Sure. I'm David Bohnett, B-O-H-N-E-T-T.
Okay, and you'll just talk to me.
Great. We can wait until you're really happy with the lights.
I'm very patient.
Let me just … I swear.
I fell for it.
Take your time.
Just come look at this real quick, so you can see where…
I can move.
Could you just look as if I were sitting right here?
Yeah. I think it's fine.
And you're looking here in my ... Yeah, it'll be fine.
Okay. The audio's all good?
Okay, so tell us the day you were born, where you were born, and give me a little picture of your family, your family of origin.
Sure. I was born on April 2nd, 1956 in Chicago, Illinois. My family was living in a western suburb, Hinsdale, Illinois. I have an older brother and older sister. My parents and grandparents all ... My parents grew up and my grandparents lived on the south side of Chicago, in a suburb called Beverly on the south side. I still have cousins that live in Beverly. My parents built the house in Hinsdale, and I have an older brother, older sister. My sister is six years older, and my brother is eight years older.
Okay. What would you say, like what were the values that were espoused in your family?
The values that were espoused in my family were, first and foremost, commitment to family. We would spend almost every weekend at one grandparents' or another, or aunts and uncles, or they would come visit with us. We would spend all holidays together, and so I grew up in a very close extended family with grandparents and cousins.
The second, and probably even equal to that, was the importance of education. I'm sure that one of the reasons my parents picked Hinsdale, in particular, was the very strong public school system. Again, with a sister who's six years older and a brother who's eight years older, I was following behind them through grade school, junior high, and high school, so I had role models with my older siblings that had attended the schools that I was attending, a local grade school that I would walk, ride my bike to, same with junior high, and same with high school.
It was family, education, and then, I grew up ... Was very fortunate, the period that I grew up in a suburb that was a very close-knit community, and so there was community dances. There was community center. I always had a sense that Hinsdale was a close-knit village, suburb, village. There was a local hospital. We were members of the local United Church of Christ, so Sunday School. Although religion was not a strong part of our family background, religion was a component of that, but I have to say, of all that, it was the sense that getting an education and doing well in school was just what was expected. I was fortunate to benefit from a very, very good public education.
Can you straighten your tie?
Speaking for myself, I'm two years ... I was born in '58, so two years younger. I was never a rebellious kid, at all. Were you ever rebellious, in any way, or were you pretty much committed to following that path and following the family values? Where did you fall on that spectrum of rebelliousness versus doing the right thing, so to speak?
In terms of whether or not I was rebellious as a kid, I think people tend to follow, or tend to behave, on the temperaments they're born with. I was not born with a rebellious temperament. I ultimately have, and had, a very strong career in activism, but as a kid, I pretty much towed the line, in terms of what my parents and family expected of me without being rebellious. I guess I had enough freedom that I felt that there wasn't a need to be rebellious outside of what is always a normal amount of rebelliousness in whatever age you are growing up.
Neither my brother nor my sister, I think, were either. I was given a lot of latitude growing up. I didn't have to be home until dinnertime. Of course, there was no phones or anything. I just was able to have a lot of my own time, although I was expected not to come home and watch television. I was expected to always be out doing things. But not rebellious in any unusual strenuous way.
Right. Tell us about coming out to USC and how that experience was for you.
I went through public schools, and I went through a public high school, and was always interested in computers, even before the personal computer. I was fortunate because in high school, my high school had a Teletype timesharing terminal connected to a mainframe computer, and I learned the basic programming language, called BASIC. From that moment on, I was fascinated by computers and computer software, computer applications. I was also an amateur radio operator in school, so I had this fascination, combining both communication technology and the ability to facilitate people communicating with each other. I was interested both in the electronic and the mechanical side of communication technology, as well as the sociological and the human opportunities to connect people of similar interest.
That, combined with my early exposure to computer programming, led me to find a school that had a computer science program. At the time, USC was one of the first schools that had a computer science program, University of Southern California. As an 18-year-old, I applied to Northwestern, I applied to USC, and I ended up going to USC as an 18-year-old freshman. I had never been to Los Angeles. I had never seen the school. I just got on a plane with two suitcases, and ended up landing in Los Angeles and starting my college years at USC.
How was it for you ... I want to go back to the idea that, from the very beginning ... Let me ask you this. There were people who were undoubtedly interested in computer science and programming who didn't have that same interest in using computers to connect people. Do you know where that ... Because it seems like it's a through line for you, the part that had to do with connecting people using computers. Can you trace that back to where that came from?
Part of where I can trace back my interest in communication technology, as well as the computers and computer application, was many and frequent visits to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, that it would be a place where my grandparents would take me, I would go on school trips, and I really credit the museum ... It's a science museum, as really one of the catalysts of my curiosity, one of the catalysts of my quest for education and experience. There was a working coal mine exhibition. There was the U505 submarine. I was always fascinated by trains and model trains, and they had a very, very extensive exhibit by Illinois Bell Telephone on everything to do with the telephone, the history of the telephone, the science of speech, the long distance circuits, the advent of the transistor.
The telephone companies always had this theme of talk to your neighbor, communicate with someone across town, communicate with someone across the country, so all of that was at the science museum, the Museum of Science and Industry. It was fortunate, because I was exposed to that all through growing up, and it was a way for me to feel that there was a place to learn, and also feel that there was a place that my interests had a place. I think that it's important as anybody's exploring, whether their interest is in science, or dance, or technology, or music, that there is a place where you can experience your interests, and maybe that's for sports, you know. So that was the place for me. I think I obviously had a natural interest in it, that again, we're born with certain natural interests, and that was one of them for me, but it was really both the education and the exposure to those technologies and those sociological aspects of it through the museums.
Wow. During your time, then, at USC, how would you say you changed on more sort of a personal level? How did those years affect you, personally?
As I arrived in Los Angeles as an 18-year-old freshman, started my studies at USC, I joined a fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega, ATO, made a number of friends that I'm still friends with all these many years later, and somewhat still active in fraternity, mentoring other students in the ATO fraternity. Started my classes in computer science, and I was most interested in the application side, the business applications of computer science, so the programming, the payroll, management reporting systems, et cetera.
