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First trans mayor, Stu Rasmussen, dies at 73

Rasmussen, who used both he/him and she/her pronouns, became the first trans mayor in the nation’s history

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Stu Rasmussen (Photo Credit: Kyle Palmer, Silverton, Oregon Mayor)

SILVERTON, Or. — Stewart “Stu” Rasmussen, the first trans mayor in the United States, died on November 17 after several weeks under home hospice care battling metastatic prostate cancer. He was 73. 

Rasmussen, who used both he/him and she/her pronouns, became the first trans mayor in the nation’s history when he was elected to lead the town of Silverton, Oregon, in 2008, serving until 2014. Before coming out as trans, he served as mayor of the western Oregon town for two terms starting in 1988. 

The current mayor of Silverton, Kyle Palmer, took to Facebook to announce the news and offer his condolences. 

“Throughout his career as an elected official, Stu advocated for many things on behalf of those who shared his vision for Silverton,” Palmer wrote. “Although citizens can debate their support or lack of support for some of those visions, the time for those conversations has long passed. His volume of service to city government, his role as a longtime downtown business owner, and his impact on the LGBTQ population in Silverton and beyond leaves a huge legacy behind.”

Rasmussen, a self-described “gender anarchist,” leaves behind his partner Victoria Sage, who he began dating in 1974 and married in 2014. 

According to Palmer’s Facebook post, Sage noted that “he went bravely into the unknown on his own terms.”

In an email to the Statesman Journal, Sage said that she received many “beautiful and heartwarming” letters from people who said Rasmussen touched their lives.

Born and raised in Silverton, Rasmussen inspired many with his historic 2008 election. His historic 2008 election was covered nationally by People Magazine and Good Morning America. His story was the subject of a stage production in Seattle titled “Stu for Silverton.”

“He set an example for members of our community who needed to see that it was safe to live their lives openly in our community,” said Palmer. 

According to Palmer, Westboro Baptist Church, known for anti-LGBTQ+ picketing, protested Rasmussen’s election in 2008. But they were met with a large crowd of Silverton residents — many of them wearing dresses — who supported the mayor, demanding congregation members leave town. 

Along with public service, Rasmussen also ran a theater in Silverton for most of his life, “managing to preserve the magic of a small town theater even while showcasing the blockbusters that arrived in the late 70’s and navigating the frustrations of studio restrictions that made it harder and harder to turn a profit,” Palmer noted. 

“I’m comforted in the knowledge that he is no longer in pain,” said Palmer.

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Obituary

Out American composer & lyricist Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Sondheim did not come Out until age 40 & didn’t live with a partner until he was 61 when he was in a relationship with dramatist Peter Jones

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Sondheim was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in September 2021 (Screenshot via CBS)

ROXBURY, Ct. – The man who was heralded as Broadway and theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century with eight Tony awards alone, Stephen Joshua Sondheim, known for landmark musicals such as “Company,” “West Side Story” and “Sweeney Todd, has died at 91.

Sondheim’s death was announced by his attorney, Rick Pappas. who said that the composer died Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. The day before Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner with friends in Roxbury, Pappas added.

An online listing of Sondheim’s accolades include nine Tony Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2008), an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, and in 2015, the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed on him by former President Barack Obama.

He has a theatre named for him on both Broadway and the West End in London.

Sondheim has written film music, contributing “Goodbye for Now” for Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds. He wrote five songs for 1990’s Dick Tracy, including “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”, sung in the film by Madonna, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Film adaptations of Sondheim’s work include West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), A Little Night Music (1977), Gypsy (1993), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Into the Woods (2014), West Side Story (2021), and Merrily We Roll Along (TBA).

Sondheim did not come Out until he was 40 and did not live with a partner until he was 61 when he was in a relationship with dramatist Peter Jones. His current partner, actor-producer Jeff Romley, whom he married in 2017 and he had been living together for over 6 years at the time of the composer’s death.

David LaFontaine, a professor at Massasoit Community College, wrote about Sondheim’s early years and the critical friendship that would end up impacting his life, career, and American Theatre;

“Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in New York City on March 22, 1930, the only child of affluent parents who divorced when he was ten. He believes he might have succumbed to depression had it not been for a friendship that began in the summer of 1941 with the Hammerstein family, who lived near Sondheim on the bucolic Highland Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“Dorothy and Oscar Hammerstein became my surrogate parents during my teen years,” says Sondheim, “and that’s essentially how I became a songwriter, because I wanted to do what Oscar did.” During his four years as a student at the George School, Stevie, as he was then called, often spent entire summers at the Hammerstein farm.”

Oscar Hammerstein II was an American lyricist, theatrical producer, and director in the musical theater for almost 40 years. He won eight Tony Awards and two Academy Awards for Best Original Song. Hammerstein along with his partner composer Richard Rodgers created some of the notable musicals in Broadway history including Oklahoma! (1943),  South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959).

This past September Sondheim was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, for a conversation that covers a lot of ground, from “Company” to “West Side Story,” to a new show titled, “Square One.”

