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Tom Reise, unsung hero of San Diego's LGBT community

SAN DIEGO, California -- Some LGBT San Diegans might not know about Tom Reise, but after learning what he does for the community, one might wonder why they don’t.

Reise is a local philanthropist who as co-trustee of the estate of Dr. Fritz Klein helps fund many important LGBT programs in San Diego. From the arts to drug treatment, Reise's largesse benefits the community, but he seems happy to fly under the radar.

Klein, a renown psychiatrist and researcher of bisexual men and women, developed the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid. He first wrote about the grid, which calculates a measurement of one’s sexual orientation, in his 1978 book, "The Bisexual Option." Previous studies only measured a few dimensions of sexual orientation in humans, and Klein expanded that scale to include multiple dimensions that helps better describe men and women and their degrees of sexual orientation.

Reise had known Klein for many years before they became partners. Reise’s commitment to Klein would help develop the Indulgence bakery, a result of Reise’s attempts to create sugar-free desserts in response to Klein’s health issues.

“We did Indulgence because he was diabetic," Reise said, "and I started just tinkering around making desserts that were going to be more diabetic friendly, and it turned into a business.”

Just a few years after Indulgence grew into an enterprise, Klein’s health took a turn for the worse. Reise was faced with dealing with his partner’s illness and the responsibility of his business. Reise tells San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that his losses were two-fold.

“Two years into Indulgence, Fritz developed pancreatic cancer suddenly. He was gone in about six weeks, which is a good thing because pancreatic cancer -- of those that survive it -- don’t have a very high quality of life. So, I closed and then sold Indulgence at that point,” Reise said.

Before he died, Klein made sure that his charitable organizations would survive and gave that responsibility largely to Reise.

“I was co-trustee of his estate,” Reise said. “We did very well liquidating the assets of the estate to benefit his two charitable organizations: AIB, the American Institute of Bisexuality, which I was on the board of for a while, and CICA, the California Institute of Contemporary Arts, and that one I’m president of the board.”

A commitment to Stepping Stone

Reise chose to get involved with Stepping Stone, a drug rehab and recovery facility located in San Diego’s University Heights. The facility provides rehabilitation and recovery services for LGBT drug users and addicts. Reise became chairman in 2010, before taking a leave of absence. After a year and a half, Reise returned to San Diego and back to helping Stepping Stone. He tells SDGLN.com that the once floundering recovery center is bouncing back very nicely.

“I got back on the board of Stepping Stone, active. And as of July 1 went back on as chairman of Stepping Stone. That’s obviously very important to me. I am happy to report after years and years of fiscal struggle, Stepping Stone is on the verge of reorganizing. We now have the ability to accept insurance for our private-pay beds. That’s going to enable us to keep those beds full hopefully, and reopen our out-patient program that we lost about four years ago to the county."

What CICA does

Still, Reise said his foundation also supports other organizations that were dear to the heart of his late partner.

“CICA, one of the beneficiaries of Fritz’s estate, has money, so that’s an easy one because we don’t do any fundraising,” Reise said. ”What we do is we identify organizations that fit our mission statement and we give them money. People like that when you give them money. And we’ve developed some very, very wonderful important relationships. Here in San Diego, Diversionary Theater, FilmOut and Lambda Archives are three of our long-term projects we’ve been working with for five to eight or nine years, depending on when we got started.”

CICA’s mission statement is clear: to promote the education of arts and diversity, while teaching the importance of heritage and culture. This philosophy extends beyond just the LGBT community.

A Reason to Live (ARTS) is a program that encourages children to empower themselves from the energy of the arts. The program boosts children’s self-confidence by utilizing the arts to stimulate them to take risks and learn to trust as they go forward in their lives.

Matt D’Arrigo, founder of ARTS, said CICA enables his program to incorporate strength and pride by letting children learn the encouraging power of art and creativity, therefore enriching their lives and strengthening their futures.

“Tom Reise gets it,” D’Arrigo said. “He's been a true partner in helping ARTS achieve our mission and to expand to serve more students. He's passionate and understands how non-profits work and function (or sometimes not) and helps to ensure that the funding CICA provides strengthens the organization and is truly maximized. He and the rest of the CICA board are a pleasure to work with.”

Helping out Diversionary Theatre

But some of the projects that CICA has funded needed some extra encouragement, Reise said. The Diversionary Theater has had its triumphs and struggles. But Reise is confident that the theater will continue as a vital contributor to the arts scene in San Diego because it was such an important beacon in Klein’s life.

“Fritz’s office was here and he gave them the building,” Reise said. “And an endowment fund showed a strong interest in providing gay theater for San Diego, and hopefully quality gay theater. They’re just getting a new executive director here.”

That new executive director, Matt Marrow, will fill a job that has been empty for almost a year. He will help define the program for the theater for the next season, haven taken over on Nov. 18. Although Reise has yet to meet Marrow, he seems optimistic about the direction the theater has taken and what Marrow will bring to the company.

“They’ve done well, the interim director has done a good job,” Reise said. “They’ve reached out to donors in a new way — new ways. A couple months ago I came, I think it was a Tuesday night, and they had ‘come meet the director and the actors.’ It was just a scripted reading. They didn’t have costumes or set or anything like that. They’re doing an 11 o’clock on Tuesdays for college kids. It’s part of the theater class credit, stuff like that. Some new interesting things that weren’t being done before. So I think that’s good. They’re doing a better job.”

