"Tempe Cesspool for the Arts"

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Neil Giuliano - Gay Tyrant???

  Neil Giuliano - Gay Tyrant???

Should I be proud because I lived in Tempe and Neil Giuliano a gay man was my master as the Mayor of Tempe?

Personally I don't like government tyrants or royal government rulers and just because Neil Giuliano was a gay tyrant didn't mean I liked him any better then a heterosexual government tyrant.

I always considered Neil Giuliano kind of an Uncle Tom, because despite the fact that he was closet gay he let the Tempe Police conduct stings and harass gay people in Moeur Park, which is where the gay folks hangout in Downtown Tempe.

Neil Giuliano is just another professional political who pretends to serve the public when he is only goal is to help himself.


Former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano memoir tells trials of being openly gay politician

by Randy Cordova - Jun. 18, 2012 12:18 PM

The Republic | azcentral.com

It happens so often that you'd imagine Neil Giuliano would be used to it by now.

It started in 1996. That's when Giuliano, then mayor of Tempe, publicly disclosed that he was gay after a voter threatened to out him. Once he spoke openly about his sexuality, the letters started to come in. And these were actual handwritten letters, he likes to point out.

"E-mail was just getting started," he says, smiling. "I received literally thousands of letters and notes and cards."

The people who wrote came from both ends of the spectrum. There were teenagers who were grappling with their own sexuality. There were men in their 70s who had never come out of the closet, deeply ashamed of the secret they were hiding.

"It was overwhelming, but not in a bad way," Giuliano says. "It let me know there was some resonance in what I was doing."

More than 16 years after that initial rush of letters reached his Tempe office, he has moved on to jobs with even higher profiles. As a gay-rights activist, he is a recognized figure on a national scale. His schedule is packed. But he still hears from people letting him know he has made a difference in their lives. A few weeks ago, for example, he was speaking in Palm Springs, Calif.

"This guy comes up to me and tells me he was at ASU during the time I was student-body president," he says. "He was in the closet then as well, and now he's out. He told me, 'I've followed you all these years, and it's meant a lot for me to watch you.'"

Giuliano stops to tug at his shirt collar. He's not a shy man, but he lowers his voice and his eyes dart downward as he continues speaking.

"That makes me feel really good," he says. "Like what I'm doing has a purpose."

That's one reason why Giuliano has written "The Campaign Within: A Mayor's Private Journey to Public Leadership." He knows there is value in his story, and he hopes the book will find its way to readers who want to live what he calls "an authentic" life.

"I think there are a lot of people who can relate to this story," he says. "I hope people will appreciate someone choosing to live openly, someone who is being honest and yet has a very high profile in the community. There is value in this."

East Coast native

Despite his ties to Arizona, Giuliano is not a native. He was born Oct.26, 1956, in Bloomfield, N.J., where he was raised with three siblings. His mother was a homemaker and his father served on the city council.

His parents were Republicans, as was Giuliano until he switched to the Democrats in 2008. Perhaps as an indication of his future as a political moderate, he had posters of both Richard Nixon and Eugene McCarthy on his bedroom walls.

If his upbringing sounds like an Italian-American version of "Father Knows Best," that's not entirely accurate. His siblings now all live in different cities, and Giuliano acknowledges they are not a particularly close-knit clan.

"We're not all famiglia," he says. "It was difficult for me, realizing the relationship that my parents had. There was a level of emotional detachment there. We were a tight family in public, but when the public event ended, that closeness sort of ended."

There are other dark corners to be found in his childhood. In the book, he writes about the year he was 10. An older group of boys invited him to watch as they took off their clothes. Eventually, he writes, "they made me a part of the show. They did things to me -- and made me do things -- that felt wrong when forced, and hurt, especially at my young age."

It's the kind of painful revelation that is startling from anyone. It is especially surprising coming from Giuliano, who says he is considering a return to political office in the future. Most potential candidates don't want to talk about their wounds in public.

"One of my dear friends who is a political-science professor read the book, and she asked me if I really wanted to say everything I say in there. My response is that the things I've written about that are troubling are the things people need to hear. People need to hear my story just as much as they need to hear from politicians who are living in their own world of spin."

Bracing honesty

The book, which Giuliano wrote without the aid of a ghost writer, is full of admissions that may catch people off guard. He writes about seeing a therapist at various points in his life. As a lonely student at Arizona State University, grappling with his sexuality, he contemplated suicide, with thoughts of stepping in front of a moving truck.

Even some of his longtime friends were taken aback by the book's bracing honesty. John Fees, a founder of the GradGuard company, met Giuliano 30 years ago, and the two have been pals since. Fees and his wife, Melissa, received an early copy of the book.

