Thursday, July 17, 2003


July 17, 2003

[This email sent to:,,]

San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco, CA

Dear Editor:

I am deeply saddened by the news that Mike Salinas, former editor for the Bay Area Reporter, has passed away in New York. I knew Salinas from when he was a reporter at the New York Native and viewed him as a fine writer, editor and, at times, a friend.

However, in your July 17 story about his death, several mistakes are made in regard to the death of gay sailor Allan Schindler that demand correcting.

You reported that Schindler was murdered in Yokosuka, Japan, which is not true. He was killed in Sasebo, Japan, which is where his ship was stationed.

Here is an excerpt from Karen Ocamb's March 1999 article in Genre magazine about Schindler's death and the larger controversy of gays in the military, that should clear up your confusion about where his death took place.

"Schindler's story, a kind of naval Matthew Shepard murder, bears recalling since his convicted killer is up for regular clemency reviews and the made-for-TV movie left out the hard work of gay activists such as Michael Petrelis. Schindler was a closeted sailor aboard USS Belleau Wood who was being harassed by homophobic shipmates. In late October 1992, he was found murdered in a public restroom near his base in Sasebo, Japan. His head and face were so bashed in his mother couldn't recognize him. Sailors Charles Vins and Terry Helvey were arrested. In early November 'the Navy cut a sweetheart deal with Vins. In exchange for testimony against Helvey, Vins was quietly sentenced to four months in jail,' Petrelis recalls.

"As Schindler's mother, Dorothy Hadjys, became suspicious of the Navy, Petrelis started asking questions. In December he held a news conference on the steps of the Pentagon to condemn Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney for covering up the gay aspects of the case. That led to media coverage. On the eve of Clinton's inauguration Petrelis organized a candlelight vigil for Schindler at the Sailor's Memorial in Washington, D.C., with other vigils held elsewhere.

"As the gays-in-the-military debate heated up in early March of 1993, the Pentagon leaked rumors that Schindler was in the restroom cruising for sex and that he and Helvey were jealous gay lovers. Fearing the cruising angle, many gay leaders refrained from speaking out. In late May, the trial finally concluded.

"'Helvey received life in military jail and tearfully apologized to Dorothy in court for killing her son. It was a wrenching thing to witness, and it still gives me goosebumps,' Petrelis recalls." [Source: ]

Also, you incorrectly claim that "Salinas sent a reporter to Japan to cover the story." I was the only gay American who traveled to Japan to investigate the death of Schindler, demand justice for him, and attend the court martial of his killer. My role in helping bring attention to the Schindler case was that of an activist, and one of the editors who paid attention to my concerns about the case was Salinas, who gave the story the coverage it deserved.

The Bay Area Reporter did not send a reporter to cover the trial, and anyone who knows the paper's owner, Bob Ross, knows he is tightwad who would never have footed the bill to send a reporter to Japan.

The loss of Salinas is tragic. He will be remembered by me and many others as decent, upstanding man who righted wrongs in his capacity as an editor and reporter.

I will miss him. May Salinas rest in peace.

Michael Petrelis
2215-R Market Street, #413
San Francisco, CA 94114
Ph: 415-621-6267


San Francisco Examiner

Gay activist-journalist dies
By J.K. Dineen
Of The Examiner Staff

Mike Salinas, a former hard-charging Bay Area Reporter writer and editor
who was a central player in many of the San Francisco gay community's
great controversies of the 1990s, died Tuesday in New York City. He was

Police ruled the death an accidental heroin overdose, but a preliminary
coroner's report suggests he may have died of a heart attack, family
members said. His partner, Brian Carmichael, found him at 7:30 in the
morning at his apartment on East 28th Street, curled up on the floor
next to his bed.

For more than two decades, Salinas stirred things up on the vanguard of
the nation's gay politics. In the early 1980s he wrote for the New York
Native and the Village Voice and was first writer to do a major piece on
the radical group Act Up.

