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Jack Castiglione | Profile

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Biography

Jack Castiglione was born in San Pedro, California (near Los Angeles), as were his parents. He studied politics but enjoyed starting several small businesses. The most notable business was the Long Beach Music company started in 1978. Here he invented/designed and sold some 40 products nationwide to help beginners to learn to play musical instruments and to read and write music. He sold that business 35 years later. In 1992, he built, owned and operated one of the largest coffee houses in the state of California, The Coffee Tavern in Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach.

Jack’s first interest in civil rights developed during the short term of President Kennedy as he tried to tackle that most important, violently contested, black equality issue of the time. With that newly kindled interest, in the mid-1960s, while in high school,  he joined in supporting the work of Caesar Chavez in protecting and organizing farm workers in California and participated in the lettuce boycott (and other movements), as he supported the struggles of the United Farm Workers Union. 

What first caught Castiglione’s attention on gay discrimination issues was a series of gay-bashing events including murders of gay people in Long Beach in the mid-1970s. In 1977 he attended a public meeting at MCC (the Metropolitan Community Church) which hosted a meeting between the gay community and the Long Beach Police Department to discuss an on-going investigation of a gay man’s murder. The police department had not caught the predator that would come across as a friendly gay person in gay bars. The predator would present himself as interested in sexual relations with various bar patrons until he found one who would invite him to his home. Once in the victim’s home, he would murder that person. Castiglione met and interviewed the one victim who was stabbed but escaped his assailant to report the crime to the police. He spoke at that meeting. In one case, a former roommate of Castiglione picked up an interested man in a gay bar and brought him to his apartment. The victim was tied to a chair and set on fire. He did not survive.

In 1980, Jack Castiglione joined Dignity (a national gay Catholic organization) and soon served on the board of directors in various positions over the years, including president of the Long Beach chapter, which was one of the largest chapters in the nation. As a leader, he worked with the bishops of the Los Angeles Catholic Diocese, including various meetings with the then Archbishop, Roger Mahony. His “mission” was to try to reason with the bishops to respect gay and lesbian people as full Catholics. Castiglione did shake up the local Church and even helped to start a group called “Communidad” in Long Beach which consisted of gay and lesbian Catholics. His hope was that it would eventually grow into an organization that would exert sufficient influence to move the bishops to accept gay and lesbian Catholics as equals. He hoped as all of the Dignity organization hoped, that the Church would someday declare gay and lesbian Catholics to be whole people who must be acknowledged and respected in the Church. He would continually challenge Roger Mahony to educate his priests in the current principles of healthy psychology.

Early in his time in Dignity, Jack Castiglione attended a Catholic Mass conducted by a visiting Catholic missionary for fundraising purposes. During  the missionary’s homily, the priest called gays “fags,” and “queers.” He immediately walked out. He wrote Archbishop Mahony and told him of this public degradation of gay people. Days later he received a personal letter of apology from that missionary. Castiglione worked on this issue throughout the 1980s. However, after nearly 10 years in Dignity and a strong and continuous dialogue with the bishops, he remained frustrated that the best the archbishop would do under Church law was to refer to gays and lesbians as good but “broken people” who were not allowed sexual intimacy in their committed relationships. Even after three years of exchanging personal letters with Archbishop Roger Mahony, (see http://www.jackcastiglione.com/correspondence-archbishop-los-angeles/), he felt that he made no real progress.

In 1989, Jack Castiglione felt it was a waste of time to continue working in the Church, especially since the AIDS epidemic and the increase in local anti-gay violence cried out for attention and resolution. He felt his efforts would be more productive in helping to tackle those two issues. In later years, he gave up on the Catholic Church altogether. It was not just because of the anti-gay issue, but also because of other important issues on which the Church refused to be reasonable, such as with the use of contraception (even in spite of the AIDS crisis), not allowing women to be priests, and the refusal to accept the healthy principles of modern psychology as essential for good mental health.

Jack Castiglione joined the Lambda Democratic Club in Long Beach and served as the chairman of the Police Relations Committee from about 1976 to 1985.

