Gail Reflects on Mac’s Club

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Queer Silicon Valley is proud to present an interview with one of the most influential people in the bar scene — Gail Chandler-Croll

Interview conducted by Ken Yeager

Author’s note: The interview with Gail Chandler-Croll, the owner of Mac’s Club, took place inside the bar on Post St. in the late morning of July 30. I had been wanting to interview her for a year as part of Queer Silicon Valley’s history of the bar scene. Standing behind the bar was longtime bar manager and friend Jim Michl, and off to the side was John Croll, Gail’s husband.

As Gail tells the story of Mac’s, she remarks that she is a straight woman who had never owned a bar, much less a gay one. She was looking for cash flow and the owner was looking for cash, so they struck a deal. That was in 1977. Soon later, she would also own Renegades from 1980 to 2006.

Gail referred to Mac’s as a sanctuary. “Through the years, people would come in to be with their friends, enjoy themselves, and be part of the community. It was a privilege to be part of that,” she said.

Harassment from the police was constant. There were ongoing raids, intimidations, and arrests, all without legitimate reason. Once, there was an undercover agent who pretended to be a patron – who later turn people in. Whenever the police cleared the bar, it had an obvious effect on business.

Then there were the years of AIDS when so many people were dying. She estimates she lost 40 friends to the disease. It got to the point where she could no longer attend funerals.

The drag queens and drag shows were always a highlight. “The outfits were beautiful, the make-up, the wigs. I never looked that good,” she laughed. “When we had the drag shows, everybody came.”

The old Mac’s had to close in 1998 due to changes in building codes from the Loma Prieta earthquake. The adjoining business in the building, Sal and Luigi’s pizza, also had the close. The building was later retrofitted and housed Brix’s gay bar and now the Continental bar.

She found a place for sale on Post St. in a 107-year-old building that she thought was intimate and similar to the old Mac’s. After they had bought the building, John Croll had gone to an auction and had bought the entire bar furnishing for $500. He was the only bidder.

Gail thinks the new location on Post St. has served the community well. She brags that it was there before Splash and before it was known as the Qmunity District. But now the time has come for her to sell the bar and move onto other projects.

Be sure to listen to two other interviews about the old and new Mac’s. One is with longtime bartender Rafael Hussin; the other from longtime manager Jim Michl. Listening to all three interviews will give people a picture of the bar scene that no longer exists today but which played an important role in creating a community for LGBTQ people in Silicon Valley. Much of that world has been lost as the number of gay bars has dwindled to three. Hopefully it doesn’t dwindle to two.

Thank you, Gail, for the interview and for the memories you gave to so many friends and patrons.

Marty Fenstersheib

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You might have heard about Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s testing and vaccine officer who came out of retirement in 2020 to help in the fight against COVID-19. However, you may not know he worked for the county since 1984 and was instrumental in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Marty Fenstersheib received his B.S. at Tulane University, M.D. at Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, and M.P.H at U.C. Berkeley. He is Board Certified in Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine. He always craved big challenges. He left his first job in private practice because he found it too easy. He entered U.C. Berkeley’s Public Health program and, as a fluent Spanish speaker, was soon working in a Spanish-language clinic in San Francisco’s
Mission District.

In 1984, he joined Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department as director of the immunization program. This was in the early days of the epidemic. “I actually was the first person in the health department that gave results to people that they were HIV positive. The test came out in 1985 and nobody knew what to do, so no one wanted to give the results. So, I did,” Fenstersheib said. “It soon became known that if you got the test and I came in the room—it wasn’t good news. After
that, there was nothing else to tell them.”

Fenstersheib achieved national prominence when he pioneered a then-revolutionary AIDS treatment that meshed medical care with education to keep infected patients from spreading the virus. He helped open a County clinic to provide education, referrals, and support. The approach was profiled in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The HIV Early Intervention Clinical Program he started in 1987 became the model for the State of California. More than two dozen similar clinics were subsequently established and funded across the state. When Congress significantly expanded
the federal funding for AIDS care in 1990 with the passage of the Ryan White CARE Act, Fenstersheib’s program became the national model for AIDS treatment clinics.

