All Saints Day: GLAAD Remembers LGBT Pioneers from the Past Year

Tuesday, November 1, 2011, is All Saints’ Day. Considered to be a principle holy day in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, All Saints’ Day has also been embraced by many Protestant denominations as a time to recognize church members who have died in the past year. As LGBT History Month draws to a close, GLAAD would like to take the opportunity of All Saints’ Day to acknowledge the LGBT advocates and allies who have passed this year.

In mid-January, Lutherans celebrated the life and legacy of Bishop Paul Egertson, a longtime advocate for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In 2001, Egertson, joined by three other bishops, oversaw the ordination of Rev. Anita Hill. Hill’s ordination sparked headlines, as the ELCA’s guidelines required that openly gay and lesbian ministers within the church be celibate. After Egertson’s passing, Hill spoke to the L.A. Times, calling the bishop, “a wise and compassionate advocate and ally.”

At the end of March, GLAAD learned of the passing of Isaac Kwock. Kwock, an active organizer who served LGBT youth and other vulnerable communities, was a supporter of numerous LGBT-affirming organizations including Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE), Project Home, The Door, and the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Also in March, GLAAD mourned the loss of actress and humanitarian Dame Elizabeth Taylor. In 1985, Taylor co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). Taylor observed that there was a critical lack of public and political recognition of HIV/AIDS, and she was personally moved by the experience of losing close friends and loved ones, including her Giant co-star Rock Hudson. GLAAD honored Taylor with the Vanguard Award at the 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards for her tireless advocacy.

In June, GLAAD was saddened to learn of the loss of Dana Turner, a longtime advocate in the LGBT community, particularly in the area of transgender issues. Most notably, Turner assisted the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in providing support to transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people in prison.

Out lesbian, and former Deputy Mayor of San Francisco, Jean Harris, passed away in early July, leaving behind a legacy of decades of contributions to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. Harris was a founding director of Basic Rights Oregon and led the efforts to defeat the anti-LGBT Oregon Ballot Measure 9 in 2000. Jim Carroll, interim executive director of Equality California asserted that Harris’s “legislative advocacy, grassroots organizing, and coalition building became the bedrock for the modern LGBT justice movement in California.”

Writer, musician, performer, educator, and advocate David Blair passed away in July. Blair not only performed as a solo artist, but he also often worked with the Urban Folk Collective, releasing more than seven records through these joint projects. Blair had recently released a book of poetry entitled Moonwalking.

Poet, journalist, and advocate Ifti Nasim passed away in July. At the age of 21, Nasim emigrated from Pakistan to avoid persecution and an arranged marriage. Nasim founded SANGAT/Chicago, a South Asian LGBT organization, in 1986. Poetry was an important passion of Nasim’s. He was noted for penning the first book of openly-gay themed poetry in Urdu. In 1996, Nasim was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

The last gay Holocaust survivor, Rudolf Brazda, passed away in early August. Brazda was imprisoned at Buchwald concentration camp from 1942 until 1945, when it was liberated by United States forces. Earlier this year, Brazda was knighted in the French Legion of Honor.

GLAAD profiled Gary Hess, a gay former Navy Commander, in October in celebration of LGBT History Month. Hess, who passed away in August, advocated for an honorable, rather than dishonorable, discharge from the military. In response to Hess’ federal suit, a three-person panel was convened, and concluded that Hess’ discharge would be honorable.

Tireless advocate for the LGBT community, Jake Layton, passed away in late August.  As chair of Toronto’s Board of Health, Layton implemented public education programs, created a special team dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention, and successfully campaigned for changes to provincial laws that banned anonymous HIV testing. As a leader of the new Democratic Party, Layton adamantly supported marriage equality legislation.

GLAAD was saddened by the death of Christina Santiago, a leader in Chicago’s lesbian community. Santiago was one of five people tragically killed when a stage collapsed at a concert at the Indiana State Fair. She and her fiancée Alisha Brennon were among the first couples to get engaged in June when Illinois legalized civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. In 2007, the Windy City Times recognized Santiago’s advocacy by listing her as one of the 30 Under 30 LGBT leaders. She also received Howard Brown Health Center’s Spirit Award in 2010.

Bishop Walter Righter passed away in mid-September. While serving in a bishopric in New Jersey, Righter made the groundbreaking decision to ordain Barry Stopfel, an openly gay man, as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. This action paved the way for further inclusion of LGBT people within the Episcopalian tradition.

In mid-October, GLAAD learned of the passing of Frank Kameny, a crucial figure in the history of the movement for LGBT equality. In 1957, Kameny was fired from the U.S. Civil Service Commission when they discovered that he was gay. Kameny sued and argued his case to the Supreme Court. Although the court denied his petition, the lawsuit was noted as the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation. Kameny, co-founder of the Mattachine Society, coined the phrase “Gay is Good” and was a pioneer of the movement for LGBT equality. The Smithsonian Museum of American History celebrated Kameny’s life with a commemorative exhibit in his honor.

Lawyer and longtime LGBT rights advocate, Paula Ettelbrick, passed away in October.  As Lambda Legal’s first staff attorney, Ettelbrick worked on cases particularly related to issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 1997, Ettelbrick negotiated New York City’s domestic partnership law, which extended the same legal benefits to domestic partners as spouses. She was also one of the driving forces behind the legal strategy that would eventually lead to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning state laws that had made it illegal to be LGBT.

And finally, today GLAAD recognized the life and work of Aristide J. “AJ” Laurent, a historic journalist and advocate. While working at ABC news, Laurent co-founded The Los Angeles Advocate in 1967. Later, the newspaper would go national and become known as The Advocate. Beyond the newspaper, Laurent was an advocate for LGBT equality, attending marches, speaking out against police harassment, and joining the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).