One of Columbus’ favorite drag divas, Maxine Fisher, held her annual Holiday Hannukah-Rama at Club Diversity in Columbus on December 2. Two shows of humor, dance and song, accompanied on piano by Mary Daniels, played to a packed audience. They raised funds for Project Open Hand Columbus. Photo by Kaizaad Kotwal
Three marriage cases head to high court; gay couples already included in federal and provincial laws
by Eric Resnick
Montreal--While Ohio is joining most U.S. states in attempting to restrict rights and benefits to same-sex couples, Canada, which borders Ohio to the north, is moving on several fronts toward the eventual recognition of civil unions and same-sex marriage.
Legislation was introduced December 7 in the Quebec National Assembly to recognize same-sex civil unions. The measure is expected to pass by summer, making Quebec the second Canadian province to do so. Nova Scotia passed a civil union law in June.
Currently, all Canadian provinces are updating their laws to eliminate discrimination between same-sex couples and legally married ones.
These updates resulted from equality guarantees made part of the Canadian Charter of Rights in 1985, which provided an open-ended list of classes that should enjoy non-discrimination protection. In 1995, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the list must include sexual orientation.
Subsequent Supreme Court rulings, including a May 1999 decision that made the opposite-sex definition of "spouse" unconstitutional, have moved Canada’s federal government and provinces closer to giving rights and benefits of married couples to same-sex couples.
"Each province has laws that deal with relationships," said John Fisher, executive director of Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere in Ottawa. "All have done things to comply with the court, though British Columbia has done the most, followed by Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec."
According to Fisher, Canada’s federal government has stopped short of using the term "civil unions," but has changed its laws to make same-sex couples equal to married couples in areas of federal jurisdiction, such as immigration and taxation.
But the provinces still have jurisdiction over things like division of assets after a breakup, access to a partner’s medical records, and automatic status as a beneficiary when a partner dies.
Adoption is sticking point
The Quebec legislation is being criticized for not including full adoption rights, as the Nova Scotia laws do.
Same-sex couples can also adopt in British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta. The Quebec draft legislation allows adoption by one partner, but not both. The other provinces allow both partners to become adoptive parents.
According to Quebec Justice Minister Paul Bigin, similar adoption rights could be written into the legislation during hearings on it, if there is a consensus for it. Those hearings will be held in January.
Bigin points to a Liger Marketing poll in June that shows 76.5 percent of Quebec residents in favor of same-sex unions, but only 54 percent in favor of adoption.
"We’re aiming to erase the discrimination that exists in our laws and guarantee that same-sex couples have the same rights as others," Bigin told the Canadian Press. "In our society, the rights and freedoms of people must be respected. Everyone must be equal."
Matrimony falls under federal jurisdiction in Canada, so no province can create same-sex marriage by itself, but Bigin indicated that if Quebec were to become a sovereign country, same-sex marriage would be proposed with his support.
Three cases head to high court
Two same-sex couples, one men, the other women, tested a loophole in the Ontario Marriage Act last January. An old provision in the law makes a church marriage into a civil one if the church publishes "banns," or announcements. Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto did this before marrying the couples.
But Ontario Consumer Minister Bob Runciman refused to register the couples as married, prompting legal challenges by the couples and the minister who married them.
That case joins two other suits in Quebec and British Columbia challenging Canada’s "one man, one woman" definition of marriage as unconstitutional in light of the 1995 rulings.
A British Columbia judge ruled in October that while Canada discriminates against same-sex couples by refusing them marriage, it is justified under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Courts are expected to rule in the Quebec and Ontario cases by spring.
"We expect them to rule in our favor," said EGALE’s Fisher. "We have made it clear that our end game is marriage, and we do not want a situation like Vermont with two different regimes and inequality."
The Supreme Court of Canada is eventually expected to rule on all three cases.
Fisher said that getting Canada to give full recognition to same-sex marriages is about five years away.
"The Supreme Court made things clear in the 1999 ruling," said Fisher, "so it is a matter of time for the rest of these cases to reach there too."
Not much opposition
Fisher said that there are small pockets of opposition to same-sex couple rights, but they have not been able to stop the progress in that area.
"They have intervened in the courts, arguing that these laws would diminish their religious beliefs, but Canada does not have the same right-wing element as the U.S. does," said Fisher. "We don’t have the forces operating like there are south of the border."
