In Memoriam: LGBTQ+ people & allies gone in 2022
Remembering those acclaimed LGBTQ+ people, pioneering artists, designers, actors, and more who passed away in 2022
Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, died on Jan. 8. He and his husband were plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County, the Blade reported.
Andre Leon Talley, 73, the groundbreaking fashion editor, curator, and television personality died on Jan. 18 at a White Plains, N.Y., hospital.
Arnie Kantrowitz, 81, a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (now known as GLAAD), died on Jan. 21 at a New York City rehabilitation center from complications of COVID-19.
Spiritual fitness leader Patricia Moreno, 57, died on Jan. 22 at her home in Los Angeles from cervical cancer.
Alan A. Stone, 92, died on Jan. 23 at his Cambridge, Mass., home from laryngeal cancer. When he was president of the American Psychiatric Association, homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders.
Genre-busting French designer Thierry Mugler, 73, died on Jan. 23 in his Vincennes home outside Paris.
James Bidgood, 88, an acclaimed gay photographer and filmmaker who anonymously directed the 1971 cult classic “Pink Narcissus,” died on Jan. 31 in Manhattan from complications of COVID-19.
Isabel Torres, 52, the actress best known for her portrayal of Cristina Ortiz Rodriguez, the transgender singer on the series “Veneno” on HBO Max, died on Feb. 11.
Joe Tom Easley, 81, an LGBTQ advocate who played a key role in the effort to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ died on Feb. 13 at a hospital near his Miami Beach home from complications of lung disease.
Leo Bersani, 90, a scholar of French literature whose work at the height of the AIDS crisis influenced debates about queer identity, died on Feb. 20 at a Peoria, Ariz., assisted-living facility.
Rusty Mae Moore, 80, a transgender educator and activist died on Feb. 23 at her home in Pine Hill, N.Y. from cardiovascular complications.
Richard Lipez, 83, who under the pen name Richard Stevenson wrote a groundbreaking series of novels featuring the out gay detective Donald Strachey, died on March 16 of pancreatic cancer at his home in Becket, Mass.
Ashton Hawkins, 84, executive vice president and counsel to the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died on March 27 at a White Plains, N.Y., assisted living facility from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Richard Howard, 92, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, died on March 31 in Manhattan from complications of dementia.
Eric Little, owner of the iconic 17th Street bar JR.’s and the closed gay bar Cobalt died on May 1 in his sleep at his Hollywood, Md., home of unknown causes.
Margot Heuman, 94, a rare Holocaust survivor who spoke of her same-sex relationship in the concentration camps, died on May 11 at a hospital in Green Valley, Ariz.
Urvashi Vaid, 63, leader of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the AIDS crisis who founded a super PAC to promote LGBTQ women in politics, died on May 14 from cancer at a hospital in Manhattan.
Kristine Gebbie, 78, the first U.S. AIDS czar, died from cancer in Adelaide, Australia on May 17.
Jeffrey Escoffier, 79, a renowned scholar who wrote about gay identity and as a New York City public health official directed campaigns on HIV and other issues, died on May 20 from complications from a fall.
Paul Gunther, 65, a champion of art and architecture in New York nonprofit preservation organizations, died on May 29 in a Manhattan hospital from injuries, which authorities said were sustained due to an attempted suicide, The New York Times reported.
Ronni Solbert, 96, a children’s illustrator most known for her illustrations for “The Pushcart War” written by her partner Jean Merrill, died on June 9 at her Randolph, Vt., home.
Gloria Allen, 76, a transgender activist whose work with at-risk transgender Chicago youth inspired the documentary “Mama Gloria” and the play “Charm,” died on June 13 at her home from respiratory failure.
Clela Rorex, 78, who, in 1975, as a groundbreaking Boulder County, Colo., clerk issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple, died on June 19 from complications of an infection at a Longmont, Colo. hospice.
David Pichette, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who for many years was involved with the LGBTQ Catholic organizations Dignity Washington and Dignity Northern Virginia, died on June 27 from complications of pancreatic cancer at a Boynton Beach, Fla. hospice.
Poet and writer of opera librettos and musicals Kenward Elmslie, 93, died on June 29 at his New York City home.
Gay journalist Chuck Colbert, 67, who covered the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal died on June 30.
Noah Vincent, lesbian, journalist and author of the well-regarded book “Self-Made Man” about passing as a man died on July 6 at a clinic in Switzerland. Her death was medically assisted (a voluntarily assisted death).
Computer programmer and art collector John Camp, 77, died on July 12 at an Arlington, Va. hospital from complications of prostate cancer.
Pat Carroll, 95, the game show and sit-com star who reinvented herself in a one-woman show on Gertrude Stein, died on July 31 at her Cape Cod, Mass. home from pneumonia.
Author, poet and activist Elana Dykewomon, 72, died on Aug. 7 at her Oakland, Calif. home from esophageal cancer.
Queer ally, pop singer and “Grease” star Olivia Newton-John, 73, died on Aug. 8 at her Southern California ranch. No cause of death was given. She had lived with breast cancer since 1992.
Actress Anne Heche, 53, died on Aug. 14 from injuries sustained in a car accident.
Stephen Peter Gorman, 69, who once served as chair of the D. C. Mayor’s Committee on Persons with Disabilities, died on Aug. 19 in Washington, D.C.
Founder of the Chelsea Theater Center Robert Kalfin, 89, died on Sept. 20 at a Southampton, N.Y. hospice from myeloid leukemia.
D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate and events promoter Jacob Pring, 47, died on Sept. 26 at his Springfield, Va. home.
Celebrated D.C. LGBTQ activist Kathleen Joan DeBold, 66, died suddenly on Oct. 9 in Ocean City, Md.
Queer icon and legendary star of stage, screen, and TV Angela Lansbury, 96, died on Oct. 10.
Max Woodward, 76, who retired in 2016 as Kennedy Center vice president of theater programming, died on Oct. 14 at a Washington, D.C. care facility from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Leslie Jordan, 67, an actor known for his work on “Will & Grace” whose pandemic Instagram postings went viral, died on Oct. 24 in Los Angeles after a car accident.
Gay country music pioneer Patrick Haggerty, 78, died on Oct. 31 at his home in Bremerton, Wash. He had suffered a stroke on a flight after a show on Sept. 30.
