Betty Sullivan and Jen Viegas are co-publishers and co-editors of the San Francisco Bay Times – one of the oldest LGBTQ newspapers in the Bay Area.
How old is your newspaper and what makes it unique?
Betty & Jen: The San Francisco Bay Times was founded in 1978, so it’s over four decades old now. It was the first paper to be jointly and equally created by LGBT men and women working together. We are the only fully LGBTQ owned and operated paper for the community here in the Bay Area. We also do not run sexually explicit ads and content. The paper is distributed to schools and is meant for all generations to take pride in and to enjoy.
We are honored to help continue the San Francisco Bay Times, which was co-founded by the late Roland Schembari and Bill Hartman. Kim Corsaro then served as publisher for 30 years, and happily lived to tell the tale! Her dedication to the paper was remarkable. Randy Alfred—a very talented speaker and journalist—was the paper’s first news editor. We recently saw him at Pride, when he rode in the Bay Times contingent.
What’s it like being co-editor and co-publisher of one of San Francisco’s most important LGBT newspapers?
Betty & Jen: A lot of work is involved both in terms of advertising and production, but we’re lucky to benefit from the talents of numerous skilled columnists, such as LCI’s own David Landis (“The Gay Gourmet” in the paper). We both love the tangible nature of print, and while the digital side of our business continues to grow—with features such as the 24/7 live-streaming Castro Street Cam—we often try to create keepsake hard copies that readers will want to save. A lot of what we do concerns documenting LGBTQ culture, organizations and more that would otherwise often be lost to present and future generations.
Have you ever had to deal personally with homophobic responses to your reporting? What did you do?
Betty & Jen: Homophobes can surface online, in particular. While we try to preserve free speech as much as possible, sometimes we have to block individuals who are bullying others or who are otherwise crossing the line.
What’s the most unusual story you’ve ever reported?
Betty & Jen: That’s a great question. One that comes to mind is the story about the giant Trump “Chicken” that a resistance group transported around the Bay. The headline read: “Trump Chicken Sent to Alcatraz.” You can see it here.
Did you ever have the opportunity to meet Harvey Milk? What was he like?
Jen: I was in grade school when he took office and heard him speak in person on a few occasions. I did not know him personally, but can recall his charisma, sense of humor and even playfulness. My favorite spot at the time was Rooks and Becords on Polk Street (where a lot of gay businesses used to be located). I can recall seeing Harvey at various times enjoying the company of friends. He was very much of the community that he came to lead and symbolize. Betty hadn’t yet moved to California. When the assassinations were announced in November 1978, all of my teachers broke down sobbing. All classes were canceled and we just sat in a dark room, watching the television coverage. It was such a profound tragedy that continues to be felt here.
Is it hard to report on a community (LGBTQ+) that is so diverse? How do you satisfy all the constituents?
Betty: We make a conscious effort to include representatives from all segments of the LGBTQIA spectrum. Diversity is very important to us in the faces and voices represented throughout the paper.
Answer the following question: If I’m not at work, I’m:
Betty: Enjoying the antics of the San Francisco Bay Times cat, Detective Dickie Lou “Buddy” Bonks!
Jen: Tending to the garden and the birds, squirrels and other critters that it attracts. To attract a lot of hummingbirds, clean the feeder at least once a day and fill it with nectar made from plain white table sugar. Other sugars, such as brown or turbinado that might seem healthier for birds, can actually contain levels of iron that are not safe and are less palatable to our feathered friends.
Something that would surprise people about me is:
Betty: I was named “Miss Basketball” during my senior year at Morton Basketball Camp held at Roosevelt State Park. It was a title honoring leadership and skill.
Jen: Betty is an ace at basketball. She could have played pro! I was the Dinosaur and Shark Lady at the Discovery Channel for a while, having worked on Shark Week and covered paleontology for a few decades. I guess I’m still interested in dinosaurs, thinking of those garden birds.
The stories that interest me most for the paper are:
Betty: I’m all about the images. I enjoy our special sections too.
Jen: It’s hard to pick any one subject as our focus must always be on each entire issue, and beyond that, the overall collection of issues, which is pretty large at this point.