letters
Volume 16/Issue 21

Dear American Citizens,
As a German business lawyer who lives in London and has spent some years in the United States representing major US and international companies I want to share my concerns with you about the above matter.

When do you finally become aware that the actions of Mr. Starr and the House of Representatives as well as the hysterics of a minority of your country fellows are spoiling the reputation of your country throughout the world:

After having spent more than 30 Mio Dollar in Whitewater etc. Mr. Starr decided to investigate the private sexual life of your president. As an agent provocateur he then succeeded in Mr. Clinton evading proper answers with respect to issues which were neither the business of Mr. Starr nor of the world wide public. You should be happy that you have a performing young president, who fortunately still has a sense of liberalism. When studying at Harvard in 1973 I and my fellow students - although all of us being rather conservative - were thinking about Woodstock, Women Liberalization and the freedom from dusty hierarchies. Swinging New York and San Francisco were the definite sign that America had left the subjugation of puritanism and was going to become open minded.

What Is going on now?

The Congress is issuing materials because your president did nothing else but to behave as any other adult man. In Germany everybody knows about the affairs of Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, Oskar Lafontaine and Gerhard Schroeder, However, the public as well as the media believe that this is their own private business. We rather have a chancellor with a free brain than a chancellor being frustrated for not being able to satisfy his sexual desires.

This is the normal attitude of any mature person When do you finally realize that the present procedure does not only impair the image and the power of your president but that it creates a horrible image of the American people. The "ugly American" fortunately has disappeared some 10 to 20 years ago: now you are creating a new image of the "moralizing" American speaking with two tongues.

When are you finally going to be sexually liberalized? When are you seizing to be inhibited by the most natural things? When do you start fighting against those people, who are spreading all their sexual frustration over a country which deserves better? United States awake! Modern world requires intellectual freedom and not the reincarnation of the ancient inquisitions. Very truly yours,
--Dr.F.Landwehrmann,
--L. L. M., London
--Menachim Czertok, Berlin


Dear Rip,
In the past few weeks our GLBT community has lost two of our oldest and most important members and supporters, Mike Stark and Leon Impastato. Each, in their own individual ways, played an important part of the development of the community we have today, be it the French Quarter we so dearly love or our own personal GLBT community.

leon As an architect, Leon has put his mark on the French Quarter by his meticulous restoration of the way the Quarter was in its yesterday's prime. He was born in the Quarter. He lived his entire life in the Quarter. He loved the Quarter. And he was one of the Quarter's great characters, whether it was walking the streets nodding to passersby, by they friend or strangers, or poking his head in businesses or bars to just say "Hi."

That's how I met Leon. I had just opened a shop next to Tate Co. Real Estate, in the 900 block of Royal, and this bald-headed, mustached man came in and said "What type of shop is this?" That was back in 1969 and for the past nearly 30 years I have procrastinated about getting Leon to sit down and tell me his part of our community's early days.

Along with Jeff Biddison, Clay Shaw and others, Leon was part of the group of gays who made Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop their hangout and who packed up and moved to what is now called Lafitte's in Exile following disputes with the management of the Blacksmith Shop.

Leon will be missed greatly by his many close friends, as well as those of us who wished we had gotten to know him better.

If I ever had a "brother" in New Orleans, it was that gentle red-bearded bear of a man called Mike Stark.

We first met in the late 60s when I walked into his shop on Bourbon Street and he said "Hey, cutie, what can I do you for?" I looked around and saw this rather full-figured man, clutching the straps on his bib overalls and smiling that broad, ever-so-enticing smile he flashed to everyone. It was love at first smile and he and I and my Life Partner, jack, have been fast friends since.

mike From time to time, when I needed a spot to hawk my nostalgia from, there was always Mike, offering whatever space he had. Because of this I watched Mike communicate his unique brand of catering to his congregation, for Mike was an ordained Baptist minister, and his customers, his friends and those about him were his flock.

