Karen Ocamb

Why It's Important to Remember Gay & AIDS Activist Bob Hattoy

Filed By Karen Ocamb | November 07, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: AIDS activism, Bill Clinton, Bob Hattoy, HIV/AIDS, remembering friends

Bob Hattoy at an event during the 1993 March on Washington (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

A friend of mine noted the other day that Tuesday, Nov. 1 would have been the late gay and AIDS activist Bob Hattoy’s 61st birthday. Bob died of AIDS-related complications on March 4, 2007. He had been a well-known environmentalist in Los Angeles as head of the Sierra Club before he flew to New Hampshire and joined the campaign of longshot Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton. He wound up working with ANGLE friends David Mixner, Dr. Scott Hitt, Diane Abbitt and Roberta Bennett (among others) to bring Clinton to Hollywood in 1991 for the first-ever address by a presidential candidate to an LGBT and AIDS audience. Afterwards, Bob arranged for ACT UP/LA activist Dan Levy to talk directly with Clinton – with me there to record it.

Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Bill Clinton, Clinton campaign aide Bob Hattoy, and ACT UP/LA activist Dan Levy in Hollywood 1991 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

One of the conditions ANGLE insisted upon for their endorsement was to have a person with AIDS speak at the Democratic National Convention in 1992. Clinton chose Bob and Elizabeth Glazer. David Smith, then the Communications Director at the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center, organized viewing parties both for LGBT people to experience the historic event and for local TV news crews to capture the tearful reaction.

As their counter-point, the Republicans gave the extraordinary HIV-positive artist and mother Mary Fisher a spot at their convention. She moved many to tears, as well, at a convention that became infamous for Patrick Buchanan’s ugly antigay rhetoric. After the conventions, Bob and Mary became friends and traveled the country together in joint appearances talking about HIV/AIDS. Mary is still lecturing on AIDS and making art.

Bob joined the Clinton administration and proved to be a needle in Clinton’s side by speaking out publicly when he felt Clinton had strayed from his campaign promises. He eventually left and continued to be an outspoken critic of Clinton and then President George W. Bush. He also remained a committed environmentalist. And he remained a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who delivered moving remarks at his memorial in DC.

But with the announcement Thursday of the resignation of White House AIDS Czar Jeff Crowley, I’m reminded of POZ Magazine Sean Strub’s remembrance of Bob after his death in 2007. Sean said in part:

Many activists--myself included--were unhappy that the Kerry campaign had no "Friend of John" with AIDS. So far, no one has emerged as a "Friend of Hillary" or "Friend of Barack" of friend with AIDS of any of the other candidates in an important public way. They all know people with AIDS and may have personal friends, but they haven't put anyone forth in a public way and made a commitment to them, and by extension to our community, that they will be smarter, more responsive and more urgent in their response to the epidemic.

We need these friends--people who are trusted by the community, with a track record of truth-telling--to be important and public parts of the presidential campaigns. Because the Clinton campaign made Bob so public and because Bob had so much integrity, we had confidence that we were heard at high levels in the administration.

With another presidential election rushing towards us – is it too much to ask that SOMEONE publicly represent people with HIV/AIDS as Bob Hattoy did in 1992?

Clinton campaign aide Bob Hattoy with former Ross Perot lesbian advisor Debra Olson (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

(Crossposted at LGBT POV)

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