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Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key ally for LGBTQ+ equality dies at 90

“People are penalised solely on the basis of their sexual orientation- I oppose such injustice with the same passion I opposed apartheid”

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Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (Courtesy of UN Free & Equal campaign)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The Reverend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who had compared anti-LGBTQ+ laws & violence to the apartheid laws and violence of his native South Africa, died early Sunday in Cape Town. He was 90.

Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his impassioned campaign against apartheid in South Africa while Nelson Mandela languished in prison, was a moral beacon not only in the deeply troubled South African nation but became a respected beacon and a tireless advocate for human rights around the globe.

Tutu’s human rights work led to prominent honors and global recognition. In 2009, then U.S. President Barack Obama awarded him the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The outspoken Tutu was considered South Africa’s conscience by both its Black and white citizens, an enduring testament to his faith and spirit of reconciliation in that divided nation.

The apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993 and through unilateral steps by F.W. de Klerk, the president of South Africa. The negotiations resulted in South Africa’s first non-racial election, which was won by the African National Congress, after which Tutu managed to irritate the ANC government that took power as much as he had angered the apartheid regime previously.

As a ranking prelate in the Anglican communion (church), the Archbishop worked for universal suffrage, equal rights for women, and pressed hard for the recognition for full equality of LGBTQ+ people.

Tutu who had pressed for equal access for LGBTQ+ people, participating in the United Nations Free and Equal campaign, the international body’s global campaign against homophobia and transphobia, in a recorded video said;

“I have to tell you, I cannot keep quiet when people are penalised for something about which they can do nothing.

“First, gender. When women are excluded, just simply and solely because they are women.

“But more perniciously, more ghastly, is the fact that people are penalised, killed, all sorts of ghastly things happen to them, simply, solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid.”

“If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.”

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

When Tutu’s daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth, who had followed her father into the ministry, married her long-term Dutch girlfriend, Marceline van Furth, in a small private ceremony in the Netherlands, the church announced that it was stripping her of her position as a priest in the Anglican communion.

Tutu van Furth’s marriage to Dutch pediatric infectious disease scientist Marceline van Furth, also was her first public acknowledgement of her sexual orientation. Tutu van Furth had previously been married to a man with whom she had two children.

In a June 2016 interview with the BBC, Tutu van Furth said;

“My marriage sounds like a coming out party,” she explained. “Falling in love with Marceline was as much as a surprise to me as to everyone else.”

Asked about the revocation of her minster’s credentials she said; “It was incredibly sad for me. A few years ago I celebrated the Eucharist with my father… and now to be in a position that I cannot serve at the alter with him… I was surprised by how much it hurt,” she added.

Tutu van Furth, along with the rest of the global LGBTQ+ community has had the uncompromising support of her father.

“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” Tutu said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” the Archbishop added.

In a statement released Sunday, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his heartfelt condolences to Mam Leah Tutu, the Tutu family, the board and staff of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, the Elders and Nobel Laureate Group, and the friends, comrades and associates nationally and globally of the iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner:
 
“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.
 
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.
 
“As Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness.
 
“He placed his extensive academic achievements at the service of our struggle and at the service of the cause for social and economic justice the world over.
 
“From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights.
 
“In his richly inspiring yet challenging life, Desmond Tutu overcame tuberculosis, the brutality of the apartheid security forces and the intransigence of successive apartheid regimes. Neither Casspirs, teargas nor security agents could intimidate him or deter him from his steadfast belief in our liberation.
 
“He remained true to his convictions during our democratic dispensation and maintained his vigour and vigilance as he held leadership and the burgeoning institutions of our democracy to account in his inimitable, inescapable and always fortifying way.
 
“We share this moment of deep loss with Mam Leah Tutu, the Archbishop’s soulmate and source of strength and insight, who has made a monumental contribution in her own right to our freedom and to the development of our democracy.
 
“We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden reacting to the news of Tutu’s death:

“On this morning after Christmas, we are heartbroken to learn of the passing of a true servant of God and of the people, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
 
We were blessed to spend time with him on several occasions over the past many years. His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa. We felt his warmth and joy when we visited him during the 2010 World Cup that celebrated the diversity and beauty of his beloved nation. And, just a few months ago, we joined the world in celebrating his 90th birthday and reflecting on the power of his message of justice, equality, truth, and reconciliation as we confront racism and extremism in our time today.
 
