Mike Tidmus (l) and Fred Karger (Photo courtesy Fred Karger)
About 11:00am Sunday, Jan. 15, this note was posted on Mike Tidmus' Facebook page: “My name is Lindsay Tidmus, Mike’s brother. It is with a heavy heart that I inform his Facebook friends of Mike’s passing. He left us this morning after a battle with cancer.”
Born on August 22, 1951, Mike described himself as a "Brat/Provocateur/Curmudgeon/Pariah" who lives in San Diego, California from Toronto, Ontario. In the "About" section of his blog, he added:
Mike Tidmus is an apatheist [a person who is apathetic towards belief and disbelief in gods], a militant anti-theist, and a gay man who also happens to be a long-term AIDS survivor -- twenty-five years now.
Mike spent the last several decades working, in the US and Europe, as a creative director, art director, writer and photographer working in advertising, marketing and the interactive realm for a number of highly-regarded agencies and a very long list of blue chip clients.
Mike began blogging about peace, civil rights and equality issues during his ex-pat years in Brussels and Amsterdam. Mike resumed blogging when he returned, in early 2008 -- after thirty years of wandering, to sunny, formerly-conservative San Diego. Mike likes the City and people of San Diego very, very much and is an avid Padres fan and user of public transportation.
Mike was a friend and supporter of openly gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger, with whom Mike worked on projects such as the boycott against Prop 8 backer Doug Manchester's San Diego hotel, among others. Karger sent me this email:
Yes, so sad. He’s has been working for me on special projects for the past three years doing all our web sites except the presidential campaign.
Fred Karger with Cleve Jones looking on (Photo by Mike Tidmus)
The photo you sent was the one that Mike took the day that he came up to me in San Diego at our one year anniversary of Boycott Manchester Hotels and introduced himself. I, of course, knew exactly who he was by all his posts and coverage of Prop 8 and all his other great LGBT activism over several decades. He offered his help that day and we ended up working together for the next almost three years. He did all our special projects and web design like: http://www.rightsequalrights.com/http://www.fiveforfred.com/http://www.mormongate.com/
Mike was an early leader in LGBT civil right internationally and right here at home. He was a cantankerous guy with a great wit and sense of humor. He battled HIV-AIDS for nearly 25 years and finally lost that battle today. He was so disappointed with the poor HIV-AIDS care in San Diego and worked to try and improve it. He was courageous to the end and, fought like he did all his life, to make things better for others.
I will miss Mike greatly. He was a source of incredible inspiration and will live on an so many of us. RIP Mike Tidmus.
The last time I "chatted" with Mike was on Jan. 2 regarding a piece I'd posted on LGBT POV about AIDS Healthcare Foundation's tribute to Elizabeth Taylor float in this year's Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena that he liked.
Mike Tidmus photo by Rex Wockner - Mike used this shot on his Facebook page
In fact, he was quite prodigious on Facebook in the days following our exchange - though he was doing more linking than original ranting on his blog about his favorite targets - the Christian fascists and Rick Santorum. Linking to a Christian Newswire story entitled: "LaBarbera Asks Homosexual Activist Dan Savage to Take Down Cyber-Bullying Site 'Santorum.com,'" Mike wrote succinctly: "I’d say the Pornster can just suck it."
Some think the statement sums up Mike's personality.
That, too, was part of his personality since he was having a very difficult time with his health over the past nine months, especially how he was treated as a person with HIV without insurance. His posts frightened and angered a number of us who either tried to help or were standing by to help - to no avail.
I got to know Mike Tidmus during the closing months of the No on Prop 8 campaign in 2008 when his rants could be both eloquent, profane, funny and spot-on. Here's his Oct. 11, 2008 post on "The truth about Prop 8:"
Let's be real. We all know what California's Proposition 8 is about. It's not about protecting marriage; it's about the radical religious right's ongoing battle to keep gay people in, what they think of as, our place. Our place, in their holier than thou opinion, is the back of the bus (i.e. Rosa Parks) with less than immediate full civil rights (i.e. the poet Langston Hughes' A Dream Deferred) for honest, hard working, tax paying American citizens. Our dream, the unanimous dream of my all my queer brothers and sisters, is of unconditional and equitable civil and human rights. We are, at this juncture, of one mind: this dream, our collective dream, will not dry up like a raisin in the sun, because we call bullshit on their damned lies, and we recognize their extremist agenda as both deceitful and manufactured of consummate evil.
