This book details the true events of the Charles Soper family that resided in a nearby public housing project. I didn’t know that the father struggled with mental illness and drugs, or that, at times, he would act out violently against his wife and their young children.
The housing project was across the street from a large recreational facility which I managed. The park was considered to be an escape from the drudgery of their daily low-income lifestyle, as well as a safe haven for the neighborhood children. Residents of all ages looked up to me as the quasi-authority of the City of Carson. In reality, I was a 22-year-old “kid.” This was my first real job in terms of supporting myself financially.
During my tenure at the park, I came to know Mrs. Soper and especially her son, Roy, who was seven when I first met him. The little tyke would call me his “protector,” and would run to me whenever anyone would tease or bully him. But I never believed Roy was in actual danger, nor did I anticipated the shocking events that followed.
The story is told against the backdrop of my exploration of my sexuality. I grew up wanting to be married and have kids. I was raised that way. But despite my attempts to establish a romantic connection with women, I never happened. My journey of self-discovery included consulting psychologists, participating in the early days of computerized heterosexual dating, researching homosexuality, engaging both female and male prostitutes, and attending an intensive EST-like seminar. I was not afraid or embarrassed to be gay; I just wanted to be certain that I was gay. When it finally came to me, it was like an epiphany—I was a healthy, normal gay man, and proud of it.
As I began to participate in the gay lifestyle, I became painfully aware of the beatings and murders of gay men in my community of Long Beach, CA, often perpetrated with impunity. I thought about Roy and realized that these gay men were also vulnerable and innocent. I surrendered my comfortable, closeted lifestyle and publicly vowed to stop violent assaults against LGBTQ people. I was extremely fortunate in connecting with the new Chief of Police who welcomed me as the official liaison from the gay community to partner with him to stop hate crime. My three-prong approach to stopping gay-bashing, as described in the book, was a success, and I offer it to LGBTQ communities across the country.
Barack Obama wrote to me, “Jack … Our journey as a nation depends, as it always has, on the persistent efforts of people like you – compassionate, caring, and open-minded – who stand up in defense of the notion that love is love and that all of us, no matter who we are or who we love, are worthy of equal dignity, equal respect, and equal protection under the law. … That is the vision for America that Michelle and I share. And I want you to know we will continue standing alongside you.”
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During the short term of President Kennedy, Jack Castiglione became fascinated by the civil rights movement, especially concerning the plight of Blacks in America. A second social justice issue in the 1960s was the mistreatment of California farmworkers. Here he joined in supporting the work of Caesar Chavez in protecting and organizing California farmworkers.
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, California in the mid-1970s. These murders were part of a much larger, national issue. The national LGBTQ rights movement began in New York City, in 1969, when a group of patrons at The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, suddenly confronted the police who had been continually harassing them. After the Stonewall riots, LGBTQ groups all around the country began to fight back and demand their equal rights.
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 ongoing investigation of — yet another — murder of a gay man who was ambushed on the streets of Long Beach. In this latest case, 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 one who was interested in sexual relations with selected bar patrons. If he were invited to a would-be victim’s home, the homeowner was stabbed to death.
In another case, involving a different attacker, a former roommate of Castiglione’s picked up a presumably pleasant man at a gay bar in Long Beach because he expressed a mutual interest in sex. He brought the “pleasant man” to his apartment. The victim was tied to a chair and set on fire. He did not survive.
In 1981, 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. In 1984, the Dignity Help Line was established in his home, and he answered it for the next six years. Most callers wanted to know if they could be gay and Catholic. Castiglione always told the callers, yes, and told them why. Castiglione worked with the bishops of the Los Angeles Catholic Diocese, including correspondence with the then Archbishop, Roger Mahony.
Although Castiglione continued some interest in the Church for many years, he struggled with the Church’s “ancient-thinking.” His conflict was not only concerning the anti-gay positions of the Church but also other important social issues in which the Church refused to be reasonable. These issues included the use of contraception (even in spite of the AIDS crisis), not allowing women to be priests, and the refusal to accept the modern principles of psychology as essential for good mental health. He ultimately became a proud atheist.
Castiglione joined the Lambda Democratic Club in Long Beach and served as the chairman of the Police Relations Committee from about 1985 to 1993. He was appointed to the Long Beach Police chief’s advisory committee representing the gay community and served as chairman, serving three police chiefs’ 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 public. 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 popular, LGBT-frequented, Birds of Paradise Cafe. The community was again in outrage and demanded action from the Long Beach Police Department. This event was the impetus that caused Castiglione to start the anti-gay violence hotline to report and document acts of violence against the LGBTQ community. The idea was that since LBPD had a poor reputation in respecting members of the LGBT community and rendering service, victims had the alternative of this hotline to report those crimes. Castiglione monitored that hotline in his home from 1990 to 1996.
Castiglione was allowed to give regular training sessions on LGBTQ sensitivity to each Long Beach Police Academy class from 1986 to 1993. These training sessions were to inform new police officers of the shameful treatment the LGBTQ community was receiving from the general population, as well as to expose incidents of police misconduct toward gay people. At one time, Long Beach Police Department was so bad that a new police chief, Lawrence Binkley, was brought on in 1987 to “clean up the department.” Within a short time, that new chief fired 83 police officers for improper behavior, not only against the LGBT community but for dereliction of duty in all police matters throughout the city.
In 1986, 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 “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 six years.
In 1991, Castiglione was appointed by the Long Beach City Council to serve as a Human Rights Commissioner, which he worked on for four years.
On January 20, 1992, Jack Castiglione met his husband, Douglas H. Cleaver – they have been happily married ever since. They moved to Long Beach California and live in a high-rise condo overlooking the beach and the Queen Mary ship.
Beginning in early 2016, Castiglione campaigned for Hillary Clinton and became the first Never-Trumper. After that most unfortunate election, he worked tirelessly in every way possible to get the most corrupt president out of office.
In 2020, Castiglione authored the book, “The Chartreuse Garden: The Horrific Murders of Innocents that
Compelled Me to Fight Social Injustice and Hate.” In this true story, we follow his journey from his childhood days where he was subjected to much abuse, to his 20s, where he became a fierce defender of LGBTQ equality and accomplished surprising results in stopping the violence against his community.