I would watch him sit behind his desk, covered with globs of hardened glue and clusters of bits of feathers, and work magic with his hands and his imagination. Most people call him a mask maker. But he didn't make masks; he made artistic expressions of the joy of living the fun of life.

Mike's mark on our GLBT community and the city of New Orleans, especially his beloved French Quarter, is indelible. During the peak of our city's hippy days, Mike stated the Head Clinic, (health Emergency Aid Dispensary) to give medical care to those injured on the glass cluttered streets of suffering from bad drugs, or just overwhelmed by the festivities. He and Bill Rushton, then managing editor of the View Carre Courier, a weekly Quarter paper, started the flea market behind the Old Mint. Today it is but a shadow of its original function of catering to those in our community who needed a space to sell oddments and leftovers.

They also started the ABBA Foundation that included a free store, a coffee shop and a youth hostel.

He was also a major factor in the survival of our first meeting place, The Sphinx Coffee Shop, where the beginnings of our GLBT community had its origin.

In 1971 Mike and others started a home for runaways, only to be raided by the NOPD for failure to have their parents' permission for medical care. D.A. Jim Garrison dropped all charges upon pressure from City Hall and many prominent N.O. citizens.

When Mike was hit by a stroke in 1989 (?) and hospitalized at Charity, (his wealth was his friends and not money) the elevator operator asked who this man was that was visited by the Mayor, the City Council and almost every jazz figure in the city. Such was Mike's scope of friendship.

Every New Years Day it was a tradition for friends and strangers to be welcomed into his apartment for black-eyed peas and cabbage, with jalapeno corn bread on the side. Just bring your warmth and sincerity and you were welcomed. The power structure, the music world and the common folk all came together at Mike's gatherings. One might converse about movies with the star of an upcoming feature, chin with a council person, or find out about religion from a voodoo priestess, such was the variety of those mike welcomed.

He was also a major figure in the annual Fantasy Fest in Key West. There he set up shop at Fast Buck Freddy's and sold his fantastic creations. He was also King Neptune of Fantasy Fest in the mid-80s.

The Montreaux Jazz Festival called him to exhibit his art. His pieces are in museums and collections around the world and have been known to be worn by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and many other rock figures.

Mike's memorial service at the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church was a milestone of a tribute to a man who loved people and loved life so passionately.

The Storyville Stompers played dixieland and hymns and "Little Queenie" Leigh Harris sang, accompanied by opera singer Debria Brown, and the woman Mike called "My Odetta," his longtime friend and great folk singer, Odetta.

I know Mike loved the memorial, for you could feel him there, clapping and singing along with the congregation, laughing his great bellowing laugh, and smiling, smiling, smiling.

Many times when Jack and I would drive past Mike's shop we would find him leaning against a parking meter, clad in one of his caftans, I would pull over and say to him, "Who you got hidden under that caftan, Mike?" And he would reach his arms through the window and embrace me and say "You'll never know, kid. You'll never know."

To honor and pay respect to a man who helped us all enjoy the celebration we call Mardi Gras, I would like to propose that our GLBT community dedicate our Mardi Gras celebration in 1999 in honor of one of our greats who has left us, Mike Stark.

Knowing Mike as I do, I know what he would say at such a proposal. He would straighten the colored cloth wrapped around his forehead, adjust his bear and, throwing his head high would say: "If you must, you must," and wink and then laugh, laugh, laugh.
--Roger Nelson


That's Mentir, not Mentor
I don't like to speak badly of people, and I certainly try not to burn any bridges, but when I read Roberts Batson's response to Jon Newlin's article [Madame John Dodt's Legacy #25, Vol. 16, issue 17], I couldn't stand it any longer. I must agree with Newlin's assessment that Batson is jealously guarding what he feels is his domain, that local Gay history belongs to him. I would have stayed out of this disagreement except for the horrendously inaccurate claim Batson makes that he has been "encouraging and mentoring" me.

