Sonny Bono Turns His Back on Lesbians & Gays (1991)


Note:  This article originally appeared in The Advocate magazine in a substantially edited format in 1991 under the byline of Crusader's former name, Andrew Exler.  This version includes biting information about Sonny Bono that The Advocate refused to print!  Bono died when he hit a tree skiing in 1998.  (PLEASE NOTE this article may not be properly formatted in some spots because Google is in the process of migrating these pages to a different type of web designer.)
Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono, who made campaign promises to gays, senior citizens, and advocates of rent control in 1988, may be the most prominent anti-gay mayor in America.
 
Bono,who once courted his wife Cher in lesbian and gay bars in the '60s, has turned his back on the people who voted him into office by a landslide in April 1988.
 
The California desert resort city, which is located about 110 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, has gained an international reputation for being a popular resort destination for lesbians and gay men.  But, the 56-year-old the singer-turned restaurateur-turned mayor has failed to recognize that lesbians and gay men heavily contribute to the city's fledgling economy. 
 
Twice this year he voted against civil rights measures that would benefit  gays and other minority groups. 
 
Bono's term, which expires in 1992, could be described ass shaky, at best.  Pelted with charges of homophobia, conflicts of interest, and not keeping his campaign promises, the mayor has been involved in his share of controversies.  He has earned a nickname of "Sonny No Show" for not keeping his commitments and not showing up at a number of events over the years.    
 
Although Bono has signed proclamations for local gay pride events, his record on human and gay rights is clearly disastrous and his actions document his homophobic tendencies.    
 
Bono received a lot of criticism for his absence from the first annual Desert AIDS Walk, a fundraiser for the local Desert AIDS Project held in May, 1989.  "Some day, when Palm Springs gets a mayor, he might be here," actor Kirk Douglas told 1,700 cheering walkers during opening ceremonies.  Bono said he missed the walk because he wanted to be with his family.  "There's only so much of me and I can only do so many affairs," Bono told The Desert Sun newspaper.  "My family comes first and if they take offense to that, I'm sorry." 
 
But local leaders of the gay and AIDS community feel Bono had no legitimate excuse for his absence from the Walk.    
 
"The AIDS Walk went practically right past his house and there was no reason for him not to at least make a showing for at least 10 minutes," said Jim Suguitan, publisher of a local gay-oriented newsmagazine and a commissioner on the Palm Springs Historical Site Preservation Commission.  "Sonny didn't feel it was necessary, I guess."
 
"I  don't think he realized the importance of AIDS in the community, but I think he has recognized that now because he has not missed an AIDS Walk since," said Bill Smith, executive director of Desert AIDS Project.
 
The no-show at the AIDS Walk prompted a short-lived recall movement organized by local gays and non-gays who felt Bono failed to keep his campaign promises to both the gay and non-gay communities.    
 
Last spring, Bono once again demonstrated his insensitivity to the AIDS community when he did not attend a Desert AIDS Project post-fundraiser party with Dionne Warwick.    
 
In February, Bono and three other Palm Springs council members voted against a proposed local human rights ordinance which would have prohibited discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on any basis, including sexual orientation.  A few weeks later, about 30 people from various minority groups staged a demonstration in front of City Hall demanding human rights for everyone.    
 
In April, Bono again espoused his homophobia when he invited reporters into his office where he unleashed a blistering attack on openly straight Councilmember Deyna Hodges, the only female Councilmember on the Palm Springs City Council.  Bono accused Hodges of being a sore looser who failed to do her homework and raised questions about her 'lifestyle.' 
 
Bono said Hodges, who has made a major effort this year to gain approval of the human rights ordinance, had failed to inform her public that her 'personal lifestyle' had played a role in setting her council agenda. "If we are going to be open, then we should be open all the way," Bono said.  He declined to say how Hodges' lifestyle had affected her actions on the council or to say what aspect of her lifestyle he was referring to.  Hodges has many times publicly that she is not homosexual.    
 