"I was surprised by how little I knew about Neil," Fees says. "I now have a lot more empathy for what he's been through in his life. I've always found him to be very sincere, but sometimes there is also a remoteness. The book helps explain that remoteness."

Like others, he was concerned that Giuliano's candidness could hurt him in the future.

"I cautioned him about it," he says. "I think people may use it against him. But if he decides to run for political office, that is part of the truth. If he wasn't being truthful, he wouldn't be so authentic."

For Giuliano, authenticity includes living without fear.

"If I run for something else, I don't care whether or not the book will hurt me," he says. "I feel that openness and honesty is something that is lacking in a lot of our leaders, political and otherwise. If you're going to write a memoir, you have to put it out there. My full story is my full story."

One of the book's most moving passages relates an incident after the family had moved to Arizona when Giuliano was in his late teens. As a closeted student at ASU, he attended a communications class in which he had to wear a blindfold as other students gave him instructions. Through the blindfold, he could see two classmates pointing at him, calling him by a gay slur.

More than 35 years later, his radio-smooth voice still trembles when he recalls the incident.

"That episode is as crystal clear to me today as when it happened," he says. "I was terrified. How do these people know? I didn't think I showed any outward signs of being gay, and yet clearly they were right. That was very frightening for me. I thought to myself: 'I'm not that way. This is not a topic for me.'"

A couple of years ago, Giuliano taped a video as part of the It Gets Better campaign, which aims to provide hope to gay, lesbian and transgender teens. Thoughts of that college experience were on his mind the day he filmed the spot.

"The silent bullying like I experienced is one thing," he says. "I can't imagine how young kids today get in such desperate situations from this public bullying and taunting. It's more in the open now than when I was young. Now it's public bullying, and that's really frightening."

Tackling politics

After graduating from ASU with a master's degree in education, Giuliano moved into the world of politics. It wasn't a shock: In addition to serving as student-body president at ASU in 1982, he was international president of leadership program Circle K International. He served on the Tempe City Council and eventually ran for mayor, ultimately serving four terms.

At 37, he took the reins of the city from Harry Mitchell, and he looks back proudly on his tenure. Among his greatest accomplishments were the creation of Tempe Town Lake, Tempe Beach Park and laying the groundwork for the Tempe Performing Arts Center. Other achievements may be less visible.

"I took the approach that everyone had a voice," he says. "I've always said that the mayor is the person at the top who gets to sit at the table and give all these nice speeches. But the mayor never accomplishes anything by himself. That's what partnerships are for. We work on things together, and we succeed together. It's not, 'Let me give you this so I can get that.' That's not my style."

He left the mayor's office in 2004 and moved to a role as president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. His profile, already high, reached even loftier levels. He headed a national organization that shaped how the gay community is portrayed by the media.

He was on the front lines for a lot of national debates. When Isaiah Washington had an off-camera scuffle with "Grey's Anatomy" co-star Patrick Dempsey over Washington's use of a gay slur, Giuliano met with the show's producers.

Giuliano is the kind of person who likes to share his good fortune with old friends. Marc Davis, who works for a travel-account firm, was among his guests for the annual GLAAD Media Awards. He recalls Giuliano giving him directions to a little private party.

"I guessed by the size of the house and the neighborhood it must be someone well-known," Davis says. "I get inside the house, and there are pictures of Betty White and people like that. I'm thinking, 'Where am I?'"

It turns out the "little private party" was hosted by Marc Cherry, creator of "Desperate Housewives."

"Neil thought it was hilarious I didn't know who he was," Davis says. "He was just laughing. But for me, coming from a humble kind of background, it was just a fantastic situation to be in. That's the kind of guy Neil is -- he's always supportive."

Davis also noticed a sense of confidence and belonging in his old friend.

"Neil wasn't the most famous person in the room at the awards. People like Ellen DeGeneres were there," he says. "But he was just as comfortable in that setting as he would be if he were at a restaurant in Tempe. He doesn't change his personality depending on who he's with. He's always Neil."

Everyone seems to agree on that. Giuliano spent four years heading GLAAD before moving to his current role as CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, where he has worked since 2010. He still lives in Tempe, on the same block he has called home for 20 years, but commutes each week to San Francisco, where he maintains an apartment.

Because of his high profile and dense schedule, friends say they have to make certain accommodations to spend time with him.

"We went to an exhibit at the Tempe Center for the Arts, and walking into the room with Neil was like walking into the Academy Awards with Tom Cruise," Davis says. "You get maybe 30 seconds beforehand with him and maybe a half-hour afterward on the way home."