Born to a school teacher and a laundress and into poverty and entrenched racial segregation, Desmond Tutu followed his spiritual calling to create a better, freer, and more equal world. His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages.
 
On behalf of the Biden family, we send our deepest condolences to his wife Leah and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And on behalf of the people of the United States, we send our deepest condolences to the people of South Africa who are mourning the loss of one of their most important founding fathers.
 
May God bless Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”

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In this video released by the Free & Equal campaign, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu calls for an end to punishing people because of who they are or whom they love, saying “I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid.”  Free & Equal is the United Nations campaign for LGBT equality.

Desmond Tutu calls for a world that is Free & Equal

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First-ever Out doctor elected as new AMA president

The anesthesiologist & LGBTQ health expert will serve as the first openly gay AMA president when he steps into the position later this month

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Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld has been named president-elect of the American Medical Association (Photo courtesy of AMA)

CHICAGO – Physicians and medical students have elected Wisconsin-based anesthesiologist Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld as the first openly gay president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA). Ehrenfeld was elected June 14 at the AMA House of Delegates’ annual meeting.

“Well, it’s certainly just an amazing feeling to know that you’ve got the confidence of your colleagues from such a broad array of practice types of modalities and perspectives,” Ehrenfeld told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “The association is a very diverse and increasingly diverse organization, and that’s a good thing. It’s more representative of the country and to see such broad support for a vision to move forward was really sort of heartening for me.”

The anesthesiologist and LGBTQ health expert will serve as the first openly gay AMA president when he steps into the position later this month.

“When I joined the AMA 22 years ago, roughly, I didn’t think it was possible that a gay person could be the AMA president. And certainly 175 years ago, when the AMA was founded, that felt like something that wouldn’t have been possible,” Ehrenfeld said. “And so, to look at how the association, how medicine, health professional organizations have evolved, it’s pretty remarkable when you look at what that has looked like, and that’s a reflection of society in general. But certainly, you know, another pink ceiling has been shattered.”

Ehrenfeld previously served on the AMA’s Board of Trustee’s Executive Committee. He also worked on the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians; a long-term project that was unveiled at the annual meeting.

“A big component of that is helping physicians prepare the health system so that we can make sure that we can renew our commitment to achieving optimal health for all,” Ehrenfeld said. “To do that, we have to make sure that we prioritize the needs of physicians to improve patient care.”

Ehrenfeld is an associate dean and tenured professor of anesthesiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and has advocated for issues affecting multiple marginalized communities, such as transgender representation in the military. He emphasized the importance of diversifying the medical field to ensure better service for patients.

“We need folks from every community but particularly marginalized communities to step forward and enter the profession. That’s how patients get better care,” Ehrenfeld said “There’s data that when we have a more diverse healthcare workforce, and when we’re a more diverse community, that those health disparities inequities, actually start to go away.”

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Clela Rorex, first U.S. county clerk to issue gay marriage licenses has died

“Clela was so far ahead of the country on this issue that it took the United States Supreme Court 40 years to catch up”

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Clela Rorex at the Longmont Colorado Pride 2019 (Photo courtesy of Out Boulder County)

LONGMONT, CO. – Out Boulder County and the family of Clela Rorex are saddened to announce the death of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer pioneering ally, Clela Rorex. On March 27,1975 Clela issued the first marriage license to a same-sex couple in the United States. Her decision that day changed her life and was a pivotal moment in the decades long struggle for marriage equality.

“The LGBTQ+ movement lost a pioneering ally, and I lost a dear friend. Although Clela Rorex did not intend to be champion for LGBTQ+ equality, she became one on March 27, 1975 when she issued the first marriage license in the United States to a gay couple. That act of courage changed the course of her life and the course of the lives of countless LGBTQ+ people. Clela was 40 years ahead of the country’s politics on marriage equality. It would be difficult to overstate how important her decision to issue that marriage license was on the movement for marriage equality,” Mardi Moore, Executive Director of Out Boulder County said in a statement.

