Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good-Bye "La La"


I was out at the Mad Hatter on Friday night when we started to receive word of what happened in Michael Brown's apartment earlier that day. Word was that the long time owner/manager of H.G. Rooster's had been murdered.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Gay community, bars are a part of its social fabric. There are many reasons for that. It was not so long ago that the only places where you felt comfortable to express yourself as a gay person was in a gay bar. In many ways, gay bars hold sort of a sanctuary status in the community. They represent a place that you can escape from the predominant heterosexual culture and experience an accepting social environment. They are also good places to meet friends or more without the fear of being rejected for being attracted to someone of your same sex.

The historic roots of the role of bars as institutions in the gay community go way back. In fact, many point to the beginnings of the gay rights movement and it's origins at Stonewall - a gay bar in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. PrideFests are held in most communities during June in commemoration of the Stonewall riots. Our PrideFest will be next weekend in our own Bryant Park. There are sure to be many memorials in Micheal's honor during the entire weekend.

And, in many ways, the bar "family" becomes a surrogate for one's real family. Many gay people have complicated relationships with their family, some have been ostracized by them or have rocky relationships with siblings and many are far away from family geographically as well. If you read the article from today's Palm Beach Post, you can see this sentiment reflected in the last line.

Tim Carey: "It wasn't about a moneymaking venue; it was about making sure that gay people had a place to go and feel comfortable."

and from Tony Plakas:

"He was the person who made everyone feel like they were related."
And so it was. When I first moved here in 1989, Rooster's was one of the first places that I went when I arrived in West Palm Beach. I remember a trip here that's purpose was prospecting for housing. Only here for a short weekend and knowing that I had to secure shelter in that time period, I had made the mistake of relying on a real estate agent to take me around to show me places - all too expensive and too marginal to be a viable option. But, she had me hostage so I couldn't look at any other places. I went out to Rooster's on the one night that I was here, met someone who had recently moved here from Salt Lake City and had extra room is his apartment. He said that his apartment complex was full, but he offered me the opportunity to use his guest room until a vacancy opened up in the complex. It worked out well, solved a pressing problem for me and didn't involve sex. It was part of the social "capital" that gay bars represent to the community.

I had gotten away from going to Rooster's recently, but it has a special place in my heart. And, so too, does Michael Brown. He was a common point of contact for many in the community. Regardless of how long it had been since you had seen him, he would always remember your name and treat you as a friend or a member of a large extended family. He was always generous in his support of charitable causes and supporter of gay issues and candidates. He was helpful to me in my campaign for office last year.

We will miss Michael, his friendly, affable style and his kind heart. These are a few pictures assembled by friend Charlie Fredrickson from the candlelight vigil last night at Rooster's and other pictures of Michael.

In Memoriam - Michael "LaLa" Brown

To sign the guest book for Michael on the Palm Beach Post website, click here.