Call Him Activist, By Any Name Luke Sissyfag Shouts His Message. Even To The President. He Wants Action On Aids.

Posted: May 02, 1994

He was born Luke Michael Montgomery on Jan. 5, 1974, in Royal Oak, Mich. A few months ago, after a District of Columbia court approved his petition for a name change, he became Luke Sissyfag.

"I haven't really changed my name," explained Sissyfag.

"It's what I've been called all my life. In the past, it was a weapon used against me. Now, I've disarmed the word and I am using it as a weapon to disarm other people."

A gay man who came out of the closet when he was 15, Sissyfag has gained national attention over the last year for his disruption of several public appearances by President Clinton.

The latest was on Easter Sunday when Clinton and his family attended services at a Methodist church in Washington.

"Save your prayers for Bill Clinton," Sissyfag shouted from the church balcony. "He's lied to people with AIDS."

Although he's not infected with the virus himself, Sissyfag has made AIDS his cause celebre. He's hammered not only Clinton, but also other public officials and even AIDS activists for not doing enough to stop the epidemic.

"I don't care what anybody says, the AIDS activist movement is dead - dead on arrival," Sissyfag said. "We need to revive it."

To do that, Sissyfag plans to announce his candidacy for mayor of Washington on May 31. He said he will run as an independent on a six-point platform with a pink polka dot logo. His slogan: "AIDS Is The Issue."

He doesn't expect to win, but he hopes to make a point: "What I really hope to do is energize the community."

Over the weekend, Sissyfag was among more than 150 AIDS activists from around the country who gathered in Philadelphia for a two-day conference sponsored by the local chapter of Act Up.

At one point, he created a stir by condemning calls for Act Up to reflect on its purpose and tend to the emotional needs of its members.

"What I'm seeing is a lot of mealy, smealy, self-indulgent nonsense," he declared.

To which an older member of Act Up replied: "Luke, what you do with President Clinton is one thing. What you do with fellow activists is another."

Still, Sissyfag has become the hero of many in the gay-rights movement

because of his ability to turn the language of oppression into a weapon to fight discrimination and call more attention to AIDS.

"You are half my age, but I just want to tell you I admire you," said Scott Tucker, a veteran member of Act Up/Philadelphia as he extended his hand to Sissyfag during the weekend conference.

Dressed in red cords, a purple sweater and black sneakers, Sissyfag, 20, talked during a break in the conference about his painful growing-up years. He wore red lipstick and a blue barrette in his close-cropped brown hair.

He remembered feeling "intense shame" at the first stirrings of homosexuality. When he did Farrah Fawcett poses during a family photograph session, his grandfather shook his head. "I felt like I wanted to go hide," Sissyfag recalled.

In junior high school, he was called "sissy" and "fag" on the playground. PE class brought even more humiliation. "Mrs. Miller, my PE teacher, she was so mean to me. Here she was this dyke, and she says to me, 'This ain't ballet, you know.' Or, 'This ain't the women's softball team.' ''

The hostility culminated when Sissyfag was 15. One night as he was walking home from his part-time restaurant job in a small town in Washington state, a car careened past him and someone inside yelled, "Hey, faggot."

"I didn't think much of it because I'd been called faggot most of my life," he recalled.

"But then the car came back, some kids jumped out, and they began beating me with a baseball bat."

The beating knocked him unconscious and put him in the hospital.

It also prompted his decision to drop out of school.

He moved to Seattle, got involved with Act Up, and became a full-time AIDS activist.

Today, Sissyfag lives with Tom, his 21-year-old lover, in Washington. He said he sometimes works as a male "escort" for other men. But his AIDS activism, he said, is supported by donations. "I have three people who send me checks each month," he said.

Sissyfag insists that AIDS activism has to focus on just one goal - finding a cure. "Not needle-exchange, not prevention, but a cure," he said. On that score, he faults Clinton for not mounting a crash project for AIDS research that he promised during his presidential campaign.

Although many scientists now believe that a cure is an illusory goal, Sissyfag rejects such naysaying.

"People once thought man couldn't fly. They thought the sound barrier couldn't be broken. They thought nobody could run less than a four-minute mile. They thought man would never walk on the moon," he said.

Sissyfag said his passionate devotion to finding a cure for AIDS stems not just from the worldwide devastation wreaked by the epidemic but also from personal loss.

Nearly a dozen of his friends have died.

"And almost everyone I know is infected," he said.

Although he uses condoms to reduce his own risk of becoming infected, Sissyfag lives in constant fear. "It terrifies me," he said. "I don't want to be another panel on the AIDS Memorial Quilt."

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