Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bob Hattoy, Gay & AIDS Hero, Advisor to Pres. Clinton, Has Died

This sad news comes from my friend Sean Strub, and if you have a memory of Bob that you'd like to share with Sean for his POZ obit on Bob, please email Sean at

I was not a supporter of then-Gov. Bill Clinton in 1992, but that did not stand in the way of Bob and I forging a friendship, one that lasted after the Arkansas governor was inaugurated in January 1993.

There are two things I want to say about Bob. First, ACT UP/DC in the fall of 1992 organized "Hands Around the White House," an event that sent an AIDS message to Bush Senior. Bob was rightly viewed by many people with AIDS and activists as a visionary who summed up our frustrations and hopes when he addressed the DNC convention in NYC in 1992, so we were more than happy to allow to address the "Hands" crowd. Need I say he received a hero's welcome and cheers for his activist speech that autumn. And Bob, to his credit, since ACT UP/DC was nonpartisan, kept his pro-Clinton views to a minimum, but his anti-Bush Senior comments were well worth applauding.

Second, in the spring of 1993 when just a relative handful of people were working to call attention to the brutal murder of US Navyman Allan Schindler by fellow US sailors, Bob was always ready to give a quote to the press, as a Clinton administration official. Like many people, Bob was horrified at the horrific details of Schindler's senseless murder in Japan.

I imagine he took some risk speaking out for justice for Schindler, 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 for not only justice for the murdered gay victim, but all gays and lesbians in the US armed services.

Bob, rest in peace. You fought the good fight, my friend.

From Sean Strub:

I just spoke with Bob Pelham, Bob Hattoy's close friend, and he asked me to share the sad news that Bob Hattoy died last night, March 3, in Sacramento.

Bob had been hospitalized for a couple of weeks with PCP, but had recently returned home from the hospital. The cause of death hasn't been determined, but Bob Pelham said they think it was cardiac arrest.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Bob Hattoy to people with AIDS and the AIDS activist movement, let alone the other movements in which he was active. 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. Bob's integrity never wavered; he was thoroughly an activist, one who devoted his life to progressive social change. He was a friend and mentor who will be greatly missed.

Per Bob Hattoy's wishes, he will be cremated and there will be no memorial service. He left instructions requesting that celebrations of his life be held in the four cities he considered homes: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and New York.

I'll be writing something about Bob for POZ and I would be interested in any stories you have that you could share. He was one of the greats of our movement and we ought honor his memory and legacy appropriately.

A detailed obituary will be forthcoming soon; for questions or information about the planned celebrations of Bob's life, please contact Bob Pelham at

[Update: This beautiful remembrance arrived this evening and it must be shared, as a tribute to Bob, who touched many lives.]

From Deacon Maccubbin:

We were so sorry to hear of Bob Hattoy's passing. It's been some years since he last visited us in DC and we hadn't really been in touch in recent years. But only last night, I was leafing through the VIP books we keep at Lambda Rising, books which contain the notes and signatures of thousands of authors, politicians, athletes, activists and other leaders who have passed through our bookstore in the past 33 years. And there was an entry from Bob, made in late January, 1993 as we were all celebrating the inauguration of the "Man from Hope" and the rejection of the anti-gay, AIDS-phobic Republican administration that preceded it.

It was in this spirit of optimism that Bob entered our bookstore that day, and it shows in his entry: "Hi guys -- Well, well, well, we won. In "fucking" credible! (don't quote me on that). I think this year has been one of hope, anticipation, and a willingness to change. I hope we will, now that _we_ have "friends" in charge." He may have been a national public figure, a member of the President's advisory team, but he still spoke plainly and honestly, pulling no punches. "I love Lambda Rising, as a bookstore, a place to smile at cute men...," he continued. "Thanks for the home away from home."

As I read the entry last night, I conjured up a mental image of this impish bundle of energy with the big open smile and the laugh in his voice. I thought that I should track him down in California and catch up on his life, see how he was doing. Unfortunately, today's sad news tells me that it's too late for that, but not too late to remember his dedication to the planet, to the glbt community, and to people living with HIV/AIDS. Though presidents and politics failed to live up to our optimism, Bob Hattoy never failed us at all.

Deacon Maccubbin

Lambda Rising Bookstore

Washington DC 20009

[Update, Monday: My friend, and co-founder of ACT UP, and all-round global AIDS warrior, Eric Sawyer from NYC, shared this tribute for Bob.]

From Eric Sawyer

Bob Hattoy, his then BF Bob Pelham, Victor Zonano, myself and a few othes rented a share house together in Fire Island Pines few years of Clinton's first term. Talk about unlikely bedfellows - a rabid ACT UP Founding Member and two Clinton Appiontees conferencing every weekend.

Hattoy was a great friend, not only personally but also to our community. There were many a weekends conversations and many a calls during the week that began with Bob saying, "I never said this but, I thought you should know that the administration is considering X, and I am sure that you are not happy with this.

"The Domestic Policy Cheif is behind this stupid idea and his direct phone number which you got from an unknown source is: 202-xxx-xxxxx.