"Canada adheres to the principles of keeping religion out of politics," Fisher added. "You would never hear the Canadian prime minister invoke God in speeches like [President] Bush does."
Private charities and New York State include domestic partners, but U.S. is a question mark
by Anthony Glassman
New York City—Same-sex partners of those lost in the September 11 terrorist attacks are finding it more difficult to navigate the labyrinth of relief agencies and funds than their heterosexual counterparts.
Peg Neff, for instance, lost her partner of 18 years, Sheila Hein, when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. But Virginia law specifies that the state crime victims compensation fund limit beneficiaries to legal spouses, grandparents, immediate family and other legal dependents.
The partner of a civilian Army employee at the military center, Neff’s request for assistance was rebuffed by Virginia’s compensation fund board, and Gov. James S. Gilmore III has no plans to issue an executive order opening the fund to those who need it but are not permitted to legally marry.
Gilmore’s lack of action in the matter is in contrast to that of New York Gov. George Pataki, who on October 12 issued an executive order opening his state’s victims’ fund to LGBT survivors of those killed.
Will U.S. relief include gays?
The real question, however, is whether the federal government will strictly define "survivor," or allow proof of a committed relationship as a prerequisite for assistance.
The Justice Department will be paying out millions of dollars to Sept. 11 beneficiaries to prevent wrongful-death suits that could destroy the domestic airlines, and the federal government has said nothing about whether same-sex partners will be included.
Forty-five U.S. House members signed a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft on November 19, urging him to open federal victims’ funds to partners of gay and lesbian victims of the disaster, the worst terrorist act on American soil.
Among the members of Congress who signed were openly gay Democrats Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Republican Jim Kolbe of Arizona.
The Log Cabin Republicans and the Stonewall Democrats, also sent a joint letter to Ashcroft requesting that he allow federal funds to be used to help the partners of those lost.
Private charities open their doors
Several non-governmental organizations that are administering relief funds have opened their doors--and their coffers--to Neff and others in her situation.
The National Association of Realtors paid three months of the mortgage on the house she and Hein shared. The couple’s bills had been paid mainly by Hein’s salary.
The Red Cross and United Way of Central Maryland joined together to broadly define the term "survivor," and Neff received nearly $8,000 for immediate relief. The Defense Department recognized Neff as Hein’s partner and assigned her personnel to assist in navigating the maze of relief efforts.
Some organizations, like the Red Cross, have specifically stated that all survivors of those killed in the attacks will be helped.
The national office of the Red Cross appointed Hayyim Obadyah to be chief executive officer Robert M. Bender Jr.’s LGBT liaison, and Bender released guidelines on November 28 listing things that could be used as evidence of a relationship. These include joint ownership or rental agreement of their residence, joint bank account, credit cards, investments or ownership of a vehicle, among 16 total possibilities.
The Red Cross guidelines also state, "Do NOT deny service and assistance for lack of verification. See your supervisor. Supervisors MUST contact their officer before denying ANY assistance," with the capitalized words present in the document sent to relief offices.
LGBT community funds
Other organizations have created relief funds specifically for the LGBT community, bankrolled by a host of benefit nights at bars and events across the country.
The Stonewall Community Foundation and the Empire State Pride Agenda have established perhaps the first gay-specific relief fund, and their coffers hold over $140,000. The fund, which was officially announced December 13, will be administered by the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
The Eagle in Exile in Columbus, the 5¢ Decision in Cleveland and all the LGBT bars in West Virginia have held Sept. 11 benefit nights over the last three months.
by Anthony Glassman
Virginia Beach, Va.—Pat Robertson stepped down as the president of the Christian Coalition on December 5.
Robertson, 71, formed the organization in 1989 following his abortive run for the presidency. The Christian Coalition, at its peak in the mid-90s, boasted a membership of four million, an annual budget of $25 million and claimed much of the credit for the Republican takeover of Congress.
Now, however, the organization is in financial shambles, its membership is at most half of what it had been and is viewed as a political machine that has outlived its usefulness, much like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority.
Robertson said that he is stepping down to invest his remaining days in his international television ministry, which broadcasts in 90 other countries, according to Robertson, and is seen daily by over a million Americans.
