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Honoring Those Who Left Us in 2016

 

 

IN KEEPING with our annual custom, we remember here the lives of some notable GLBT activists, artists, and writers who passed away this past year. Please note that all deaths occurred in 2016 unless otherwise indicated.

In addition to those listed by name, we also mourn the loss of the 49 people who were massacred at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016.

 

Activists

Tim Campbell, gay rights activist and publisher, died on December 26, 2015, at age 76. Best known as the publisher of Minneapolis’ GLC Voice (1979–’92), in the ’70s he worked to convince media outlets to use the words “gay” and/or “lesbian” instead of “homosexual.” He was a founder of Lambda Sobriety Center in Minneapolis in 1981 and was the “go to” spokesperson when area media needed a quotation. His politics were considered confrontational and provocative, and he was known for clashes with politicians.

Jeanne Córdova, activist, writer, and publisher, died on January 10th at age 67. She once wrote that she discovered her life’s work at a Daughters of Bilitis meeting in 1970, eventually becoming president of the L.A. chapter. Founder of the newspaper The Lesbian Tide and the Gay & Lesbian Community Yellow Pages, her political activism included working to defeat California’s Briggs Initiative (1978), which would have banned gay and lesbian teachers from the classroom. Among her many books was a memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution (2011).

Melvin Dwork, a gay veteran and activist, died on June 14th at age 94. He is believed to be the first World War II veteran to have had his dishonorable discharge on grounds of homosexuality expunged from his record. A Navy hospital corpsman in officer candidate school in 1944, he was betrayed by his lover, jailed, and expelled from the service. After many attempts, he finally succeeded in getting the judgment overturned in 2011, and he was granted an honorable discharge. A documentary about his struggle, The Undesirable, is slated for release.

Wayne Friday, a gay rights pioneer based in San Francisco, died by his own hand over failing health on October 12th at age 79. The longtime political editor for the Bay Area Reporter, he was described by friends as a “legendary community leader” who played a major role in the rise of GLBT political power in S.F. A close friend of Harvey Milk, he was deeply embedded in the city’s politics, having been an investigator for the district attorney’s office and a member of the Police Commission.

Jay Kallio (né Joy Kallio), who was at the forefront of numerous New York and national political and healthcare organizations, died on September 30th at age 61. Called an “activist’s activist,” he served (as Joy) as program coordinator for the Lesbian Feminist Liberation movement in the early 1970s. He came out as a transman over a decade ago. Misdiagnosis by a transphobic physician led to struggles with cancer. Near the end of his life, he was interviewed in the medical journal LGBT Health (issue 3.1, 2016).

Marie Kuda, lesbian rights activist, writer, and publisher, died on October 1, 2015, at the age of 76. She founded Womanpress in 1974 and organized five national lesbian writers’ conferences. In 1978, she began to tour the country giving slide shows on gay and lesbian history based on her collection of over 100,000 items, some of which have been borrowed for museum exhibits. She was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1991, the year of its founding.

Herbert E. Selwyn, civil rights attorney and ally of the GLBT community, died on February 3rd at the age of ninety. Early in his career, he distributed cards spelling out Miranda rights to all the gay bars in L.A., and he represented gay teachers, hairdressers, and others threatened with job-related discrimination. In 1968, the Hollywood-based Homosexual Information Center’s articles of incorporation were signed in his office. Two years later, he helped to facilitate the West Coast’s first gay pride parade, in L.A.

 

Artists and Entertainers

Edward Albee, celebrated playwright, died on September 16th at age 88. He is remembered by his friend Dimitris Yeros elsewhere in this issue.

Brian Asawa, Asian-American opera star, died on April 18th at age 49. Around the time that he was coming out, he discovered his falsetto voice while imitating sopranos in college choirs. In 1991, he was the first countertenor to win the Metropolitan Opera auditions, and he went on to sing with opera companies worldwide. Ned Rorem wrote the song cycle “More than a Day” for him in 2000. He appeared in Peter Eötvös’ opera version of Angels in America in 2013.

Brian Bedford, British-born actor, died on January 13th at the age of eighty. Called by one critic “perhaps the finest English-language interpreter of classical comedy of his generation,” the Tony Award winner appeared in eighteen plays on Broadway, the last of which was The Importance of Being Earnest (2011), as Lady Bracknell, which he also directed. He was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1997.

David Bowie, gender-bending rock star who died on January 10th at age 69, was remembered in the March-April issue.

Fred Caruso, producer and director of movies and plays, died on June 13th at age 41. Producer of the Off-Broadway musical comedy Newsical, he was the writer and co-director of several movies, including 2009’s The Big Gay Musical. Stating in a suicide note that he felt he had nothing left to create, he was mourned by friends as a “tortured soul” for much of his life.

Lady Chablis (née Benjamin Edward Knox), best-known for her appearance in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994), died on September 8th at age 59. A transgender performer, she appeared in the film version of the book, which holds the record for number of weeks on the Times’ nonfiction bestseller list. Her memoir, Hiding my Candy: The Autobiography of the Grand Empress of Savannah (1996), recounts her life story from her first club appearance in Tennessee to clubs in Atlanta, where she began to take hormones and to develop her stage routine.