It turned out, to get a real degree in computer science, you had to also get a math degree, because at that point, computer science was still very focused on the theory of computer design. The theory of circuitry and computer design was a lot based upon math theory, and I wasn't that interested in that. I was much more interested in the business and application side, so I ended up taking business courses in finance and accounting, and getting a business degree with an emphasis in computer science, and I took a number of programming classes.
I have a very, I think, fortunate and classic college experience where, again, I was exposed to the kinds of subject matter and classes that I felt I had an opportunity to pursue. I knew what I wanted to do, and I think that's fortunate for someone that can come into a university environment, and a college environment, and be able to take the classes that they know are interesting from an education and career perspective.
I always worked part-time jobs, whether it was waiting tables or working at department stores, to help support myself through school, and I learned how to be very independent, that I had moved to California. My parents were very helpful with tuition, but I had to pay for my own room and board and living situation, so I learned as a young adult to be very independent on my own, and a long way from home. I think that was another very fortunate and valuable lesson, but I had seen that happen already, because my brother went to Princeton University in New Jersey, and my sister went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, so I had seen ... I was 10 years old when my brother went to Princeton, and 12 when my sister went away, so it was just, again, following their lead and being encouraged to go away to school. I give our parents a lot of credit for supporting that.
I read somewhere, and it might've been Wikipedia, so it might not be true, that you had an important relationship with a guy at USC that ended badly, that he apparently committed suicide, but I don't know if that's true or not.
Every summer, even before I went to USC, when I graduated from high school, again, I had to work, so I took a job at a summer resort in northern Wisconsin waiting tables and teaching water skiing, and it was one of these classic summer America Plan resorts where the families would come and stay for a week, and college kids from all over the country would work there all summer, literally from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the dining room, cleaning cabins, and I worked in the dining room and taught water skiing. I did that for five summers all through college, and even a summer through graduate school.
The second summer I was there, met a fellow student my age from Notre Dame. We were both waiting tables, and I went to USC, and he went to Notre Dame. We had just a wonderful friendship, and we became very close, and we were both exploring our sexuality and coming to terms with being gay. We spent a number of summers together. He was at Notre Dame and I was at USC, and it was fairly fraught. I mean, I could tell that he was not ... Who is completely comfortable at that age? He came from a Catholic family, a big Catholic family in Indiana.
One summer, I didn't go back. I was a tour guide at Universal Studios. Then, in our senior year, he committed suicide, and could not reconcile the inner conflicts between growing up in a very small-town Catholic family environment with very strong Catholic family values with being gay. Of course, it was other factors that contributed, but that affected me very deeply, that someone, a bright, young senior at Notre Dame, first one in his family to go to school, he wanted to be a lawyer, felt that there was no other option for him to live a life other than to end his own life. He hanged himself, and it was a tragedy for the family, of course, and I felt it was very personally moving and personally devastating.
Just going to adjust ... Do you mind if I ...
Sure, go ahead.
Just move that over a bit. I think it's just wanting to lean.
That's fine. Okay.
Then, while we're paused, I wonder if we should, Janine Sides, maybe slide this light that way.
Is it going to be a problem that there's different lighting and ... No.
Part of me wants ...
The only people who will know will be me and her, probably.
Just use that as the ...
That seems better.
It's still doing it, but I have another idea or trick, but it would take me ...
Yeah. I think this is better already. You're more ...
I am more comfortable with my glasses on.
So just trying to minimize the reflection there.
Can I have one minute ...
Yeah, of course.
... to try a thing? Always chasing reflections.
I think that's going to be even better. I was going to suggest that.
…Yeah. That's going to be better. Give me one second here. I just have to adjust ...
... this. Yeah. Thank you very much.
Sure, of course.
Okay. We're speeding still?
Still speeding. We need …
Would you say that that experience changed you?
The experience I had with such a close friend who took his own life because it was hard to reconcile his own homosexuality was an important experience in my growth as a college student, a senior in college at that point. I had come out. I had come out during college, at least in my own mind, and here in Los Angeles, I would go to gay bars in West Hollywood and begin to really integrate my own homosexuality into my personality as a whole person, and was fortunate that I had the ability to meet other gay people, and go to gay bars, and see that there was a community of gay people in West Hollywood and elsewhere, including at my school. Although it was still a time when everyone was very closeted, I had a growing sense of acceptance and awareness, and growing sense of comfort with my own being gay.
He didn't really have that same opportunity in South Bend, Indiana, Catholic school, a very small-town upbringing. I was in a different environment that I think afforded me, again, the opportunity to feel that I wasn't alone and I wasn't isolated. So when that happened, I thought, again, "Whatever I can do in my life to help ensure that other people don't face that same pain and isolation, and ultimate act, I'll do what I can."
Great. Tell us about your years at University of Michigan. Of course, you went there to take your business degree, or your MBA, but one of the stories that I found interesting is that you got involved in going out to schools. I guess the catchphrase at the beginning of the thing you would say is, "I'm gay. Ask me anything." Can you tell us that story, about your ... I mean, I know we're sort of jumping forward in time here, but ...
I graduated with a four year degree from USC in business and had the desire, and the strong interest, to go right through and get my MBA. I had been working part-time at a bank here in Los Angeles during my four years at USC. I had some substantive work experience, I don't think enough that I wouldn't have gotten more benefit from a graduate degree with a few years in between, but I was impatient, and I wanted to go forward and get my MBA, so I went to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, very good business school, for a two year full-time MBA program, although again, I worked part-time during those two years.
Part of my financial aid package for graduate school was a work study grant, which is pretty common, which you could work in a different department in the university, whether it was in the cafeteria, or athletic department, or whatever. One of the jobs in the work study program was at the Gay Student Union. It was called the Gay Student Union at the University of Michigan, which was the very first university-supported Gay Student Union in the country. It was founded by Jim Toy, who was running, founded and running the Gay Student Union there when I arrived, so I went in for an interview, because my job there as a hotline counselor, and member of kind of a quasi-Speakers' Bureau, would qualify for my work study pay.