Harry Bates, 95, an acclaimed architect who designed houses on Fire Island and the Hamptons, died on Nov. 1 at a hospital in Fernandina Beach, Fla.
Doris Grumbach, 104, acclaimed author who wrote about the plight of women, died on Nov. 4 at a retirement community in Kennett Square, Pa.
Kevin Conroy, 66, the voice of Batman for three decades, died on Nov. 10 from intestinal cancer.
Frederick Swann, 91, a renowned master of the pipe organ died from cancer at his home in Palm Desert, Calif. on Nov. 13
Barbara Love, 85, a feminist and gay rights activist, died on Nov. 13 in the Bronx, N.Y. from complications of leukemia and Parkinson’s disease.
Don Luce, 88, an activist who helped to end the Vietnam War, died on Nov. 17 at a Niagara Falls, N.Y. hospital after suffering a sudden cardiac ischemia.
Ned Rorem, 99, renowned composer of music and diary writer, died on Nov. 18 at his home in Manhattan.
Marijane Meaker, 95, the lesbian author whose 1952 novel “Spring Fire” brought lesbian pulp fiction into the mainstream, died on Nov. 21 at her East Hampton, N.Y. home from cardiopulmonary arrest.
Irene Cara, 63, queer icon, singer and star of “Fame” and “Flashdance,” died on Nov. 26 at her Largo, Fla. home.
Former Republican Congressman James (Jim) Kolbe, 80, who represented Southern Arizona in Congress for 22 years, died on Dec. 3 from a stroke. He was the first openly gay Republican member of the House of Representatives.
She led the fight for U.S. disability rights, Judy Heumann dies at 75
“She’s considered the mother of disability rights- and she’s a ‘badass’.” ~ The Washington Post lauding her fight for civil rights
WASHINGTON – A little known but critical key leader in the fight for civil rights for disabled Americans died at 75 years-old after a brief illness on Saturday. Judith Ellen Heumann, who had been hospitalized in a D.C. hospital with breathing issues, was recognized internationally as a leader in the disability community.
Throughout her life, Heumann traveled in her motorized wheelchair to countries on every continent, in urban and rural communities alike. She played a critical role in the development and implementation of major legislation including the Americans with Disability Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the United Nations signed on the 30th of March, 2007.
Born in Philadelphia, PA and raised in Brooklyn, NY Heumann was a graduate of Long Island University then later received a Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975.
Heumann would later go on to spend decades as a civil rights advocate for Americans and others with physical and other challenges that saw her land a position as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education under then-President Bill Clinton in 1993.
After nearly eight years at the DOE, Heumann was offered a position with the World Bank headquarters in D.C. as the bank’s Advisor of Disability and Development. In 2010 she rejoined Federal service in the history making role as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department at the behest of United States secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Obama Administration.
In 2017, then Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Heumann to serve in the District’s Department of Disability Services as the agency’s first director.
But prior to her government service and above all she was a civil rights activist. NPR radio’s Joseph Shapiro wrote in his tribute piece published yesterday a quote Heumann gave him 36 years ago in his first story on the battle for the rights for disabled Americans that summed up the battle she and others had experienced in the fight for recognition.
“Disability only becomes a tragedy when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives — job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example,” she said. “It is not a tragedy to me that I’m living in a wheelchair,” she told Shapiro.
In 1949, Heumann at age 2, the daughter of a New York butcher and his wife, contracted polio and her parents were informed their daughter would likely be unable to walk for the rest other life.
When she was 5 and it was time to go to kindergarten, her parents — German Jewish immigrants — went to register her but were turned away at the nearby public school. It would create a fire hazard, the principal said, to let a girl in a wheelchair go to the school, , Shapiro reported.
One of her early acts of civil disobedience and protest occurred in 1972 WTOP radio in D.C. noted, when she and other activists shut down traffic in Manhattan in a long fight for civil rights after then President Richard Nixon vetoed the 1972 Rehabilitation Act, although Nixon did sign the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That legislation added milestone language to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities, however the Nixon and later Ford administrations did not write federal regulations to enforce the act leaving it essentially unenforceable.
Shapiro wrote that Heumann co-founded Disabled in Action, a protest group modeled on the work of Black civil rights activists, the women’s movement and anti-Vietnam War protesters.
Heumann eventually moved her protests to a federal building in San Francisco, California, in the Spring of 1977 for a 26-day sit-in, an action that forced the administration of President Jimmy Carter to implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which specified that no government agency, or even a private business, that accepted federal funds could discriminate against someone on the basis of their disability.
Shapiro pointed out that Section 504 became a model for the ADA which would extend the principles of non-discrimination to all public accommodations, employment, transportation, communications and access to state and local government programs.
A long held goal of Heumann and other disability advocates and activists became reality when in a White House ceremony on July 26, 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (42 U.S.C. § 12101).
The landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal, and later sexual orientation and gender identity.
In addition, unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.
At the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice there is an entire Disability Rights Section, (ADA.gov) that enforces provisos of the ADA.
Tributes poured in from across the United States and the world as news of Heumann’s death spread. The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden which read:
Judy Heumann was a trailblazer – a rolling warrior – for disability rights in America. After her school principal said she couldn’t enter Kindergarten because she was using a wheelchair, Judy dedicated the rest of her life to fighting for the inherent dignity of people with disabilities.
Her courage and fierce advocacy resulted in the Rehabilitation Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act – landmark achievements that increased access to education, the workplace, housing, and more for people with disabilities. Judy also served in leadership positions in two presidential administrations, and she started multiple disability advocacy organizations that continue to benefit people here and around the world.
I knew Judy for a long time. When I was Vice President, we hosted a meeting together at the White House to discuss our continued efforts to break down barriers for those who face discrimination and neglect. Her legacy is an inspiration to all Americans, including many talented public servants with disabilities in my Administration.
Jill and I send our deepest condolences to Judy’s husband, Jorge Pineda, and their entire family.
On his official Twitter account, former President Barack Obama posted: “Judy Heumann dedicated her life to the fight for civil rights—starting as a young organizer at Camp Jened and later helping lead the disability rights movement. Michelle and I were fortunate to work with Judy over the years, and are thinking of her family and friends.”
The National Council of Jewish Women tweeted: “We are devastated to hear Judith Heumann has passed. She was known to many as the mother of the disability rights movement, and a proud NCJW advocate. May Judy’s memory forever be for a blessing.