Assisting Lambda Archives

Right next to the Diversionary Theater is another important part of Klein’s legacy: the Lambda Archives. Reise’s involvement, through CICA, with this project helps keep LGBT history alive in San Diego. The Lambda Archives houses the largest collection of San Diego LGBT history available to the public.

“This is important because local LGBT history, if we don’t keep it … nobody will. We lost a newspaper and a magazine — it’s all there. Christine Kehoe, when she retired, she gave all kinds of bucket loads of stuff. So this is an important thing. They’re growing really nicely.”

The Lambda Archives is currently undergoing a very big change, and Reise is proud to be a part of it.

“The program that we are doing with them through CICA is a photo digitization program. We gave them money for scanners, some staff to train, schedule and coordinate the volunteers, and then a little bit towards rent for the space to do this thing. So they’ve got some very high-end equipment, scanners and photo recognition programs and then computers to store all of this stuff, and back-up computers in case anything happens. You don’t want to lose it.”

Maureen Steiner, president of Lambda Archives, said CICA and Reise have been supporting the project for five years, and without their help the LGBT community would missing out on an important part of its San Diego legacy. “We feel what he [Reise] does provide for the LGBT community is invaluable in terms of preserving our history and promoting our culture,” Steiner said.

Boosting FilmOut San Diego

Another of Reise’s list of responsibilities to the LGBT community is assisting FilmOut San Diego. FilmOut presents monthly screenings, quarterly movie marathons and an annual festival that showcases LGBT movies. Klein enjoyed going to movies, Reise said.

“Fritz loved movies, he loved theater, but he loved movies. He went to the movies almost every day. FilmOut almost went away a few years ago. Nobody knows it, but they were having a tough time, so I gave them a little extra money. They said they were going to take a year off. I said, ‘No you’re not. Because then you lose your audience and your connections with the directors and the producers that are making this stuff, the actors.' You know it’s an ongoing process; it’s very important.”

One of the things that makes FilmOut so important is the amount of exposure the film festival gives to the public that would not normally notice these movies. FilmOut brings these movies, as well as the people behind them, to the forefront of the local LGBT community.

“The festival itself recruits LGBT movies, documentaries, shorts and full-length. ... First of all, the local community would never see this stuff, or wouldn’t see much of it if it wasn’t for a festival like that.”

The big same-sex wedding contest

Besides the CICA, AIB, Diversionary Theater and FilmOut, Reise puts efforts into other interests. He tells SDGLN that he is also working with Avant Garde Weddings and Events with Jason Dean to provide lavish gay wedding events to couples who can now legally tie the knot. The once strictly hetero-centric San Diego Style Weddings Magazine is offering a contest in which one lucky same-sex couple will win the wedding of their dreams. Working with the magazine, Reise said he is surprised that the contest has not been as popular as he would have thought.

“We’ve gotten very little interest in the contest. There’s been very few submissions. I’d like the community to know that anybody who’s getting married or knows anybody that’s getting married, the contest is going to close at the end of the year. It’s good through Dec. 31.”

Among other prizes, the contest winners will have their wedding featured in San Diego Style Weddings Magazine, a $1,000 credit with Avant Garde Weddings, a three-night all-inclusive stay at Oasis Sands in Cancun, Mexico, a $2,500 photography package, and the use of a vehicle from the Rolls Livery of San Diego limousine service.

“Those who would say OK, we can finally get married — I’m out and I’m proud, and I want the world to know — this is a phenomenal opportunity. A previously heterosexual only wedding magazine is now going to celebrate a same-sex ceremony.”

In his off time, Reise not only takes care of himself but also his Italian greyhound Hogan. Reise got involved with the greyhound rescue effort one year while attending San Diego’s CityFest. Reise thought they were the coolest dogs and he kept adopting them until at one point he says he had four. He explains how these dogs are handled before they are embraced by the rescue.

“They get treated lousy at the track and a lot of them have injuries and stuff like that, but they are the sweetest, most lovable creatures. I don’t have kids so those are my babies.”

Reise is somewhat of a health nut. He is very proud of his health and says he tries to make it a priority. He credits his sugar-free bakery Indulgence as an inspiration.

“Working out is my No. 1 hobby,” he said. “When I can make the time, five or six days a week, I’m doing a 90 minute workout. Good nutrition, eating well, I cook a lot of my own food. There’s very few restaurants that I go out to eat. That’s kind of part of Indulgence, learning healthier eating. I’m gluten free. I did a sugar cleanse earlier this year. I’m very careful about carbs. Nutrition and exercise are really, really important to me.”

For now, Reise is happy to help others and continue the legacy of his long-time partner. With all of his philanthropic contributions to the LGBT community, Reise understands that he has the resources to help and he is happy to do so.

“My little slogan is ‘Those of us that can, should.’ I think it’s important, valuable and rewarding to be able to give back. To make something better, you know. When I’m done with Stepping Stone, they’re going to be in a lot better shape than when I started and that pleases me. That’s something that I have been able to do that’s making the world a better place. “

His flexible working hours allow Reise to be involved with giving back, and some of the organizations he is involved with are becoming very successful, especially CICA. He also says that this will be his last term at Stepping Stone. However, he says is very happy to give back and that doing so is very gratifying.

“It’s rewarding to be able to do that. For now I guess, I like doing it.”