In response to Bono's attack on her lifestyle, Hodges told The Advocate:  "I certainly think he was referring to my sexual orientation because I am a single women and it was easy for him to make that accusation.  He was retaliating for the act which I had done that morning which was accusing the council of violating the Brown Act [meeting in secret] in regards to one of his pet projects."    
 
In July, Bono was a no-show at the opening ceremonies for gay pride weekend in the desert.  Bono did not even bother to respond to the invitation.  On July 3, two days before the desert's gay pride celebration, Bono voted against publicly endorsing AB 101, a California Assembly Bill which would prohibit discrimination against lesbian sand gay men in employment.  After two hours of public comments from gays, lesbians, their supporters, and several fundamentalists, Bono called the AB 101 endorsement a "bogus deal" and then attacked Councilmember  Hodges for "a choreographed job, on an issue that really was meant to shake up something politically."
 
Minutes before the council vote, Hodges stated that she has been a longtime friend of the lesbian and gay community and had placed the AB 101 endorsement on the agenda. 
 
In Bono's July 5th letter to California Governor Pete Wilson and California Senator Robert Presley, Bono writes:  "The Palm Springs City Council, by majority vote, at its July 3, 1991 regular meeting, directed my office to submit a letter of support for AB101...I and Councilmember Neel are opposed to adding sexual orientation as a protected class under that act."    
 
In August, Bono canceled a scheduled Open Forum with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Desert (GLAD), the local gay community center.  The forum was scheduled for Monday, August 19.  GLAD had already distributed press releases and flyers announcing the event.    
 
When GLAD issued a press release to announce Bono's cancellation, Frank Cullen, the city's public relations director, told The Advocate:  "This was a work-related situation--the guy's got to make a living."  Cullen said the forum with Mayor Bono would be re-scheduled-scheduled.  At press time, the forum had not been re-scheduled.    
 
Bono issued a statement to the mainstream media stating that it was unfair that he or the city be attacked by the gay community for a mis-communication between his entertainment staff and city hall staff regarding a scheduling conflict.  However, one of Bono's own city hall staffers told a reliable source in the gay community that Bono, in fact, had no scheduling conflict and would be in town on the evening of the forum.  The source said city hall staffers were"very unhappy with the situation." 
 
The day after the forum was to have taken place, Bono told The Desert Sun newspaper,  "I'm being used as a publicity ping-pong ball."  Bono said he was "being set up to get my head kicked in" for voting July 3 against endorsing the state's gay civil rights bill.    
 
"There is a history developing, starting with his absence at the first annual AIDS Walk, going to his no vote on AB 101 and human rights, not responding to our invitation to gay pride weekend and then this cancellation---it is evident he is looking at a conservative Republican agenda for his own advancement,"  said Greg Pettis,GLAD president.  Pettis said Bono was the first speaker to ever cancel an Open Forum at the GLAD Center.    
 
"Mayor Bono's lack of visible leadership in attacking homophobia, sexism, racism or discrimination does nothing to bring credit, or for that matter, tourist dollars to this area," said Anita Rufus, president of the Palm Springs Area Chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW).  "He has shown a callous disregard for any cause which would not seem to advance his own show business or political ambitions.  How can he, in all conscience,ignore such a large part of his constituency?"    
 
Councilmember Hodges said that the position of mayor warrants being part of the community-at-large.  "It's very unfortunate that the mayor is unable to make as many of the events that a mayor should make," said Hodges.    
 
Bono even canceled an interview scheduled for this article and refused repeated requests from The Advocate to reconsider.    
 
While Bono's daughter, Chastity, has not exactly come out of the closet, she hasn't exactly hidden her homosexuality, either. Bono has discussed his daughter's lesbianism with at least one local gay man on more than one occasion. 
 
When The Advocate called Geffen Records in Los Angeles, where Chastity recently signed a recording contract, the publicity department said Chastity would not comment for this article.  Denise Cox said Chastity feels Bono's new book, "And the Beat Goes On," has become a battle between her parents, Sonny and Cher.  "Chastity doesn't want to get in the middle of it," Cox said.    
 
