Reflecting On Our Roots
Provided by Michael Zampiceni
I originally joined the Sierra Club back in the early 1970s when I was still in college. Somewhere along the line, I let my dues lapse, so rejoined in 1984. During this second period of membership, I became involved with activities offered by the Sierra Singles. I was still testing the waters socially with both men and women, and this group fulfilled a need at the time. Nevertheless, I was pretty sure of my gender preference considerably before that time and thought it would be better if there were a gay group similar to the Sierra Singles.
In 1987, I casually mentioned to a lesbian co-worker and Sierra Club member that it would be nice if the Sierra Club had a gay and lesbian group for outings and socializing. I was astounded at her response that a group did exist! It was the Bay Chapter GLS, which was the only group of this kind in the country at the time. I immediately joined and enjoyed participating in their activities for a couple of years. Most of their activities were in the East Bay and Marin County, so the chances of developing friendships were somewhat minimized by the geographic distance from my home.
In 1990, I thought it would be nice if there were a GLS group in the South Bay so that others in the area could participate in activities close to home. Before the advent of the World Wide Web, the Internet still existed at that time, and I knew that newsgroups provided a good communications medium. I was already aware of soc.motss, which was a national board for Members of the Same Sex, and ba.motss, which was a bay area version. I initially excluded the Sierra Club from my first posting, and simply inquired as to whether anyone was interested in forming a hiking group in the South Bay.
I was encouraged by the number of responses and was soon able to formulate a group to consider such an organization. Paul Schoemaker was one of the first to respond and was also the primary person that diligently worked with me to lay the foundation for the group. He also persuaded me to formulate the group under the auspices of the Sierra Club. Bill Schweickert was another significant person who was also involved in the early days. Bill, Paul, and I made several trips to Bay Chapter GLS board meetings to inform them of our intentions, get their mailing lists for members in our area, ask for assistance in setting up our group, and persuade them to use their newsletter to advertise our events and intentions.
Meanwhile, I also set up some hikes to get people out on the trails and support the idea of forming the group. The first hikes as an unofficial group were held at Rancho San Antonio Park, which is where we had our brunch hikes for several years. The first really organized hike occurred in late April of 1991 at Uvas County Park near Morgan Hill, which generated around two to three dozen hikers. Paul helped lead other hikes from that point forward. Other early hike leaders were Bill Schweickert, John Whetten, Jim Barnett, and Linda Barr.
Jeff Tucker was another significant contributor in the early days. Jeff handled the publicity and did a great job setting up a booth for us at the 1991 San Jose Pride Festival, creating our T-shirt and newsletter logos, and producing our first couple of newsletters. Alas, he has vanished from our trails, but we still remember his efforts. In the July,1991 issue, there was a Welcome to GLS column that stated, “We currently have 260 names on the South Bay mailing list.” Pretty impressive for a fledgling group! Reading further, it states, “The south bay group is the brainchild of Mike Zampiceni and got started with the help of Paul Schoemaker and Jeff Tucker.”
Things were already going strong by the fall of 1991. Our October newsletter stated, “Mike and Paul have led eight hikes since April with as many as 35 participants per hike. Mike and Paul have been enthused by the response that is apparent in a burgeoning mailing list of approximately 300 people.” Paul said, “The response has been particularly rewarding considering that it’s only been five months since our first hike.”
Despite all of this success, there was still one major hurdle. We still weren’t an official activity section of the Sierra Club. Up to this point, we were calling ourselves the South Bay Gay and Lesbian Sierrans. But we all decided that we really wanted to be part of the Sierra Club to support the efforts of the club and to operate under its well-established umbrella. Here’s where the fifth influential person became involved with our formational efforts. John Whetten had been a participant a few months after the group’s inception and was very adept in business and legal matters. He teamed up with Linda Barr, our chapter’s Sacramento representative at the time, to create the GLS Formation Committee.
The efforts of the committee paid off in spades. The December 1991 newsletter read as follows:
“A GLS Formation Committee was assembled to work with the Loma Prieta Chapter towards becoming an official activities section by April,1992. The great news is that we’re six months ahead of schedule! Several members of the committee presented the proposal to the Loma Prieta Chapter in October. We were delighted when the Executive Committee voted unanimously to accept our application. Thanks are in order to Linda Barr, Andrea MacKenzie, Paul Schoemaker, Bob Walker, and John Whetten for their dedication in working towards achieving official recognition status.”
We were now the second GLS activity section within the Sierra Club. We installed a provisional committee that served until the first general election in November,1992. As time passed, our scope of activities also expanded. Initially, we just conducted day hikes. After the first year or so, we added weekend backpacking trips and game nights.
I’m thankful for all of the early contributors mentioned in this article for their efforts. We also owe thanks to the GLS Bay Chapter activity section (now called the Rainbow Sierrans) for setting the precedent, letting us use their newsletter to publicize our early events, and providing us with invaluable information about becoming an official activities section.
As for me, in 1993 and 1994 I was seriously ill, so I dropped out of the group entirely. But by 1996, I was back in GLS and served as GovCom treasurer and secretary at various times since then.
It is gratifying to see that this activities section is alive and well nearly 30 years later. It’s also wonderful that several of our early veterans — Cathy Roberts, Dave Ellison, Ron Levesque, and a few others — are still as active as they were in the first decade. I hope you enjoyed this account of the history of this activities section, and let’s enjoy the trails between now and our 50th anniversary. I’ll only be a spry 92-year-old by then!