Robertson’s flagship show is the 700 Club. Robertson started the Christian Broadcasting Network to provide a platform for the show, which has repeatedly come under attack for maintaining a non-profit status as a religious organization while giving Robertson a venue for his conservative politics.
CBN became the Family Channel, which was later sold to Fox. The contracts involved, however, stipulated that Robertson’s show be cablecast in perpetuity, without the possibility of the network canceling it, as long as he wanted.
That stipulation almost stopped the sale of the Family Channel to the ABC/Disney conglomerate earlier this year. Robertson and the Christian Coalition have spoken out against Disney in the past for granting domestic partner benefits to its gay employees and opening its Orlando, Florida, park to "Gay Days," which brings thousands of gay men and lesbians to the amusement park.
Opponents of Robertson and the Christian Coalition, along with a number of political experts, predict that Robertson’s departure will sound the death knell for the organization. Robertson refutes that, saying that the group will bounce back under the leadership of its former executive vice-president, Roberta Combs.
by Eric Resnick
Kent--Being gay is of "no consequence" for a Kent man wanting to serve as an officer in the Ohio Naval Militia.
Rear Admiral David E. Ozvat, commandant of the militia, said Todd Mashlan, 37, will not face any barriers to serving due to his sexual orientation.
Mashlan was sworn in October 21, and served the all-volunteer state defense force in 1988-89 following an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1983 for "homosexual activity."
The Ohio militia cannot be federalized and is not under the authority of the Department of Defense, so the "don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue" policy on gay servicemembers does not apply in Mashlan’s case.
"I had a very positive interview with the commandant and senior staff," said Mashlan following a November 18 retreat.
"My impression is that they are very excited about the skills I have to offer, and I am assured that no discrimination of any sort against me will be tolerated by the command."
Ozvat said, "It’s just not an issue here."
Mashlan has not yet been accepted into officer training.
At press time, there were some federal documents he still needed to locate, but, according to Ozvat, "that’s not a big issue, either."
Petitioners say they have enough
by Anthony Glassman
Boston—Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage, a "family values" organization trying to bring a state constitutional amendment banning gay unions to the voters, said December 5 that they had almost twice as many signatures as needed to force a vote on the issue.
The deadline for petitions to be turned in was November 28 in Boston and Nov. 21 in the rest of the state.
The ballot measure would legally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and prohibit the state from granting state benefits for married couples to any other couples.
Opponents of the measure warn that, in addition to same-sex couples, it would also jeopardize benefits for unmarried heterosexual couples, including pensions and other survivor benefits, hospital visitation, burial decisions, health insurance and inheritance rights.
The state attorney general has rejected a challenge to the proposed amendment by pro-gay forces charging that it is unconstitutional, creating an internal conflict in the state’s constitution. Gay civil rights organizations have asked the Massachusetts Supreme Court for a hearing.
Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage said they had collected 110,000 signatures, with 80,000 of them having been certified by town clerks.
The law requires 51,100 signatures. Because it is a constitutional amendment, a quarter of the legislature must approve it in two separate sessions, in 2002 and 2003, and a majority of voters in 2004.
However, other challenges to the petitions are brewing.
A resident of Dorchester complained that a signature gatherer approached him with a petition to ban the sale of horse meat for human consumption, but when he looked at the petition, it read "Defense of Marriage."
Other allegations of misinformation or lack of information have been coming in, and both sides have been filing complaints to the state attorney general, secretary of state and the U.S. attorney’s office. These include complaints from signature gatherers of verbal harassment from amendment opponents, and charges from the pro-gay side that petitioners cannot explain the measure to the people they are attempting to have endorse it.
Citizens for Marriage said that half of their signature gatherers are volunteers, while the other half are paid professionals who receive a dollar for every signature they turn in, bringing charges that paid gatherers contravene the "will of the people" intent behind referendum laws.
The paid gatherers, coming from outside the organization behind the drive, often are unable to explain the measure to the people they approach, drawing criticism that they dispense inaccurate and incomplete information.
In Maryland, a petition drive to force a referendum to repeal the state’s new gay rights law failed last month after similar allegations of wrongdoing by both volunteers and paid gatherers.
by Eric Resnick
Washington, D.C.--A controversial National Labor Relations Board chair hopeful has withdrawn his name from consideration following opposition by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups and allies.