Bono's critics in the gay community say he has clearly failed to keep his campaign promises to lesbians and gay men. 
 
Glen Symonds, a former campaign coordinator for Bono, says that Bono publicly supported the lesbian and gay community during his campaign for mayor.  Symonds said that during a public forum held at a local gay-oriented bar, Bono said:  "'You are active within this community, you pay taxes within this community and you should be treated with the respect with which you richly deserve...you are an asset to this community.'"  Symonds said that all but one of the candidates participated in the forum.    
 
Suguitan said Bono promised during his campaign to have an "open-door policy" with the lesbian and gay community.  "He was going to have a once-per-week meeting with the community; anyone who had any questions would be able to come in and talk with him. That lasted for just a few months and then it was discontinued. There seems to be no open-door policy, whatsoever and Sonny doesn't return phone calls."  Suguitan said that Bono won't even talk with him about issues facing the historical commission Suguitan serves on.    
 
Along with his homophobia, Bono spends time lobbying for traditional values.  During Spring Break 1990 he lead a shop-to-shop"smut patrol" asking business owners not to display in shop windows what he felt were "lewd" or "obscene" t-shirts.  Some business owners complied, while others told the mayor that they had a constitutional right to display the shirts.    
 
And during 1991 Spring Break, Bono lead a drive for the city council to ban skimpy "thong" bikinis and issue $100 citations for anyone violating the ordinance.  As a result, anti-Bono T-shirts became very popular in shops on Palm Canyon Drive.  Some shirts depicted Bono hung by the heels, in a clown outfit or engaged in lewd acts.  Some depicted legal infractions that read: "That's a Bono No-No."  
 
One local female resident spoke out against the ban at a council meeting.  At the end of her presentation, she lifted up her dress to reveal a skimpy "thong" bikini.  A few days later, the same woman stood in front of City Hall, clad only in her thong bikini and was issued a citation for violating the ordinance.    
 
Bono's proclivity for being a "no-show" started during his campaign for mayor when he missed a televised forum of the various candidates.  Bono watched the forum from his pregnant wife's hospital bed.  She reportedly had a severe case of the flu and was having contractions.  When the moderator of the forum did not state the reason for Bono's absence, he became very irate and drove to the nearby hotel where the forum was being held.  He demanded to explain his absence, but the moderator told him several times he was "out of order."  Bono left the hotel without having the opportunity to explain to televisions viewers why he wasn't a participant in the forum.

The gay and AIDS communities are not the only victims of Bono's failed campaign promises.  Symonds said that Bono has failed to keep his campaign promises to all his constituents who elected him to office.  "Within a month after he was sworn into office,he literally did a 180 degree turnabout.  We sat down with all the campaign literature and promises and he has done the exact opposite on all of it."    
 
"He did everything in his power, after getting elected, to counterattack rent control," said  A.L. (Allen) Bayrak, president of Palm Springs Association of Tenants.  Bayrak cited Bono's appointment and reappointment of several "anti-tenant"commissioners to the city's rent control board. 
 
Bayrak also said Bono opposed a proposal from rent control advocates that would have strengthened protections for tenants.  "It was like slapping us in the back," Bayrak said.   However, during the last two city council sessions, Bayrak said Bono "flip-flopped" and did support two crucial rent control measures.    
 
Although Bono promised, in his campaign literature, that he"will have no conflicts of interest as Mayor of Palm Springs," he has been plagued with serious allegations of conflict of interest for voting on a $1.5 billion resort planned for Palm Springs by developers he invited to develop in Palm Springs.  Bono had purchased and then sold a property within 408 feet of the proposed project.  Local council watchdogs have raised questions about Bono's 1989 sale of a Beverly Hills parcel to the sons of a partner who is involved with the Palm Springs development.  Bono continues to deny any wrongdoing.    
 