Throughout the epidemic, Fenstersheib continued to serve as a hands-on clinician, caring for HIV patients for more than 27 years, even after becoming the County’s Public Health Officer and later, after adding the role of the Public Health Department Director.

The epidemic had a profound impact on Fenstersheib personally. His partner was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1984 and died in 1992. In addition, Fenstersheib has sung with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus since 1983, and he reflects on the loss of more than 300 members of the chorus who have died of AIDS since the epidemic began.

Fenstersheib retired from the county in Sept. 2013. In 2020, due to his knowledge of public health and infectious diseases, he was hired back to be the COVID-19 testing and vaccine officer at the county’s Emergency Operation Center.

Kathy Wolfe

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PIONEER OF LGBTQ+ VISIBILITY

Kathy Wolfe, Founder and CEO of Wolfe Video, remembers a time when movies about our LGBTQ lives were not readily available through multiple media outlets. 

Today’s LGBTQ+ younger community may not know that Kathy played a vital role in kickstarting the visibility of our community in media today.

But before the World Wide Web, Netflix, smart phones, Ellen DeGeneres, The L Word, and all the programming we take for granted today, Kathy Wolfe had a vision and took action. 

In 1979, Kathy Wolfe saw the powerful documentary Word is Out at the Frameline Film Festival. “I was completely inspired by seeing that film,” remembers Kathy. “I immediately grasped the importance of bringing our stories to the public.” 

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The iconic Wolfe Video logo

For the next several years, Kathy honed her skills in producing, directing and editing lesbian documentaries, including The Changer and the Changed, an early history of Olivia Records. But she soon realized the need for distribution channels so that these movies could be seen outside of film festivals. 

The technology of the day was VHS, so in 1985 Kathy formed a new company, Wolfe Video. Initially, Wolfe sold tapes directly to lesbians, many of whom were closeted and had no other way to see these movies. 

From the outset, however, Kathy’s ultimate goal was wider than mail order. She wanted to spur acceptance of our community by getting these titles seen by both gay and straight audiences. 

She worked tirelessly to overcome the almost automatic perception by homophobic wholesalers that lesbian and gay movies equal pornography. She made bold moves, such as cold-calling Lily Tomlin and asking to produce and distribute a VHS of The Search for Signs of  Intelligent Life in the Universe. This created a breakthrough into the giant mainstream video rental market. 

Another bold move was acquiring the hit movie Big Eden, getting it rated PG (a first), and producing it as a double DVD (another first). 

A continuing challenge has been keeping up with the very rapidly changing technology, but Kathy has adapted. Besides adding Blu-ray as a format for physical sales, in 2012 she launched WolfeOnDemand.com, the first digital LGBTQ platform. She also licenses Wolfe films to streaming outlets all over the world. 

Ironically, large companies such as Netflix are now both customers and competitors of Wolfe’s for quality LGBTQ films. Kathy is philosophical about this. “These days our films can be streamed all over the world or purchased on DVD for guaranteed rewatching. I take pride in knowing we helped make a difference for our community. We now see ourselves – and are seen – in a much truer light.”

Both the LGBTQ and mainstream community recognize her impact and Kathy has received multiple awards over the years including: Cinequest’s “Maverick Spirit Award;” NCLR’s “Community Partner Award;” the San Francisco Board of Supervisors “Certificate of Honor,” and the National Organization of Women’s “Excellence in Media Award.”

Read more about Kathy’s story here. 

Please visit WolfeVideo.com and WolfeOnDemand.com to see a huge selection of LGBTQ movies. 

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The “Wolfe Pack” in 2002

Whayne Herriford on the South Bay Times

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Whayne was one of four founders of the South Bay Times (SBT) newspaper in 1988. SBT covered all the local LGBT news and covered the local events and social life. Unfortunately due to personal issues and the death of one of the founders, SBT was only published for two years, but was a wonderful community resource during that time.

Ted Sahl

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Ted Sahl began his 30-year career photographing the gay and lesbian community in the South Bay in 1978 “through a combination of curiosity and accident.”

After the San Jose City Council approved a proclamation for Gay Pride Week, the photographer stumbled upon a confrontation between members of the Moral Majority and gay activists, who later celebrated the historic moment in St. James Park.