Honey Lee Cottrell, photographer and filmmaker, died on September 21, 2015, at age 69. Deeply involved in the visual arts scene in San Francisco, she was a co-founder of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project. Her first film, Sweet Dreams (1980), was considered groundbreaking. She was cofounder, in 1984, of the lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs, where she was staff photographer for seven years. She was at one time partnered with the late photographer Tee Corinne, with whom she starred in the 1976 documentary, We Are Ourselves.

John Michael Gray, one of the famed “Hat Sisters,” died on September 24th at age 66. Starting in 1984, he and his “sister”—husband Tim O’Connor—were a constant, tireless presence at charity events and gala openings in Provincetown and Boston. They achieved national recognition as characters in Eric Orner’s comic strip The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green and in the movie rendition in 2006. Their sobriquet derived from their first costumes; their hats were unique and remarkable constructions.

Desmond Heeley, set and costume designer for theatre, opera, and ballet worldwide, died on June 10th at age 85. Winner of three Tony Awards, he designed the sets and costumes for Brian Bedford’s Importance of Being Earnest, which had originated at Ontario’s Stratford Festival, a company that he played a major role in founding.

Ellsworth Kelly, a prominent post-World War II painter, died on December 27, 2015, at age 92. An abstract expressionist artist, his work is exhibited in museums worldwide, and in 2013 he received the National Medal of Arts. While reluctant to talk about his private life, for over thirty years shared his life with photographer Jack Shear, to whom he was married.

Murray Louis, modern dance choreographer, died on February 1st at age 89. A believer in the use of comedy in dance, he staged ballets for companies worldwide and wrote two collections of essays, Inside Dance (1980) and On Dance (1992). He was predeceased by his life partner, choreographer Alwin Nikolais, with whom he had been artistic collaborator. In 1987 they were the subjects of a PBS documentary, Nik and Murray.

Robert de Michiell, pop artist, died on October 12, 2015, at age 57—the day before a show of his Fire Island watercolors was to open at a Chelsea gallery. His illustrations, most drawn in a style halfway between cartoon and caricature, included elements of Cubism and appeared in a wide range of magazines and newspapers. A feature story about his 2012 marriage to Jeffrey Michael Wilson, a theatrical general manager, was published in The New York Times.

Billy Name (né William Linich, Jr.), Warhol Factory photographer, died on July 18th at age 76. Originally involved in the downtown Fluxus art scene, he met Warhol (they were briefly lovers) in 1959 and documented The Factory (1964–1970) in thousands of photographs and was responsible for “silverizing” the Factory. He moved to California in 1970 and became a performance poet. His last book, Billy Name: The Silver Age: Black and White Photographs from Andy Warhol’s Factory, came out in 2014.

Prince (né Prince Rogers Nelson), gender-bending rock star, died on April 21st at age 57. He was remembered at length in the May-June 2016 issue.

Peter Shaffer, British playwright, died on June 6, 2016 at the age of 90. Best known for Equus (1973, film version 1977), he was knighted in 2001. He will be remembered in an essay in the next issue of this magazine.

Elizabeth Swados, composer, writer, and director, died on January 5th at age 64. As a college student, she had provided music for Medea at LaMama, the Manhattan theater, and went on to write and direct the musical Runaways, which played on Broadway and received four Tony nominations. Her large output included novels and nonfiction, and her 2005 memoir, My Depression: A Picture Book, was made into an animated film for HBO. Her last novel was Walking the Dog.

Elliot Tiber (né Eliyahu Teichberg), businessman and impresario, died on August 3rd at age 81. His major claims to fame were that he was at the Stonewall riot on June 28, 1969, and, six weeks later, he secured the venue (using family connections) that made possible the Woodstock rock festival. In 2007, he recounted these events in a memoir, Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, A Concert, and a Life, which was made into a film by Ang Lee in 2009.

John Vaccaro, cofounder in 1965 and director of the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, died on August 7th at age 86. He worked with such Warhol Factory notables as Jackie Curtis and Ronald Tavel, as well as many other stalwarts of the downtown art scene. His work, described as iconoclastic and anarchic, helped advance the course of Off-Off-Broadway theater and provided the springboard for Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

Holly Woodlawn (né Haroldo Danhakl), Warhol Factory superstar, died on December 6, 2015, at age 69. She was remembered at length in the March-April 2016 issue.

 

Writers and Educators

Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé (né Elias Farajajé-Jones), a writer and teacher, died on February 9th at age 63. He was one of several individuals profiled in a 1995 Newsweek cover story, “Bisexuality: Not Gay. Not Straight. A New Sexual Identity Emerges.” During his academic career, he taught divinity students how to engage in HIV ministry, and was a founding member and faculty adviser to Howard University’s GLBT group, Oshala. His friends considered him a “black, multiracial, bisexual icon.”