I was hired and went through training as a frontline phone counselor, because at that time, there was ... You could look up in the phone book and there was a gay crisis line. It was crisis that you were coming out. You needed someplace to go, someone to talk to, and so I, again, just got first line support. If someone needed much more extensive and serious help with suicide prevention or whatever, they could be referred onto a true suicide prevention line. But if they were looking for support for coming out groups, or coming into the Gay Student Union, I could answer those questions.
Then, the other thing we would do with, again, it was quasi-Speaker's Bureau, when we would go to Psychology 101 classes at the University of Michigan, and I would go with another student, a lesbian, and we would walk in with these freshman, generally freshman kids, at the University of Michigan, and we would say, "This is Psychology 101. We're gay. Ask us anything," you know? For most of those kids, it was the first time they'd heard someone just say, "I'm gay," you know? You would get all the questions people still get today. When did you know? Does your family know? Are you out? Pretty much out, yeah. Were you born that way? That was very empowering, to do that.
I was in the MBA program, in the graduate business program, and I had a significant other, a boyfriend, who was also in this, really, mostly my second year. We lived together. He was also gay and in the MBA program, but everybody was closeted. I don't know if I was closeted in school, but there was nobody else that was out. But again, Ann Arbor had a couple of pretty active ... Ann Arbor had a pretty active gay life, and there were gay bars, but in terms of the business school, the only place that I would be out or open was doing this Speakers' Bureau work or the Students' Union work.
Then, he, Michael was his name, he went onto a job in Cincinnati. Then, I moved back to Los Angeles after my two years in graduate school, and got a job, which I was very excited about, with Arthur Andersen Consulting. It was a management information systems consulting business, which ended up becoming Accenture, which is still now a very successful and worldwide consulting firm. But at the time that I started with it, it was part of Andersen Consulting, and I started here as my first professional job in LA after graduate school.
Let's take a minute to talk about Jim Toy, because he was one of our first interviewees.
I always like to hear other people write somebody into the historical record, like Jim Toy. Who was he, just a little bit, and what did he mean in terms of being pioneer there, in Ann Arbor not only, but in a sense, nation-wide?
Jim Toy, who started and founded the Gay Student Union at the University of Michigan, had a very important and prominent career as a very early gay activist, and was instrumental in both the local, Ann Arbor, the state, at Michigan, a national movement, in terms of raising awareness. He had, I think, a number of prominent civil disobedience episodes in his career as an activist, and someone who was very passionate about music and very passionate lover of classical music. I'm not sure if he played an instrument. I think he might have. But also kind of a real polymath kind of guy.
I mean, you had a sense that he had very, very broad and very deep interests across a wide variety of areas, and was, in many ways, a very spiritual person in his own way, as well, and had a way of welcoming everybody into the fold. You had a sense that he had arms that would wrap around everyone, and bring them in, and bring them along on their journey of coming out, on their journey of discovering themselves, and very, very unique, very unique man.
I'm just going to fix the …
It just won't stay. Yeah.
Don't worry about the tie.
Yeah, I know.
The tie is just …
I've tried. It's not going to behave.
What if I hold it like that?
Now, two people that I know were extremely important to you in your first say decade or more here in Los Angeles were Rand Schrader and Sheldon Adelson. I'd like to talk, again, because neither one of them is here to be interviewed, I'd like to have you talk about each one of them, in terms of what gifts and strengths they brought, tremendous gifts, obviously, to the emergence and the creation, really, of an LGBT community here in Los Angeles. I know it's a big topic, but let's start with Rand, or Randy, I guess, as you call him.
Do you want me to talk any more about the career at Andersen Consulting, or are you going to come back to that, or not?
No. We could do that maybe first.
I was very happy to start my career and work very hard as a systems information consultant at Andersen Consulting. I went through a lot of training, Arthur Andersen training in St. Charles, Illinois. I became very proficient in both business systems design, management information systems design, business reporting, had a number of different assignments creating management information systems, general ledger reporting systems, financial reporting systems.
I loved it. It was doing the kind of work that I really enjoyed. I was coming out as a gay man in the work environment, as well. I had a good friend, one of many who ended up passing away, but a good friend, Bud, who worked for Andersen at the same time, as well. He was gay. He had a boyfriend. I was dating. One year, we wanted to take ... I wanted to take a same-sex partner to the company Christmas party and was told no, that that's not something that, I think, work ... It was really in a way that was ... It was the firm saying, "Well, you know, we're okay with it, but that's not something the clients would really be comfortable with."
I also had a couple of assignments where you could tell that it wasn't a welcoming environment for gay people, so I left. I had found that there was not going to be a career path for me there as an openly gay man to continue to rise up the ranks and become a partner, or a senior member of that firm, and so, like many gay people of the time and before, those opportunities were closed off, unless you decided to remain closeted, which many did. It was a choice that was their ... Of course, it's their own choice, and I respect that, but I felt like I couldn't really be a whole ... Enjoy myself as a whole person, so I left.
Right about that same time, I met my first significant long-term partner, Rand Schrader. Rand Schrader and Steve Lachs were appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in the '80s as the first two openly gay municipal court judges in California. It was big news. They were pioneers. They were groundbreaking pioneers in the lesbian and gay civil rights movement here in Southern California, nationally.
Randy and Steve were good friends, and one of their mentors, and political mentors, was Sheldon Adelson. Sheldon had a very successful career as an attorney, and also then had a very successful career in real estate and in business, founding the Bank of Los Angeles. He and his family had extensive real estate holdings in Los Angeles and founded the Bank of Los Angeles, founded a very popular restaurant, but had very strong political ties, both statewide and nationally, and it was Sheldon's support ... Sheldon was on the Board of Regents of the University of California, and he was doing all this as an openly gay man and a real significant pioneer in his own right, because he was an activist. He was a successful lawyer, a successful businessperson, had significant political contacts, and was able to help facilitate, through Governor Brown's terrific sense of what was right, to help facilitate Rand being appointed to being a judge.