"He is deathly afraid that the activist response may be to do such and such -- so be sure to threaten to do so immediately."

Bob was a good soldier, a unparallelled story teller, and a good friend.

[Update: Found this surfing the web this morning, and it's just one of many great stories about Bob, and tales he loved to tell his friends.]
Bob Hattoy has died. That's the news that greeted me this morning. Maybe you remember him standing onstage at the Democratic National Convention -- was it 92? -- as an openly gay man with HIV. If memory serves, I think he had AIDS at the time and said as much.
My memory of Hattoy is, however, sitting across from him at a Cosi near Dupont on a brisk Saturday afternoon, probably in 2000, interviewing him for the Washington Blade.
He had a lovely "off the record" story (all the good ones are) about explaining to then-Pres. Bill Clinton what "glory holes" were. I think the topic came up while they tooled I-95 in some sort of presidential motorcade and passed a rest area. I think that's what sparked the conversation between this two fun guys in the back of Limo One.
After the full explanation, Hattoy said that Bill's mental wheels made a few spins and he replied with a wistful, "Guess that wouldn't work for straight folks." Or something to that effect.
Hattoy said he was going to put this gem and plenty like it into a non-fiction collection he'd title "Below the Beltway." Unless he was keeping some notes to be published posthumously, looks like we're going to miss that, sadly. Bye, Bob.

[Update, Tuesday morning: Can it be? The SF Chronicle doesn't mention the word gay once in Bob's obit?]

The NY Times, starting with the headline on Bob Hattoy's obit, liberally uses the word gay to sum up his life and activism. I counted the word gay six times in the Times' headline and obit.

Compare that with absolutely no mention whatsoever of Bob's open gayness and work as a gay advocate in the SF Chronicle, and the omission of the word gay.

Of all the daily newspapers in the country, you'd think the leading one in America's gay Mecca would be aware of Bob's homosexuality and importance as a gay rights fighter, but it seems as though the Chronicle hasn't a clue about the full life and experiences of Bob Hattoy.

And to add insult to injury, the Chronicle's obit appears only on the blog of the paper's outdoors and sports columnist.

Why the hell was the Chronicle so lazy about giving readers a real, fully-detailed obit on Bob Hattoy, and something in print too?

From the Times:

Bob Hattoy, 56, Clinton Aide and Powerful Voice on Gay Issues, Dies

Bob Hattoy, who drew wide attention with a nationally televised speech about AIDS at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and then became a forceful advocate for gay and lesbian issues in the Clinton White House, died on Sunday in Sacramento. He was 56. [...]

And this is what is on the Chron's site today:

Key F&G Commissioner dies

By Tom Stienstra

California Fish and Game Commissioner Bob Hattoy, 56, died early Sunday morning.

Commissioner Hattoy, a resident of Santa Monica and most recently, Sacramento, was originally appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to the Commission on Aug. 29, 2002, and was reappointed on April 2, 2003 to a six-year term. In February 2007 he was elected as the Fish and Game Commission's President and the Chairman of the Wildlife Conservation Board. [...]

No information was immediately available on Hattoy's cause of death. [...]

Over his distinguished career, Mr. Hattoy was a consultant and motivational speaker with a wide range of experience in political, governmental and communications issues. He served as an appointee of President Bill Clinton, as a deputy in the Office of White House Personnel from 1993 to 1994. From 1994 to 1999 he was the White House liaison to the Department of the Interior. President Clinton also appointed him to the Presidential Commission on HIV/AIDS, where he served as Chair of the Research Committee. He also worked for the Sierra Club from 1981 to 1992, where he was a Regional Director for California and Nevada working on various environmental justice issues.

Finally, the longest and most comprehensive obit in the mainstream press on Bob that I've found on the web is this one from the LA Times, which like the NYT, reports that he died of AIDS, a fact the SF Chronicle couldn't verify. Sheesh.

Bob Hattoy, a brash, often brutally witty environmental advocate and political consultant who made headlines in 1992 as the first openly gay person with AIDS to address a national political convention, died Sunday at UC Davis Medical Center. He was 56. Hattoy died of complications of AIDS, said Adrianna Shea of the California Fish and Game Commission, of which Hattoy was president. [...]

Hattoy told friends that instead of a funeral he wanted four celebrations of his life — in Los Angeles, Sacramento, New York and Washington D.C. They are being planned. He asked that his ashes be preserved in a martini shaker.


Anonymous said...

You might be interesting in reading Bob Hattoy's powerful 1992 Speech to the DNC.

Jim Carroll said...

bob was a friend of mine and from the moment i met him i knew that this man was an extraordinary individual.

though we parted ways over the monica scandal, i will always remember bob and the rapid-fire quips that came from that super fast brain that, at times, his mouth could barely keep up with. most esspecially i will remember his humour and zest for life and most certainly his passion and how damn fast he did everything. a lesiurely walk was an aerobic workout.

You can bet that wherever he is bob is stirring things up. saint peter must be exhausted already, but he'll definately know that the world was better off with bob here among us and he must be regretting, in more ways than one, the decision to bring bob home.

rest in peace and stir things up wherever you are, bob.


jim carroll