Image provided by: University of Oregon Libraries; Eugene, OR
About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (Aug. 1, 1988)
Howie Baggadonutz: politically gay
‘ 7 don ' t know what compels me. Except that 1 always fear there
won't be enough people helping out! ’
A N N D E E
H O C H M
here he is. Howie Raggadonutz in his
producer’s hat. hopping up onstage at the
Northwest Service Center to deliver a swift,
snappy introduction to comics Tom Ammiano
and Karen Ripley. Click. Howie as an organizer
o f media for the Quilt’s tour in Portland, toting
one end o f the Names Project banner down
Rroadway in the Lesbian and Gay Pride march.
Click. Howie in his managerial hat. at his desk
at the Echo Theatre, finishing up a few calls and
filing some ¡xipers on a Friday afternoon. Click.
There are other hats in the wardrobe —
occasional KROO public affairs commentator,
creator of postcards and offbeat earrings,
graphic designer— and Howie juggles them all
with the greatest of ease This juggling act
comes complete with running commentary, a
New Jersey twang that bends his speech and a
rollicking laugh that cracks it wide open. He
even looks the juggler's part — thin, wiry, with
large eyes and a cap o f carbon-dark hair,
dressed irreverently in a T-shirt with sketches of
insects and a pair of bright red high tops When
it's time for a picture, most people sit; Howie
jumps around on the sidewalk, tries to scale the
brick wall outside the Echo. Howie Raggadonutz
wearing the perpetual hat o f high energy.
Rehind all this buzz is some kind of unclut
tered conviction. A juggling act looks wild and
fantastic and daring, but the juggler at its center
has sharp eyes and a clear purpose; just keep
things flying. Keep the balls in the air —
visible, interesting, full o f momentum. And
whatever you do. don't stop.
“ When I was going to school in the '70s,
when I was in college. 11 majored in | mass
communications, and my focus was television
and film. Now it’s theater and radio. So that
makes no sense. I don't know how it happened.
I went to Rutgers in New Jersey, and I couldn't
stand that it was in the heart of the ghetto, and I
had to get out I knew I had to do my junior year
exchange somewhere, in Europe or the United
States I couldn* t do four years in New Jersey.
“ The University of Oregon was my first
pick, and I got to go there. It was too easy for
me. compared to Rutgers, as far as the studies
went. St> I started saying. ‘Well, if that’s too
easy. I might as well chalk this up and just do
other things ' I did art history and I did theater
that year I did scenery, more behind-the-scenes
stuff than I'd usually done, anyway. And I
started getting more activist-y.
"The University of Oregon in 1978 is when I
came out completely, and there was no going
back. Part of my hidden agenda in getting
accepted [for the exchange] was, ‘Let’s deal •
with this. This will be a good space to deal with
it.’ The year I was there, I fell in love, and I
came out radically. I was planting the seeds of
change. I was a total mouth that whole year.
‘ ’Later I burned out on activism and laid low.
I came back to Eugene for a year [after graduat
ing from Rutgers in 1980], broke up with my
lover, couldn’t go anywhere artistically in
Eugene, came to Portland in 1981 and have been
here ever since.
“ In 1985 I started to get active again. I’d
heard the gay shows on KBOO and they were
incredibly inept No one listened to them. So we
recruited a lesbian co-host and did Queersville.
That kind of snowballed into other things. We
got a name for ourselves, started doing a little
stand-up [comedy] here and there. Kind of got
into the gay entertainment network . . . and put
it all together.
* ‘ I don't feel unfocused because all the things
I do are creative. The Echo job is paying bills, a
little more management-oriented, drier. There’s
also some creative aspects to it. So when I do
the other things, it’s all creative, whether it’s
making earrings or designing stuff or producing
— which is more dry. too, a more dollars-and-
cents thing. But the end result is all creative. So
my focus — if I had to focus— is to put stuff out
there that wouldn't normally be out there if I
didn't do it.
“ In Portland, I’m totally out. And I always
have been. Right before we started Queersville
in early 1986, as we were prepping for it, I came
out of the downtown ‘psycho’ Safeway and
Shirley Hancock was there with a microphone
asking people what we thought of Reagan’s
embargo against Iran. This was late 1985,1
guess. So I was [filmed] full-face, with my •
name underneath, and I said some anti-
Republican rhetoric. I got home, and I got
threats. Life threats: ‘You fuckin' faggot. . .
We’re gonna kill you . .. you fuckin' asshole.’
I was in the phone book. So I decided then
that we couldn’t use our real names on the
radio, because I was in the book.
"We created pseudonyms, which was fun,
because we were still out, visibly, and we didn't
feel like we were compromising — too much.