In a December 7 letter to President Bush, attorney J. Robert Brame III asked that he not be considered for the top labor law enforcement position.
Without opposition led by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the LGBT labor group Pride at Work, Washington insiders believe Brame’s nomination would have gone ahead.
Brame has served on the boards of American Vision and the Plymouth Rock Foundation. Both organizations are part of the "Christian Reconstructionist" movement that seeks to replace democracy with Christian theocracy and "biblical law."
American Vision advocates death by stoning for homosexuals and teaches that women must be subservient to men.
Brame served two years on the NLRB following a 1997 appointment by President Clinton.
Brame opponents point out that NLRB appointments usually don’t get much scrutiny, and that Brame’s connections surfaced more recently.
Pride at Work executive director Marta Ames added, "At that time, he was only one of two Republicans on the bipartisan board. He was a minority of a minority. Now that the president is a Republican, Brame would control the agenda of the board."
Americans United spokesperson Rob Boston pointed out that Brame’s previous appointment resulted from a deal Clinton had to broker with Senate Republicans in order to get other nominees confirmed.
"We would expect that a conservative president would make conservative appointments," said Boston, "but Brame is not conservative. He’s radical."
"People with close ties to the most extreme factions of the religious right should not be nominated," said Boston.
Boston and Ames believe that Brame withdrew because he feared the tough questions he would have been asked at the confirmation hearings, but both warn of the possibility that Bush could still use a recess appointment to get Brame on the NLRB.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
Atlanta may join western cities with partner requirement
Atlanta—City Council passed an ordinance near the end of their final session December 3 requiring all city contractors to provide domestic partner benefits to their employees.
The measure is similar to one pioneered in San Francisco and adopted by Seattle and Los Angeles. It was sponsored by outgoing council president Michael Bond, who had promised to pass it during his unsuccessful re-election campaign.
He will be replaced as president of the council by lesbian Cathy Woolard.
Bond cautioned that, given the last-minute nature of the bill, council was unable to extend its deadline for existing contractors to comply. As it stands, they have 30 days to meet the policy.
Mayor Bill Campbell was then given the choice of signing the ordinance, allowing it to take effect without his signature, or vetoing it. His decision was expected by December 11, but was not available at press time.
Violation charged in repeal drive
Tallahassee, Fla.—A petition drive to repeal Broward County’s gay-inclusive rights ordinance has failed, but complaints filed December 5 with the Florida Elections Commission says the drive’s sponsors violated election law.
William Rettinger, co-vice chairman of Americans for Equality, filed complaints against D. James Kennedy and his Coral Ridge Ministries, Mark Davis, the pastor of Calvary Chapel, and Perry Hodges, chairman of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, the group that organized the campaign.
The complaints allege that donations by Coral Ridge and Calvary Chapel violated state election law, which forbids making contributions through others or in their name. Rettinger charges that both groups made contributions on behalf of other donors, funneling the fund through their religious organizations.
The complaint against Hodges charges that he violated state law in accepting the donations.
Coral Ridge donated $35,000 to the drive, and Calvary Chapel gave $45,000 in professional petition-gathering services and $48,000 in cash to the drive, which fell almost 8,000 votes short of the requirements to force a referendum.
HRC seeks prosecutions in bashing
Rifle, Colo.—Representatives of the Human Rights Campaign on December 6 met with a gay Colorado teen who is accusing four young men of beating him last February because of his sexual orientation.
Kyle Skyock was found unconscious on Feb. 11 with a fractured skull, burn blisters, a black eye, three broken ribs and bruises on his abdomen.
According to Skyock, he left the Elks Lodge with four boys who suddenly turned on him as they drove around drinking and smoking marijuana.
The police, however, say that Skyock left a party at the boys’ house and, in a drunken stupor, fell during his walk home. Police point to the rockiness of the road shoulder where he was found as the cause of his extensive injuries.
The police do not view the boys, two sets of brothers, as suspects.
The case has brought protests from state gay civil rights and anti-violence groups, and the Skyock family has hired their own lawyer to try to force prosecution in the case.
The HRC visit is their latest attempt to get charges filed in the case, banking on the strength of the largest LGBT advocacy group in the nation to spur prosecutors into pursuing the case.