The American Association of People with Disabilities said on Twitter: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Judy Heumann, known by many as a mentor, friend, and “the mother” of the disability rights movement.”
Heumann is survived by her loving husband, Jorge Pineda, her brother, Ricky, wife Julie and her brother Joseph and wife Mary, her niece Kristin, grand nephew Orion and many other members of both the Heumann and Pineda families. She had many close friends that will miss her dearly.
The family of Judith “Judy” Heumann invites the community to honor her life:
MEMORIAL SERVICE: Wednesday, March 8 at 10 a.m. ET at Adas Israel Congregation, 2850 Quebec St. NW, Washington, DC 20008
BURIAL: Following the service at 12 p.m. at Judean Memorial Gardens located at 16225 Batchellors Forest Rd., Olney, MD 20832.
SHIVA: Following the burial, the family will be receiving guests at a gathering held at Adas Israel.
LIVESTREAM: The memorial and burial will be live-streamed on Adas Israel’s website. Please click here to join the livestream.
Our fight for disability rights — and why we’re not done yet | Judith Heumann (2016):
Hearing on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability (part 1):
Hearing on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability (part 2):
Howard Bragman, veteran publicist & LGBTQ activist gone at 66
“The truth is always what you got from Howard. While his job was often crisis management- his approach was to tackle the issue head-on”
By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Howard Bragman died yesterday, 13 days before his 67th birthday. With the media focused on the Super Bowl, the horrific earthquake in Turkey, and UFOs in American airspace, Howard’s death has been mostly noted in the entertainment trades with little attention paid to the significant decades-long behind-the-scenes impact he had on his beloved LGBTQ movement.
Thank heavens for TMZ, with whom Howard sometimes worked closely to produce a respectful story about his PR clients, for explaining what happened.
“Howard was set to attend a wedding in Mexico with his partner, Mike Maimone, this month — but wanted to get checked out by his doctor before his travels for what he thought was a gum infection and mild fever,” TMZ reported. “Unfortunately, after testing, Bragman was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of leukemia a person can have — and it progressed ‘explosively.’ Howard was hospitalized on February 2 and died less than 2 weeks after.”
I can’t imagine the panic at having something you need to get checked and fixed before going on a glorious trip suddenly turn into an inexplicable death sentence. My heart breaks for Howard, his partner and their families, friends and dogs. It also triggers my old PTSD about how we LGBTQ people had to face similar panic during the waves of AIDS crisis when death sentence test results happened almost every day until the miracle drug cocktail became available in 1996.
That’s what made Howard so special, so different from cut-throat manipulative Hollywood “flacks.” This highly regarded, in-demand public relations professional, crisis management expert and the go-to guy for celebrities who wanted to come out of the closet never forgot where he came from.
“As a fat, Jewish, gay kid in Flint, Michigan, I always felt like a Martian,” he said in announcing a $1 million endowment in 2021 to establish the Howard Bragman Coming Out Fund at the University of Michigan, operated by the LGBTQ Spectrum Center. “This campus allows you to be yourself. It allows you to spread your wings in the way you want to spread your wings. I tell people, ‘Stay strong, even when it hurts.’ And, I promise, it hurts sometimes. But, there are places that will help you ease the pain sometimes. That’s what the Spectrum Center did. That’s what Michigan did.”
Bragman added: “I don’t care how liberal the school is. I don’t care how accepting and loving your parents are. I don’t care how ‘woke’ the times are. Coming out is this most personal of journeys, and it’s a challenging journey. It’s so important for students to know they are not alone.”
I met Howard in 1989 when I was just starting in “gay” journalism and he had just co-founded Bragman Nyman Cafarelli. He dressed well but he was funny, down-to-earth and unpretentious. He sincerely cared about the people he was advising — from the rich celebrities to AIDS organizations he served pro bono. He was also very good about reaching out to the gay press, which is how I got my first introduction into the issue of the federal government’s ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the US military.
One of Howard’s first pro bono clients was Naval Academy midshipman Joe Steffan who was forced to resign six weeks before graduation because he revealed that he was gay.
Howard, gay San Francisco Chronicle journalist and fellow 12 Stepper Randy Shilts and I talked about this, among other issues, walking our dogs in a large dog park off Mulholland Boulevard. Randy later wrote about Howard in his opus “Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military Vietnam to the Persian Gulf,” published in 1993. (Randy died of AIDS the following year. He was 42.)
After filing his lawsuit in District Court on Dec. 29, 1988 challenging the constitutionality of the gay ban, Steffan and his Lambda Legal attorneys met with reporters, who Steffan was surprised to find were supportive. Howard signed on late in 1989.
“Bragman had thoroughly impeccable professional credentials,” Randy wrote. “He had been vice president of Burson-Marsteller before launching his own public relations business in Beverly Hills. His client roster included L.A. Gear, the trendy shoe manufacturer, and numerous entertainment celebrities. At thirty-three, he was also young enough to be comfortable being openly gay and felt obliged to devote a portion of his time and talent to support the gay movement. In Steffen, Bragman saw a man much like himself, a gay professional rather than a professional gay, but someone also committed to diminishing the prejudice gays faces in their daily lives. By late 1989, largely due to Bragman’s efforts, Joe Steffen would become the most visible gay person in America.”
That AIDS hung like a scrim over much of heterosexual thinking during the AIDS years became accidentally evident in 1991 during the long course of Steffen’s case.
“A Federal District judge ruled today that the military’s ban on homosexuals in the armed forces was justified to prevent the spread of AIDS,” Eric Schmitt wrote in the New York Times on Dec. 10, 1991. “Other Federal courts have upheld the Pentagon’s ban, but the 35-page ruling issued today by Judge Oliver Gasch of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is unusual for its reasoning. Neither the Defense Department nor the plaintiff, a gay midshipman who sued the United States Naval Academy over discrimination against homosexuals, raised the issue of AIDS. But Judge Gasch said the Government’s policy of excluding homosexuals ‘is rational in that it is directed, in part, at preventing those who are at the greatest risk of dying of AIDS from serving.’”
In his tribute to Howard, Cyd Zeigler, Co-founder of Outsports.com, notes that grappling with the stigma of AIDS over all those years, helped build his career.