We are first and foremost a peaceful, non-violent people, honestly seeking nothing more than justice, fairness and equality. Heed the words of activist and community organizer César Chávez: "In some cases nonviolence requires more militancy than violence." And so we stand, apart from violence, proud, militant and hopeful that, in the company of our brothers and sisters of all colors and creeds, we will triumph once and for all over bigotry and religious tyranny.
Mike also enjoyed visual jokes, which we agreed enabled us to chuckle in those difficult moments of stress:
On Oct. 31, 2008, he startled a number of us when he sent out this email about an online Republicans Against 8 ad: "I was just asked by a commenter, is this ad going to be on TV? I don’t watch TV, so …. Anybody?"
No TV, really? No CNN?
Election Night, Nov 4, 2008, at 11:56 PM, Mike Tidmus was emailing his friends updates about Prop 8:
The big city votes will take longer. only 37% in LA, 36% in San Diego, 34% in Monterey, 33% in Alameda counties. Many of the backwater counties are at 100% already.
A little later, early Nov. 5, 2008, Mike wrote:
But the percentages in the places I mentioned have also not changed in those hours. That’s a lot of votes in densely populated areas. Of all the gay-friendly bay area counties, only SF is at 99.5% Most are still less than 40% counted. I for one am not throwing in the towel yet.
When Prop 8 passed, and the towel was thrown in drenched with blood, sweat and tears, Mike kept track of the protests. On Nov. 6, 2008 we had this exchange in response to an email about 3,000 marchers protesting Prop 8 in Westwood.
On Nov 6, 2008, at 5:23 PM, Mike Tidmus wrote:
Was anybody around for the AB101 marches?
Pete Wilson refused to sign the California Lesbian and Gay Rights Bill, a jobs and housing anti-discrimination act. We took to the streets in LA night after night and days on the weekend. My feet still hurt from those marches.
We inadvertently cornered Jerry Falwell in a restaurant on Sunset and the busboys helped him hide in a closet. Those were the days! We could be seeing the same thing again. I genuinely hope so.
The amazing Rex Wockner just told me about the possibility of a march or marches in San Diego.
On Nov 6, 2008, at 5:33 PM, I wrote: I covered both AB 101 and ACT Up – and this does feel the same way – with a new generation of protesters. My last couple of photos which I just sent out show how young the protesters are…
At 5:44:37 PM PST, Mike wrote:
Very very cool, Karen!
This is the spirit and gumption I hoped to see as soon as I gave in and realized common decency had not won. I’ve been focusing on the reaction in our community — oppsie Alex Blaze at Bilerco told me I can’t say “our community” without a merde-load of footnotes and asterisks. What evah!
I was involved with ACT UP in LA as well. Frustrating experience all that democracy can be. I’d go to meetings with my parter, who died of AIDS about 13 years ago. I’d leave frustrated and we’d go home and I’d silk screen up a mess of AIDS info posters and we and our friends would plaster the town with them.
I started AIDSwire for the NY Arts Foundation and the computer work I did kicked off HIVnet in Yurp.
Like you, I’ve been at this for a long time.....One of these days, we should have a drink. I’m buying.
I explained that I have been clean and sober for a long time but would love to go for coffee.
Mike was always front and center when it came to injustice against LGBT people - whether it was antigay Reggae singer Buju Banton or anything to do with Prop 8 or the Religious Right - especially San Diego-based Jim Garlow (see his Sept. 27, 2011 piece "Closely watching San Diego's politicking pastor Jim Garlow")
Kids taught to hate (Photo by Mike Tidmus)
But he really seemed to care about and admire Fred Karger, promoting him whenever possible. Last June 29, he sent out an email about Fred's interview with ABC News’ DC-based Top Line hosts, Rick Klein and Amy Walter with the note: “Fred was in ABC’s New York studios, having been in Albany for New York’s historic vote on marriage equality last week. Fred celebrated that tremendous victory at the historic Stonewall Inn.” He tagged out with “Cheers!”
Fred Karger holding Mitt sign (Photo by Mike Tidmus)
But most of our communications were about HIV/AIDS. In August 2009, I published a piece in Frontiers which I disseminated online written by Craig Vincent-Jones, executive director of the LA County Commission on HIV about California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger red-lining the Therapeutic Monitoring Program in the budget. That program tested viral loads and whether medications were working or not.
Mike Tidmus (Photo by Rex Wockner)
Thanks for this Karen!
