GLAAD joins in remembering LGBTQ community advocate and leader Robby Browne

By GLAAD |
April 13, 2020

GLAAD joins with the community in mourning the loss of community advocate, leader, and former GLAAD Board member Robby Browne, who passed away over the weekend. Throughout his life, Robby was known for his unforgettable charm and dedication to helping others, and we will continue to celebrate and honor the profound impact he left on the LGBTQ community. More info about Robby can be found below.

Robby Browne is remembered as one of New York City’s most visible, vocal, and beloved gay community leaders, in addition to his long career of high-profile real estate deals in the city. He passed away on Saturday, April 11, 2020 after battling cancer and contracting coronavirus. Browne was a force in philanthropy for New York’s LGBTQ organizations, raising and donating millions to support LGBTQ organizations and issues. His friends and family remember his playful spirit, sharp humor, and unique ability to connect others. These unforgettable qualities were on full display at his iconic house parties on the Upper West Side and in the Hamptons, where Browne continuously brought people from all walks of life together in inclusive and celebratory ways.

Browne was one of the most renowned residential agents in New York real estate. He spent 18 years at the Corcoran Group where he closed high-profile deals with a client list that included Hilary Swank, Uma Thurman, Rosie O’Donnell and Jon Bon Jovi. He earned accolades including Corcoran’s deal of the year, broker of the year, and top sales team of the year awards on multiple occasions. He sold $218 million worth of real estate in 2018, placing 25th on Real Trends’ broker ranking last year. In 2007, the year he turned 60, he accepted Corcoran’s Broker of the Year Award dressed in drag and dancing to the Village People’s “YMCA,” to honor the friends he lost in the AIDS crisis, including his brother Roscoe, who was also gay.

Browne leveraged his significant success in business to support many LGBTQ organizations and causes. He was proud of who he was and deeply cared for others, so Browne dedicated much of his life to fighting for a world where everyone could have the opportunity to be proud of themselves. More than 30 years ago, he started the annual Toys Party in his living room with homemade eggnog. The event, which he co-hosted since its beginning, has grown into a 2,500 person highly anticipated LGBTQ holiday fundraiser where each guest brings a toy as a gift for children in need. Through the event, Browne has donated tens of thousands of toys and raised millions of dollars for SAGE, an organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ elderly people. He launched the event during the AIDS crisis as a way to bring gay men together during the holidays outside of bars. Browne once wrote about why he started the event: “I knew that so many of us had love in our hearts and wanted to have a family in the traditional way but were dealt different cards in that we were gay. I remember so well the joy in people’s eyes greeting me as the host and showing me what toy they had gotten and what it meant to them.” In the early years of the event, when gay men were being marginalized - and often demonized - Browne wanted to make sure that the U.S. Marines who received the donations for their Toys for Tots program knew that this huge donation of toys came “from the gay men of New York City." He also appeared on the TODAY Show multiple times over the years to feature some of the donated toys. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Don Lemon, and Mariska Hargitay are among the notables who attended and spoke at the Toys Party over the years. The event captured Robbie’s spirit and his trademark charm as it welcomed thousands of diverse LGBTQ New Yorkers who wished each other happy holidays, laughed, and connected, all while raising attention and donations for significant causes.

Browne has participated on the Board of Directors of GLAAD and was an active contributor to Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), ACT UP, Hetrick-Martin Institute, and God’s Love We Deliver. He also participated in mentorship programs that paired New Yorkers with low-income young people. 

During times when the closet was the norm, Browne refused to be anything but out, loud, and unabashedly proud. In 1994, Browne helped friend and Olympic diver Greg Louganis publicly come out during the opening ceremonies of the Gay Games IV in New York. That year, Browne also went on to medal in his own diving division during the Gay Games. A kiss between him and his friend Louganis became one of the first gay kisses to air on mainstream news.

Brown had a magnetic charm, energy, and a zest for life that inspired everyone he met. He was a mainstay at Studio 54 and he hosted countless house parties on his terrace overlooking Central Park, welcoming all types of friends. He kept an open-door policy for his parties and created spaces where everyone would feel accepted and included. He’d often don drag at his celebrations to break the ice and bring smiles and laughs to his guests. He loved to host parties and gatherings where diversity and fun were front and center, and where pretentiousness was absent. Browne welcomed everyone as part of his family and network, from people just starting out to notables including Secretary Hillary Clinton and First Lady Nancy Reagan. The origin stories of his hundreds of friendships are almost as dynamic as the people themselves. Browne found joy in bringing people of all backgrounds and viewpoints together and was a dedicated social connector who skillfully and perpetually thought of how to best uplift his friends.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Browne attended Princeton University and Harvard Business School. Before real estate, he owned Browne-Ladd Tours, a successful travel company that brought students to Europe. In 1984, Browne was on the organizing committee for the Los Angeles Olympics.

Below are several tributes in honor of Browne’s legacy:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

In life, we are blessed with very few people who have the ability to inspire us to do more, give more, love more, laugh more, live more and care more. Robby was generous beyond words, remarkably successfully, loyal for life, completely outrageous, kind as could be, a class act, completely authentic and a defiant victim to death. He just wanted to live and love and be with masses of people he cherished as his friends and family. The world lost a great human yesterday. Myself, and countless others, lost a friend and a mentor. God bless you Robby. I hope you’re walking in an endless field of daffodils right now, reunited with your family, feeling no pain and in complete peace You will be missed.

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