And now people don’t know my real last name
anymore; it’s kind of faded away. And I don't
use my real last name, because Bierbaum is
funny, but Baggadonutz is funnier. Now I have
lines when I do routines Like: Is Baggadonutz
your real name?’ And I go: ‘No. it was
Baggamatzoh, but I Anglicized it.' Stuff
“ When I was going to Rutgers, there were
250 people in lecture hall for. you know, Psych
101 And they’d pass around a sheet for atten
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dance. You don’t know the teacher; the teacher
doesn’t know you. So people would write any
thing— ’Joe Packageofweemes,’ ‘Joe
Baggadonutz.’ There'd be tons of fake names.
And I just cracked up on Baggadonutz.’ I even
use it now when I’m doing media for the
Names Project. I sign, ‘Howie Baggadonutz.’
I figure, at least they’ll remember me.
“ Everything I try to do. I hope has some
effect. But theater is seen once, and then it’s a
forgotten image. So print and radio are
probably the most effective ways to communi
cate. Especially radio What I liked about
Queersville was that it went 50 miles. It went all
over the place. It went to the coast; it was on
cable TV on the channels that weren’t broad
casting. So some closeted guy or girl — um,
some closeted man or woman — who couldn’t
feel comfortable picking up a Just Out could go
home, go in the bedroom, close the door, put on
a headset and listen to Queersville. That was a
really good thing to know. And I know we
reached kids — young kids — because we got
“ People still remember my voice from the
radio, and it’s been a year since the show’s been
off the air. People will call [Echo Theatre] and
go. “ Didn't you used to do Queersville?’ and
I'll say. ‘My God, how do you know the voice?
I guess it’s this distinctive New Jersey voice.
In Portland, it’s distinctive, anyway.
“ What I like doing the most right now is
theater, especially producing stuff. It’s scary,
'cause your money's on the line, and I get really
furious because the gay men in this town are so|
out of it when it comes to entertainment. They'll
see drag and they'll see the Gay Men’s Chorus.
They won’t take a chance on anything else.
“ In June when I hosted the gay radio show on
KBOO — co-hosted with Linda Shirley — and
we were babbling about community events, I
said. ‘Coming up tomorrow night is the Gay
Men’s Chorus and the Seattle Men’s Chorus
singing the movies, featuring a tribute to Judy
(Garland] and Marilyn [Monroe].' and then I
paused and said. I’m glad they're not into
perpetuating stereotypes.’ I just feel like: that’ll
sell out, and I can bring Tom Ammiano, Karen
Ripley — really different, out-of-town, quality
gay acts — and I ’ ve got to scrape to break even.
And sometimes I don’t break even.
“ So I get frustrated. I feel like; ‘Who’s out
there? Who’s paying attention to what we’re
doing? Why are we doing this?’ All these
identity crises when you do business with the
"I want to see a wide variety of expression in
the gay community, artistically. And I don’t see
Portland supporting that. So it’s kind of
frustrating. But commitment keeps me going,
and hoping the next one will be better. And I
really want to do it; I really get a kick out of
producing. When it’s successful, it’s the best.
“ I hate to sit home at night; I always want to
do something. Even go out and have a drink. I
don’t like to sit home in front of the TV. And I
read late at night to fall asleep. So there’s that
time between 7 and 11 pm, when I hate sitting
home. I just hate sitting around wasting time.
That’s the bottom line. I just want to keep
doing. So there are always these projects that
“ On political levels I’m totally confident;
I’m a Taurus and I’m stubborn. We had a fight
— not a fight, a discussion — at a Names
Project meeting in June on how to divvy up the
funds. I was saying, *1 want the four non-profit
agencies that give direct services to people with
AIDS — I want them each to get 25 percent.’ I
thought it was a really good symbolic gesture:
you’ve all done good work; you all deserve
equal amounts. The group went for the 25-
percent plan, finally. So politically, I’m right
out there. I can be an ideologue.
“ But I’m definitely insecure in terms of, um
. . . personally and socially. I definitely have the
insecurities everyone else does. Definitely
being Jewish in Oregon is an element of it. It’s a
novelty. And I hear people say anti-Semitic
things in front of me. I can’t believe it. And I
just think: ‘Give me a fuckin’ break — do I look
WASPy?’ I hear off-the-cuff anti-Semitic
things all the time. It’s just like being homo-
phobic — people saying things in front of you,
assuming you’re straight. On a personal level.
I’m insecure in a lot of ways. I definitely have
all the vulnerabilities when it comes down to
meeting men or socializing.
“ And my mouth is sometimes a benefit and
sometimes a liability, because . . . I can talk a
“ I don’t know what compels me. Except that
I always fear there won’t be enough people
helping out. I guess the sense that gay people
have been shafted so much, that when there’s an
opportunity to make a name for ourselves, like
the Names Project, I don’t want to let it slip by.
I'm almost more attached to being part of the
gay community than I am to being part of the
Jewish community, even though I feel really
strongly about being Jewish. The gayness is my
focus. So when a good project comes along, I
don't want to let it slip through my fingers or let
Portland miss it. I have a real sense of
community, of the Portland community, for
better or for worse.”
BRADLEY J. WOODWORTH
ATTORNEY AT LAW
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