KEITH ST CLARE
By August Bernadicou with additional text and research by Chris Coats
Keith St Clare is a man driven by a mission: help those who need it. A 1980 issue of The San Francisco Crusader called him a “nice man who cares about real problems.”
When he was 17 years old, his father maneuvered him into the United States Air Force, and he served as an Aerospace Ground Power Repairman stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Four years later, in 1966, he returned to the United States and moved to San Francisco. The Summer of Love expanded in his heart, and he became and edited Vanguard magazine. Vanguard was for the untouchables pushed aside by gay assimilationists and the heterosexuals they attempted to replicate. It was a forever open dialogue between the denied, forgotten, persecuted youth, drug addicts, transgenders, drag queens, and all gay men and women.
The fact that Keith gave a voice to these untouched subjects in 1966 is bold, but even bolder is that he did so using his real name and real address. He admits he was scared, but the military taught him how to protect himself. He says he was not going to be a martyr.
Keith did not stop after he published his last issue of Vanguard in 1978. He worked commercially for community theaters and produced 186 episodes of the nationally distributed and entirely youth-run TV show Young Ideas all the while raising over 600 foster kids.
Vanguard magazine, 1967.
Keith St Clare: My post-traumatic stress disorder was long after my military service. It was after, of course, being in the military and going through traumatic experiences. I then had to decide whether I was going to take those experiences as an injury and carry them as a scar and limp through life, or if I was going to take them as a lesson and learn from them and apply them to something that I could use to advance myself. I could basically use it as an opportunity to recover—take it as a lesson and start teaching myself and then teaching anybody else who wanted to listen to me. Like anyone who decides to share their stress disorder with someone else, you go one plus one is two, two plus and two is four, four plus four is eight, and so on. You become twice as strong for taking into account that you survived it. It's simple math.
August Bernadicou and Chris Coats: In 1967, Keith started publishing Vanguard Magazine in San Francisco. Vanguard was for the untouchables pushed aside by gay, assimilationist, and the heterosexuals they attempted to replicate. It was a forever open dialogue between the denied, forgotten, persecuted youth, drug addicts, transgenders, drag queens, and all gay men and women.
Keith St Clare, 1967.
August: At the time, did you realize how radical the writing was? It's radical in the sense that reading it today is just like reading it yesterday.
Keith: Well, yes, my philosophy was—I was reading all of the gay publications. Most of them were hostile. Obviously, the writers, the editors, and presumably the readers were unhappy. They read, wrote, and talked about things that they were unhappy about, angry about, wrong, bad, and things that needed to be changed. I thought, well, that looks to me like the frame is pretty full. I would rather do something different because I just don't want to add to that picture.
I wanted to write about things that made me happy, things that are happy, pleasant, positive, and good because I think those are the things that last and are solutions. I wanted to be as positive as possible but not necessarily optimistic, not necessarily comic but certainly as joyful and as happy and affirmative as possible, instead of being aggressive.
August and Chris: We must remember that Keith was illegal for most of his life. He was underage when he joined the Air Force. As a gay man, he illegally served in the Air Force. He was illegal as a gay man when he returned to his home country.
While Keith avoided publicly outing himself for the first twenty-one years of his life, he realized that with his new medium, his new voice, and his consistent readership, he couldn't deny who he was. He did what very few, if any, gay publishers did at that time: he published his magazine under his real name with his real address and his real phone number.
August: Were you ever scared doing Vanguard?
Keith: At the time I don't recall being scared much. There was a lot of scary stuff going on and around, but, again, I didn’t exactly try to be popular; instead, I wanted to be, at least, populated. I committed myself to a public life, and I wasn't not going to commit myself to being afraid of being shot at, stabbed, or beaten up. I was ex-military. I had seen all of that, and I had been beaten up, and I had seen killings, and I had seen butchery, and I had seen bombings. I just couldn't carry it with me on a daily basis. It would be compared to carrying too many bags in both of your hands.
What am I going to do? What am I going to do? How am I going to deal with life and do that? I'm not going to be overly afraid. I'm going to be cautious. I'm not going to be overly brave. That's foolhardy. I'm going to be confident and try to find a middle place, especially for loving people. After all, it was the Summer of Love in San Francisco, and there was love all over the place.
August and Chris: Before Gay Liberation and Stonewall in 1969, major gay activist groups preached assimilation, becoming our oppressors and forgetting our differences in an effort to fold seamlessly into the majority group.
In October 1967, Keith wrote a scathing take on the horrors of assimilation. He wrote, “Thus far, the homosexual mass movement has maintained a discreet veneer. Indeed, most of the individuals involved seem to prefer a supplicants’ role instead of reveling in each other's individuality. The overall intention is to pursue conformity to the plastic, inevitable, etc.,” He continues, “Several dissident elements of the homophile community are deciding to publicly acclaim their dissatisfaction with the futile search for anonymity or acceptance and to proclaim their personal freedom. By its very nature, the Vanguard hopes to remain near the spearhead of this probing dissatisfaction.”
Vanguard magazine, 1967.
August: What was the response to an article like that? I mean, to think that someone was saying that in 1967.
Keith: Assimilation, no matter the date or time, is lowering your own radical thoughts and taking on a softening, a vanilla-fication of them, making them into something less than. In the context of back then, people were removing themselves from the agitation that was going on: the stuff in the streets and the stuff in the bars. Some of the larger organizations just didn't want to keep up with our new thinking. They wanted to avoid serving or serving with or listening to or inviting other people who were thinking about and doing things that were progressive.
August and Chris: Although Keith stopped publishing Vanguard magazine in 1979, it is a living magazine. The content is controversial, and it remains true. It's a combination of every medium, a breath from every culture. There are pre-gay liberation articles titled Interview with the Transvestite, The History of Syphilis, Bisexual Interview, LA Secret Police, Lavender in Uniform, Interview with a Masochist, Black Art Adds Culture, etc. Erotic images and delicate yet in-your-face poetry unites every issue.
August: Were there other magazines doing interviews with transgender people and drug dealers and people like that in the gay world in San Francisco before Stonewall?
Keith: Well, that's it, that's another thing. Those individuals were apparently cast out of the literature. I didn't find anything about them, and I read a lot. That was one of my goals, to do something that hasn't been done.
And what does Vanguard mean, after all? That was my wake-up every day. What does Vanguard mean? Good morning. I hear the sound of morning birds. What are they saying? They're saying, “What does Vanguard mean? What does Vanguard mean?” Ok, let that be today's question. That’s what I would try to answer every day. What does it mean?
The above interview was previously featured in the QueerCore Podcast.
LISTEN TO KEITH ST CLARE IN THE QUEERCORE PODCAST