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Why Queers Are Not Here

Letters published August 28, 2002

Time to set Cleveland's gay record straight:

I am a gay man and a writer for a national gay magazine ["Calling All Queers," July 31]. I wanted to relate my Cleveland experience for you, which totally affirms this professor's theory that Cleveland needs to recruit more gays. As a young man, I lived in Cleveland in the early '80s and experienced it as desolate (I was raised in Lorain). I moved to L.A. and, after 14 years, got tired of the frantic pace.

I moved back to Cleveland and bought a house in Tremont. A year later, I was in a gay nightclub when the police raided it, allegedly for drugs. A hundred patrons were manhandled by riot-geared cops, who yelled things like "Shut up, fag!" and "Want my gun up your ass?" and "Fuck you, queer!" Horrible things like that. We were lined up against the wall and searched. One girl was swatted behind her knees with a rifle butt because she didn't move fast enough. It took over an hour for them to search all patrons. We were forbidden to speak or glance left or right. Our hands were up against the wall. The verbal abuse was nonstop during this long hour.

They forced everyone to leave the bar. In the end, only one person was found with drugs, and the owner was arrested. Meanwhile, down in the Flats, where all the straight clubs are, the adult children of some of these cops, judges, politicians, civic leaders, and CEOs were partying the night away, some of them snorting coke, no doubt, but unmolested and unraided. You see? It's great sport for Cleveland cops to harass gays, because we're notorious for not fighting back or carrying weapons. It's an easy and fun gig for the cops.

That was horrifying enough, but later that night, safely home, I was in a local gay chat room, where many of the chatters had also been victimized in that night's raid. They whined and bitched, but not one of them was willing to join me in filing a complaint against the police department. They were too scared -- not of police retribution, but because they would have to be publicly identified as gay. Their own internalized homophobia held them back. Disheartened by the combination of abusive cops and cowardly gays, I made my decision to leave Cleveland that night.

I now live in Ft. Lauderdale, where the police work with the gay community to foster better relations. Our Convention and Visitors Bureau reaches out to the entire U.S. gay population, and gays are moving here in droves. My home's value has increased 24 percent in just two years. And while we're known as a party town, the arts are flourishing, and business is booming.

In all of the gay-friendly cities your article mentioned, I have run into hundreds of gay ex-Clevelanders -- and there's a sizable population of them here in Ft. Lauderdale. We miss the friends and family we left behind, but we are happier living elsewhere, where oppression is almost nonexistent, where we feel welcome and valued as a community, and gay pride truly flourishes.

Cleveland is indeed losing out on a valuable resource of creative talent, dynamism, and a subculture that is notorious for community-building and civic commitment. Cleveland needs not only to actively recruit more gays into the city, but to address its larger problem: retaining its native-born gay population, many of whom have sought and will continue to seek greener pastures. I miss Tremont, and I miss my lifelong friends. But I'll be damned if I'm gonna live in a city where I'm treated like a third-class citizen, undervalued, and always having to watch my back. Thanks for an insightful and provocative article.

Jim Bloor
Ft. Lauderdale, FL

A word from Father Don's mom:

With regard to Charles Seeburg's letter [July 31, in response to "Bless Me Father," July 3]: Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?" In Father Don's case, he was convicted by the newspaper and TV media.

The first person who came out with an accusation did not want her name or her picture in the paper. She wanted her privacy protected. What happened to Father Don's privacy? He had none. The TV and papers showed his picture every chance they got. As for the rest of the accusations: Everyone knows they were in it for the money. Nowadays, the lawyers and the people are all about greed. They don't care whom they defame.

I could fill up a section of your paper with the good deeds that Father Don did, but it wouldn't sell papers. People are not interested in the good deeds, only the sordid details. You mentioned Father Don being portrayed as a martyr; many people said the very same thing. At his wake, the comment people made most was "If Father Don is not in heaven, then we don't stand a chance." Another comment was, "Thank you so very much for giving Father Don to us." I take great consolation in knowing that many more people agree with his innocence than believe in his guilt.

Mary Lou Vasitas
North Royalton

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