I was 27 when we met. He was 11 years older. He was 38. We enjoyed a very, very successful, committed 10 year relationship with each other. I was fortunate to get to know Sheldon well. Sheldon also had a share of controversial challenges within the gay community, because he opened and owned a very successful bathhouse called 8709. It was at 8709 West Third Street in Los Angeles, and this was a time where there were many, many bathhouses in Los Angeles and around the country, and this was a time when gay men, in particular, were feeling the freedom to express their sexuality in ways that were so restricted and repressed for so long.
The bathhouses were a social gathering places. There were televisions, and snack bars, and bars, and they would show movies, and it was a place where you felt that you really were among your friends, your community, and then, there was a lot of sex. It was all part of it. It wasn't that everybody always went for sex, but there was people that just went to hang out, and there were people that went, that would ... It was a bathhouse. They were open and legitimate.
Then, they stayed open well into the first phases of the AIDS epidemic. There was a great sense of controversy and a difficult time, because we had fought so hard for our gains to that point, which was way before civil unions, and marriage equality, and anti-discrimination legislation, but we had fought hard to get to that point where we were beginning to become integrated, accepted, and welcomed members in society. There was a great deal of protectiveness among the gay community around the bathhouses, because we felt like we had come so far, not just in places to hang out and have sex.
Sheldon was very successful, and then this was when AIDS was starting to become a very real threat. I remember, I would wake up in the morning, and Randy would be on the phone with Sheldon many, many mornings, like early, and I would say, "What are you talking about every day in the morning with Sheldon?" He said, "Well, that's when he's counting the proceeds from the bathhouse from the night before." These were very successful businesses. Again, his main line of work was he was a lawyer, real estate, and banking, but he had a successful bathhouse. He ended up closing it, of course, like they all closed, which they needed to, and which they should. They served a purpose at the time that they were there, and it was an important element, and then, they were, like any number of other institutions and practices at the time, they were shut down.
Sheldon succumbed to AIDS. Randy and I were together for 10 years. Sheldon probably died six or seven years into our relationship, from AIDS. Then, Randy died just after our 10th anniversary. He had had numerous hospitalizations. He died in June, and he worked up until March of 1993, very, very, very debilitating neuropathy, very debilitating pneumocystis, really ended up dying from complications from pneumocystis, had very good care, very good care from his physicians, very good care at Century City Hospital, but it was catastrophic. He died 10 years later.
I want to circle back to, you talked about the importance of the bathhouses to gay culture, to the emerging gay culture, but you also said that, at a certain point, they had to, they needed to, and they should've been shut down. Can you go a little deeper into why? Why did they have to basically shut down as a result of the AIDS epidemic? You said yourself, a lot of you were very protective of them. You wanted to keep them open.
With regard to the bathhouses, and ultimately, the closure of the bathhouses, there was very difficult reckoning within the gay community, as I had said before, between wanting to protect the gains and the level of acceptance that we had, and these were gains and level of acceptance within our ourselves. It was as important as it was outwardly in society, it was even more important inwardly, that we became accepting of ourselves, in terms of who we are in our own sexuality. Perhaps there was a sense that we would lose that if we lost the bathhouses. For a lot of people, they were just a fun place to go, and so people didn't want to give that up, either, because it would've meant a return to the furtive sex in parks and in restrooms, and not that everybody and every member of the community participated in any of this. There was a very large segment of the community that didn't go to bathhouses and that didn't have sex in public parks and in bathrooms, but there was a pretty significant segment that did. Of course, not everybody, but some, and many.
There was this sense of, "Well, where will we go if these aren't there?" Then, again, there was also this ... We could spend the next couple hours talking about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the similar sense of losing the gains we'd had so far because of what was happening in the community, the response and the lack of response on the level of the medical community, the lack of response on the level of the political leadership. It was a maelstrom of activity going on, but for me, and I can only speak for myself, it was clear that the bathhouses were a place that was a clear ... It was contributing to the spread of HIV, and we didn't know nearly what we know now, but then, it was unknown precisely how and at what level it was spread, and what you did or didn't do to contract the disease. There were so many unknowns that, from my perspective, strictly from a public health standpoint, they had to close.
In my opinion, I think that there's others who had strong opinions that were just the opposite, but they did, and I do think it slowed the spread of HIV. There was also great resistance to the ... I mean, we can go into a lot, in terms of Larry Kramer and the ACT UP movement, and members of the community that felt like that was going way too far, members that felt that wasn't going nearly far enough, so there was a lot happening during that time, because people were dying in very large numbers.
Yeah. Hey, Janine Sides, we're not seeing the ...
Yeah, we are.
I got it. Yeah.
How did Randy's death change you, personally and professionally?
Rand Schrader and I were a couple for 10 years. After my career at Andersen Consulting, which became Accenture, I ended up working for a series of software companies, which I enjoyed, was a field that I very much enjoyed being a part of, and I was fortunate to have a number of jobs in different facets of the software business. I had a CFO job with a small software company. I was in charge of programming, and ultimately, I had a marketing and product manager job. I was working my way up in my career while Randy was being a judge, and very well-respected judge. We had a terrific life. I was out to my family. He was clearly out with his family. Our families knew each other, and my family would come and visit, and stay with us, my brother and sister and their kids. Randy ended up meeting my young nieces and nephews, so we had a very nice, hard-working life.
Then, he was diagnosed, and we were ... He was positive, and I was negative. It was very traumatic time for people, as it still is, to find out their HIV status is positive. I was perplexed, but I was grateful that I was going to be able to take care of him, and at least I wouldn't get sick while he was sick. There was nothing that could be done. I mean, that was just the sense of hopelessness, and so there was a new drug that came along, AZT, that Randy was taking. There were some other experimental therapies at the time, but there wasn't anything that was really suppressing or eradicating the virus, and so it would continue to ravage the body in, as I say, very catastrophic ways.