“Howard Bragman wasn’t just a publicist to the stars. He was an important trailblazer for the LGBT community who fought tirelessly for thoughtful, fair coverage of gay and lesbian people in sports and entertainment. And he was a dear friend,” Zeigler wrote, noting how Howard helped gay former NFL player Esera Tuaolo come out publicly in 2002 and, with Zeigler in 2006, former NBA player John Amaechi and subsequently athletes such as WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes, golfer Rosie Jones and most famously, University of Missouri defensive player Michael Sam as he prepared for the NFL Draft.
“The truth is always what you got from Howard,” Zeigler wrote. “While his job was often crisis management when stars made mistakes, his general approach was to tackle the issue head-on. Howard wasn’t a bullshitter, he’d tell you what he thinks and he had the confidence and fortitude to stick to his guns. As a gay man in Hollywood in the 80s and 90s during the AIDS epidemic, it was that strength that helped him build a career even as stigma built.”
Howard, who subsequently launched Fifteen Minutes and later La Brea Media, represented a slew of famous folks and often appeared as an on-air expert for TV programs. In 1991, he helped bring out actor Dick Sargent, the second Darrin and loving husband to Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched” and “Family Ties” mom Meredith Baxter before she was outed in the tabloids. Howard also helped Chaz Bono navigate his very public transgender transition.
For me, one of my most poignant coming out interviews was with Chely Wright. “Country star Chely Wright is celebrating her birthday of choice: she officially came out as gay in People magazine and NBC’s Today Show. Her coming out coincides with the release of her new extraordinary memoir Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer and her latest release, Lifted off the Ground, (iTunes) her first album in five years,” I wrote in the Huffington Post July 6, 2010. “The public’s attention will no doubt focus on Wright’s revelation about being gay, something she denied when confronted about rumors by country singer John Rich. But in her book and album – and in her interview with me – Wright talks about a more universal truth: how the self-loathing that comes from keeping a shameful secret can lead to despair and thoughts of suicide – and how telling that secret can lead to a kind of glorious liberation.”
Howard and I didn’t always agree. He considered himself a bridge-builder and seemed convinced that both Isaiah Washington – who described fellow actor T.R. Knight as a “faggot” on the set of Grey’s Anatomy – and San Diego real estate developer and Manchester Grand Hyatt and the Grand del Mar Resort hotelier Doug Manchester — who gave $125,000 to the floundering Yes on 8 campaign, spurring it on to electoral victory in 2008 — were not homophobic but rather men who had made mistakes and wanted to make amends. He thought the gay community should get to a place of forgiveness and not be mean and vindictive. I had real trouble with that.
But Howard also offered that kernel of painful truth that must be heard – whether we like it or not. “Despite Mr. Manchester’s donations, what our own community needs to understand is that we lost Prop. 8 because of the decisions we made — because of the ways we campaigned and didn’t campaign. The only way we’re ever going to win is by reaching into the middle to change hearts and minds,” he told Advocate.com. Howard was not alone in that assessment.
On a personal note, Howard and I became friends over the years, recognizing in each other the deep and soulful commitment to our people. He was one of the first people to reach out to me after Frontiers decided I was too old to be the news editor for LA’s then-most important LGBTQ publication. It was a kindness I will never forget.
Howard Bragman was a mainstream star. But it is critical that we not forget or that we find out here and by researching our own history how instrumental he was in guiding those living in glass closets to come out and energize their own authentic selves in the LGBTQ movement.
Here’s a link to the Norman Lear Center sponsored panel “The Glass Closet: In and Out in Hollywood and Washington” Sept. 27, 2007 at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. The panel was moderated by publicist Howard Bragman, with panelists ASC Professor Larry Gross and journalists Ray Richmond, Greg Hernandez, Karen Ocamb, Shana Krochmal, David Ehrenstein and actor Wilson Cruz.
WATCH: “The Glass Closet: In and Out in Hollywood and Washington”
Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.
Ocamb started in LGBTQ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ data collection during the COVID pandemic.
Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb joined Public Justice in March of 2021 to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.
She lives in West Hollywood, California with her 15-year-old Pepper.
Autistic poet’s work layered with ‘multiple levels of awareness’
Leslie McIntosh on coming out and learning he is neurodiverse
(Editor’s Note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Queer and disabled people have long been a vital part of the LGBTQ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson, who played a heroic role in the Stonewall Uprising, had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf/Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise and Kathy Martinez, a blind, Latinx lesbian, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy for the Obama administration, are only a few of the numerous queer and disabled people in the LGBTQ community. Yet, the stories of this vital segment of the queer community have rarely been told. In its series “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade will tell some of these long un-heard stories.)
Before he could even read, Leslie McIntosh knew he wanted to be a writer. “My Dad got me this little desk with a drawer in it,” McIntosh, 38, who is Black, male presenting, male attracted and autistic, said in a telephone interview. “I was learning the alphabet when I was two.”
McIntosh, who was born in Newark, N.J. and grew up in Atlantic City, had a precocious ability to decode words. “I would scribble in this notebook until I learned how to write and form words,” he said.
This scribbling – this desire to be a writer – wasn’t just a childhood thing for McIntosh. The writing bug stuck to him. Today, McIntosh is a poet and “fictionist” whose work has received national recognition. He has been awarded residencies and fellowships from Breadloaf, Callaloo, Millay Arts, The Watering Hole, Zoeglossia and other programs.
His poetry has appeared in “Beloit Poetry Journal,” “Foglifter,” “Obsidian,” the forthcoming anthology “In the Tempered Dark: Contemporary Poets Transcending Elegy” and other publications. He is an assistant poetry editor at Newfound.
McIntosh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Montclair State University in 2006 and a Psy.D. from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2019, is also a psychologist with a private practice. He lives, he wrote in an email to the Blade, “on the stolen land of the Munsee Lenape, currently known as Hudson County, NJ, USA.”
This reporter read with McIntosh (and Avra Wing) last fall at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. McIntosh is a vibrant performer with a mesmerizing presence. (The reading was an event held by Zoeglossia, a fellowship program for disabled poets.)
In a wide-ranging conversation, McIntosh talked with the Blade about coming out, learning he was autistic, poetry and Bayard Rustin.
Growing up was complicated for McIntosh. “People would read — understand — that I was queer and on the [autism] spectrum,” he said, “before I even knew what that meant.”
There was a lot of repression in the early part of his life. “A lot of what you think about coming out didn’t happen to me,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh wasn’t diagnosed as autistic until five years ago. But, looking back, he reflected that he was different from neurotypical people.
