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‘Kamala Harris Is My Fairy Godmother’: A VP Super Fan Says She Saved His Life

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Billy Lemon has been sober for eight years and now runs the Castro Country Club, helping other gay men get off drugs. Billy says it’s all because of Kamala Harris.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Many of us are still rocked by the siege of the Capitol. And some of us are anxious about the upcoming inauguration, but a lot of Californians are getting ready to celebrate. Our state is about to send the first woman of color to the white house. The whole world will be watching tomorrow as Kamala Harris is sworn in as our next vice president, but there's one person who will be tuning in who says he owes his life to her. The California reports, health correspondent, April Demboski brings us his story.

Speaker 2: 00:29 Growing up in Modesto in the seventies, Billy lemon was popular and outgoing. He was kind of a jock, but he says all that was a coverup.

Speaker 3: 00:41 I really wanted to be a backup dancer for chorus line. I didn't want you to know that. And so with secretly listened to chorus line at home by myself and my parents and my sisters were gone. Hide all that stuff all the time is exhausting. It's exhausting.

Speaker 2: 01:07 His reckoning came when he was 27. He was still in college, studying abroad in Europe and got an invitation to see mass at the Vatican on Christmas day.

Speaker 3: 01:16 And I was in like row number 12 with Pope John Paul, who had been the Pope my entire life. I was as close to what I had been raised to believe was God as I would ever get. And I said, I, you know, I'm gay. I'm putting it out there. I'm I know that I am gay. That was the moment. The next week I was wearing a fake ostrich feather coat. And I was listening to Madonna.

Speaker 2: 01:49 When Billy came back to California, he headed straight for San Francisco. He was 30, but he says it was like he was 16 discovering his sexuality for the first time.

Speaker 3: 01:59 And it was like a gay paradise. It was Mecca. It was the time of very big dance clubs here. There was one every night, you know, you're in a dance club with a thousand men. They're all basically naked. And most of good majority of them are high. It was off the wall. Crazy.

Speaker 2: 02:21 Billy got into crystal meth and wiped out his shame, his inner critic, and it gave him the sex drive of a 16 year old. It was fun until it wasn't. After the twin towers came down on nine 11, he lost his bartending job.

Speaker 3: 02:36 Fatality here in the city, came to a screeching halt restaurants all over the place closed down. It's kind of like now into a lesser degree. And that's when I started selling

Speaker 2: 02:46 First. It was just to support his own habit, but eventually he was shipping pounds of meth across the country,

Speaker 3: 02:52 Or BoDeans is over on the, on fisherman's Wharf. I would get bred bulls and I would hollow them out. I would lie in the inside of the sourdough with meth and then cover it back up and shrink, wrap the bread and then send loaves of bread with some accoutrement from fisherman's Wharf. So it looked like a care package to people in Boston. And then they would literally send me 15, $16,000 in twenties or hundreds via FedEx, if you've ever, have you ever seen breaking bad every episode? Okay. So my no exaggeration, my life was breaking bad was show too. And that sounds, sounds fun and funny, but it wasn't. It was, it was that bad. There were guns and there was people getting robbed. There were stolen cars, people getting beat up and it was, it was bad.

Speaker 2: 03:57 Over the years, Billy was arrested three times raids all the time. First two times he served a month or so in jail.

Speaker 3: 04:04 Got it. From probation. Third time,

Speaker 2: 04:06 He got caught with half a pound of math and was facing a mandatory sentence

Speaker 3: 04:11 State prison. Without question,

Speaker 2: 04:13 The day he was scheduled to go before the judge, he sat in his jail cell, desperately bargaining with himself, with God, with the universe.

Speaker 3: 04:21 And I said, please, just anything, please just make, is there any way that you can get me out of this?

Speaker 2: 04:27 Billy was escorted to the courtroom. He stood before the judge and an orange jumpsuit and shackles, and the judge dismissed his case.

Speaker 3: 04:35 Yes, I was released that day

Speaker 4: 04:39 Is CNN breaking news. Hundreds of narcotics cases are in jeopardy. Hundreds of cases have been thrown out more than a thousand criminal drug cases may have to be dropped a 60 year old lab technician accused of stealing drug evidence, suspected of stealing cocaine, evidence stole cocaine evidence.

Speaker 3: 04:57 All these cases had to get thrown out. I was the lucky beneficiary of one of those cases. I mean, it was like a, it was like Christmas for drug addicts. Everybody was getting released.

Speaker 2: 05:08 This was the decision of then San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris. She didn't want to drop a thousand cases, but faced with tainted drug evidence and under fire for failing to disclose the scandal to defense teams. She did reluctantly to Billy. It was the answer to his prayer assigned that the universe wanted something different for him.

Speaker 3: 05:30 So I committed that day to stop selling drugs. And I did.

Speaker 2: 05:34 Then he made his way to rehab through years of therapy, Billy unpacked, all the shame and trauma underlying his addiction. The internalized homophobia he's been sober for eight years and now runs the Castro country club, helping other gay men get off drugs. Billy says it's all because of Camila.

Speaker 3: 05:52 She saved my life. She literally saved my life. Like she has no idea that she saved my life, but she saved my life. She gave me my second chance.

Speaker 2: 06:01 I continued to draw inspiration from Kamala Harris as her political career advanced from da to attorney general to Senator it's as though each of her successes was an affirmation of his own small triumphs. When she announced her run for president Billy's friend told him it was time to take the next step.

Speaker 3: 06:20 He texted me immediately and he's like, girl, you got to work on her campaign, X amount of hours to kind of like payback the fact that she kept you out of prison and doesn't even know it. And I was like, Oh yeah, I'm already making a shirt,

Speaker 2: 06:35 Billy canvased and raised money for Harris's campaign. He says, she's a fighter for folks who struggle. And that smile.

Speaker 3: 06:43 I don't know. I just, I love her. I think she's fantastic. Really? I really do. I think she's fantastic.

Speaker 2: 06:53 Of course other people have mixed reviews about Kamala Harris and her record is da in San Francisco. She had to walk the line between being the top cop and living up to her more progressive promises either way. She was not in the business of handing out, get out of jail, free cards. She initially fought hard to keep all those drug cases alive. Billy knows this, but he sets it aside. He's got his narrative about her role in his life and he's sticking with it.

Speaker 3: 07:21 It was easy for me to put her on a pedestal. And, uh, since putting her on that pedestal, she's only gotten bigger. I feel this kind of like weird fairy godmother connection to her.

Speaker 2: 07:38 The gay community has had a steady run of celebrity fairy godmothers over the years, Judy Garland's Madonna Beyonce, especially for men of Billy Lemon's generation. Who've been rejected by their families or the church they've elected these women to fill the role of nurturer and advocate.

Speaker 3: 07:55 A lot of us has gay men that grew up in kind of strict religious dogma. The idea of God is just kind of gross. And so the idea of a goddess actually sounds really kind of awesome.

Speaker 2: 08:08 So for Billy it's fully in line with his experience and his politics to deify Kamala Harris, especially now that she will be the tie-breaking vote in the Senate responsible for some of the biggest decisions in the country.

Speaker 3: 08:21 It's kind of rad as like it's super rad. The first like 50, 50 votes that they have and they get the zoom in on her. Gaveling in the vote is kind of bad-ass

Speaker 2: 08:31 Whether it was intentional or not. Billy says he turned his life around because of a decision she made her Ascension to power is just another sign that he made the right decision to believe in her. Even if she is just the human symbol of a massive lucky break.

Speaker 3: 08:48 That was the California reports April Demboski.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.