Stephen Sondheim Is Still Writing New Works, As “Company” Returns To Broadway

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Obituary

Veteran AIDS activist & TV-film-stage producer Scott Robbe dies at 66

“He was a fearless activist, always on the front lines, whether he was protesting pharmaceutical company greed or homophobia at the Oscars”

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Scott Robbe (Photo courtesy of Scott Robbe Estate)

By Jay Blotcher | NEW YORK – Veteran progressive activist and TV-film-stage producer Scott Robbe died on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, according to a statement by Paul Algiers, a longtime friend and the executor of Scott Robbe’s estate. Robbe was in hospice care at the home of his sister, Angela, in Hartford, Wis. He was 66.

Robbe died of complications from Myelodysplastic Anemia, a blood cancer he had battled for more than a year. He had undergone stem-cell treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in April of this year.

Robbe was a prominent member in the founding of two direct-action groups in New York City: ACT UP and Queer Nation. Robbe was a member of an ACT UP undercover team, led by activist Peter Staley, that secretly gained access to the New York Stock Exchange in September 1989. Their goal was to protest and publicize the record high price of AZT, then the sole approved treatment for HIV/AIDS. Burroughs Wellcome eventually bowed to this nationally publicized activist pressure and lowered its drug price — then the highest in medical history — by 20 percent.

“Scott was a fearless activist, always on the front lines, whether he was protesting pharmaceutical company greed or homophobia at the Oscars,” said ACT UP New York veteran Ann Northrop. “And he was a total sweetheart.”

“Scott was one of those activists who didn’t flinch when our lawyers would warn us of all the possible charges and maximum sentences we’d face for infiltrating a powerful institution,” said Peter Staley, who chronicled his ACT UP days in the new memoir, “Never Silent”. “When it came to fighting for his dying gay brothers, he’d always reply, ‘I’m in.’”

In 1991, Robbe relocated to the West Coast and co-founded Out in Film, a Los Angeles-based group to battle homophobia in Hollywood filmmaking. At the time, several high-grossing films offered stereotypic and unflattering depictions of gay characters, including Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs”, Oliver Stone’s “JFK” and Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct”.

Out in Film demanded equity for LGBTQ people on both sides of the camera. Robbe and Lesbian Avengers member Judy Sisneros created a pioneering protest at the Oscar Awards in March 1991, during which demonstrators outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion called for increased queer visibility and fairness in career opportunities.

The Oscars protest was one highlight of a life devoted to progressive activism. It began in his teen years, when Robbe took part in 1960s marches for the environment, for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Over the four decades that followed, Robbe’s career encompassed both community organizing and producing dozens of works in theatre, film and television. 

Scott Douglas Robbe was born on Feb. 16, 1955, in Decorah, Iowa, to Helen, a homemaker, and James Robbe, a construction supervisor. The family relocated to Hartford, Wis., the following year. Robbe was a graduate of Hartford Union High School in Hartford, and entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1974, where he majored in theater arts. Located in the state capital, the college was known for its progressive student population, and Robbe took part in numerous protests.

After he graduated in 1978, Robbe moved to New York City, where he met his first boyfriend, a Bennington College student. They lived together in the East Village from 1978 to 1984. At the time, Robbe was helping to renovate the Orpheum Theatre on Second Avenue in the East Village. At the same time he produced at the neighboring Entermedia Theatre his first theatrical production, “False Promises” by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. At the famed La MaMa ETC, Robbe workshopped Harvey Fierstein’s “Fugue in a Nursery,” which forms the middle segment of “Torch Song Trilogy.” That production won wide acclaim both there and after it moved to the Orpheum Theater. Robbe also produced several plays off-Broadway, followed by the Harvey Fierstein play “Safe Sex” on Broadway.

Robbe joined ACT UP New York after seeing the group protest at the White House in October 1987 during the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. He joined the group’s Media Committee and took part in numerous protests. He also joined the newly-formed Queer Nation in March of 1990, helping to mount demonstrations across New York City aimed at queer visibility. Robbe was diagnosed as HIV-positive in the early 1990s.

In late 1990, Robbe relocated to Los Angeles to produce TV commercials for Japanese television. His first film job was an associate producer role for 1982’s “In the King of Prussia”, depicting the Berrigan Brothers’ pioneering anti-war efforts and starring Martin Sheen.

Robbe’s extensive television credits include the first-ever LGBTQ comedy special for Comedy Central in 1993, called “Out There,” and hosted by Lea DeLaria. Robbe was on the creative team for the groundbreaking 2003 series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” He also produced shows for Lifetime, Comedy Central, VH1, Children’s Television Workshop and American Playhouse.

In 2005, Robbe was named executive director and film commissioner for Film Wisconsin, Inc. During his tenure, Robbe brought 28 TV and film projects to the state, including the 2009 film “Public Enemies” by Michael Mann, starring Johnny Depp and Channing Tatum. Most recently, Robbe worked with activists in Cuba to bring pressure on the American government to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in the country. Robbe was also involved in grassroots activism in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he had a second home.

