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LGBTQ+-rights activist, Steamworks co-founder Rick Stokes dies at 87

This article shared 1767 times since Sat May 7, 2022
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Rick Earl Stokes, famously "the other gay candidate" who ran against Harvey Milk for San Francisco supervisor in 1977, died May 3 at age 87, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

Stokes died in San Francisco after a brief battle with congestive heart failure, according to an obituary prepared by Curtis Jensen, director of marketing and graphics for Steamworks, the gay bathhouse location in Berkeley of which Stokes was one of the founders.

In that pivotal District 5 supervisors race, which Milk won, Stokes was viewed as the more establishment candidate.

"Rick was from the older school of activism," Jensen said in a phone interview. "Harvey and his group were more cutting-edge."

Stokes is survived by his husband of the last decade, Alex Kiforenko. The full Bay Area Reporter article is at,_the_other_gay_man_who_ran_against_milk,_dies.

NOTE: Jensen provided a comprehensive look at Stokes' life to Windy City Times. The text is below:

Rick Stokes dies at 87


We are devastated to announce the passing of our dear friend and colleague Rick Earl Stokes. Rick passed quietly at the age of 87 on May 3 in San Francisco after a brief battle with congestive heart failure. Rick was a role model, leader, activist, philanthropist and business owner who dedicated most of his life to LGBTQ equality and was an early pioneer in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Rick will also be remembered as one of the founders and owners of Steamworks Baths—one of the longest-running gay-owned bathhouses in the world, and an industry leader that long set the standard against which other bathhouses are judged. His leadership there was active up through recent weeks. He is survived by his husband of the last decade, Alex Kiforenko.

Rick was born in Oklahoma in 1935. After years of struggle with his gay identity, including suffering through regressive reparative therapies and an unhappy marriage, Rick moved to California determined to find "his guy." He found him in David Clayton, who was his lover, mentor and partner in business and life for the next 35 years until David's death in 1995. With David's love and support Rick returned to school and became first a teacher and then a lawyer. Rick always acknowledged that he was privileged to have David's support and that it allowed him to dedicate his career to advancing LGBTQ equality, particularly in those pre-Stonewall days when the mere knowledge that someone was Gay could get you fired and ostracized from public life.

First in Sacramento and later in San Francisco, Rick set about being part of the early movement. He formed a Gay organization called Association for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) and became an active participant in the Society for Individual Rights (SIR). ARC published the Archer an early magazine dedicated to the Gay movement. Rick organized previously unthinkable actions like sponsoring a booth about Gayness at the State Fair, an effort that was blocked at the last minute by Fair organizers. Rick learned a great lesson with that action when he and other activist handed out their flier outside the fair garnering the group much media attention including front-page coverage in both major San Francisco papers, attention they likely would not have received had they not been banned from the event.

While in Law School Rick organized a public panel discussion between Gay men and allies in the religious and political communities whose success proved to Rick the impact one person's efforts could have in moving equality forward.

Rick served on the board and was president of the Counsel on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) in the 1960s. CRH was the first organization in the US to use the word "homosexual" in its name, previous groups commonly used "homophile" or avoided direct reference to homosexuality or "gay" all together. As President, Rick organized the annual CRH conference that brought religious leaders and LGBTQ leaders together to discuss issues of equality and justice and to find common ground and encourage the allyship of the religious leaders in their local community and advocacy for the LGBTQ cause. In today's highly contentious environment where religion and LGBTQ issues seem to be at odds the accomplishments and relationships developed by CRH seem like impossibilities, but they resulted in real action and real advocacy on our behalf by local religious leaders in the Bay Area and around the world in the '60s and '70s.

David and Rick moved to San Francisco and began a law practice that helped the many men and women who were arrested as a result of police harassment, bar raids and vice operations. Rick would help protect these men and women from efforts to have their professional licenses revoked or denied, in child custody cases and other issues surrounding publicly being exposed as LGBTQ during police actions.

In 1971, Rick began an effort to get Gay and Lesbian representation on San Francisco City Boards and was the first out Gay person to serve on the San Francisco Family Services Agency (SFSA) Board of Directors where he served for 4 years. In 1972 he ran as the first openly Gay candidate for the Community College Board of Directors. He narrowly lost that election, but always contended that running as an out Gay man, having a very public Gay face participating in the normal democratic process for the public to see was a victory in itself.

