The First Gay Liaison to the Mayor of Providence, R.I., Talks About
Politics, Gay Sexuality, and Why He Was Recently Asked to Resign
April 16, 2002
By Jay Blotcher
As the first gay liaison to the mayor of Providence, R.I., W. Fitzgerald
Himmelsbach proved his mettle immediately. Since October 1997, "Fitz"
had worked energetically through the old-boy system, ensuring domestic-partner
benefits for city employees and lobbying for better police response to hate
crimes. He was also a local businessman, owning and managing several gay bars.
Last fall, five syphilis cases were reported among patrons of the Mega-Plex
bathhouse, a Himmelsbach business interest. The story broke in January, with
Providenceís Channel 10 alleging drug use and prostitution on the premises.
Despite a spotless record of compliance with state authorities on AIDS
prevention measures, Himmelsbach was under attack. The debate: Should the gay
liaison be moonlighting as a bathhouse manager? Reluctantly, Mayor Vincent
"Buddy" Cianci forced his aide to choose between his political and
entrepreneurial careers. Himmelsbach tendered his resignation, effective March
Letís look at the mediaís role in your resignation. This incident
happened at the same time as a sting at a gay video store and theater in
nearby Johnston. The media announced the names of the arrestees, and one man
committed suicide. Are Providence media particularly virulent?
Until this incident [in] Johnston and my incident, I had the highest
respect for them. Channel 10 has a lot of openly gay employees. But I will
tell you that I lost total respect for them. Especially when [reporter] Jim
Taricani admitted on a radio show that he had only one source for his [charges
of drug use and prostitution]. He did not do his homework to check on
anything. When you donít do your homework and you rake my community over the
coals, Iím going to come out fighting.
How do you feel about government interference in consensual sexual affairs
in a private club?
The city has no regulation over this business. The mayor said that
publicly. Sodomy is not against the law in the state of Rhode Island. And the
state health department has a signed compact with me that I voluntarily agreed
to last [fall]. I want to be running the best place. I want to be
communicating with the right people. I want the experts to give me the advice
and to work toward a healthier gay community.
You are clearly conscientious about disease prevention, but STDs seem to be
occupational hazards of these places. Is zero transmission possible in
Is there a way it get it down to zero? No. Because you canít make someone
put a condom on. If a person does not want to perform safe sex, itís not
going to happen. We try to provide every opportunity and every tool available,
from condoms to dental dams to rubber gloves. If you want me to put a camera
in every room, itís not going to happen.
As gays court greater mainstream acceptance, there is an inclination to
squelch certain aspects of our culture. What role does the bathhouse play in
this new era?
A bathhouse is always needed, due to the fact that everybody canít be
openly gay. There are a lot of gay men who live a heterosexual life, due to
the fact that they are afraid to be who they are.
[When] the news story hit, I was nervous that my business would go down to
nothing. The gay men showed up at the bathhouse anyway. That made me realize
that I provided a safe place for my community. And that was the first time out
of the whole [incident] that I cried.
Has this incident changed your view of politics? Do you feel that gays are
still held to a double standard?
Everything is out in the open now. So Iím thinking about running for city
council. I would like to see an openly gay city councilperson. Our council has
stood on [some] issues, but theyíre not willing to take a vocal stance on
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