide. Sorn and Erlenwein then mounted the movie palace’s stage to discuss the films, lead a Q&A, and introduce the excellent festival closing night film “If Not Us, Who (Wer wenn nicht wir).”

That closing night film is an inspiration to activists as it introduces the intense, young, disenchanted characters who would become members of the Baader-Meinhof Group, an urban terrorist gang also known as the Red Army Faction that was active in the 1970s. Their dysfunctional personal lives are on display, and the movie complements the numerous other films about the gang, such as the award winning “The Baader Meinhof Complex” of 2009. Germans are still confounded by the gang, since its members were privileged youth who did not just attack government and business officials with handguns, they attacked relentlessly with machine guns. The message of the film and its title is to not be complacent, but to be become activists and form groups to make changes, though not necessarily as extremely as the subjects of this cinematic expression.

The festival is about films, but it also is well known and admired for its high-energy parties. The mezzanine of the silent film era Castro Theatre is the venue for the opening night and closing night soirées where Blue Angel Vodka and Spaten beer will be served with treats from the Castro’s Hot Cookie and The Sausage Factory (where this journalist shared meals with Harvey Milk).

The festival depends on volunteers, its publicist Jackson Scarlett, and on gay lovers Alex Randoph and Trevor Nguyen, who solve problems and enhance the event using their experience with government service and group dynamics.

The consulates of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have generously supported the festival since its founding, and their gatherings throughout the year advertise the festival and its rich cultural significance. German culture is celebrated in San Francisco and a central focus of that culture is philosophy, art, and music. That essence is captured by the festival film “Young Goethe in Love.” Unfortunately that film will only be screened in San Jose because the filmmakers and distributors have restricted its viewing to theaters of 500 seats or less so it can remain eligible for awards. Controversy may emerge after the film is mass released because recently discovered letters suggest that Goethe was gay or bisexual.

The other unique and stimulating film only being screened in San Jose in the festival is “3 (Drei)” which is a rarely shown scenario of a man and his wife sharing another man, and it was a hit at San Francisco Int'l LGBT Film Festival this year.

For more information: www.BerlinBeyond.org

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Bare Chest Calendar Auction: A Night of Restrained Debauchery

Mr. February Michael Rubinstein with hostess Donna Sachet

"Visual splendor" and "fine altruism" best describe the array of handsome men, generous donors, and resourceful party coordinators who enjoyed the 2012 Bare Chest Calendar Men auction benefit for the AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) and the Positive Resource Center (PRC) at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on August 23.

Distinctive men included handsome filmmaker Philippe Gosselin, whose movie "The Rescue" was a hit at this year’s San Francisco Int'l LGBT Film Festival, and the devilish young Seth Watkins, who has overcome numerous obstacles to reach a new healthy point in his life.

Mr. December Philippe Gosselin

Guys chosen for the Calendar must agree to spend an enormous amount of time and effort at events where they promote the sale of the Bare Chest Calendar. Some guys such as Christopher Humphreys and Jay Laude have had extensive experience volunteering with non-profits. Humphreys is famous for going shirtless to make quick sales of Jello-O shots for charity.

Each of the men was lavishly presented by emcee Donna Sachet, who wore a golden goddess gown. Then masterful tuxedo-ed auctioneer Lenny Broberg pitted fans and the besotted in the audience to bid on the guys. They appeared first in hilariously boyish ensembles donated by Citizen/Body. And then Anya Montiel and Gerri Beauvais—helpful women who were beautifully gowned and accessorized—stripped off the Calendar men's shirts. There was a moment for the yelling-and-applauding crowd to run their eyes across the expanse of gym-toned muscles before a red bow tie and a leather vest from sponsor Miller Beer were slid onto the men's sweating bodies.

Lance Holman, Troy Anicete, [name and likeness removed by request] and friend

The competition was fierce, but also fun. Last year it was guided by the blinding fear that a magnificent and predatory Mr. SF Leather was trying to “buy” non-single studs. It went smoothly this year until the overtly primal Will Swagger assumed an athlete’s pre-pounce position and a seemingly mesmerized Sachet mounted the stage in response, but she was expertly led back to her seat by auctioneer Broberg. Stunning Andy Cross’ friends, a straight couple, astounded the other donors with a $10,000 winning bid, the highest of the evening.

The event featured two stylized climaxes. The first was when the winning bidders were joyfully invited onto the stage to join the Calendar men. The second climax shocked and pleased the audience, and only a glamorous Donna Sachet could seize the moment so well when she glided down the runway to Broberg in a luxurious satin bridal gown and veil.

Mr. October Will Swagger and Mr. December Philippe Gosselin

It was the best of San Francisco with the professional fundraising talents of Donna Sachet and Lenny Broberg and the expert guidance of coordinators Thom Grant (Mr. December 2007) and Mark Hollenstein (Mr. June 2006), along with the good-natured and alluring 2012 Calendar men in the historic and accommodating Sir Francis Drake Hotel, all for two wonderful charities.

For more information, visit barechest.org.

The 2012 Bare Chest Calendar men with hostess Donna Sachet (center) and host Lenny Broberg (right)