“I would invent these alternative realities in my brain,” McIntosh said, “I would give these people sexual adventures and things like that.”
McIntosh would compartmentalize. “I wouldn’t attribute what was happening to me,” he said. “It was a lot of world building about what having a boyfriend would look like.”
College was a new start for McIntosh. There, his universe expanded. He met people, who he said, were “separate from the toxicity of high school.”
The characters in the alternative realities in his brain couldn’t keep up with the intensity and speed of the people he was interacting with in real life. “I had to experience things in real time,” McIntosh said, “It had to be me. That’s when my coming out began.”
Being queer in the early 2000s wasn’t easy for McIntosh. He didn’t feel quite at home in Southern New Jersey. “It’s hard being gay anywhere,” he said, “especially, where I come from.”
Even a college campus in the aughts wasn’t perfectly safe for a Black male. How do I frame myself? Who do I tell? When do I tell them, McIntosh wondered.
McIntosh went into psychology because he wanted to be of service. “Here’s a secret,” he said, “what’s helped me to be successful wasn’t the degrees I’ve earned.”
“What’s helped me clinically and humanly,” McIntosh said, “to relate as one person to another are things I learned outside [of his degrees].”
McIntosh can evaluate and diagnose his patients. “I can quote unquote treat them and bill insurance companies,” he said, “but that isn’t a lot of my practice.”McIntosh works with patients to help them conceptualize their lives and what their needs are. “I feel like a lot of therapists being directive discourages patients from relying on their own wisdom,” he said.
McIntosh was going through his training in psychology when he began to think he might be autistic. He felt a bit shameful about this because of the way the behavior of autistic people is often pathologized.
“They treat the behavior of autistic people – such as stimming – as needing treatment,” McIntosh said, “they create a behavior plan to make them stop doing it.”
Being diagnosed as autistic was freeing for McIntosh. It gave him a feeling of control. “I can advocate for myself,” he said. “I can say I have this condition. This is unfair. We need to have a conversation.”
Race has always been at the intersection of his life as a Black, queer, autistic man, McIntosh said. While he was earning his Psy.D, the one Black faculty member in the program left it. “After that it was all white hetero cisgender people,” he said.
Thankfully, his family has always been supportive of him. “I’ve been out to them forever,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh got into poetry when he was preparing to go away to his first year of college. He became entranced by “Def Poetry Jam.” “I saw myself in it,” he said, “looking at that screen, I knew I was a part of it.”
Poetry makes his neurodivergence livable for McIntosh. “It gives me a place where it isn’t something I have to navigate around or over,” he said, “It gets center stage. Without poetry, it would be a burden.”
Every creative person has a quirk about them, he added.
“Leslie McIntosh’s poems mean a great deal to me because of the original and even visceral way they navigate the personal and the historical,” Sheila Black, a poet and Zoeglossia co-founder, emailed the Blade. “Making abundant use of historical fact and context but always shaping this toward a personal lyrical vision.”
“The world of Leslie’s poems is layered with multiple levels of awareness – the double and even triple consciousness of race, sexuality, disability,” Black added. “His poetry is always animated by an acute sense of human vulnerability and the longing for a better, brighter more just world.”
When he was just out of college, McIntosh learned about Bayard Rustin, the queer, Black civil rights icon. “His existence blew my mind and my heart,” he said. “Here is this unsung civil rights hero – a mentor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Virtually unknown because he was Black and openly gay in the 1950s.”McIntosh wanted to know how this could be. Being a poet, he imagined a story.
McIntosh wrote poems in the form of letters — “epistles” — from Bayard Rustin. For these poems, he created Imal, an imaginary character. “I didn’t want to be part of the story,” he said. “It was easier to imagine the story without me in it.”
Later, McIntosh thought leaving himself out of the story was due in part to his neurodivergence. “I was using Imal to create a version of myself that deserved to be loved,” he said, “and who cared back.”
“I had rooms of people fight for my coat, letters from Martin Luther King with my name on them,” McIntosh writes in the voice of Bayard Rustin in his poem “Epistle: The Verisimilitude of Ruin,” “But that didn’t matter — I wanted a forgotten alley or a dim phone booth … Make believe you haven’t drowned at the drag of a man’s thinly carpeted thigh, the gravity of the smell.”
McIntosh isn’t interested in reading the poems he might have written if he’d been neurotypical. He’s proud to be neurodiverse. “I like the poet that I am,” he said, “I don’t think any other iteration of myself could have written these poems.”
Brittney Griner’s Christmas post asks for support for Paul Whelan
Griner asks that people write to Whelan, an American businessman & former U.S. Marine, sentenced to 16 yrs on suspicion of spying on Russia
PHOENIX – In a heartfelt post this past week on her Instagram account, Out WNBA star Brittney Griner, who returned to the U.S. earlier this month after a prisoner swap having spent nearly 300 days in Russian custody, penned a request to her supporters to write to another American prisoner still being held in the Russian penal system.
Griner, after being convicted of drug smuggling by a Russian court and sent to a notorious penal colony to serve a 9 year sentence, was freed in a prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout after intense negotiations by the U.S. State Department at the behest of President Joe Biden.
In her letter to supporters posted to her Insta, Griner asks that people write to Paul Whelan, an American businessman and former U.S. Marine, who had previously been sentenced in 2018 to 16 years of hard labour in Russian penal camp on suspicion of spying on Russia. In both cases, the White House strongly has condemned Russia’s actions
Griner wrote on Insta; “Thanks to the efforts of many, including you, I am home after nearly 10 months. You took time to show me you cared and I want to personally take the time to write to you and say that your effort mattered,” Griner wrote on Instagram. “Your letters helped me to not lose hope during a time where I was full of regret and vulnerable in ways I could have never imagined. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Because of you I never lost hope.”
“Your letters were also bigger than uplifting me. They showed me the power of collective hands. Together, we can do hard things. I’m living proof of that. My family’s whole and now, thanks to you, we are fortunate to get to spend the holidays together. However, there remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained,” she wrote.
“Those families stood alongside you and all who supported the We Are BG Campaign to bring me home and it’s our turn to support them. I hope you’ll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.”
Griner ended her post writing:
“Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. I hope our holiday season is full of joy and love.”