Rick and David were both very active in the Methodist Church and Rick served as lay leader of his local San Francisco congregation and as a delegate to the National Board of Church and Society in Washington, D.C.

With the support and friendship of out Gay businessman David Goodstein, Rick became involved in the Whitman-Radcliff Foundation which was dedicated to identifying and working to change anti-LGBTQ laws, laws that were being used to harass or inhibit the careers and lives of LGBTQ people and general law reform that touched on LGBTQ equality.

As a member of the San Francisco Bar Association Rick worked on the non-victim crimes committee and as a delegate to the State Bar Association worked for legal reform efforts on behalf of LGBTQ people.

Rick was the founding president of the Golden Gate Business Association, the first gay business association in the United States, and was active in leadership there for many years.

Rick will forever be part of one of the LGBTQ community's great historic events as one of his attempts at public office was as the "other Gay candidate" who ran against Harvey Milk for San Francisco City Supervisor in 1977. Harvey and Rick had differing approaches to how to achieve LGBTQ equality and in many ways the race was a generational contest between the more "conservative" approach Rick represented, one that had been successful for him for well over a decade at the time, and the more "radical" approach that Harvey Milk represented, one more reflective of the youth culture lead ideals of direct action and unapologetic confrontation. Reflecting on the differences in an interview with ABC7 in 2019 Rick said "I thought we'd get further along by pointing out the similarities, finding natural friends to link up with, and seeking different rights," and on what the future might have held if the election had turned out differently "I think that things might have gone more slowly with me, looking back from this vantage point." Rick was portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Milk by actor Stephen Spinella.

Rick and David were both subjects, along with a dozen or so other gay men and Lesbians in the landmark queer film Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives. Filmed in 1977 and directed by later Oscar winner Rob Epstein along with Andrew Brown and Nancy Adair, the film was the first to dive into the first-person stories of what being Gay and Lesbian in America was actually like, covering growing up, love, sex, coming out, professional life, surviving oppression and the changing environment for LGBTQ people. In the film Rick tells the story of being in love with a neighbor boy in his youth disclosing that relationship to his wife, and being put in a mental institution where he endured a host of horrors including a series of 25 shock treatments. He then discusses his journey to self-acceptance, and finding love and fulfillment as a Gay man in California. The film is celebrated as a classic and an important historical record of the Gay experience. Rick also participated in the film's anniversary documentary "Word is Out: 30 Years Later" which caught up with the subjects and told the story of the making of the film.

Rick and David's legacy included significantly their ownership of the Ritch Street Health Club in 1965 and later Steamworks Baths, an international chain of gay bathhouses. That first venture, at 330 Ritch Street represented the first Gay ownership of a Gay bathhouse in the US. Before this time, bathhouses were usually owned by people who rarely took care of their facilities or invested in them as part of the LGBTQ community. Along with a collective of other investors they created a bathhouse by Gay men and for Gay men, that made cleanliness and customer service a priority. They sold their interest in Ritch Street in 1977 and that same year bought the Mayan Baths in Berkeley and after a remodel, relaunched it as Steamworks Baths. Over the next 45 years Steamworks Baths grew with locations in several California cities and locations in Puerto Rico, & Hawaii. Currently, Steamworks has locations in Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. Under Rick's visionary leadership Steamworks has long been regarded one of the best bathhouse chains in the world, winning architecture awards, setting standards for facilities and for community and health partnerships during the AIDS crisis. Rick always prioritized being an active business partner to the LGBTQ community.

Rick's dedication to community philanthropy included being the longest-running corporate sponsor of the Frameline Film Festival as well as several other LGBTQ film, theater and arts charities, a sponsor of Pride, Folsom Street Fair and other community events throughout the US, LGBTQ health initiatives and as a supporter of many LGBTQ political efforts and candidates.


—Channel 7 video "Bay Gays" 1976 and 2019 follow up interview with Rick

—"Stoking the Fire" Rick interviewed about his life on the Feast of Fun podcast Nov 27, 2008

Word is Out: 30 years later on NYTimes

—"Word is Out" A Pioneering Documentary of Gay Voices

—Council on Religion and the Homosexual on Wikipedia

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