School displays should have stayed
Plymouth, Mich.—A suburban Detroit school district improperly dismantled bulletin boards that commemorated Gay and Lesbian History Month and listed facts about homosexuality, an arbitrator ruled.
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools officials violated academic and First Amendment freedoms in 1999 when they removed displays installed by two openly gay teachers, arbitrator Paul Glendon said December 4.
Glendon ordered the district to issue a written apology to Plymouth-Salem High School teacher Tom Salbenblatt and West Middle School teacher Mike Chiumento.
Ruling on a grievance filed by the teachers’ union, Glendon found that the district violated its union contract when former interim Superintendent Kenneth Walcott removed Salbenblatt’s and Chiumento’s displays Oct. 7, 1999.
Glendon disputed school officials’ argument that some parents might object to the gay displays, deciding instead that they balked because they thought the teachers were "promoting their lifestyle."
Pickup killer gets life sentence
San Antonio, Texas—A jury on December 6 handed a 19-year-old Georgia man a life sentence for the murder of a gay professor.
The jurors dismissed James Charles Embree’s "gay panic" defense. Defense attorneys alleged that the victim, Bernardino Verastique, took advantage of the vulnerable Embree.
Embree had, however, confessed after his arrest to willingly going home with Verastique, having sex with him three times that night, and then killing him in a rage afterwards.
Embree has an extensive arrest record, with the crimes increasing in seriousness as he got older. At the time of the killing, Embree was returning from Mexico, where he was hiding from authorities in Georgia who wanted him on two counts of aggravated robbery and two counts of aggravated kidnapping.
Embree will be 49 before he qualifies for parole.
State stalls adoption, priest says
Arlington, Va.—An Episcopal priest filed a lawsuit December 5 to force Virginia to allow her to adopt a foster child from Washington, D.C., contending that the state is stalling on her application because she is a lesbian.
Linda Kaufman has already adopted one child from the District of Columbia, where more than 1,000 children are awaiting placement. District officials and an adoption agency licensed in Virginia have found she is well qualified to care for a second child.
Virginia officials must approve the arrangement as well because Kaufman lives in Arlington. She alleges that the Virginia Department of Social Services has failed to act for two years because of her sexual orientation.
According to the lawsuit, filed by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, Virginia doesn’t ban adoptions by gay men and lesbians but bases decisions on the best interests of the child. In 1992, Virginia approved Kaufman’s adoption of a 5-year-old boy.
Kaufman’s lawyers allege that Department of Social Services officials now in charge are delaying action now because of their views of homosexuality.
Kaufman, 50, is director of homeless services for the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District and preaches part time.
Maxey leaves Texas House
Austin, Texas—State Rep. Glen Maxey, an advocate for health and human services programs and the only openly gay Texas legislator, said December 6 he won’t seek re-election.
Fighting back tears and surrounded by supporters at the state Capitol, Maxey said he was proud to have served in the Texas House for a decade as someone "who spoke out, as I had pledged, for many constituencies and people without a voice in these halls."
"I came here as the gay representative. I’ll leave here as the representative who just happened to also be gay. That in itself is my most important achievement," Maxey said.
Maxey noted he worked for ethics reform and helped bring health insurance to more children. He estimated legislation he sponsored saved the state more than $500 million.
Maxey, now in his sixth term representing District 51, began his legislative tenure in 1991. He ran for the office despite warnings from friends that as a gay activist he would be "pigeon-holed as a single-agenda legislator," he said.
Maxey said he will remain active at the Texas Capitol lobbying for Good Company Associates as its division director overseeing health, human services and consumer issues.
Domo arigato, Mr. Panozzo
Styx’s bassist finds coming out to be a liberating experience
by Harriet Schwartz
Chuck Panozzo is tired.
The rigor of a 40-city tour is enough to leave anyone exhausted and yearning for home. But Panozzo, bassist and co-founder of the band Styx, has faced even tougher odds. The summer 2001 tour marks Panozzo’s return to performing after he nearly died from full-blown AIDS in the late 1990s. So Panozzo’s body lacks the strength it once had and he has just spent months traveling by bus, and managing a long list of medications.