Just as important as her historical significance is the profound impact Clela had on local members of the LGBTQ+ community, like myself, who had the opportunity to be her friend. Clela was a blessing to everyone who knew and loved her. I once told Clela that she was the ally I needed before I knew I needed one and I meant it. Her life made a huge difference, and she will be missed,” Moore added.

Clela Rorex, in March 1975, became the first County Clerk in the United States to knowingly issue same-sex marriage licenses to gay couples – sparking a backlash she could never have predicted, and, for one couple, a decades-long struggle for legal recognition of their marriage. 

Clela’s first day as Boulder County Clerk and Recorder on January 1, 1975 was her father’s last as County Clerk in Routt County, a position he had held for 30 years. A political neophyte, Clela had run an upstart campaign against an entrenched Republican Party that had held the clerkship in Colorado for decades.

Her platform was two-pronged – 1) making it easier for people, especially students, to vote and 2) expanding access to the services offered through the clerk’s office – vehicle licensing, voter registration, and the recording of documents, including marriage licenses. 

 Historically, the role of County Clerk is, sometimes paradoxically, both uncontroversial and deeply involved in the performance of government tasks that converge with personal aspects of the lives of its citizens.

Clela, keenly aware of the frustration that government officials and institutions can provoke, quickly instituted new practices. She expanded County Clerk office hours – including remaining open over the lunch hour and late one night of each week – ensuring convenient access.

She randomized the issuance of license plate numbers, ending the practice of assigning lower-numbered plates to political elites and powerbrokers. And, she flipped the script on voter registration – making it the responsibility of the Clerk, and not the public, to register voters.  

Clela passed away on June 19, 2022 in Longmont, Colorado.

Clela Rorex was born in Denver on July 23, 1943. Within days, she was adopted by Cecil and Ruby Rorex in Steamboat Springs – where she spent her childhood. She credits her father with teaching her the principles of fairness and respect and her mother, who taught dance out of their house, with giving her confidence. “Without either of them,” she recently told this writer, “I would never have run for office.”

As a young naval wife, in 1967, Clela moved to Guantanamo Bay. It is here that she reported first experiencing government-sanctioned segregation. “Everything was segregated. Everything” she later said. “It was humiliating. It had a very strong impact on me.” 

Clela and her son returned to Colorado in 1970 and attended the University of Colorado-Boulder, earning a BA before running for County Clerk and Recorder.

Clela Rorex in 1970’s (Screenshot of archival historic news footage/YouTube)

When two men from nearby Colorado Springs entered the Boulder County Clerk office on March 26, 1975, requesting a marriage license, Clela reached out to Assistant District Attorney Bill Wise, seeking clarification about any existing Colorado state law or code that would specifically prohibit her from issuing a marriage license to two people of the same sex.

Mr. Wise quickly responded that “there is no statutory law prohibiting the issuance of a license, probably because the situation was simply not contemplated in the past by our legislature.” Clela issued the license to the couple the following day, March 27, 1975.

“After having been so deeply involved in the women’s rights movements” Clela told this writer in 2016, “who was I to then deny a right to anyone else? It wasn’t my job to legislate morality.” 

Within days of issuing the first same-sex marriage license, local, and then national, news picked up on the story. Over the course of the next month, Clela would issue five more licenses to same-sex couples. As a result, Clela reported receiving hundreds of letters and calls to her office and her home condemning and threatening her. “My son would sometimes pick up the phone,” she told this writer in 2015, ”and I could always tell when it was someone calling about the licenses, because he would get this terrified look in his eyes. It changed our lives.” 

Clela Rorex courtesy of Out Boulder County

In late April of that year, Clela complied when Colorado State Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane directed her to stop issuing the licenses to same-sex couples. But, by that point, she had issued a license to Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, who had traveled from California after watching Johnny Carson mock the “wacky town” in Boulder on national television.

This license, and their marriage, would set the stage for a federal battle that would resolve only 40 years later after the United State Supreme Court issued its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide. Mr. Adams, a U.S. citizen, and Mr. Sullivan, an Australian citizen, had been seeking to establish legal permanent residency for Mr. Sullivan through marriage, and the license they obtained from Clela would play a critical role.

In 1977, Clela resigned as Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, never to hold elective office again. She raised two sons, obtained two Masters degrees, and finished her career working as a legal administrator for the Native American Rights Fund. 

