nathan.jpg

Nathan

nathan.jpgUPDATE: See below for links to the articles in ADVOCATE

I knew Nathan for only a short time.  With Nathan, however, even a short time was packed with conversation.

It
was September of last year and I was a DJ at the North Tower Circle. I
met Nathan while spinning for a moderate Wednesday night crowd.
After ending a track, I turned from the mixer to check for music
when I saw Nathan bounding up the steep, wooden steps to greet me, full
of energy and holding a stack of papers. He’d come to the club with
Jason from GayFresno.com and was soliciting petition signatures to
combat Governor Schwarzenegger, who was about to veto a state
legislature decision to allow gay marriage in California.

I lowered my headphones and shook Nathan’s hand as we introduced
ourselves. I instantly liked him. He was beyond polite and
had enough smiles to share with the whole room. I signed the
petition and gave it back to him. We talked politics and he told me
he’d been coming to the Circle for a few years and knew my partner,
James, who bartended there.  He asked me to come to a rally that
would be held in a couple of days, when Arnold was scheduled to swing
through Fresno. I told him how long James and I had been together
and he said over and over how much he wanted us to come since we’d
been a couple for 10 years. He felt it would make a powerful
statement to contradict the pending veto. Nathan exuded passion about
politically motivated injustices in America, something I’ve always
held in high regard.
A few days later, in the early morning hours of September 25th, after
we had all left, the North Tower Circle was engulfed in a
fire. The flames destroyed half the building and closed the
club.  The next day, I heard it might be arson.

Of course,
when a gay club is torched, our heads go directly to the possibility of
a hate crime. That’s in our history as gay people. As the rumors flew
furiously around town, I was conflicted about it. I felt it was jumping
the gun a little, as I hadn’t heard of any direct evidence. Then they
found an accelerant on the outside wall of the building. Nathan called
me.

“Do you believe this?” he gasped.

We talked
and I began to realize, as Nathan already had, that since James
and I both worked at the Circle, we probably had easy access to
information. Nathan wrote for gayfresno.com and needed information as
fast as he could get it. I didn’t want to talk, especially since I
really didn’t know anything, and I didn’t want to since the person
he really should be talking to was Virgil, the owner of the club. And
although I liked Nathan, I had just recently met him, and something I
didn’t really trust was involved, the media.
I had my
fair share of dealings with the media during my 20 years of
managing hotels, and I don’t know if I can remember a single instance
when what I said and meant was the version that ended up in print.
In America rumors are born quick and fly fast, and Fresno is
certainly no innocent in that department. 
A week
later there was a fire at Dance, a nightclub down the street from the
Circle. This one was declared arson from the start, with witnesses who
saw the vehicle and shared information about the person who drove away.
The fire didn’t cause major damage to the already vacated club, but
that was the moment when it became clear something might be going on.
I
happen to live a couple of blocks from the clubs, so Nathan called and
asked if it would be possible for me to snap some pictures for the
website so they could post them. I was happy to do it, also getting
better pictures of the damage at the circle for them. Since I was in a
rough position to provide Nathan with any inside information, it made
me feel like I was doing a part to contribute to what could potentially
be some dramatic and dangerous developments.

During
all of our conversations about the events and through Nathan’s urgings
that I speak to the media, which I declined in respect to the owner of
the club, he never once failed to honor my boundaries. When it came
time for the piece to be written about the Circle and the fire, I
helped Nathan organize that with the owner of the club.

The
day came when I was faced with Nathan’s article on the fire at the
Circle, and at best, I was nervous. I’d really come to like Nathan and
I didn’t want to find some media spin in his words. Prior to the
release of the article Nathan reassured me time and again that he was
only interested in the truth and he was going to back everything up and
then run it by Virgil, who owns the club. The media running a story
past those involved before publication is something I’ve never seen and
was very pleasantly surprised by.

Still, my level
of trust with the media was about as low as it’s ever been. With all
the respect the club and I had been shown by Nathan I was fearful once
the article was up and running on the site. As I read the first words I
couldn’t help but dread any inaccuracies that might follow.
Reassurances came from all the people in the press that I’d spoken to
in the past. Assurances that only what was said would be published, no
elaboration, and on and on. Then the more I got into Nathan’s article
the better I felt. He honored everything as he said he would. There
were no rumors, no suppositions, nothing but the truth. In all my
years, I’d never once seen that happen in the media. And as I read
Nathan’s article, I found a way out of that complete disbelief of the
possibility of integrity. Nathan had it. I was extremely impressed.