But July 15, 2001 belongs to Panozzo. The show marks the closing night of the tour and is taking place in Chicago, where Panozzo, his brother John, and Dennis DeYoung, all Windy City natives, formed the band that would become Styx, first playing in the Panozzos’ basement in 1969.
The Chicago crowd is pumped by the Styx homecoming and Panozzo takes the stage late in the set. He’s been on this tour as a special guest, joining the band for the last three songs each evening. The band gets ready to launch into "Foolin’ Yourself" and front man Tommy Shaw introduces Panozzo. The crowd couldn’t be more excited to see one of their favorite rock ’n’ roll sons.
"All of the sudden, I get this huge round of applause, a major, major standing ovation," Panozzo says, speaking from his home in Chicago. "Of course it’s my hometown and I think a lot of people there knew what I had overcome to get there, physically because of my medical condition. I was just blown away. It was such a great feeling, and everyone on the stage was aware of what had just happened. We went off the stage and then came back on for the encore and at the end of ‘Renegade,’ I was wearing this cowboy hat, a duster, and I took the duster off and I threw the hat out into the audience. It was like a farewell to 30 years of being on the road. And it was a liberation. It’s still indelible in my mind."
Successfully completing one more Styx tour, Panozzo, 53, had met one of the promises he made himself just a few years ago, when he lay in bed, ravaged with HIV-related illness.
The second promise, which he re-committed to after the glorious tour-ending show, was that he would come out to the rock world as a gay man with AIDS. Panozzo signed up as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign National Coming Out Day and then did multiple interviews with members of the press about his sexuality and HIV status.
Word spread, though without much fanfare. The reaction seemed to be entirely positive--hardly a response that Panozzo could have ever imagined as a young gay man growing up in an ethnic Chicago neighborhood.
Growing up gay
Panozzo says he first had a sense of being different at age five. But it wasn’t until a fire drill in seventh grade that he understood those feelings.
"When I was in seventh grade, I had a severely bad broken leg," he says. "And when the nun announced that there was going to be a fire drill, she said an eighth grade boy was going to pick me up and take me down the stairs. All of the sudden I go, ‘Eighth grader!’ You know when you are in seventh grade and there’s an eighth grader, it’s like he’s Tom Selleck or something. She said, ‘Grab him around the neck so he doesn’t drop you.’ We got back to the seats after the fire drill and I asked ‘Are we going to do this again tomorrow?’ I was sure that what I saw was what I liked."
From there, Panozzo says his story is the classic story of a shy gay kid in the 1950s. Though he didn’t consider himself flamboyant, he often worried that other kids would pick up on something in his manner and harass him. Further, growing up in a Catholic family, he carried vivid memories of priests making it clear that homosexuals "would go to hell."
So, Panozzo threw all of his energy into music. He began his music career at age seven when he and his twin brother John took drum lessons from their uncle. John Panozzo proved to be the better drummer, so Chuck switched to guitar. Over the next few years, the Panozzos’ learned to read music, developed increasingly good chops on their instruments and by age 12 were confident young musicians.
The boys in the band
"That summer, our neighbor Dennis DeYoung from across the street, a kind of a hot shot, says that he plays an instrument and can he come tomorrow," Panozzo remembers. "I didn’t like him, he was older and went to public school. But he came down and he could play--the keyboard, or accordion, like nobody’s business. So I said to my brother, ‘This is the guy.’ All summer we played in this little band. Played weddings, anniversaries, bowling banquets around Chicago.
"By the time we hit high school, we said, ‘Enough of this stuff.’ It’s our bread and butter, but now we’re teenagers and the world is changing, it’s the Beatles. We became a copy band. We listened to all the popular songs on the radio and we played those. We played all the high school gigs in the city. We never did clubs because we were too young. By the time we were old enough to play clubs, we had gotten a record deal."
In 1972, Styx released its first album with Wooden Nickel Records. Panozzo was teaching high school during the day and recording at night. The following summer, he decided to quit teaching to pursue his rock ’n’ roll dreams, promising his skeptical father that he would return to teaching if his music career failed.
However, Styx moved to A&M Records and put together a string of hit singles--"Lady" in 1975, "Come Sail Away" in 1978 and "Babe" in 1979--to establish themselves as a successful recording and touring rock band.