The WNBA superstar also published an address where her supporters and others can send Whelan letters of support:
Paul N. Whelan
c/o American Citizen
Services Unit Consular Section, 5430 Moscow Place, U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20521-5430
Trans activist Henry Berg-Brousseau dies by suicide, hate a factor
Berg-Brousseau was a prominent transgender activist and the deputy press secretary for politics at the Human Rights Campaign
LOUISVILLE – Dr. Karen Berg, a serving state senator in the Kentucky State Legislature announced that her son Henry Berg-Brousseau, 24, a prominent transgender activist and the deputy press secretary for politics at the Human Rights Campaign had died by suicide last Friday in his home in Arlington, Virginia.
In a statement released Tuesday confirming his death, the Kentucky Democrat who was recently reelected to represent District 26 in the statehouse said of her son that he was a “beloved son, brother, nephew, dog parent and friend.” She added: “The depth of his loss is yet to be absorbed.”
Berg also noted, “Henry spent his life working to extend grace, compassion and understanding to everyone, but especially to the vulnerable and marginalized. This grace, compassion and understanding was not always returned to him.”
The Senator also pointed out that the escalating hate against trans-Americans coupled with his job at the Human Rights Campaign was a factor she felt in his death.
“This hate building across the country weighed on him. In one of our last conversations, he wondered if he was safe walking down the street,” she wrote.
“The vitriol against trans people is not happening in a vacuum,” she added. “It has real-world implications for how transgender people view their place in the world and how they are treated as they just try to live their lives.”
Statement from Sen. @karenforky on the passing of her son, Henry: pic.twitter.com/0zuhYEseXz— KY Senate Democrats (@KYSenateDems) December 20, 2022
Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson issued the following statement, remembering Berg-Brousseau:
“Losing Henry is an unfathomable loss to the Human Rights Campaign family. Henry was a light – deeply passionate, deeply engaged, and deeply caring. His colleagues will always remember his hunger for justice, his eagerness to pitch in, his bright presence and his indelible sense of humor. He could always be counted on to volunteer for a project, hit send on a press release from wherever in the world he was, or share a kind word in the elevator up to his office.
“Henry was first and foremost a fighter and an advocate. He was fighting for transgender rights as a teenager in Kentucky, far earlier than he should have had to. As part of his job at HRC, he faced down anti-transgender vitriol every single day, and no one was more aware of the harm that anti-transgender rhetoric, messaging, and legislation could have on his community. He was brave. But, as Henry’s mother stated, ‘[t]he vitriol against trans people is not happening in a vacuum …It has real-world implications for how transgender people view their place in the world and how they are treated as they just try to live their lives.’ It sadly impacted how Henry saw his own place in the world.
“In honor of Henry’s life, we must come together and speak out against injustice. We must fight for our transgender family. We must celebrate his light, and honor him by continuing to fight for full equality for all. Our thoughts are with his parents, his sister, his entire family, and our whole community.”
Born in Louisville, Ky., the young activist began his short, yet impactful advocacy career as a student at Louisville Collegiate School, where he organized a protest against so-called LGBTQ “conversion therapy,” spoke to the Kentucky Senate Education Committee, and participated in other “local and national causes,” according to his obituary.
The funeral will be at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, December 21st, at Herman Meyer & Son, Inc., 1338 Ellison Ave, Louisville, KY 40204. Visitation will begin at 11:30 a.m. Burial to follow in The Temple Cemetery.
Memorial Contributions in honor of Henry Berg-Brousseau may go to The Fairness Campaign, 2263 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206, or The Trevor Project-Development, PO Box 69232, West Hollywood, CA 90069.
If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people.
The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgment-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386.
If you or anyone you love is experiencing mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. You can call or text the number 988, which will direct you to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
It is free and available 24 hours a day.
Brittney Griner back in U.S.
WNBA star released in exchange for Russian arms dealer
SAN ANTONIO — WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. on Friday after Russia released her in exchange for a convicted arms dealer.
Griner landed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio at around 2:30 a.m. PT.
Media reports indicate Griner then went to the U.S. Army’s Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. They also said she will undergo a medical examination at the Brooke Army Medical Center.
“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil,” tweeted “Welcome home BG.”
So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!
— U.S. Special Presidential Envoy Roger D. Carstens (@StateSPEHA) December 9, 2022
Griner had been serving a nine-year prison sentence in a penal colony after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials in February found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
President Biden on Thursday announced Russia had released Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.
Russian media broadcast a video of the exchange that took place at an airport in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken when they spoke with Griner from the Oval Office before she left for the U.S.
“She is safe,” said Biden. “She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
Advocacy groups are among those who welcomed Brittney Griner’s release. Cherelle Griner and the Biden administration have said they remain committed to securing the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying.
Elliot Page: “I hope this can help someone feel less alone”
“So, I’ve written a book about my story. It’s out next June, and I’m so excited to share its cover with you now”
LOS ANGELES – At age 35 Elliot Page is already an accomplished actor with an Academy Award nomination, two BAFTA Awards, Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and a Satellite Award. Now the Canadian transplant is adding the title of author to his repertoire of skills.
The actor’s highly-anticipated memoir Pageboy, which is set to be released on 6 June 2023, had the Umbrella Academy star posting on his Instagram:
“Writing a book has come up a few times over the years, but it never felt right and quite frankly, it didn’t feel possible. I could barely sit still, let alone focus long enough to complete such a task. At last, I can be with myself, in this body. So, I’ve written a book about my story. It’s out next June, and I’m so excited to share its cover with you now.
At many points in my life, it felt unbearable to be in front of a camera, but making this cover with acclaimed photographer Catherine Opie (@csopie) was a joyful experience that I will never forget.
Trans people are facing increasing attacks, from physical violence to the banning of healthcare, and our humanity is regularly “debated” in the media. The act of writing, reading, and sharing the multitude of our experiences is an important step in standing up to those who wish to silence and harm us. Books have helped me, saved me even, so I hope this can help someone feel less alone, feel seen, no matter who they are or what path they are on.”
Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan founded in 2014 in New York City is publishing Page’s book saying:
“The Oscar-nominated star who captivated the world with his meteoric rise after the premiere of Juno finally shares his truth. Full of behind the scenes details and intimate interrogations on sex, love, trauma, and Hollywood, Pageboy is the story of a life pushed to the brink. But at its core, this beautifully written, winding journey of what it means to untangle ourselves from the expectations of others is an ode to stepping into who we truly are with defiance, strength, and joy.”