Soon
after Nathan called me to say there would be a press conference in
participation with Equality California, EQCA, in front of the North
Tower Circlethe very next day. He made sure James and I would be there
and we notified all those we needed to.

The press
conference, organized by EQCA, working closely with Nathan and others,
brought my fears of sensationalism right back to the surface. Yet as I
stood there with those who attended and listened to those who spoke,
one by one I was impressed. Not one person who spoke at that press
conference from EQCA or the gay community uttered the phrase “This is a
hate crime”. They simply said it was being considered as a possibility
and that we were there to make businesses and residents aware of a
possible danger. It was exactly the right way to handle it and nothing
sinister was woven into it. I was proud to be a part of it.

I
remember thinking over and over how happy I was that someone like
Nathan was out there. Someone who recognized the possible danger
involved and wasted no time or energy in doing everything he could to
organize the troops. I had almost twenty years on Nathan, and countless
disappointments and defeats to my faith in political action. And while
I love writing, and contribute to the political debate in that way, I
was thankful there was someone like Nathan to dig his heels in and get
things going. From the very beginning, Nathan impressed the hell out of
me.

After the press conference, I tuned in later that
day for the local news coverage. Only one of the four major local teams
got the name of the club correct. This, after a press conference held
under the gigantic, very legible sign proclaiming this was the site of
The North Tower Circle. Then, with the exception of one station, all
reporters who were each physically present at the news conference,
stated that the gay community was calling the fire “a hate crime”.

AT
least I knew that had nothing to do with the commitment of those
speaking, and merely shed light on the irresponsibility of the media at
large. Nathan and I talked, exasperated about the coverage, for what
seemed like forever. It would be a few days before the local news
started getting the name of the club right.

A couple
of weeks after the fire at Dance, a bail bond business, situated
directly between The North Tower Circle and Dance, was burned to the
ground by an arsonist. I watched as neighbors from all directions
around my house came out to see the incredibly high flames burning into
the sky. In droves, people walked down the street to find out what was
happening. We couldn’t get anywhere near the building, even much later
that night, but we could see there wasn’t much left.  

The
next day, after snapping more pictures for Gay Fresno, we heard the
bail bond building was definitely arson. We also heard that it appeared
to be totally unrelated.

When the fire stories
started to die down Nathan and I still talked, though, to my regret,
less frequently. Between political discussions we’d chat about Margaret
Cho, music or the community. We laughed and had a great time.
One
thing was immediately evident about Nathan. He was genuine. He believed
in what he was talking about, but more importantly he was willing to
roll up his sleeves and dive into any arena his assistance was needed.
I remember times when I talked to him and he’d been on the phone all
day, digging up answers and setting up meetings. He seemed tireless in
his devotion to equality and fairness. I’ve been loud and vocal my
whole life on issues I felt needed talking about. While Nathan was at
the peak of his energy level for all of this however, I had seen enough
to make me question how involved I wanted to remain.
Nathan
did two things for me that I’m eternally grateful for. First he made me
see that you can never stop fighting for right and wrong and for the
rights of others that politicians and a prejudiced public are
constantly trying to take away. Second, he showed me that there are
still those out there who value honesty and responsibility in writing
and reporting. He reminded me the truth is there and there’s no need to
sensationalize it. 

I deeply miss Nathan and his lust
for life and boundless energy. I miss sharing laughs with him.
Most of all I miss the spirit of Nathan. There are very few left who
not only want to uncover the truth, but will work very hard to get to
it. There are even fewer who have the courage to speak it. Nathan
re-ignited my belief in truth and principal. It’s still possible to
find those who honor what America stands for, and who won’t be silent
in the face of injustice.

Integrity is difficult to find. Nathan is a great loss.

UPDATE: Nathan’s story, as well as the climate of homophobia in the
San Joaquin Valley is now a two part article in Advocate Magazine. The
issues are dated March 14th and the March 28th, 2006. You can read the
story (without most of the pictures) at www.advocate.com . Simply find
these issues on the main page or in the "Issue Archive" and you’ll find
the story.

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