The critics often disparaged the band and its music, perhaps turned off by lyrics that ventured away from typical rock fare, and instrumental arrangements that owed as much to Europe’s progressive and glam bands as the average American guitar-driven rock band.
Nonetheless, fans loved Styx and the Chicago rockers landed seven albums in the Billboard Top 40 between 1975 and 1984, including Paradise Theater which reached number one in January of 1981.
The rock star life was a perfect place to hide for a closeted gay man in the ’70s, according to Panozzo. However that cover came at a huge personal cost.
"I would go out, but never said what I did and never brought it to the band," he says. "It was a perfect cover-up because we were adored by all these fans, many female fans, and everyone thinks ‘girls, girls, girls’ and I could have cared less.
"So that was a cover-up but personally, it left me like an adolescent. I wasn’t able to make the transition that I saw a lot of gay guys go through, in terms of relationships. Also, all the traveling we did. I was alone a lot of the time. We’d play in front of 14 or 15 thousand people sometimes, and at the end of the show, I went home alone, I sat in the hotel room alone."
Throughout much of his career, Panozzo feared that if the public learned that he was gay, the band’s success would be jeopardized. In fact, he assumed he’d be forced to leave the band. However the increasing pressure of being closeted began to take its toll, and Panozzo finally began to assert his identity.
"I appeared in a San Francisco-style hair cut for the Equinox [promotional] picture," Panozzo says. "At that point I started to establish my identity as a style that was contrary to what rock and roll was all about. I never had the hair. I’d say ‘How can I compete with you blondies, I’m the bass player.’ That was my statement and they knew ‘Chuck was different’ but I never brought anyone around."
Although he had tested positive years before, Panozzo’s health didn’t decline until 1999. Initially he hung onto his music career. Then he and the band did a show at Chicago’s Fairmont Hotel for PBS. Panozzo’s illness was undeniable.
"Tommy in particular thought he was never going to see me again," Panozzo says. "I got a call from him and he said, ‘Chuck, we’re really concerned about you. What can we do?’ I told him I had already started going to the doctor, but hadn’t started my medicine yet."
A physician who he says lacked even basic knowledge about AIDS first diagnosed Panozzo. Soon after, he began treatment at a Chicago clinic known for its aggressive and experimental approach to combating the disease. But things got worse before they got better.
"I started thinking to myself: You waited too long, you’re probably going to die," he remembers. "So this realization came to me, that if I got through being sick, the commitment was there to come out. I was sitting in my room in really bad shape and I’m looking at my gold records and everything and they meant nothing to me. I said to myself, ‘You’ve led a wasted life, you haven’t been yourself.’ So I made two promises to myself. One was that if and when I got better, that I would out myself. And that I would do one more tour with the group. I got to realize both dreams."
Panozzo says he is now in good health. He continues taking experimental drugs, both because he believes the medications have kept him alive, and also because he thinks he owes it to the next generation of PWAs, to be a "test case" for aggressive treatments.
Panozzo’s public coming out last summer garnered a moderate amount of media attention, but it wasn’t treated as groundbreaking news. Perhaps the reaction, and in some cases, lack of reaction to it reflects shifting attitudes in the rock world.
The mild reaction may be due in part to the fact that while Styx continues to tour successfully and record new music, the band has settled in as a solid force born of ’70s classic rock, and is no longer a rising, chart-climbing act. Also, Panozzo was preceded by Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford, and more recently Michael Stipe. Nonetheless, the macho world of man-made rock music isn’t yet totally gay-friendly.
"[Male rock artists] have to prove that they are balls-out and show no signs of being effeminate, and they have to knock up as many chicks as they can find," Panozzo says of the rock culture. "As someone who supports the Equal Rights Amendment for women, I’m pretty liberal and I have nothing to talk about with these guys. But that’s the fabric of rock, they want that raw energy."
Nonetheless, Panozzo finds an interesting twist that also emerges. "It’s so sexual, it’s based on these young girls who aren’t sure what’s going on with themselves and they see these rock stars and there’s this emergence of their own sexuality," he says. "I think that the less intimidating you are to young females, the more they like that. If you are pretty and young and have no hair and are blond, they relate to that, because it looks like them. Metal bands always have a lot of male fans because they are more intimidating. Then I see these guys in long hair and tight pants and I’m thinking: Who’s gay here?"
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