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Ted Sahl’s Press Pass

Previously covering the anti-nuclear movement and farm labor strikes across California, the LGBT civil rights movement from the 1970s provided plenty for Ted to photograph, from political protests and fundraising campaigns, to pride celebrations and community events.

“These issues were close to my heart,” Ted later wrote in 2002, “but when I became acquainted with the gay community I recognized a deep richness of the human spirit that, in my view, demanded all the support it could muster.”

He captured moments of life, love and legislation within the LGBT community across three decades, with efforts to not “out” folks to family, friends or coworkers by always asking for permission. While he was self-described “hopelessly heterosexual,” Ted earned trust and respect with the community, often using only first names or drag names out of caution, especially with at a time when many worked in the high tech industry, who could lose security clearances for being LGBT.

A welder by trade, Ted attended fundraisers and demonstrations after work, or weekend picnics, coronations, parades and nights on the town for the gay press. He served as the staff photographer for a number of local LGBT newspapers, including the Lambda News (1978-1983), Our Paper (1984-1988), South Bay Times (1988-1990), and the Valley Views.

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Ted Sahl surrounded by his works

Born in May 1927, Ted grew up near Boston and dropped out of school at 16. He served in the U.S. Navy in 1947, stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, before arriving in the Bay Area. Ted described himself as “a self-taught artist dedicated to developing, and enriching the human spirit; If it be with a critical eye, So be it!”

His photos can be found throughout Queer Silicon Valley, as well as his book, “From Closet to Community: A Quest for Gay and Lesbian Liberation in San Jose & Santa Clara County,” pulling work from his personal collection, “The Ted Sahl Archives,” at San Jose State University.

Meet Silicon Valley’s First-Out Lesbian Mayor: Laura Parmer-Lohan

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An historic first occurred in the City of San Carlos on December 14, 2020, when Councilwoman Laura Parmer-Lohan was sworn in as mayor. Although it was not reported anywhere, when she raised her hand to take the oath of office, she (surprisingly) became the first out lesbian mayor of any city in either San Mateo or Santa Clara counties.

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As to the significance of her position, Laura said, “It is an honor and a privilege to serve as mayor for my community. I think it is important for people of diverse backgrounds and life experiences to have a seat at the dais. I am proud to have requested that the Pride Flag be raised in San Carlos during my first year in office. Many community members expressed their gratitude and one shared that he had not felt welcome in the thirty years that he had lived here until that day. This is the power of representation.”

As mentioned in the introduction of the Elected Officials section of Queer Silicon Valley, there are a stunningly low number of open LGBTQ+ officials in Silicon Valley. Although there have been a handful of gay men serving on city councils, the only other lesbian was Jamie McLeod, who served in the City of Santa Clara from 2005 to 2012. Unlike Laura, Jamie was never able to become mayor during her eight years on the council, because Santa Clara elects its mayor.

That approach is an outlier; most cities in the South Bay do not directly elect their mayors. Instead, the position rotates among individual councilmembers.

Silicon Valley’s gay mayors are in cities with a rotating system: Evan Low in Campbell (2010, 2014); Rich Waterman in Campbell (2014, 2019), Chris Clark in Mountain View (2014), and Daniel Yost in Woodside (2019).

No LGBTQ+ mayor in neither Santa Clara nor San Mateo counties has been directly elected by voters.

This even dates back to John Laird, who was as one of the country’s first openly gay officials when he was served on the Santa Cruz city council from 1981 to 1989. He earned his place in history when, in 1983, he became (along with mayors in Laguna Beach and Key West) the first gay mayors ever to serve—also due to a rotating mayor system.

Maybe 2021 will become the year of lesbian elected officials. Santa Cruz welcomed its first lesbian mayor in December 2020, when Donna Meyer was selected as mayor by the council. So whereas before there were no lesbian mayors across in the three counties, now there are two.

Laura already has her eyes set on her next trailblazing goal. In January 2021, she announced her campaign for a seat on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

If successful, she would be the first lesbian in this role, joining three other elected gay county supervisors—Tom Nolan and Rich Gordon in San Mateo County, and Ken Yeager in Santa Clara—who have each served as chair or president of their respective boards.

Watch Ken Yeager interview the newly-elected Mayor Laura Parmer-Lohan of San Carlos, California, in December 2020.

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