Scott Robbe is survived by his mother, Helen, and his siblings and their spouses, Royce (Donna), John (Ken Hall), Jay (Francine), and Angela. Also surviving him are his uncle Peter Coffeen (Steve Getz), as well as several nieces, nephews and cousins.

There will be no funeral. Arrangements were handled by Milwaukee Cremation Society. A celebration of Robbe’s life will be broadcast online early in 2022. Donations in Scott’s memory may be made to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and ACT UP New York.

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Jay Blotcher is an American activist, journalist, and editor. He was active in the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power in its early years, serving as chair of the media committee, and was a founding member of Queer Nation.

Photo via ‘I’m From Driftwood’ LGBTQ+ stories video archive.

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Obituary

Former PFLAG president Paulette Goodman dies at 88

Beloved LGBTQ community ally grew up in Nazi occupied Paris

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Paulette Goodman, a nationally recognized advocate for LGBTQ people and their families died Aug. 15 of natural causes. (Blade file photo by Doug Hinckle)

WASHINGTON – Paulette Goodman, a nationally recognized advocate for LGBTQ people and their families in her role as president of the national group Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) from 1988 to 1992 and her earlier role as the lead founder of PFLAG’s Metro DC chapter in 1983, died Aug. 15 of natural causes at her residence at the Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring, Md. She was 88.

In an Aug. 16 statement, the national PFLAG group said Goodman was born into a Jewish family and grew up in Nazi occupied Paris until the family moved to the United States in 1949. People who knew Goodman have said her experience growing up in an atmosphere of potential danger to her and her family helped shape her response when her daughter came out to her as a lesbian in 1981.

Goodman first became involved with PFLAG in 1981 and helped to found the PFLAG Metro D.C. chapter in 1983, serving as its first president.

During her tenure with the local PFLAG group Goodman counseled families of LGBT people, answered calls on the PFLAG helpline, and led a campaign to display PFLAG ads on D.C. area Metro buses, according to the National PFLAG group.

She later appeared on radio and TV news programs and was the subject of stories in local newspapers, including the Washington Blade, which reported on her efforts to lobby the Maryland General Assembly and the U.S. Congress in support of LGBTQ equality. She also helped to start other PFLAG chapters in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In its statement on Goodman’s passing, the national PFLAG group points to a 2019 interview that Goodman gave to The Atlantic magazine in which she told how her own upbringing in Nazi occupied France shaped her response to her daughter, Cynthia Goodman’s, coming out.

“When I found out about my gay child, I realized it was the same situation,” The Atlantic quoted her as saying. “You’re guarded about who you are, because you don’t know who’s going to be supportive…I didn’t want my child to go through what I went through – being in the closet is stifling.”

The PFLAG statement says, “It was her understanding, passion, and success with PFLAG Metro D.C…that led PFLAGers to vote her in as president of the national organization.”

The statement notes that in her role as national PFLAG president, Goodman drew national attention to the issues facing LGBTQ people and their families when she wrote to then first lady Barbara Bush to tell of her experience as a parent to a gay child during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. In her letter, she asked Bush to “speak kind words to some 24 million gay Americans and their families, to help heal the wounds and to keep these families in loving relationships.”

In a development that created a stir in Republican political circles and the White House, Bush responded with her own letter, which stated, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment brings with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.”

According to the PFLAG statement, Bush’s letter, which was inadvertently given to the Associated Press, caused a “political maelstrom” but was possibly the first gay-positive comment to come from the White House during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

In her later years, the PFLAG statement says, Paulette Goodman retired but continued her advocacy work by, among other things, starting the first-ever chapter of PFLAG at her retirement home at Riderwood in Silver Spring along with a fellow PFLAG member.

In 2013, Goodman received recognition of her work with PFLAG from officials in Montgomery County, Md., where she lived, and from then Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. She received numerous other honors of recognition from organizations that include the Human Rights Campaign, the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, the Greater New York Bar Association for Human Rights, and the LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington.

“Paulette Goodman showed the world what it means to be a loving PFLAG parent and ally,” said PFLAG National Executive Director Brian K. Bond. “PFLAGers everywhere can look to her as a role model, for once she went through her experience with her own child and got the support she needed, she used that experience to educate others and then advocate for the wellbeing and equality of all LGBTQ+ people,” Bond said.

“She was the embodiment of what we tell PFLAG members,” said Bond. “Once you no longer need PFLAG, PFLAG needs you,” he said. “PFLAG needed – and was so lucky to have – Paulette Goodman. Our hearts are with her family and all who knew and loved her.”

Goodman was predeceased by her husband, Leo Goodman. She is survived by her daughter Cynthia Goodman and son Claude Goodman and his wife Toni Goodman; her grandson Max Goodhart and his wife Laurel Goodhart; her granddaughter Hannah Goodman; her niece Sue Einhorn; and her longtime friends Millie Spector, Tom Bull, David Feltman, and Peter Froehlich.

No immediate plans were announced for a memorial tribute or funeral arrangements.

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