"He really did nothing to back up his promises once elected,"said Dick Sroda, a journalist and one of the backers of the 1989 Bono recall attempt.  "He is adept at switching stances depending on what the circumstances are."      
 
Sroda said when Bono ran for office, he was looking for a forum to regain some national exposure "for his ego" and possibly his business, Bono's Restaurant and Tennis Club.  After the election,Bono built a nightclub underneath the restaurant and called it"Mary's," named after his current wife.  He recently sold the restaurant and tennis club to a neighboring hotel, reportedly so he could concentrate on politics.  In 1989, he told Business Week magazine that he grossed $2.7 million a year on the restaurant and turned a profit.    
 
National attention is what Bono wanted and that's exactly what he got.  By the end of 1988, Bono appeared on television's"USA Today," peddling t-shirts to television viewers for $13.00 to reportedly reduce the city's then-$2.3 million projected deficit.  The shirts featured Bono in tennis attire with the message, "I Want You Babe."  After he was elected to office, his faltering career took off like wildfire.      
 
In 1988 he played a major role in the cult film "Hairspray."  He has had many guest appearances on television sitcoms, talk shows,and a new CBS private eye series, "P.S.I. Luv U," starring Connie Sellecca and Greg Evigan, which is centered in Palm Springs.  Bono has also appeared in several television commercials and print advertisements for Nike sneakers, Miller Lite beer, and Choice Hotels International, which operates Friendship, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inns.  He even launched his own line of cookies.    
 
In 1990, Associated Press ran a photograph of Bono"patrolling" the main drag of Palm Springs during Spring Break on his Harley-Davidson, but in 1991, the self-proclaimed motorcycle enthusiast lead a drive to ban all motorcycle riding on major thoroughfares during Spring Break.  It was not until a loud public outcry from motorcycle enthusiasts was made during a city council meeting that Bono and other council members reversed the ban just weeks prior to Spring Break.    
 
Simon and Schuster recently published his book, "And The Beat Goes On," which was number 10 on the Southern California best seller list for two weeks.  He reveals in his book that he met Cher at a lesbian bar.  In the '60s, he and Cher visited at least one gay bar near Palm Springs.  "They used to go to Oil Can Harry's when they were married," said Gloria Greene, owner of a Palm Springs gay-oriented bar/restaurant.  "I happened to be there one night when they walked in," she said.    
 
"And The Beat Goes On" is poorly written and rather boring. However, there were a few humorous anecdotes worth sharing,including a story Bono recalls when he saw his first naked girl after graduating from high school.  Bono writes:  "Her name was Barbara...We met under the house.  Both of us tingled with nervous anticipation.  I unsnapped, then unzipped my pants and pulled them off.  Then my underwear.  Then she slowly removed her shorts and panties.  We were naked.  Staring at each other, wide-eyed, awkward, but not embarrassed. 
 
"'Can I touch it?'  She reached out.      
 
"'Ah-huh,' I said.  'Can I feel yours too?'      
 
"Although willing, neither of  us really knew what to do with the other's parts."  
   
During his term as mayor, there have been at least two public incidents regarding name-calling directed at Bono. 
 
In 1989 Bono fired Chuck Murawski from the a tourism board for Palm Springs after Murawski referred to Bono as "Mayor Bonehead" at a public meeting.  Bono was not in attendance of the meeting in question. Ironically, on April 10, 1990, Murawski, along with Hodges, was elected to the city council with support from senior citizens, rent control advocates, mobile home owners, and gays.    
 
A much more serious name-calling confrontation took place on July 23, when 74-year-old city council watchdog George Goldberg was arrested, handcuffed, and dragged on his back after reportedly disrupting an afternoon council study session meeting. The study session dealt with a local controversial issue regarding a multi-million dollar automobile racetrack, which Bono strongly advocates. 
 
A videotape of the entire incident was provided to The Advocate.  The tapes shows that Bono started a heated verbal exchange with Goldberg for no apparent reason.  Goldberg made derogatory comments to the mayor, including, "If you had a brain Bono, you'd be alright."  Goldberg also called the mayor a "Bonehead." 
 