In 2015, Clela celebrated the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on the steps of the Boulder County Courthouse where she had first issued the six licenses 40 years earlier, a location that has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Upon hearing of the decision, former District Attorney Bill Wise told this writer that “Clela was so far ahead of the country on this issue that it took the United States Supreme Court 40 years to catch up.”

Shortly thereafter, the United States government issued a green card to Anthony Sullivan, officially recognizing the marriage license that Clela had issued in 1975 as sufficient supporting documentation for the application submitted by Mr. Sullivan and his husband, Richard Adams (who had died in 2012).

Thomas Miller, the creator and producer of a documentary chronicling this story, Limited Partnership, said that, “it was Clela’s keen sense of social justice and strong moral fortitude that make her one of the true pioneers in LGBTQ equality in America. She will always be treasured in the hearts of all who knew her.”

To this day, none of the marriage licenses that Clela Rorex issued to same-sex marriage couples have been revoked or invalidated.

Clela dedicated the last years of her life to LGBTQ+ ally-ship and advocacy, volunteering with Out Boulder County, an organization dedicated to facilitating connection, education, and programming for LGBTQ+ individuals in and around Boulder County.

She will be greatly missed, including by her sons, Scott and Aron and countless LGBTQ+ individuals around the world who embrace her and her story as beacons of hope and inspiration.

Clela’s celebration of life will be held on what would have been her 79th birthday, July 23, 2022. Details are forthcoming. At Clela’s request, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Clela’s name to Out Boulder County at https://outboulder.app.neoncrm.com/forms/in-memory-of-clela-rorex

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Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen has died at age 76

She pioneered a charm school for young transgender people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup and manners

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Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen (Screenshot/YouTube film trailer)

CHICAGO – Chicago transgender icon and activist Gloria Allen, who founded and ran a charm school for homeless trans youth and was the subject of the award-winning documentary “Mama Gloria” and the critically acclaimed play “Charm,” has died at the age of 76. 

Allen was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on October 6, 1945. She grew up in Chicago amid the legendary drag balls on the city’s South Side and transitioned before Stonewall with the love and support of her mother Alma, a showgirl and former Jet magazine centerfold, and her grandmother Mildred, a seamstress for crossdressers and strippers.  

Allen overcame traumatic violence in high school to become an out and proud leader in her community. She earned a LPN and worked at the University of Chicago Hospital and in private homes as a nurse’s aide. In her later years, she pioneered a charm school for young transgender people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup and manners that she received from her mother and grandmother. The young people affectionately nicknamed her “Mama Gloria.” 

Her life and activism were featured in the Chicago Tribune and served as inspiration for the hit play “Charm,” written by Philip Dawkins. The play premiered at Steppenwolf Garage Theater in Chicago before traveling to Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York.

For her work with the charm school, Allen was awarded the Living Legend Award by Janet Mock and Precious Brady-Davis at the 2014 Trans 100 Awards. She famously appeared on the cover of the book, “To Survive on This Shore,” with photographs and interviews of trans and non-binary elders by Jess T. Dugan.

In 2020, she became the subject of the acclaimed documentary feature “Mama Gloria,” directed by Luchina Fisher. The film was broadcast on “Afropop: the Ultimate Cultural Exchange” on World channel and PBS and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. The documentary brought Allen new audiences and new fame. Her story was featured in People magazine, the 19th News, the BBC and NowThisNews. In 2021, she received SAGE’s Advocacy Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference.

Allen’s body was discovered Monday morning in her apartment at the LGBTQ-friendly senior residence Town Hall Apartments in Chicago. She is believed to have died peacefully in her sleep. She is survived by several siblings and numerous nieces and nephews, as well as her chosen family.

“I hit walls that were up against me, but I pressed through the walls and made myself known to everybody because I’m not ashamed, and I want people to know that,” she told The 19th News.

ChiFilmFest 2020 | Mama Gloria – Official Trailer:

Meet Mama Gloria. Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen emerged from the South Side’s drag ball culture in the 1960s to trailblaze a path for transgender youth to follow. With positivity and polish, she overcame prejudice and traumatic violence to become a proud leader in her community.

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