When a friend of Ken Harrington, one of the men killed at the Upstairs [Lounge fire], talked to me after the presentation at the Mint, she offered me a photo of Ken to include in the book. Batson all but snatched it out of my hand. He did manage to tell me later that evening that someone at the meeting gave him some good, new information, but he declined to let me in on it, though I had repeatedly given him a great deal of information.

I was also put off by his smugness during the Question and Answer period, when someone asked me where Regina Adams lived now and I didn't know, as I had interviewed her several years previously. Batson turned to the man with an air of superiority (superiority over me) and said, "Oh, she's here in the city," as if he were so much better a historian for knowing this. I couldn't help but wonder, though, that if he really knew anything about Regina Adams, how he could get something so basic wrong as the race of Regina's lover who died in the fire.

I also couldn't understand why he wouldn't ask me to read his articles on the fire before he printed them, which could easily have eliminated the several unnecessary errors he included in them. Batson has my home number and knows where I work. Because of my previous encounters with him, I could only suspect he was afraid to let me take any "credit" for "his" history. So I can't say I fully believe his assertion in defense against Newlin that he is "cautious and serious" about "his responsibility" toward his Gay heritage. Accuracy does not seem as important as ownership.

Batson claims, again in denial of jealousy, that he willingly shared his files with John Loughery. The first I learned of Loughery's book was when Batson bragged to me about being mentioned as a source. I looked in the book to find that the only line devoted to the Upstairs Lounge was inaccurate. If Batson had been more intent on seeing that Loughery wrote an accurate history rather than seeing his own name in print, he might have suggested that Loughery contact me.

My goal in writing about the Upstairs has always been simply to record something I felt was important. I am not in this for "glory," but I do resent Batson trying to pretend that he is the real historian around here. I have stated publicly that I will not accept any money for my book when it is published, that all proceeds I would receive will instead go to burn research. And if anyone wants to suggest I am jealously hoarding history, I can refer them to D. Michael Quinn, an award-winning historian who I have offered the manuscript to completely, allowing him to assume full credit if he can just help me get the book published. (I am, after all, working full time in addition to studying pre-med courses full time.) Quinn declined to take credit but is helping me find a publisher.

I can't express adequately how sick I am of the way Gays tear each other down, as if life wasn't hard enough already. I repeat, I would have stayed away from discussing my personal feelings toward Batson's attitude if he hadn't made blatant lies about his support. Anyway, there's my side of it, for what it's worth to anyone.
--Johnny Townsend


Dear Rip & Marsha,
I'm writing to add my congratulations and tribute to Stewart P. Butler on the occasion of his having been a co-Grand Marshal in the Gay Pride Parade XIX.

I first remember meeting Stewart at the Southeastern Conference for Lesbians & Gay Men in Atlanta in 1983. I attended his workshop on "Internal Homophobia" and was very taken with his presentation.

My association with Stewart has continued and grown since that moment. In 1977, I began my involvement with the Gay & Lesbian community in Birmingham, Alabama which included work with Lambda, Inc., the Southeastern Conference for Lesbians & Gay Men, Birmingham AIDS Outreach and the AIDS Task Force of Alabama. In the twelve years of my active involvement with the movement, Stewart became a constant source of encouragement, friendship, commiseration and wisdom. Although the lessons may not have taken in many instances, I consider Stewart my greatest mentor in the movement.

Stewart was always there--patient and attentive. I concur with Ms. Pazanie's assessment of Stewart's ability "to speak openly and honestly". Doesn't have to waste words, he's very forthright. You can agree or disagree with Stewart but he always shows you a great deal of respect and caring."

Since meeting Stewart in 1983, I and my lover have been drawn into Stewart?s constellation of friends and acquaintances from New Orleans, the Southeast and the United States. We are among those who call him affectionately "Ma" or "Mother" Butler. I consider myself fortunate to have had his counsel and cherish his kindness and love. My life has been made richer in knowing Stewart. New Orleans has been fortunate to have Stewart.
--Ron Joullian


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