At the Bay Area Reporter, he was probably best known for a stark
front-page above-the-fold August 13, 1998, headline, which read, "No
Obits." The story explained that for the first time in 17 years, the
newspaper did not have a single AIDS-related obituary that week.

"It doesn't mean that there is no AIDS," Salinas told the Associated
Press at the time. "What it does mean is that people with AIDS are
living longer and that we're smarter about the human immune system."

"That was really powerful," said current editor Cynthia Laird. "I
remember waiting until our final deadline at 5 o'clock to make sure none
came in."

Ironically, it is Salinas' obituary that will run on the front page of
today's B.A.R., Laird said.

"Everyone has just been stunned here," said Laird on Wednesday evening.

Throughout his career, Salinas investigated AIDS organizations he
thought were corrupt and took on nonprofit executives he felt were
overpaid. As an editor, he directed his reporters to explore the
finances of the AIDS Ride and the AIDS Foundation, organizations he felt
we mismanaged and top-heavy.

"That is something that he really pushed for, mainly because he wanted
to money to go to client services," said Laird.

Salinas believed in a crusading brand of advocacy journalism. In the
early 1990s, he pushed aggressive coverage of the murder of Allen
Schindler, a gay sailor killed in Yokosuka, Japan. The case received
national attention because it coincided with debate over President
Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy about gays in the military.
Salinas sent a reporter to Japan to cover the story.

Eight years ago, he wrote a story on sexual abuse in the church. The
headline was "Catholic Church Fails to Finger Fondlers."

"So many time Mike has stood up and taken unpopular stand and withstood
the heat and time would go by and he was right on the money," said

His relationship with Carmichael, whom he lived with during his final
years, started out as professional one. Carmichael was one of several
prisoners with AIDS at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville who
went on a hunger strike in 1992 to protest the lack of medical services
there. The hunger strike lead to the first-ever hospice inside a state
prison and forced prisons across the nation to confront HIV/AIDS.

Carmichael credited Salinas with keeping the story in the public eye.

"When I got out of prison, I went to the B.A.R. in San Francisco because
it was the paper that kept the story moving," he said. "I wanted to
thank the editor on behalf of thousands of prisoners."

Salinas was born in Iowa and his parents broke up when his father
announced he was gay. Salinas lived in foster homes for a while before
moving to New York. His father, Rick Salinas, lives in San Francisco and
owns an art gallery in Hayes Valley.

Despite big-city aspirations and lifestyle, he remained proud of his
humble Iowa roots, wearing an Iowa Hawkeye jacket, chastising friends
for littering, and disdaining the affectations of the intellectual
circles he ran in.

"He was practically inseparable from that jacket," said Teddy
Witherington, the director of Pride and an old friend.

But Salinas was more than an activist-journalist. His other great love
was theater -- especially musicals -- and it was Broadway that lured him
back to New York in 1999, after seven years at the Reporter.

Erik Haagensen, a senior copy editor at Back Stage magazine in New York,
where Salinas worked in 1999 and 2000, said Salinas hoped to produce
musicals. During the 1980s, he had been a founding editor of Theater
Week magazine.

"Every theater queen, myself included, bought Theater Week every week to
read him," said Haagensen.

But regaining the prominence that he had enjoyed as a young man in New
York was not easy. He struggled with his writing and his job at the Back
Stage was short-lived.

"The return to New York was not all he had hoped it would be," said
Haagensen. "He felt he had not managed to re-establish himself in
theater journalism or gay journalism in ways he had previously
established himself."

Friend Jim Provenzano, who writes a sports column for the Bay Area
Reporter, said Salinas had recently admitted that he was experimenting
with heroin. Provenzano speculated that after 9/11 and a challenging
return to New York, Salinas was struggling.

"He was not as tough he people thought," he said. "You can make your
mark in New York, but as soon as you leave you are forgotten."

But others say his final days were in fact happy. He had recently been
editor of the 2003 Pride guide and was looking forward to editing again
next year.

"It's sometimes hard to remember, but we are the lucky ones," he wrote
in his Pride Guide editors letter.

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