Appearing this past June on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers,’ Page talked about starring in the action-packed show The Umbrella Academy, incorporating his journey with transitioning into his character on the show and how embracing joy has made him a better actor.
Elliot Page Opens Up About His Transition and Incorporating It into The Umbrella Academy:
Graham Norton Show: George Takei reveals the origin of ‘Oh My’
George Takei explained to an amused Norton and fellow guests the origins of Takei’s now signature catch-phrase
LONDON – Beloved film, Broadway, television actor, activist, author and social media icon George Takei stopped by to visit the famous red sofa on the Graham Norton Show this week to chat with host Graham Norton.
Recalling his first encounter with New York shock jock Howard Stern as a guest on Stern’s SiriusXM radio show, Takei explained to an amused Norton and fellow guests the origins of Takei’s now signature catch-phrase; “Oh My.”
Takei, 85, is in London rehearsing for the British premiere of the Broadway musical ‘Allegiance,’ which is based on the actor’s childhood experiences during World War II, when he and his family were imprisoned along with tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans behind the barbed-wire enclosures of the United States’ internment Camp Rohwer in the swampland of Arkansas and at Camp Tule Lake in northern California.
‘Allegiance’ will premiere at London’s Charing Cross Theatre for 13 weeks from Saturday 7 January to Saturday 8 April, 2023.
George Takei Reveals The Origin Of ‘Oh My’ | The Graham Norton Show:
First openly gay GOP former member of U.S. House dies at 80
“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and serving in elected office has become irrelevant”
TUCSON – Former Republican Congressman James (Jim) Thomas Kolbe, who represented Southern Arizona in Congress for 22 years, died Saturday, Dec. 3 of a stroke at the age of 80 his husband Hector Alfonso confirmed to Arizona media outlets.
“He belongs to so many people,” his husband said through tears on Saturday. “He gave his life for this city. He loved Tucson, he loved Arizona.”
Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff until sunset Sunday in honor of the former congressman. In a series of tweets the Arizona Governor lauded Kolbe’s record of public service:
Congressman Kolbe led a life of remarkable public service. A Navy veteran, 11-term congressman, state legislator — even a congressional page for Sen. Goldwater — his commitment and dedication were boundless. 2/— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) December 3, 2022
He was a highly-regarded expert on trade, a champion of the free market and a passionate advocate for the line-item veto. From his community in Tucson, to those in need around the world, Congressman Kolbe had a profound and lasting impact. 3/— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) December 3, 2022
We’ve ordered flags at state buildings will be flown at half staff until sunset Sunday in Congressman Kolbe’s memory. 5/5— Doug Ducey (@DougDucey) December 3, 2022
Kolbe was the first openly serving gay Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives having served from 1985 to 2007. During his 22-year tenure he served as chair of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs of the House Appropriations Committee.
In 1996, Kolbe held a press conference and outed himself after his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, this according to political journalist Jake Tapper was owed to the fact that Kolbe was under the impression he was about to be outed by a gay publication.
Addressing a gathering of Log Cabin Republicans and other gay Republicans in 1997, he said he didn’t want to be a poster child for the gay movement.
“Being gay was not — and is not today — my defining persona,” Kolbe said during his first speech as an openly gay GOP lawmaker. He also sat on the national advisory board of the Log Cabin Republicans.
In 2013 however, Kolbe was a signatory to an amicus brief in support of overturning California’s Proposition 8.
In a private ceremony in 2013 after being together for eight years, Kolbe and Alfonso were married.
Alfonso, a Panamanian native who came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue studies in special education had been a teacher for two decades. The couple’s nuptials were held at a private event at the Cosmos Club on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington D.C.
“Two decades ago, I could not have imagined such an event as this would be possible,” Kolbe told the Blade in an interview in May of 2013. “A decade ago I could not imagine that I would find someone I could be so compatible with that I would want to spend the rest of my life with that person. So, this is a very joyous day for both of us.”
The couple had to endure a year-long separation when Alfonso returned to Panama while immigration issues were being sorted out, although he was granted U.S, Residency also knoen as a green card.
Kolbe also battled his friend and fellow Republican, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain who opposed the repeal of the Clinton-era Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy, which barred military service by gay and lesbian Americans. He repeatedly co-sponsored a bill to scrap the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy at odds with others in his party over the issue.
After he left Congress he continued to be active in Republican politics in 2012 endorsing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in his race for the presidency against then incumbent Barack Obama.
In an interview with the Washington Blade at the time, Kolbe responded to the anti-gay language in the draft version of the Republican Party platform. In addition to endorsing a Federal Marriage Amendment, the platform criticized the Obama administration for dropping defense of DOMA in court and judges for “re-defining marriage” in favor of gay couples.
Kolbe predicted the 2012 Republican platform will be the last one to include such language.
“That’ll be the last time that will be in the Republican Party platform,” Kolbe said. “It won’t be there four years from now. It’s got its last gasp. I don’t believe it’ll be there four years from now; I wish it weren’t there now, but I don’t believe it will be four years from now.”
The issue over the rights of same-sex couples to marry ended with Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644, the landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Just this week prior to his death, the Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate by a vote of 61-36.
That legislation requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed and guarantee that valid marriages between two individuals are given full faith and credit, regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin. It is expected to pass the House again this week after which it heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Early in his career Kolbe, in 1976 ran for a seat in the Arizona Senate in the Tucson-Pima County district and defeated a one-term Democrat. In mid-1982, he resigned from the state Senate to run in the newly created Arizona 5th U.S. congressional district, but lost to Democrat Jim McNulty.
He ran again in 1984 winning the seat that he went to hold for over two decades.
According to his biography Kolbe was born in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, but when he was five, his family moved to a ranch in rural Santa Cruz County, Arizona. It was there he attended Patagonia Elementary School and Patagonia Union High School, but graduated from the United States Capitol Page School in 1960 after serving for three years as a United States Senate Page for Arizona Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.
He matriculated first at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and then at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California earning a master’s degree in economics. During the Vietnam era from 1965 to 1969, he served in the United States Navy, including a tour in Vietnam as a member of the Navy’s “Swift Boat” force.
After military service Kolbe served as a special assistant to Illinois Republican Governor Richard B. Ogilvie. He then moved back to Arizona settling in Tucson where he worked in business.
Accolades for the former Congressman included many from Arizona political and business fields of endeavor.
