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KING 5 NEWS Interview with Gaysha Starr and SGN Employees
to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 26, 2020 - Volume 48 Issue 26
George Bakan: Rescuer of lost souls
Section One
ALL STORIES
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George Bakan: Rescuer of lost souls

by Michael McNamara - Special to the SGN

George Bakan and I met at Spag's. Guess I caught his eye straddling the pool table to make a shot. I did have a fine ass back in the day. He chatted me up, we flirted a bit, and a he took me to his Capitol Hill apartment. He was leaving his real estate career and life in the Tri-Cities. I was leaving the Navy after they caught me smoking weed.

It was 1982, I was 22, homeless and kind of drifting. So our first night together was just two tricks on a one-night stand. I needed a place to stay and George needed to get laid.

We went our way for a couple of days, but I had to go back for seconds. He wasn't home, so I sat on the hood of his light blue 1950s era Rambler station wagon, with fins. It was totally crammed with stuff! He sees me sitting on his car and says, with his huge smile, "Hey, look who showed up!" That smile melted my heart. "This guy really likes me," I thought. So we hooked up and began a conversation.

More than anything else our relationship was an intense, on-going, passionate conversation that lasted 20 years.

George was always the smartest person in the room. Even when that room was filled with Senators and Governors and Chiefs of Police.

In 2005 George took me to the inauguration of Gov. Christine Gregoire. He was not dressed for the occasion. It was a grand evening strolling from table to table. Slurping oysters on the halfshell, me drinking the wine, George ever the teetotaler was not. Every two minutes someone would see George, start gushing, say "Hey, George!", and come over for big hugs. Like they were old dear friends. These are people like Christine Gregoire, Gary Locke, and Laurie Jinkins. It was a showing of the love and respect George had cultivated with the powerful of Washington state.

On our way back to Seattle he did give me a hard time about spending $20 on a belt to keep my pants up.

George was tenacious. One of the issues he was most tenacious about was the Seattle Police Department's continual harassment of gay and bi men. He never waivered on this issue. Every few months we'd be at a table downtown, talking with the police about leaving the gay and bi men alone.

During the heights of the AIDS epidemic the Mayor, Chief of Police, and our lone lesbian city council member wanted to clamp down on all the "unsafe sex" going on in Volunteer Park. (George was not a parkette; I was. He was known to go to the bathhouse on occasion.) George said "No!" to these government officials, and in great detail laid out exactly why they shouldn't. With the mouthpiece of the Seattle Gay News people listened when he had something to say.

From this situation or one very similar arose a Task Force, which included leaders of the LGBTQ+ community and Seattle Police officers, came together. We had weekly meetings to productively deal with issues as they came up. George never missed a meeting.

George cared about everyone he ever met. He cared about everyone he never met. George cared about me. After an argument, around Thanksgiving in 1988, in the middle of the worst snowstorm Seattle had seen in decades, I left George.

For the next five years I would be homeless. Hitchhiking around the country, addicted and depressed. In October of 1990 I learned I was HIV+ while trying to sell my blood plasma in Eugene, Oregon.

Learning this exacerbated my poor mental health and addictions. I drifted for three more years until I found out there was another National March being planned. So I made my way to D.C., volunteered at the national office, and waited. Knowing George and my other bestest friend, Rev. Gwen Hall, would be there.

Our reunion somewhere on the Capitol Mall was big - big George hugs and tears. We picked up our conversation almost at the same point we left off five years earlier. When he found out I was positive, homeless and with no plans for the future he says, "Well, you can come back with me." I heard his sainted Mother in those words.

We spent the next day doing National March events. It was fun. George was a lot of fun. When it's over George digs in his bag and comes up with one of his legally scammed airline tickets and brought me back to Seattle. We picked up where we had left off, I moved into his home and went back to work at the SGN.

But I was a horrible boyfriend. George bore the brunt of my poor physical and mental health, as well as the addictions I wouldn't put down. In 1997 or 1998 the crappy life I had been living finally caught up with me. I was living in a Northwest AIDS Foundation subsidized apartment. I wasn't paying my bills. I was still injecting drugs. And I wasn't taking my meds properly, if at all. Our relationship was in deterioration.

Inevitably I came down with pneumocystis. I remember laying on the floor deathly ill. Both the vomit and diarrhea were the same green slime. The shakes and chills from the fever and heroin withdrawals racked me to the bone. With a temperature of 104 degrees the visions/fever dreams were so traumatic they still haunt me. In a brief moment of consciousness I knew I had to do something. I called George. The only person that cared about me.

He came immediately and took me to Dr. Peter Shalit's office. They put me in Swedish Hospital right away. After a two week stay, which I have very little memory of, Dr Shalit tells George and I that if I had not gone to the hospital when I did, I would have died. George Bakan saved my life. He was the rescuer of lost souls.

More than anything George loved to laugh and dance to old rock n roll. I wish I coulda been a kid at his high school in the late '50s, where he organized the sock hops and spun the tunes. Love you, George.

Tell a friend:

Remembering George Bakan
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George Bakan: Rescuer of lost souls
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IN MEMORIAM - Randall Jess Spohn
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Remembering not only an editor, but a friend
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Remembering George Bakan
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A tribute to George Bakan from Julie Shaffer
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Tributes and eulogies for R. George Bakan (via Facebook)
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