There was a complete lack of government funding that would've helped progress the development of the much-needed drugs. He died in June of 1993. I was working through the whole ... I had to work. I mean, we had a house in Las Vegas, and we had bills and a mortgage, and needed to work, and also, all the extra expenses from his medical treatments and medical condition, and bills, and hospitalizations. He worked as long as he could, as well. I had lost many, many, many friends, as everybody in our community did, but his loss, for me, was tragic. I think about him a lot. I miss him every day, and having a partner die, a 10 year partner die when you're 37 is an experience that I didn't expect to have. I knew there'd be challenges in coming out. I knew there'd be challenges in being openly gay. I knew that I would have career challenges, but I didn't expect that when I was in a significant relationship, that my partner would pass away.
Did it alter the course of your life?
I think everything alters the course of your path. Your life is your life based upon the events that happen, so this was a very, very significant one for me, as it was ... I mean, I knew many, many couples where both got sick, and both passed away. We lost a whole generation, a whole big swath of activists, a big swath of experience. Again, Randy was 11 years older, so he was 48. I was 37. He was 48 when he died. This is the prime time when people reached the peak of their career, and Sheldon was a little older than Randy, and so we gained and we lost momentum at the same time. The AIDS movement was a real catalyst for the lesbian/gay community to come together and in some ways accelerate our progress as a community, but in some ways, a huge setback, because we lost so much talent, and we lost so much experience.
I felt like I had to, at whatever level I could, to continue to do, pick up the mantle. One of the things that Randy did was he was a very early co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Center here in Los Angeles. My activism career after Michigan continued on with the Gay and Lesbian Center, and then I was an early founder of the GLAAD chapter in Los Angeles. Before there was GLAAD LA, there was a newsletter from GLAAD New York, and I would write letters to directors, and producers, and studio heads based upon the newsletter that came from GLAAD New York, and then there was the formation of GLAAD Los Angeles, so that was the continuation of my activism after Michigan. Randy continued to be very prominent at the Gay and Lesbian Center and was chair of the county AIDS Commission, the gay lawyers' group, Lawyers for Human Rights, so we had a very active life together and independently in activism, as well.
Randy was part of an HIV/AIDS research group that ended up becoming part of amfAR, so we were very active in that time, both with our own careers and with our own activism. Then, when he died in 1993, I felt I had to continue the work I was already doing with GLAAD, and the work, the important work that the center did, and other groups, so I vowed to continue on with that and continue with my own professional career.
How did the turn happen whereby you ... I read somewhere that there was a connection for you, personally, between losing him and the founding of GeoCities, but I don't know if that's true, and what that through line might be, or what that connection might be.
When Randy died in 1997, I was still working in the-
1993, I believe.
I mean 1993, still working in the software business.
Do me a favor, start over again.
We could probably just get rid of the lav. I'm hearing a lot of static, anyway.
Can we just do that? Let's get rid of it, so we don't see it.
Okay, because the ...
This is our main mic here.
Yeah. That's our main mic here.
I'm going just take this. You want to just give me ...
You don't have to take the mic off. You can just take the battery pack out, and we'll just unplug it, and ...
Well, I think to just get rid of the cable, though.
Oh, get rid of the cable altogether. That makes sense, yeah.
All right. No problem.
These lavs are ...
Always a problem.
... always a problem.
I'm sorry. I was not rolling. Yeah.
Okay. When Randy died in 1993, I was still working in the software business for a software company, and worked for a while, was told, with very good advice, don't make any major changes right away. But ultimately, I had to make some major changes, because I had to sell our house. At that time, and for a long time thereafter, there were no ... We couldn't get married, for one thing. There were no civil unions. There was no domestic partnership. There was nothing. We had our own wills, we had our own trusts, but we had nothing that showed we were recognized by the state or by the federal government, again, no domestic partnerships, civil unions, or marriage.
So I had a very heavy tax burden that forced me to sell the house. I had to pay taxes on Randy's half of the house. Even though we had a mortgage and everything else, there was a lot of depreciation, which was fortunate. Randy had a judicial pension that I did not get the benefit of. People now do, which I'm happy about. Randy had Social Security that I did not get the benefit of. I did not have Social Security survivor benefits, which people now do, so there would've been a pension opportunity for me. There would've been a Social Security survivor benefit.
This was something that everybody at the time, who had been married, got, and so it was always just the sense of we're looking for fairness. We're not looking for anything that's special, but we just want the same rights, and privileges, and benefits that everyone else has, who's able to get married. I didn't get that. He had a 401k that was taxed at my income rate and then the estate tax rate, so I got virtually nothing from that. But what I did get, and was very fortunate, was life insurance proceeds. Randy had life insurance that he had taken out before he got sick, and I was the beneficiary of that.
I was not bitter or upset about these other things. I was angry that these benefits that he paid into, that he worked hard for, that we were a committed couple for 10 years, would've been available to a wife but not to a husband. Of course, you're going to be angry about that. I decided then, I sold the house, and I left my job, and I started to travel for a while, and then read about the internet, the World Wide Web, for the first time, in 1993/94. Having had a career in software and technology, and having also been, throughout my whole life, interested in communication technology, and I was a member of Prodigy. There were online services that were their own thing. There was AOL. There was Prodigy. There was CompuServe. They didn't talk to each other. There was no internet or email, but you could join one of these online services and be kind of in their own world. They were very popular.
I saw that, gee, this thing called the World Wide Web was just about to happen. The internet was just about to be commercialized. It had been closed to commercial activity up until just before then, so in 1994, I started an internet company that was a web hosting company. We would host websites for various companies that were just at the beginning of getting on the web, so banks and certain retail companies, way before there was really any eCommerce, but it was just a web presence.
Then, I had this idea that I wanted to do something besides web hosting, and again, through this interest and passion for communicating, giving people the opportunity to communicate with others, which had been part of my whole career, I decided that I would start a company around giving away free web pages, free websites to everybody. The key to the whole thing was not only the technology for the free websites, but organizing them into thematic communities of interest, because that was the secret for me, which was letting people share their interests with each other, share their knowledge, contribute and participate in the medium, and meet other people that had the shared interest.