After the first verbal exchange, Bono asked that police remove Goldberg from the room.  When he voluntarily stood up to leave the room, Goldberg was dragged out of the meeting room by two police officers on his back and onto the pavement outside city hall.  Despite his cries of pain and requests for medical attention, the handcuffs and leg irons were placed on the disabled man and he was taken to the police station, where he spent five hours in solitary confinement with no food or medical attention. 
 
After the meeting resumed, Bono told the audience: "I won't let you as a citizen take abuse and I won't let this council take abuse and I won't take that kind of abuse.  There's a line and I feel we have to draw it, and I did."    
 
Goldberg told The Advocate that it was he who was abused. "It was shameful what they did to me; they brutalized me," he said. "Sonny picked on me because he knows me, he knows my name,he knows I am anti-Sonny Bono, despite the fact that I helped him get elected."    
 
Even 30 years ago, Bono did not take criticism well.  Bono states in his book that when he went dining and nightclubbing with Cher in the '60s, he was often-times called "faggot," "queer," and similar names. 
 
In his book, Bono talks about one of these incidents which occurred when he and Cher were dining in a Los Angeles restaurant:    
 
"...[T]his one particular evening, having just returned from promoting 'I Got You Babe,' we walked into the joint [Martoni's ]dressed in our usual attire of bell-bottoms, vests, wild, patterned shirts, jewelry, and boots...
 
"The enticing smell of simmering garlic and butter wasn't the only greeting we received as we walked into the restaurant.  'I didn't know they served fags here,' said a man, though I was unable to see exactly who he was...
 
"After Cher and I were seated, the name-calling began again...Another insult came my way.  'Faggot.'  'Hey faggot, who's the hooker?  I never would've guessed you like girls.'" 
 
Bono writes that Cher asked the college guys to stop, but they wouldn't listen to Cher. 
 
"There were a couple of guys eating at a table in the back corner I knew.  Casual acquaintances of mine, they often said they made their living in brass--knuckles, that is.  After a brief discussion with them, I returned to my table, feeling satisfied that justice would be done." Bono's acquaintances persuaded the name-callers to leave the restaurant.    
 
Former supporters of Bono are confident he will not be the next mayor. 
 
"I honestly do not believe he knows what the man and woman on the street feel.  He is not in touch with the people who live in this community," said Symonds.    
 
Sroda, who in 1988 thought Bono would have been a "breath of fresh air," now says Bono's 1992 re-election campaign "will give the voters of Palm Springs a chance to get him out of public office for good." 
 
In January, Bono said he would run for a second term as mayor; however, he recently told local reporters that he was keeping his "options open" for other political offices because he is "frustrated"with the current city council.    
 
Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Tuck Broich, who appears to be the most serious competition for Bono in 1992, told The Advocate: "I feel that I have very broad support from the community-at-large."Broich, who voted against the human rights ordinance but in favor of the city council endorsing the state's gay rights bill say she is confident that he can beat Bono.    
 
The old saying that politics make strange bedfellows may ring true in Palm Springs.  Despite Bono's poor record on gay and human rights, the local lesbian and gay community has mixed reactions regarding Bono's re-election in 1992.    
 
"I think they are looking at Bono because they are looking at who can best jumpstart the city's economy through tourism," Pettis told The Advocate.  Pettis, who is not a resident of Palm Springs, said if he had to choose, he would vote for Bono.      
 
"The gays put him [Bono] in office; everybody knows that--they see a name, they vote," Greene said.  "There is support for Sonny in the gay community because he is the lesser of two evils."    
 
"I get a feeling--this is my gut reaction--that a lot of his support has eroded that he received during his last campaign, "Smith said.     
 
However, many local residents may very well share Symond's candid view of Bono:  "He's the emperor. If he doesn't like what you say, your head is cut off and you are no longer."