16 Montrose Voice / Sept. 23,1983
The Mayor Who Happens to be Gay
By Arthur S. Lazere, C.P.A.
In 1980, the town of Bunceton, Missouri
(population: 419), elected an openly-gay
mayor. There were no gay issues in the
town before, during or after the election.
The impression that observers carried
away was that of a mayor who just happened to be gay.
In April 1983, the City Council of La-
guna Beach, California (population:
17,950), elected councilperson Bob Gentry
as mayor. A month later, Gentry came out
publicly in a story about gays in Orange
County which appeared in the Los
When Gentry ran for City Council in
1982, he was closeted, but the closet door
stood considerably ajar. The political
insiders who approached him to run for
City Council knew he was gay, he told me
recently, and they came to him for that
reason. The time was right for a gay councilperson. The informal local gay network
knew that the candidate was gay, but
there were no gay issues in the campaign,
and nothing was said publicly about Gentry's sexual orientation.
Indeed, the Los Angeles Times quoted
Gentry: "My running for office was separate from being gay. I am not now and
never have been the gay mayor of Laguna
Beach. I am the mayor, who happens to be
Gentry, 44, was raised in comfortable
suburban towns, first near Boston, later in
the Chicago area. He was the middle child
of three in a middle class, professional,
At Hanover College in Indiana, he
earned a bachelor's degree in psychology.
He was active in student organizations
and assumed leadership roles. In his
senior year, he managed the freshman residence hall, the first direct step in his
career in the "student affairs profession."
Finding that he liked the work, Gentry
went on for a master's degree in higher
education administration and counseling
at Indiana University.
He built a successful career starting in
Chicago and later relocating to southern
California. He has been at the University
of California's Irvine campus since 1970
and now holds the position of Associate
Dean of Students. Gentry says that he
knew he was gay even before puberty.
("Being gay was very natural for me.")
His lover of nine years owns a hairdress-
ing salon in nearby Newport Beach. ("We
are a real team when it comes to politics.")
In his academic career, however, his
closet was carefully maintained, his gay
and non-gay social networks carefully
orchestrated to prevent overt disclosure of
Computer technology is about to take
another quantum leap, this time into the
laser age, says the Boardroom Reports
California scientist Jerome Drexler has
developed a laser memory card which may
one day make today's methods of storing
information obsolete. Though it looks like
a regular credit card, the laser memory
card can hold as much as 800 pages of
data. Information can't be accidentally
erased because it can't be erased at all.
And, Drexler says, a fully encoded card
will cost less than six dollars.
Experts see a variety of possible uses for
the card, which will hit the market in
about a year. It would allow you to carry
your entire medical history in your wallet,,
or it could be used as an extra-secure ID
card, imprinted with your photograph,
physical description or voice print. And
Drexler says updating today's computers
to make them compatible with laser cards
will be relatively inexpensive.
his sexual preference unitl the Los
Angeles Times article. (It wasn't until a
month after Gentry came out in the Times
that the University of California adopted
a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis
of sexual orientation.)
Somewhat ironically, Gentry thinks hiB
gayness led to his choice of career:
"If you are going to survive being gay,
you have to have real sharp skills of perception. You have to be able to work in
diversity. You have to be able to think of
yourself as a minority group member and
how you are going to get what you want,
being a minority group member. You have
to have a great deal of intuition and a
great deal of persuasive ability, building
those skills as a human being, functioning
in a world that diavalued me. With a great
desire to be successsful, I had to learn
those skills and hone them. That's why I
went into the people business."
It is not coincidental that these same
skills are key elements in a political career
as well. Indeed, those with experience in
the contentious politics of academia come
to the arena of governmental politics well
armed. Gentry's initial political foray concerned a real estate development in Laguna which threatened the survival of
some old trees. He got involved in the
neighborhood association during the battle to save the trees and was elected president of the association. From there it was
a logical next step to the city council.
Gentry is a conservation-minded progressive, a proponent of carefully limited
development in Laguna Beach. When
elected in 1982, he was part of a slate of
three candidates of similar mind, all of
whom won seats on the council.
In that election, the main opposition
came from an incumbent Republican,
stockbroker Howard Dawson. Dawson
claims that he was unfairly branded as "a
tool of the developers." He avers that conservation is not an issue in Laguna Beach
due to the geographical limits of the area.
"The Lord laid it out that way. There's not
much you can do," he said to me. DawBon
resigned his council seat two weeks before
the 1982 election in protest against the
"ultra liberals" he saw taking over.
Since his election, Gentry has been
instrumental in the establishment of two
important gay organizations. Laguna
Outreach is a community service, educational and networking group which
attracts some 100 attendees from all over
the south coast to its monthly meetings.
The Election Committee of the County of
Orange (ECCO) is a political action committee styled after Los Angeles' phenomenally successful MECLA. Gentry has
also led his city council to take supportive
positions on the gay employment rights
bill in the state legislature and on AIDS
I asked councilman Dawson if Gentry's
coming out had impacted on his effectiveness as mayor. "No," he said, "the gays
have been here a long time, and it has
never been an issue. It would have been
nice," he went on, "if he admitted it when
he was running. He got elected and then
started working on gay issues. Some people think they've been had. I'd prefer if
he'd concentrate on issues that affect everyone, not just gays. Gay issues are not of
concern to the majority."
Dave Bishop is the publisher of the Laguna Beach Tide and Times, a weekly
newspaper. He speaks positively of Gentry and cites a changed tenor at the city
council, a shift of focus from strictly local
issues to issues that were previously dealt
with only at the county, state or even federal levels. Gentry has done "a real good
job," according to Bishop on issues such
as offshore drilling and the dangers of a
local nuclear power station. Dawson, in
contrast, characterized this activity of
Gentry's as "tilting at windmills."
Bishop thinks that the key to Gentry's
"remarkable rise to political importance"
has been his strong grass roots organization. Will Gentry's upfront stance have
any effect? "I do hear a bit of snide comments on his being gay but not in public. It
is a minor undercurrent; most people don't
Jim Lyon heads up the Laguna Beach
Chamber of Commerce from which one
would expect a conservative view. He said
that Gentry has "conducted himself
admirably," despite the fact that he "leans
toward conservation and is negative on
growth." He also expects that being
openly gay will have no effect on Gentry's
performance or chances for reelection.
"It's no big deal down here," said Lyon.
Gentry has been approached by some
local influential Democrats to seek a Congressional seat which comes up next year.
But the Congressional district extends
well beyond heavily gay Laguna Beach
and into conservative, Republican Orange
Couty heartland. Gentry is cautious and
thinks the time is not right yet. "You've
On the Job
got to pay your dues, learn the ropes, get to
know who's who. You've got to serve out
your term," he said.
In 1982, the town of Bunceton, Missouri,
reelected its mayor who just happened to
be gay. There are still no gay issues in
Despite his similar claim, Bob Gentry is
no longer a mayor who just happens to be
gay. He has taken an activist's stand on
gay issues, and that is part of the package
he will next have to sell to the voters,
whether in Laguna Beach or in Orange
Lazere is on the board of the San Francisco Industrial Development Authority.
His column originates at the "Bay Area
Reporter," a San Francisco gay newspaper.
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