Arthur Evans and I ended up as political enemies, though you wouldn’t know that if you saw us talking to each other on the streets of the Castro in the past few years. He always had a smile for me, even when we were on opposite sides of an issue, which we frequently were, or if he had just written a nasty letter to the editor about some political action I had done.
Arthur died two days ago in the Haight-Ashbury apartment he had occupied since 1974.
We didn’t start out on opposite sides.
I first met Arthur in New York in the early 70s when the gay liberation movement was young and defiant. Back when queers weren’t asking for marriage or service in the military. Arthur was first involved in the Gay Liberation Front and then helped form the Gay Activists Alliance. I was involved with both organizations, but in Philly, not New York.
I also knew his lover Arthur Bell, who, after their breakup, would become the first out gay columnist for the Village Voice. Arthur Evans would leave New York and write many articles for Fag Rag and Gay Sunshine, two gay liberation periodicals, and a book that became a pivotal queer work of the late 70s: Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.
After I moved to San Francisco in 1991, I frequently saw Arthur at my workplace, A Different Light, a now-defunct gay bookstore in the Castro. He was among the many authors I set up readings for when I became the events coordinator. We spent hours talking about many topics.
Our parting of the ways happened soon after the dot-com boom sent rents -- and homelessness--soaring. Arthur began writing letters trashing the homeless kids on the streets, especially in the Haight. The next time I ran into him on the 33 bus heading from the Castro into the Haight, we argued vociferously.
The argument spilled out into the press, as we were sometimes quoted on opposite sides of the homeless debate. I took the side of pushing for services and affordable housing for the homeless; he advocated for criminalizing panhandling and sitting/lying on the sidewalks.
Last summer, I found out that Arthur’s health was failing. I heard via a friend that he didn’t have long to live. It was hard to believe. Yet he did seem frailer every time I saw him on the streets.
Not long after that, I received an email from him with an attachment -- a copy of the obit that he wanted published when he died. I didn’t respond, I was too angry at him for some tirade he had just published about an action I had organized in support of homeless youth in the Castro. I thought: I’ll wait until I calm down.
I got the news of his death from the Bay Area Reporter yesterday morning. The editor asked if I could say something about him for the obit she was writing.
It’s not hard to remember the Arthur Evans who embodied the defiant spirit of gay pride that was born at Stonewall (no, he wasn’t among the cast of thousands claiming to have been there), the tireless activist of the 70s and 80s, who shouted down homophobes and protested outside drug companies because of their price gouging of AIDS medications.
Or the gentle man who did extensive research into faeries and gay male involvement in spiritual traditions in the west because he didn’t believe in the hyper masculine Castro clone identity that so many gay men were drawn to during the disco era.
Or the anti-war activist of the late 60s who participated in anti-Vietnam War sit-ins on campuses or protested at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 68.
I never did respond to the email with the obit.