The lesson for the rest of the country is that you can spend more than two decades building a model response to AIDS/HIV and then watch bald-faced political arrogance decimate that work with nothing more a few callous strokes of a blue pencil wielded by a short-sighted fool.
Winning isn’t the end, people; we have to protect what we gain. We will reverse Schwarzenegger’s cuts and restore funding to our AIDS/HIV programs and services here in California.
Later that day he wrote:
This is kinda neat.
Since the possibility of reaching Governor Schwarzenegger by tweet came up here on [a political listserv we were on], I signed up for Twitter, and I’ve been sending Arnold a tweet a day encouraging him to sign the bill — all very polite and positive. I just got this in an email:
New York State Senator Tom Duane's blistering speech on behalf of people living with AIDS and HIV (video: NYSenate at YouTube)
Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of something cold, because you must sit down, get comfy and watch this 22 minute video from start to finish.
This is oratory of the highest order. It is passionate, fiery, riveting and, at times, so deeply personal that it is nearly unbearable to watch. The speaker is a New York State Senator who is also an openly-gay man and HIV-positive. His name is Tom Duane and he delivered this speech last Friday at 3:00 in the morning in support of a bill that provides a break to people living with AIDS and receiving public assistance. The bill would cap the costs of shelter (rent and utilities) at no more than 30% of the individual's income and, thus, free up a little money for things that most people take for granted -- toilet paper, band aids, or some insignificant little extra something that might just improve the quality of one's life.
When you begin to think the speaker is on the verge of becoming unhinged, keep listening because the man is speaking the truth from his own experience, and it might be a painful and disquieting truth for those who didn't share that experience. For those of who did or do share that experience, I can't imagine there won't be tears.
From nowhere AIDS, hit the gay community like a blitzkrieg, and, in little more than a decade, a significant segment of an entire generation was lost. Wiped out. Decimated. Gone. For those too young to have lived through the worst of the crucible of AIDS, Senator Duane provides a damn fine history lesson about what you missed:
Let me take you back to the early eighties. Visiting friends in hospitals. We'd go in. We'd go in one night, in the morning they'd be dead. I'd bring them food. My family, bring them food. My friends bring someone food. But whoever was in bed would be dead before they could eat it.
We'd leave it - maybe the nurses would take it home. No! They wouldn't eat it! 'Cause it's contaminated. Contaminated! Wouldn't touch it. Wouldn't go into the room. Wearing masks. Gloves! Gowns! Someone gets sick in the afternoon. They'd be dead the next day. Dead! And that went on for months, and then years. Dead! Dead!
You think if you got sick and your friends were dying that I would sit there and do nothing? No. But that's what happened. That's what happened. Every cold. Every virus. Every temperature. I thought I'd be dead, and so did so many people that I knew. Dead! You think you scare me? You think you can make be back off? Nothing scares me.
At one point in his speech, Duane dared the Republicans and others to vote down his bill: "You think it's funny? 'We'll kill Duane's bill.' No, you're not killing my bill. You're killing people," the senator bellows at 16:24 in the video above.
When Tom Duane finished, the New York State Senate erupted in a standing ovation. The vote on the bill was 52-1. Only one Senator, Republican Kemp Hannon, voted against it.
Mike could be cranky - but he share his perspective, regardless of what others might think of him. At the height of the post-Prop 8 backlash against Equality California, for instance, Mike wrote this:
The No-on-8 campaign received a lot of criticism for not running ads with GLBT people telling our side of the story. Here are a couple of new ads that Equality California will be airing. These are not intended as aggressive, heat-of-the-campaign type ads, but rather to convey why marriage equality matters and how inequality hurts us.
EQCA's new Marriage Director, Marc Solomon, in the press release accompanying the launch of the campaign, said, "While we remain hopeful that the court could invalidate Prop. 8, we cannot wait another day to take action. We are launching the most extensive campaign of its kind to talk openly and honestly with Californians on their front porches, online and over the airwaves in order to achieve full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community members."
The way I see it, it's a whole new ball game. Those who still have a beef with No-on-8 need to get over it, step up to the plate, and be a part of making sure the job gets done right. Chronic whingers, do us all a favor and take a seat in the bleachers.
That was the thing: in a world full of uncertainty, you always knew where you stood with Mike. I can't help but wonder in his final days, if he uttered one of his favorite quotes from Joan Crawford: “Dammit, don’t you dare ask God to help me.”
I leave you with this shot from Mike Tidmus the photographer, which captures how he might have felt this morning: A bientot, mon ami.