Part of that, of course, came from my own experience of coming out, that I saw how powerful it was to meet others of similar interests, as a gay man, that I thought, "Of course, that applies across all, whether it's sports, or finance, or everything, interior design." That was my idea. It ended up becoming a very, very, very popular site on the internet, because we made it very easy for people to become part of the internet community, that it was a very easy gateway for people, initially, to feel like they were a part of the internet, that they could create a page about golfing, about sports, about cooking, you know. We made it very easy to give people a chance to get on the internet and share their own interests and passions.
Do you remember any key moments, like ah-ha moments, or light bulb moments, or strategic decisions that you made in those early days of GeoCities, that you look back and you realize that was a real fulcrum, that that was one of the key decisions you made that allowed GeoCities to do so well and become so popular, in terms of how it related to your users, your customers, or anything?
We were not the first to offer free web pages, and there were other companies before us that had a community-based model, so we were not the first with a community model, either. We were part of a continuum that was an evolving model on the internet for community, for free web pages, but what we did was put components together that had never been put together in the same way before, to give people a sense that they were part of a neighborhood, kind of a global community of people that were sharing common interests. We developed a unique set of tools that let people communicate and share with each other. We developed a neighborhood metaphor, that you had a sense that, again, you were part of a ... You were not alone. You were part of a community. We developed a whole community leader model, where you volunteer and help facilitate and help others get involved.
It was kind of a holistic approach to this whole notion of creating a sense of belonging on the web, and creating the sets of tools that made it easy for people to use. We were, again, part of a continuum of ... We really celebrated user-generated content, that that was a new thing, that the content for GeoCities would be created by the users.
Heretofore, everything was top-down. It was radio. It was television. It was movies. It was content that was created for consumption by media companies. We were creating a media company where it was the users that would create the content. I celebrated that. We showcased, and we featured, and we helped people create the best page about dogs, the best page about cats, I mean, you were interested in African wildlife. We really unleashed this creativity in people that the internet helped foster and amplify.
Great. That's great. I'm going to sort of jump a little bit forward to, in a sense, the timeframe over the last 20 years, since you sold GeoCities. It's been a big time of personal activity for you on many, many different fronts. As a general starting point, I want to just ask, what do you take the most personal satisfaction from in looking back over the past 20 years, your many activities, or your children, who are your ...
I know you're not supposed to have favorite children, but who are your favorite kids?
Sure. I started GeoCities in 1994. We went public in 1998 during a very frothy period of time. Then, after we went public, we were sold in 1999, as a public company, to Yahoo! This was the height of the internet bubble, in 1999/2000. We were always in the top 10, if not the top five, popular sites on the internet, so at the time we sold, we might've been one of the top three to five, depending on how you measured it, so very, very big sale price, and I remain extremely grateful and fortunate for my success, personal success, financial success of GeoCities.
At that time, I did a couple of things. I started my own venture capital fund to invest in other startups along the way as a professional career, and I started the David Bohnett Foundation to focus on improving society through social activism around a number of key program areas, that with an early set of advisors, we continue to fund at this date. The David Bohnett Foundation was founded in 1999. Since then, we have given over a hundred million dollars in grants across key program areas, which include lesbian and gay social services. We started an initiative setting up computer labs in lesbian and gay centers around the country, called the David Bohnett Cyber Centers, and these would be rooms ... They are rooms where there's computers and printers, and anybody can come in and use them, within these gay and lesbian centers. There's some on university campuses, as well, so there's 60-some cyber centers, computer labs, around the country.
We've done a lot to continue to support groups like GLAAD, and amfAR, and we've set up different leadership development programs for gay and lesbian elected officials. These programs now have been going on for almost 20 years. Then, we've had other very strong programs and effort in voter engagement, voter registration activities. We've had strong effort in anti-gun violence for all these years. We've worked on social responsibility in mass transportation, and been a very effective convener in mass transit issues, because I think mass transit is basically a social justice issue.
After a fashion, it's certainly not right away, but after a fashion, I understood that if I ... I had the opportunity in the performing arts, too, and cultural arts, so I became involved with the Los Angeles Art Museum here, and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to help those organizations expand their social justice mission to underserved communities. That's been the bridge for me in the cultural arts. I think we've done that with some level of success, so a significant amount of funding to those organizations, as well.
The greatest level of satisfaction is seeing how everything we've done in these areas has helped further the social justice mission in one way or the other, whether it's helping lesbian and gay elected officials in their careers, whether it's ... We have fellowship programs at graduate schools of public policy, where these graduate students in public policy schools work in the local mayors' offices on social justice issues. My greatest sense of satisfaction is knowing that I've continued to carry on the work of Randy, and Sheldon, and so many others that weren't able to, and do it my own way, and in ways that I think have really helped lift up large numbers of people and communities.
What I really appreciate is that social justice thread, because it hasn't always been present. Very, very, very important people in the world of LGBTQ philanthropy have not necessarily zeroed in to the extent you have on that particular theme. I wondered if, again, if you're able to trace when, where, and why social justice as a theme, whether it's Gustavo Dudamel's programs, dating back to Venezuela, to bring music to people who would have less access, or public transit, seeing that as a social justice initiative, where that orientation came from?
My awareness of the broad and critical fight for social justice, and how broad that initiative is, I, very fortunate, starts ... I remember, this was in the '80s, and I was working with our core group that was founding GLAAD Los Angeles. It was a very mixed group. It was lesbians. It was gay men. We were working very closely together on helping further the mission of GLAAD and the positive portrayal of lesbian and gays in the media. I really remember thinking that there is a much broader sense of ... I had come at this as my experience as a gay man and my lens through which I saw characters on television.
