Like any good editor-in-chief worth their salt, Kim Corsaro, the Bay Times’ editor from 1981 to 2011, who passed away this week after a long illness – was a bundle of contradictions. She was wonderful, infuriating, generous, bloodthirsty, devious, mean, determined, stubborn, punctual and sometimes certifiable. I should know, I worked with her and for her for about 15 years – and was eventually fired by her.
Where to start with his exploits? Perhaps with Cleve Jones literally following Corsaro around the office on his knees, begging for his political approval. Or with Nancy Pelosi going around the all the papers knowing her very well had to gain endorsement from the gay press, including Corsaro’s newspaper (more on this later). Or when the office, then on Valencia Street, went out of business when the PG&E crew outside on the street took off their shirts to work, and the men working inside suddenly lost capacity to concentrate and just stared at her – a story that never failed to make her cringe. at the top.
Or should we start when she decided the gay establishment wasn’t doing anything about domestic partnership (yes, there was something before gay marriage) so she put it on the front page to force them into action. Or when she sued Shanti Project’s Jim Geary over sexual harassment allegations, or God forbid, questioned the sanctity of Project Open Hand founder Ruth Brinker.
Then there was God knows how many times she got me out of jail when I was jumped again by cops at a protest. Or one could start with his unwavering support for ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power and Queer Nation at a time when many thought ACT UP was going too far. (Yeah, I know everybody now declares having supported ACT UP thenwell some of them are lying.) The list goes on.
At a time when gay newspapers – and I use the word “gay” deliberately – were liberal at best, Corsaro was downright radical. She took what was then known as Coming Up, a monthly list of upcoming events (duh) and turned it into a true gay/lesbian newspaper, with a devotion to local politics and in-depth reporting. for the community. As HIV/AIDS decimated us, she was determined to cover the pandemic and to do so without giving up any of the things that made the city a haven, a home, and a center for everything the Christian Right hated. (Hello, artists like Jerome Caja and Gregg Taylor.) And she did it all from a radical, queer, leftist perspective.
And let’s not forget that she did it as a woman in, at that time, a predominantly gay male community where all other newspapers were run by men, and lesbians and gays were largely two communities distinct. She was obviously a dyke. She suffered from overt and covert sexism. She was noticeably to the left of the editors of the Bay Area Reporter and the Sentinel which, at the time, were primarily gay outlets. And at a time when bisexuals were suspicious of many on both sides of the fence, she hired a cocky little bi punk like me, and soon after added “bi” to the logo just to make it clear she was inclusive – she did the same with trans inclusion later. (The addition of bi was a move that didn’t go down well with a certain part of the lesbian community, and she took heat for it, too.)
To do this, she was tough. She had to be. She had the build and personality of a Sherman tank, and she needed it to deal with the politics of San Francisco, which, as those there know, is and always has been a contact sport. She forced herself into the club. In doing so, she took no prisoners inside or out. It didn’t necessarily make for a kind and gentle demeanor or a pleasant work environment. Sometimes not. Sometimes it was. Like when I told her I couldn’t live on what you were paying me. She smiled and said, “I was wondering when you were going to ask” and doubled my salary.
It could be hell on wheels to work in, and at least two separate groups of staff resigned or were “let go” when they protested working conditions at the paper. She managed to blow up the local Newspaper Guild chapter of the newspaper by letting go, harassing or firing all union members who worked for her. Like many radical organizations and newspapers, she was good at exposing unfair labor practices elsewhere, but continued to practice them at home.
All that aside, she made the San Francisco Bay Times a newspaper to be reckoned with. I won’t say on her own, because she assembled a damn good team of journalists, writers, editors, designers, freelancers, and sales people who created the paper through thick and thin. But his mark and his character were everywhere. And his sharp, incisive writing, slammed on schedule, was a wonder to behold. She managed to find well-written and well-argued endorsements in a tenth of the time. Her political instincts were generally right and she didn’t mince words.
At the same time, she had her writers’ backs and put up with their little quirks. Like when she was interviewing Pelosi and fiddling with something as she spoke, only to look down in horror and realize she was playing with a speed link that a wandering scribe had left on his desk, after a long keyboard night. A good-humored lecture was given on leaving certain items at home. She encouraged me and other writers to get out on the streets and elsewhere, and when we got in trouble she supported us all the way. The included against the cops.
Need I mention she allowed, encouraged, and cracked on the infamous cover of 1992’s “Dick’s Cool New Tool: Martial Law,” which featured a collage of activist Peggy Sue as a cop as the chief of the police abusing a truncheon. It was a commentary on the mass arrests by Police Chief Richard “Dick” Hongisto of demonstrators gathering to protest Rodney King’s verdict. The SFPD confiscated as many copies of the newspaper as they could get their hands on after the police chief told them to “look in the newspaper”. A huge fight ensued, and Hongisto was fired.
Personally, I will always thank and honor her for giving me the chance to be an investigative journalist. She took an unnecessary chance with me when I showed up on the doorstep of Future ! in the Castro, so many years ago, with a radio story as a summary (yes, on brown tape) of KPFA, and she said, yeah, what is it.
It allowed me to evolve as a writer. She encouraged me to do in-depth reporting as an activist—yet—accurate reporter, dealing with the intricacies of federal drug treatment trials and drug treatment regimens. She allowed lengthy plays explaining the opportunistic infections associated with AIDS. She was happy to let me talk about drug company price gouging around HIV/AIDS when no one else was pointing it out. She let me sue the SFPD for their attacks on the community on October 6, New Years Eve and more.
She understood that in the midst of an epidemic, journalistic objectivity was fiction, but demanded that I understand the story and tell it correctly and accurately. I was allowed to delve into 4,000, 8,000 or 10,000 word articles that people were really looking forward to reading.
So, it’s with a rather heavy heart that I slam this last story for Kim Corsaro and I’m particularly appalled that she died the way she was. about to return to live in San Francisco, her true queer home. She was one of a kind. A great publisher. A great writer. A great publisher. She will be missed and should be honored.
Tim Kingston worked at the SF Bay Times from 1987 to 1995