He was appointed to the LB Police chief’s advisory committee representing the gay community and served as chairman, serving three police chief’s from 1987 to 1992

He helped create sting operations with LBPD to intervene in anti-gay violence. He was the subject of a documentary to showcase various efforts to combat anti-gay violence in Long Beach in 1992.

Jack Castiglione wrote op-ed pieces in the Long Beach Press-Telegram to bring anti-gay violence to the attention of the general population. He wrote numerous articles in the gay press to inform the gay community of the importance of filing crime reports when they were the victims of hate crimes.

 In 1986, a gay man was stabbed to death in front of the restaurant, Birds of Paradise. The community was again in outrage and demanded action from the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD). This event was the impetus that caused Castiglione to start the anti-gay violence hotline for LGBT members to report and document acts of violence against them. The idea was that since LBPD had a very poor reputation in respecting members of the LGBT community and rendering service, victims had the alternative of this hotline to report that crime. And member people used that line to do that. Because many members of the gay community were very untrusting of the police, many used this hotline to report such crimes. This phone rang in Castiglione’s home from 1986 to 1992. He interviewed every signal victim who called to report a crime, and he brought every single crime to the personal attention of the Chief of Police. The gay center supported his work and paid that phone bill.

Castiglione was allowed to give special training sessions on gay and lesbian sensitivity to each Long Beach police academy class from about 1986 to 1993. This was to make police officers aware of the shameful treatment they were receiving from the general community as well as from some members of the police department. In addition to new officers, the city implemented the same gay and lesbian sensitivity training as a requirement for all current officers as well. The Long Beach Police Dept. was so bad, that a new police chief, Lawrence Binkley, was brought in 1987 to “clean up the department.” Within a short time, that new chief fired 83 police officers for cause.

In working with the 3 police chiefs over that time (mainly Binkley and Ellis), Castiglione helped transform the LBPD. In the 1970’s LBPD was transformed from an agency with officers who would not protect members of the LGBT community or even take reports from gay-bashed victims, to a more professional complement of officers who would respect and treat the LGBT people fairly. (He would, however, admit that the vice squad was still operating out of legal bounds in making their arrests.) Castiglione became so important to the rank and file of LBPD that many members of the police department sought a letter of recommendation from him. Some higher ranking members would seek him out at his home or work and ask him for such a letter from this well-respected leader of the Long Beach gay community. (Amazing!)

In 1986, Jack Castiglione became a member of the newly formed Hospital Visitation Team. This program trained men and women as professional PWA (Persons with AIDs) visitors at the various local hospitals who cared for AIDS patients. The gay center sponsored a 6-week training class to teach volunteers methods of “active listening” and other important aspects of death and dying, these team members were considered “visiting friends.” He worked at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach to visit any PWAs who wanted to talk to someone. He completed his training in 1986 and visited PWAs, once a week, for 6 years.

In 1991, Castiglione was appointed by the Long Beach City Council to seve as a Human Rights Commissioner which he did for four years.

Jack Castiglione authored the gay rights book, titled, The Straight Person’s Guide to Gay People’s Anguish, which was published in 1992.

Even though he has a life-long struggle with dyslexia, he enjoys writing articles and poetry, with many being published. He has many activities and hobbies such as US politics and history, pets and animals, cooking, human rights and equality, flowers and gardens, cards and games, traveling, socializing and making new friends.

On June 21, 2001, Jack Castiglione became severely ill when he suddenly contracted a rare and devastating illness called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, GBS for short. It’s an autoimmune disease that destroys one’s nervous system, usually, its damaging effects are temporary. In Castiglione’s case, it seems chronic. He became a basic quadriplegic for most of a year and then experienced a very slow, partial recovery during the next 15 years. GBS has nothing to do with AIDS, he is not HIV. Though today he looks and acts completely “cured,” he does get extremely fatigued as well as difficulty walking. He continues to receive physical therapy.

He officially retired from all businesses in 2015 at the age of 68, but his interest in writing and in LGBT rights continues.

(This biographical statement prepared by Jack Castiglione's partner, Douglas H. Cleaver, with whom he celebrated his 25th anniversary in 2017.)

Biography Date: June 2017

Additional Resources

Tags

Roman Catholic | Dignity | Activist (church change) | Author/editor | Civil Rights Movement | California | Long Beach

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