I think a lot of it was my experience with GLAAD that shows that oppression for one is oppression for all. The African-American struggle, homelessness, poverty, feminist issues, women's health issues, were identical in so many ways to my own, that again, if someone is poor and doesn't have the same access to higher education and to healthcare, that resonated with me as much as my not having the same privileges and protections as a gay man. I remember just viscerally having a shift that says, "This is about so much more than lesbian and gay civil rights," which I've worked my whole life for, but I was fortunate to have a broader lens that said, "This is about the broadest pursuit of social justice across society." That really happened a lot with my early days, in my 20s, working with GLAAD.
Wow. How can the LGBTQ community do better, in your opinion, enacting more, or embodying that understanding, that our struggles are connected, and that we're not an isolated ... We're not in a silo. How can we do better, from this point forward, if we haven't done always as well as we could have, in connecting our struggle to other people's struggles, and being there for other people, and creating a cross-platform of social justice?
The question of how we can do better as a lesbian and gay community in connecting members of our community across the broad social justice spectrum has to do with the same question of how you encourage people to get involved period, in anything, contributing money and getting active. My philosophy on that is you ask them. You invite them. You give them an opportunity to say, "Gee, I'm involved with XYZ. I think it might be something that you might be interested in."
Again, I think it's a one-on-one thing where you really do someone a favor by asking them for money, and you do somebody a favor by asking them to get involved, because they will come around and say, "Oh my gosh, I didn't know how to get involved. I didn't know how to broaden my scope outside my own community." There's many of us that are involved across the spectrum of social justice and social service organizations, and it's giving someone else ... It's inviting them. It's giving someone else the opportunity to say, "Would you be interested in learning about this?" Or, on the other hand, it's someone who says, "You know, I think my interests feel kind of narrow. Is there anything that you think I might be interested in?" I know that's how it happens.
Sometimes, it's music. I met someone last night who just loves the Hollywood Bowl. Well, the Hollywood Bowl does a lot to serve underserved communities. There's still tickets for a dollar. There's public transportation to the Bowl. You know, "Gee, if you're interested in the Hollywood Bowl, why don't I find a way for you to get involved?" There's no pronouncements. "Let's get more involved." It has to do with really thinking about who you're associated with and asking them if they'd be interested in getting more involved.
That's great. Thank you for that. How do you see our struggle, the struggle for gay rights, the gay rights revolution, what's your understanding of that as part of a larger sort of struggle, the so-called struggle for civil rights as, like I say, across communities? What's your sense of our struggle as being part of, or connected to, the black civil rights movement or the women's movement, the transgender movement and so on? I'm not sure how well that question is phrased.
Well, I think I sort of answered that, yeah.
Yeah. I was thinking the same. I was thinking the same.
Okay. I didn't realize that.
Yeah. I want to double back real quick to the organization MECLA. Were you involved with them? Because I know Chris and Rich were. I want to fill in that. That's a piece of LA history, especially gay rights movement history, that I want to make sure is told, and I don't know if you were involved in that organization to the extent that say Richie and Chris were.
During the period of time when I was quite involved with GLAAD, Randy was very involved with the Gay and Lesbian Center and with Lawyers for Human Rights, and the county AIDS commission, all during that time, we also supported a group called MECLA, and I believe it stood for the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles. There were a number of very strong activists and leaders, and effective leaders, in MECLA. I remember going to MECLA events and Randy and I supporting MECLA. Randy, as a public figure, and judges were elected, still are, he was active in that organization, as well. It was one of the groups that we supported, and it was one of the very, very extremely important political activist groups here in Los Angeles.
What was its importance, would you say? What was their platform, and how did they have an impact?
MECLA's impact was in both helping facilitate the election of openly lesbian and gay candidates, but also ensuring that all political candidates were supportive of our rights and our civil rights. It was both of those things.
Great. Okay. Now, we're in a particular moment, needless to say ... Hopefully it's only a moment, or a few minutes, but it's a time that is very fraught, needless to say. I wonder what your sense is, of how this particular moment, whether it be this year, four years, conceivably eight years, how do you see that as part of the longer-term story of where we're going as a nation?
I appreciate you asking the question about what this particular moment, this particular political moment, means for our country, because it's ... I appreciate you asking it in the context of this interview, because it's occurred to me, and I haven't talked about this before, but it's occurred to me that just as the AIDS crisis was such a catalyst for our community to work together in some ways, many ways, come together with the different parts of our community, and the unintended ... The AIDS crisis was tragic, catastrophic, but what came out of that was a very, very strong, energized movement.
I think that the current political environment, that is so toxic and oppressive, will have that exact same effect. I think we're seeing so many candidates coming into the political arena that wouldn't have otherwise, so many organizations that are mobilizing and working together that wouldn't have otherwise, that I think it's a lot the same. I mean, I think we're going to come out of this catastrophic period of time, catastrophic political period, in ways that I ... I'm an optimistic person, but I really believe that, because I just see it happening the same way I saw it happening during the AIDS crisis, and I hadn't made that analogy before, but particularly with the candidates that are coming ... All school boards, city councils, state legislatures, many, many, many that are women that just says, "Enough is enough." Now, this whole national reckoning on sexual harassment is part of this whole scenario where we're going to see a backlash that ends up becoming a very, very positive force, I think.
Yeah. It's really strange to think that ... Yeah, to see a through line, essentially, between the so-called Access Hollywood tapes and where we are a little over a year later, that this might not have happened if this particular person hadn't been thrust into office.
Right. Right. No, I think that if Mrs. Clinton has won, I don't know if we would have the same, as I say, national reckoning among ... You can never tell, but no, we're in a period of great turmoil, which I think is bringing out ... There's someone that I know, that I've known for a long time, a little older than I am, and she said, "I can't believe I'm doing stuff that I never did before. I'm protesting. I'm signing petitions, and I never did this before. I can't believe it's me." Well, I think there's a million people like that out there now.
It reminds me of a sign that I saw at the Resist March this last June, where somebody held up a sign that said, "If Hillary had been elected, we'd all be at brunch right now."
Yeah. Well, there you go.
You know, that might be the problem right there.
Where we get complacency, that's-
That says it right there. Yeah.