“Pima County and southern Arizona could always count on Jim Kolbe,” Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson said in a statement.
Matt Gress, who was recently elected to the Arizona Legislature, called Kolbe a political pioneer.
“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and serving in elected office has become irrelevant,” he said in a statement.
The death of Irene Cara and the broken promise
Her final professional projects were gifts to other women musicians of color- but her voice inspired my gay generation
HOLLYWOOD – As I walked down the dark alley towards the glowing light, the opening bridge of the song called to me. “Baby, look at me and tell me what you see, You ain’t seen the best of me yet, Give me time, I’ll make you forget all the rest, I got more in me…”
The movie Fame had just come out and its anthem theme song was HOT. The glowing light that night was a gay disco, tucked away from heterosexual view, while gay bashers circled in trucks a few blocks away. That safe haven in the dark alley allowed me, a 20-year old youth, a path out of the closet in which I emotionally and sexually had residence. To me, the words of the song Fame, and its overwhelming delivery, was my inner drive and conviction that I could be me, and my own personal superstar.
The young woman delivering the song was barely an adult herself. Irene Cara had been a child performer and was now breaking into the fame she was singing about. She was “instantly” famous thanks to Fame. Amongst other accolades, she was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. The song itself won the Oscar that year.
The Grammy nomination put a public trapping on what we all knew: She was a star, and had all the makings to become a superstar, an icon.
For LGBTQ people, her work that year spoke to our souls and our optimism. As “Randy 503” shared on the Joe.My.God site, “I was a deeply closeted and lonely kid in my early 20s. Not lonely because I didn’t have friends (had tons of them), but lonely because I refused to admit I was gay and kept away from all that. I saw the movie and was transfixed. Bought the album and played it all the time, especially her songs. Her voice was so strong, and so expressive, it really touched me.”
Cara’s second song in the movie also resonated with the gay audience. While Fame spoke to the sassy optimism of embracing our outstanding selves and taking the world by storm, Out Here On My Own spoke to the dark loneliness of the closet. “Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been, who I am, do I fit in… when I’m down and feeling blue, I close my eyes so I can be strong and be with you…I dry the tears I’ve never shown, Out here on my own.”
Randy points out, “Out here on my own always left me in tears. It hit so close to home, and I could feel sadness on it. It’s a great song sung by one of the best.”
After the success of Fame, Cara ventured into a sitcom pilot and a freshman album, “Anyone Can See.” Neither caught the world on fire, as apparently only some of us could actually “see” her real worth.
It was not long after however, where Cara’s apparent life mission to deliver culture changing anthems, came calling again. She was recruited to help out with the new Flashdance movie, and to work with iconic gay producer Giorgio Moroder for its theme song. Cara was reportedly reluctant. She had already been criticized as a second tier Donna Summer with Fame, and was hesitant to get into that musical lane. Later she would work with John Farrar whom she credited as being responsible for ALL of Olivia Newton John’s hits. It seems that her superstar aspirations were more to be Pop Princess than another Queen of Disco.
She did sign on board with Moroder and Flashdance, and made history. Her song Flashdance… What a Feeling went to #1 for six straight weeks. It affected American culture in style, attitude and substance. On Academy Awards night, Cara made history again. (She had already made history in a minor way a few years before as the first person to ever perform two nominated songs in one evening.) This time, she became the second African American woman to win an Oscar – the first being Gone With the Wind’s Hattie McDaniels.
Cara was the first African American woman to ever win a non-acting Oscar ever.
The anthem Flashdance…What a Feeling spoke to LGBTQ audiences of the 80s, in a way that Fame had. “First when there’s nothing but a slow glowing dream that your fear seems to hide deep inside your mind. All alone, I have cried silent tears full of pride in a world made of steel, made of stone, Well, I hear the music, close my eyes, feel the rhythm wrap around, take hold of my heart. What a feeling, being is believing I can have it all..”
Online, Joe.My.God reader BearlvrFl shared, “LUV the song “Out Here On My Own” I call “Flashdance: What A Feeling” my coming out song, popular on the dance floor very close to the time I finally came out at the age of 22. I could relate to “Take your passion/And make it happen.” Super simple lyric, but it’s timing was everything for me, having been closeted for so long.”
This time, AIDS had brought a very dark cloud over the community, however. Its ravage was starting to take widespread hold. It made the line in the song “now I’m dancing for my life” even more poignant and relevant.
The darkness that was falling over the LGBT world was on a parallel track in Cara’s own life. As she picked up Oscars and Grammys, there was a sadness in her eyes above the smile on her face. She shared later that the public glory was matched with a behind-the-scenes horror story. Her record company was keeping her from garnering any success from her accomplishments. Columnist Liz Smith stated in a 1993 piece that Cara earned only $183 in royalties.
Cara inspired women of her generation. Patti Piatt shared on Twitter, “I am from a generation of women who thought anything was possible because of Irene Cara. She gave us so much joy. We all danced to her songs, didn’t matter if we could dance, we danced because she made us want to dance.”
In spite of singing THE anthem of women empowerment, Cara became an example of a woman destroyed by the male dominated music industry. As she fought back for earnings due her, she became black-listed, and her trek to superstardom halted. They made her all but disappear. A decade later, she won, but by that time, the damage had been done.
Her final solo album subconsciously called out her professional demise with songs titled “Now That It’s Over”, “Get a Grip” and the ultimate defeatist title “Say Goodnight Irene.”
“I know well enough this is going nowhere… Might as well say goodnight, Say Goodnight, Irene.”
In the end, she seemed to find peace. Her final professional projects were gifts to other women musicians of color. She comfortably settled into what she called “semi-retirement” and her Florida home with a steady stream of funds from her hard-earned residuals.
The promise of becoming a superstar eluded her, but she busted the ceiling so it might not elude others. Painfully for fans, the promise from the song Fame, “I’m gonna live forever” also did not come true.
Let’s instead, think of her making “it to heaven” and lighting “up the sky like a flame.”
For those trying to find final meaning from her life, and the un-fulfilled promise of what could have been for her and for us, may do so in the words from her lesser-known anthem. Here we swap out a promise instead for The Dream:
“We can all be free, we hold the key, if we can see what we want to be. Life is never easy, you get no guarantees, why not give your all and see what you can find?”
Irene Cara, we will always remember your name.
Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.
He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.
He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.
He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .
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