Francisco X. Alarcón, poet and educator, died on January 15th at age 61. Based in San Francisco, he published numerous books of poetry in both English and Spanish. Much of his poetry addresses same-sex relationships, notably his Lorca-inspired De Amor Oscuro / Of Dark Love (1991), a series of homoerotic sonnets. In 1985, he cofounded Las Cuarto Espinas, the first gay Chicano poets collective.

Sylvan Barnet, educator, editor, and collector, died on January 9th at age 89. He worked as general editor of the Signet Classic Shakespeare series and wrote dozens of textbooks. In 1963, he and his lifelong partner, William Burto, began to build an important collection of Korean and Japanese ceramics and Zen calligraphy, which was exhibited at museums nationwide. The contents of the collection were dispersed among four of these museums.

Justin Chin, performance artist, poet, and writer, died on December 24, 2015 at age 46. Born in Malaysia, he moved to San Francisco in the 1990s. He was the author of several books of poems, essays, and a biography, Burden of Ashes (2001). Gutted won the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award for Poetry in 2007. The Poetry Foundation described his work as being full of “humor and raw vulnerability.”

Michelle Cliff, writer, translator, activist, and educator, died on June 12th at age 69. A prolific Jamaican-American novelist, she considered her first novel, Abeng (1984), to be an autobiography. Her New York Times obit stated that “her entire creative life was a quest to give voice to suppressed histories, starting with her own.” She was predeceased by her life partner and later wife, the poet Adrienne Rich, with whom she edited the journal Sinister Wisdom from 1981 to ’83.

Andrea Still Gray, archivist, died on December 29, 2015, at age 44. She was cofounder of the online repository Queer Women in Music-Boston, which includes in-depth interviews and images, and a member of the board of directors of The History Project, which preserves the history of Boston’s GLBT communities. She worked in digital media communication and was active in the Society of American Archivists.

John Gruen, music, art, dance, and theater critic, died on July 19th at age 89. Writing for The New York Herald Tribune and New York magazine, among many other publications, he was known for his breadth of knowledge and candor, including about his bisexuality. In addition to authoring over a dozen books, he was a photographer whose work was collected by the Whitney. His 2008 autobiography Callas Kissed Me … Lenny Too! A Critic’s Memoir details some of his affairs, including the one with Leonard Bernstein, as well as his marriage to the late painter Jane Wilson.

Paul Hennefeld, stamp archivist, died on March 7th at age 82. Co-founder, in 1982, of glhsc (Gay & Lesbian History on Stamps Club), he first exhibited his award-winning philatelic collection, “Out of the Closet: Alternative Lifestyles of Famous People,” in 1983. He wrote the book Gay and Lesbian History on Stamps: Achilles to Zeus (2004, 3rd edition).

Maurice Kenny, a prolific poet, died on April 16th at age 86. Of Mohawk/Seneca descent, his work has been widely anthologized in both gay and mainstream collections. He came out in his essay “Tinseled Bucks: An Historical Study in Indian Homosexuality,” published in Gay Sunshine (Winter 1975-76). He was nominated twice for a Pulitzer and won the American Book Award in 1984.

David St. Vincent, British travel writer, was discovered dead on January 12th, in Bucharest, at age 46. A writer for The Lonely Planet travel guides, he was a founder of Accept, an organization that led the way to the decriminalization of homosexuality in Romania. His death was termed suspicious. A friend called him “a perfectly British eccentric in the best possible way, like a character in an Evelyn Waugh novel.”

Mark Thompson, author, photographer and historian, died on August 9th at age 63. In 1973, while a journalism student at San Francisco State, he cofounded the Bay Area-wide Gay Students Coalition and started a gay student newspaper. He reported widely for The Advocate over two decades, rising to the position of senior editor. His interests spanned the gamut of gay politics and culture worldwide, but he’s best known for his work on gay spirituality. His many books include Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning (1988), Gay Body: A Journey through Shadow to Self (1997), and The Fire in Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries, 1971–2010 (2011). His life partner and later husband, Rev. Malcolm Boyd, died in 2015.

William Wright, editor and historian, died on June 4th at age 85. The author of Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals (2005), which documented the notorious witch hunt of gay students at Harvard, he worked as a magazine editor and wrote numerous articles and books. His Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman (1986) was the first full-length treatment of Hellman’s life.

 

Sources

On-line: adirondackdailyenterprise.com, advocate.com, andrejkoymasky.com, binetusa.blogspot.com, bostonglobe.com, chicagotribune.com, curvemag.com, digital.library.unt.edu, ebar.com, frontiersmedia.com, gaycitynews.nyc, huffingtonpost.com, independent.co.uk, indiancountrytoday.com, lamamablogs.blog-spot.com, medianetwork.com, nbcnews.com, nodepression.comnpr.org, nydailynews.com, nytimes.com, playbill.com, poetryfoundation.org, sfgate.com, sfweekly.com, sksm.edu, startribune.com, thepridela.com, timesofisrael.com, washingtonpost.com,windycitymediagroup.com, wmagazine.com.

Print: Boston Pride (2016), Contemporary Gay American Poets and Playwrights (2003), Lesbian Connection.

 

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