More on Richard Heyman

Email from JUNE KEITH,  Heyman’s friend and assistant during his terms as mayor.

—–Original Message—–

From: J/M Keith

To: jjmikytuck

Sent: Thu, Feb 18, 2010 1:40 pm

Subject: About the film

Hi John:  Jeez, it was emotionally and intellectually stunning to watch the film last night, and to see all those old faces and old places and remember all those ideas and ideals and struggles at the mayor’s office.   After much thought, I believe that if Richard were here, to see your film, he would tell you that he wouldn’t have done anything differently.  It was a strange and awful time you document in the film, and we really didn’t understand in those days to what extent this disease was going to affect us all.  During Richard’s two-year break from politics, I worked at the dePoo Hospital in public relations. I ran blood drives for the American Red Cross. There was a paragraph in the brochure about giving blood that promised that AIDS was definitely not spread by blood. Whew!!  I wrote it and stated this claim many times. I’m telling you this just to show you how in the dark people, as well as huge organizations like the American Red Cross, were, and how anxious they were to not terrorize people with the far-fetched idea that AIDS could be spread like the common cold. No one really knew.

When he was well enough to work again, Richard was re-elected to the mayor’s office, serving from ’86 – 88. By that time he was heavily involved with AIDS Help, Inc., the organization founded here in Key West, contributing massive amounts of money.  His health was robust and the question of whether or not he might have AIDS was put to rest within our immediate circle of friends and family.  It was also at this time that he decided to leave politics (at the end of his term) and devote himself instead to AIDS education and research. He was very excited about this new place he was going.  And while John was at home taking meticulous care of himself and monitoring his health, treating himself with many concoctions, vegan diet, no booze, lots of pills, etc., Richard was living happily, staging lots of family get-togethers at his house on Eagle Ave., cooking, eating, socializing, and enjoying himself.  He claimed to be a “fatalist” and told me, on his 50th birthday, that he never expected to live that long. This happy period came to and end, of course, when he became ill in 1990. It was then that he had an AIDS test, and on the date of February 6, 1990, learned that he had AIDS. The date is clear in my memory as it is the date of the birth of Michael’s and my first grandson.

Michael said about your film that it promotes Richard’s legacy and shows people what a gentle and yet gregarious man he was. He loved people, he loved being mayor, and he really did have an image of Key West in the future as a place where people preferred it to any other. And that’s the way many of us DO feel, so his vision was not so off the mark. On his death bed he was asked by city fathers, via me, if there was a place or a street or a building he would like to have named in his honor. He said that among all of his accomplishments as mayor he was most proud of stopping raw sewage from being pumped into the ocean. He asked that his name go on the sewage treatment plant. Not very glamorous, but the triumph of his political career he was most proud of.

One more thing I recall is that Richard said to me that he had to be particularly outstanding in his dress and his actions, because he was a gay man. He felt that his responsibility was to be a man self-actualized and at his very best — who happened to be gay.  Also, as Michael also pointed out, did Obama thank the blacks of America in his inauguration speech? If the gay populations of Key West was 15% in 1983, how could they have so greatly influenced his election to office? He won by a landslide! Certainly not totally thanks to Key West’s gays. They didn’t have that kind of power in voting.

When I think of AIDS, I think of how different this lovely place would be today had AIDS not appeared. I think of the brilliant people — artists, creators, writers, visionaries, who died so very young and un-realized. We would have been a cultural and arts Mecca, thanks to Richard and people with like vision.  It’s a very sad truth, and it is good to be reminded of how powerfully and terribly we have been hurt by this strange event of AIDS. And how tragic it is that Richard, who had huge powers of charm, intelligence and insight, died before he had grown into full bloom as an influence in America.

Email from PETER ILCHUK, Richard Heyman’s campaign manager & political advisor- 1979- 1989

From: peterki
To: jjmikytuck
Sent: 8/3/2009 3:22:54 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: Heyman and Key West
I have thought at length about a comment you made several times in our discussion about Richard Heyman’s career in Key West, in which I was so intimately involved.  You kept repeating:  But I do not hear anything from you about “gay.”
And we talked about that at length.  I sensed often that you were frustrated that I kept coming back to our “stock” statement of the time that Richard Heyman’s campaign was about something else.  And we frequently said he was a mayor who was gay, not a gay mayor.
Remember Richard and I grew up at a time when there was no positive gay culture.  No gay icons or even discussion to ratify our way of life.
I think in many respects, you felt that was almost a betrayal of gays and the efforts we are or were making to gain equality.   Perhaps, Heyman and Ilchuk: Two old queers content in their wealth.
I recently saw the movie Milk.  I enjoyed it and also got some insight on an answer to your question above. Harvey Milk faced immediate attacks when he decided to get involved in politics.  We did not.
Richard and I escaped to Key West and found an island of acceptance in a country of prejudice and rejection.  Both Richard and I knew that we could not live openly and broadly where we had come from, and certainly not run for political office.  He could be a hairdresser and run those things in Ohio, but not much else.  I would have had to resign from working for the Congressman who employed me if it got out in the district that I was gay, even though he was a fairly liberal Democrat from New York and knew I was gay.  It was the times.
Key West was different and our response to the times here was different.  Recall, that it was only in the Seventies that a relatively active pro-gay rights movement started to take hold.  Few were out enough or secure in their own lives enough to engage in confrontational politics.  And to some degree, I suppose we both wanted to “prove” that gays were just like everyone else in society:  We could run governments, take an active role in the community, etc., without “forcing our life style” on others.  We were thrilled to just be able to be known to be gay in the general community.  In those days, that was a big victory.

 From Bob Kerstein’s untitled new book on Key West

After being elected, Heyman did not propose gay rights legislation. He later remarked that there “was no need for gay issues in Key West,” and suggested that legislation along these lines would be “superfluous.”