Oliver Sipple: the man from Detroit who saved Gerald Ford, Part II
In the aftermath of his initial publicity, Sipple kept his mind off things in two ways: alcohol and working on Harvey Milk’s campaign for office. He had been friends with Harvey in New York and naturally wanted to help him as he campaigned in the Castro. (It is not known whether Sipple was unaware of Milk’s role in his outing or if he chose to ignore it.) After Milk’s murder in 1978, Sipple’s civic life was limited to drinking and waiting.
In the wake of his outing by the San Francisco Chronicle and the rejection by his parents, Sipple filed suit against seven newspapers. After filing the law suit, the Chronicle countered with a settlement, asking Sipple to settle out of court for $100,000. With a possible $15 million at stake in trial court, he was advised not to take the settlement. Nine years later (1984), the State Appellate Court ruled against Sipple. In their ruling, the Court decided that Sipple’s sexuality was already “in the public domain” in 1975’s San Francisco, the papers were not “prying,” and that the papers were actually motivated by good (i.e. countering the public misconception that gays were meek or incapable of being heroic). This decision ended any hope that he could or would recover damages.
Sipple spent the last 5 years of his life coping in the best way he knew how: alcohol. In February 1989 a friend stopped by Sipple’s apartment, finding the TV still on, but Sipple dead. Later, the authorities concluded that he had been dead for about ten days to two weeks.
And now back to recent events. For Mr. Hernandez, times have changed; tomorrow, he will be a guest of the O’Bamas at the State of the Union. Is his being gay the story? No, it is only part of the story. For, if example, had he been a straight married man, news stories would have identified him as such. Mr. Hernandez is a student, an intern, a gay man, and a hero.
(Author’s note, the most definitive in print and internet article on Mr. Sipple’s life is Daniel Luzer’s “The Gay Man who Saved Ford’s Life,” which first appeared in The Gay & Lesbian Review (July August 2009). The article is available on line at http://www.glreview.com/article.php?articleid=161)