by Bob Roehr
Bob Hattoy, 56, died in his sleep on March 3 at his home in Sacramento, apparently of a heart attack. The environmental-political-gay-AIDS activist became perhaps the most widely know openly gay member of the Clinton administration. He addressed the 1992 Democratic National Convention as a person living with AIDS.
Hattoy was a long-term survivor of HIV and recently had been hospitalized for PCP, a lung infection seen in persons with a severely compromised immune system, but had returned home. Cardiac arrest increasingly is associated with long term survival of HIV disease.
For those who did not live through it, it is difficult to understand how truly horrific AIDS was in the gay community before effective therapies became available in the mid-1990s. And for those who did live through it, we often have tried to push those memories to a corner of our minds.
“When Bob spoke at the 1992 Democratic Convention with courage and conviction, as a person with AIDS–and famously a friend of the Clintons–he galvanized the community and gave hope that our voice was going to be heard at the highest levels,” said Sean Strub, founding publisher of POZ magazine.
“Bob’s integrity never wavered, he was thoroughly an activist, one who devoted his life to progressive social change.”
Perhaps the greatest examples of that came during the early years of the Clinton administration. Hattoy served first in the White House and when his lip caused him to be exiled, was moved to a job with the National Park Service.
In an extended interview with this reporter in September 1994, Hattoy said, “We don’t need to be activists at ACT UP meetings, we need to be AIDS activists at country clubs, beauty parlors, PTA and home owner association meetings.”
In October 1994 when the AIDS Czar’s office was moved out of the White House to rented space a few blocks away over a McDonald’s, the fastest quip in the west remarked, “Given the budget cuts, maybe the office won’t just be over a McDonald’s, the staff will have to work there too.”
As a member of the first Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, he ripped into a December 1996 “strategy” document created by the AIDS Czar that did not address needle exchange, medical marijuana, or incarcerated populations. “People with AIDS in America don’t give a damn whether or not it’s our first step or our first document, they care about what is being done or not being done.”
“It has got so much missing that I don’t know if I can commend that.”
When it came time for a vote commending the President “for demonstrating leadership” with the strategy document, 26 members of the Council voted to do so, 1 voted no, and Hattoy abstained.
San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis recalled Hattoy’s AIDS activism, and also that he “took some risk for speaking out for justice for (Alan) Schindler [the Navy seaman bludgeoned to death in an anti-gay assault in 1993] at a time when the gays in the military issue was consuming Clinton’s agenda, and many Clintonistas were covering either their boss’s butt or their own.”
“Bob did the right thing and stood up, not only for justice for the murdered gay victim, but for all gays and lesbians in the U.S. armed services,” Petrelis said.
At a 2002 National Stonewall Democrats rally in a gilded age mansion on Dupont Circle, gay marketing guru Bob Witeck surveyed the LGBT elite gathered to hear the lineup of Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and then governor Howard Dean. He said, “The is the largest concentration of Democratic brain power ever gathered at Dupont Circle, with the exception of when Bob Hattoy would sit outside in the sun.”
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called Hattoy “a true champion for justice. Aside from being a fierce advocate on causes ranging from LGBT rights and HIV issues, to civil liberties and the environment, Bob Hattoy was a wonderfully charming man with a tremendous sense of humor. Most of all, Bob was a friend and mentor to so many.”
Hattoy has requested that there be no memorial service but rather a celebration of his life in the four cities that he considered home – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, and New York. There is much to celebrate in his life. Those who have known him will have their own memories and stories.