Yeah. Let me check the time here. We've got, officially, 10 minutes to go in this portion, and I have four questions I finish up with. They're short, but I wanted to make sure, because ... Is there something that you feel like you want to talk about, that we haven't covered? There's many long paths we could've gone down, but anything that comes to mind, that you feel like you want to talk about, a person, or anything, at all?
One thing I've become, and I want to become, and I've become much more mindful of, is that ... I don't think I've been judgmental person, but I can see how important it is to be non-judgmental of the path that other people choose to take. I get the opportunity to talk about what I've done and what I'm doing, and I feel like I've done that in a way that has been true to me and my authentic self, but I've also ... I don't know if I've done that in a way that I would say ... There are all sorts of other ways to do it, and I think that it's important that we talk about ... That we remove this judgmental aspect, that there's certain ways to accomplish a goal. I think more and more, I'm going to help celebrate the fact that there's such a diversity of ways people approach and accomplish. No one way is any better than the other.
I think we're at a moment like that, in a way, in the progressive movement right now. We're at a critical moment when some people are arguing we should do this.
Is that an example for you, and if that's an example of what you're talking about, how do very well-intentioned and passionate people who see things differently, how do they keep moving forward? I think as a community, we've found a way to do that, because there is such a thing as a queer community, but how, in this moment, do we?
Well, I've talked about thinking of activism as a spectrum. You find where you're comfortable ... Or a continuum. You find where you're comfortable on that continuum. Some people feel like, "I'm going to stop traffic. Civil disobedience isn't even enough to help us accomplish our goals," and other people say, "No, that's not me." Okay, well then find where you're comfortable, because maybe the other end is, "Well, I wish people well, and I'll be encouraging and watch them on television."
You pick your spot, but I think you pick your spot, and here's maybe where I am judgmental. You pick your spot understanding that it's a continuum, that you need the whole range of people. You need the people at this end to be doing what they do, and there's going to be people at this end that are trying to figure out, or they say, "Well, I vote," you know? That's great. That's as important as that, but they're all on the same continuum. I think it's important to let people pick what spot they're comfortable on.
Great. Final four questions, short answers. If someone comes to you and says, "I'm thinking about coming out," whatever that means to that person, what single or two pearls of just guidance or wisdom do you offer that person?
If someone comes to me and they say they're thinking about coming out, I will say, "Well, that is the single most important thing you can do for yourself, and that's the single most powerful statement, activism statement, that you can make. I don't care how much money you have, I don't care what you would do otherwise, but declaring who you are as an authentic person." It could be coming out as ... There's a whole definition of coming out. Someone could say, "I'm going to come out as a passionate believer in social justice. I'm a straight man," or, "I'm going to come out as a feminist." I think coming out demonstrates that you are going to live your life openly based on your beliefs, and good for you.
Great. What is your hope for the future? I know we have sort of touched on that, but for the record, as kind of a final answer, what's your hope for the future?
My hope for the future of our country, and our community, are pretty much the same thing, is that we learn to compromise, that we learn to tolerate, and respect, and accommodate one another's differences in a way that helps everything move forward.
Great. Why is it important to you to tell your story?
I get the opportunity to tell my story as a way of helping me shape ... When you teach someone anything, you learn things about yourself, and you learn things that you want to either concentrate more, or less, or differently on. I get value out of telling the story because I get to reflect on areas that I might want to do differently or spend different time. I have been the beneficiary of hearing other people tell their stories in ways that have helped me, so I hope that anything I say would be helpful to other people.
Great, and last question, this project is called OUTWORDS, and it's really the first attempt to interview people like yourself, pioneers, trailblazers, in the broadest sense of those words, across the country, small towns, big cities, people of all backgrounds. What value do you see in a project like this, like OUTWORDS?
I see OUTWORDS as a record and documentation of our past and present, and I think that it's a very important element of helping determine where we go in the future. Again, I think that giving people the opportunity to tell their story is not so much different than what I did with GeoCities, which is giving people the opportunity to create a webpage about their story or themselves. That helps a collective consciousness and a collective memory, and I think that we aren't appreciative enough that we are part of a collective consciousness and a collective memory that shapes our futures going forward, and I think that's very important.
I love that idea. Is that based, in any way, on an interesting Jungian thought, the idea of a collective consciousness, or is that ... Or not?
My belief that there's a collective consciousness doesn't have a name. I mean, I'm sure there are philosophies, Jungian philosophy, that have to do with that, but for me, it comes from personal experience.
Can you say a bit more about that, and then I promise we'll be done.
No, that's okay. I become aware, several times a day, of activities and observations that could only happen if there was a collective consciousness. I'll be thinking of someone and the phone will ring at that very moment. I will see ...
Okay. Do you want me to re-ask the question?
Okay. You had said that you have a sense that there is a collective consciousness, not based on any particular philosophy or psychological theory, and my question was, why do you say that? What makes you feel that, or what's your concept of a collective-
Yeah. My belief, and awareness, and understanding of a collective consciousness comes from historical observations, in terms of movements that appear, where people are operating of one mind, and people that have never met one another before. A lot of what we're talking about here has to do with a collective consciousness around fundamental fairness and civil rights.
We can bring our individual perspectives to it, but when we fight for something that is right and just, or if you fight for something that is actually not right and just, it doesn't matter. You're contributing a vibration and awareness that other people can pick up on, I think. The more we're attuned to that, the more powerful your perspective is of it, and powerful your connection to it is. Then, it relates to, also, the occurrences that are all around us every day, of what may happen that you think is coincidental, or just random, is not, that there's ways that we're communicating with each other, and with the collective each others, that can only be explained if there is, in my own interpretation of a collective consciousness. Time for portraits.
Okay. Sorry. We have 15 seconds of what we call room tone.
It's just this room with nobody talking.
It's a technical thing, sorry. Call it out there, if you don't mind.
I think we should start the room tone when ... I don't know if you heard the sirens.
Yeah, I did. Let's go again.
Okay. Yeah, so starting the room tone, 30 seconds, starting now. Okay.