It's something his close friends have gotten used to.

"He's like the godfather of the gay community in Tempe," attorney Tyler Allen says. "In Tempe, everybody knows Neil and everybody loves Neil. There's a line to talk to him, so you just wait until he's finished."

Smart, suave, witty

Giuliano exudes a graceful confidence and polish. His clothes are expensive, and he wears them well. He is an avid bicyclist; with his athletic physique, crisp haircut and fashionable wardrobe, he could pass for 10 years younger.

He also has a smart, sardonic wit, something not readily apparent from his days as mayor (Davis dubs his humor "Johnny Carson dry"). In his book, Giuliano writes about his first visit to a gay club: "In today's parlance, I was a very thin, young 'twink.'" He sighs that a chapter he wanted to call "First Love at 40" was changed to "Living, Loving, Letting Go."

"I thought 'First Love at 40' was a good title," he insists.

His editor made other changes, trimming the book by about 60 pages.

"Things I thought were great stories got narrowed to two paragraphs," he says.

For example, he was active in the Catholic Newman Center in college and seriously considered entering the priesthood as a way to live asexually. That's pretty much absent in the book. So are the names of a lot of friends. It's not due to privacy, but to prevent readers from getting lost in a sea of names. He's worried about that part.

"I know I'm going to catch flak," he says. "I'm a public person. I tried to tell my editor that my friends are going to get the book and do a search for their names, but he made it more a piece of literature than 'Neil's Memories.' But there are some dear friends on the cutting-room floor who didn't make it."

He currently is not in a relationship, though he dates from time to time. His schedule renders his brand of dating quite non-traditional: "The events I go to are things like political events or fundraisers or they're related to the foundation, so that's essentially my social life," he says.

He is fairly transparent when it comes to his personal life. The privacy settings on his Facebook page are not high, so anyone browsing the Internet can see photos of Giuliano shirtless on vacation or staring at the camera with a smoldering gaze as he models a muscle shirt. There's nothing scandalous in the pictures, but it indicates a man who has no problems presenting his true face to the world. It's a lesson he learned from Christopher Cabaldon, the mayor of West Sacramento, Calif.

"It's the healthy approach," he says. "I've had political allies say, 'Dude, do you really want that on your Facebook page? You're arm-in-arm with another guy and you've got no shirt on.' But this is my life. It took me a long time to get here. I can't be worried."

That kind of attitude inspired Lawrence Robinson, who was 15 when he first met Giuliano. He was a student at Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe and worked with the mayor on developing some multicultural curricula.

"He's never made any apologies for who he is," Robinson says. "He was and is so comfortable in his leadership and comfortable with himself. That makes you comfortable with yourself."

Robinson, who is openly gay, is running for a seat on the Roosevelt School District Governing Board in Phoenix. He considers Giuliano a mentor.

"I was class president, and it was reassuring to have some role models in high positions who were comfortable doing their own thing," Robinson says. "He wasn't an LGBT activist first; he was the mayor of Tempe first. He was always kind of a neat example, and probably a bigger deal to me than I realized at the time."

As he has moved into the world of politics, Robinson has sought out Giuliano's advice. The two will sometimes grab lunch when Giuliano has the occasional quiet moment.

"The funny thing is he never calls to go to Durant's," Robinson says. "We'll go to Applebee's, which shows you the kind of guy he is. He's not a heavy-handed guy; he's just very real."

Proud of role

If there is a moral to "The Campaign Within," it has to do with being real. Giuliano has always been real. Even when he was closeted during his time as mayor, he "never did the beard thing," he proudly says. "I always knew deep down that's phony, and that's not a good way to be. I may not have been comfortable being totally out, but I couldn't be comfortable creating a Larry Craig-type existence for myself."

Now, he hopes people see who he is today -- confident, poised, successful -- and realize what it took for him to get to where he is. It wasn't easy; there was a lot of inner torment and fear, but he made it through.

"When you're no longer hiding and you're no longer living with fear at the back of your mind that you're going to be exposed, your whole presence is more self-assured and you deal with people more openly. When you deal with people more openly, you build trust, and they follow you. It all builds upon itself."

It goes back to the words he hears from people. It may be an acquaintance he dimly recalls from college or a teenager who saw his It Gets Better video on YouTube, but the message is usually the same: Thank you for living your life this way.

"I feel really proud," he says. "My role may have been a tiny, tiny, tiny role, but it feels good to be able to do something for my community."

Reach the reporter at randy.cordova@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8849.


Tempe Center for the Arts

Tempe Cesspool for the Arts