Sunday, January 08, 2017

RIP Nat Hentoff: Slick Willie, ACT UP & Petrelis

Back in the day, the Village Voice and its political columnists mattered. Among their marquee names was Nat Hentoff who was either feared or adored for his civil rights essays and reporting.

Hentoff passed away today at age 91 and it's the end of an era, one in which contrarians poked the powerful with conviction and terrific writing. He was always someone I could get on the phone and engage in conversation. Hentoff always returned my calls.

When I hit the 1992 presidential primary campaign trail in November 1991 by moving to New Hampshire, three months before any votes were cast, I started faxing Hentoff critical articles about Gov. Bill Clinton. Slick Willie was not winning me over due to his abysmal Arkansas record on HIV and gay issues.

Every week, I hoped Hentoff would opine about Clinton not being the savior many queer and HIV poz folks thought he was. Months of disappointment went by. It wasn't until October 27, 1992, that my advocacy paid off.

In a column titled "Slick Willie on Gay Rights," Hentoff said he was indebted to me for feeding him info and I was proud to receive mention from his pen.

What really pleased me, though, was Hentoff delving into Clinton's meager and twisted Arkansas record on the state's gay & bestiality statute, before linking it to his embrace of the death penalty. There was no other writer, gay or straight, putting the death penalty and sodomy criminalization in the same basket.

"I don't know if Rickey Ray Rector--the man with a hole in his head whom Clinton blithely executed to show he isn't soft on crime--has a family who thinks of him now and then. But I do. And my abstention from this presidential election is in memory of Rickey Ray Rector."

Amid the desperation of so many to rid the White House of 12 years of Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, Hentoff stood up to say he would not vote for Clinton. I was glad to join him in rejecting Slick Willie, but voted third party, and to have known Hentoff in his prime.

Rest in peace and power, Nat!

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