Norm Kent, co-founder of South Florida Gay News, dies at 73
Marijuana and LGBTQ rights champion, baseball fanatic, radio talk host passed away at home
By Steve Rothaus for South Florida Gay News | FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Attorney Norm Kent — relentless fighter for marijuana and LGBT rights, baseball fanatic, popular radio talk host and co-founder of South Florida Gay News — died at 73 on April 13, 18 months after learning he had pancreatic cancer.
In his final interview on March 28, Kent told SFGN he was diagnosed in October 2021. “That day, I said, ‘Let’s fly to Atlanta and go to a Dodgers game. If they’re telling me I have cancer, we’re going to a baseball game.’”
“You definitely can’t accuse him of not being interesting,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Russell Cormican, Kent’s law partner for nearly 25 years.
“The most important thing looking at Norm’s legacy is that he reminds us how important it is to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how unpopular it might be or what types of repercussions or blowback you might get from people, if you know what you’re doing is the right thing,” said Cormican, 51. “When he sees an injustice, he’s not afraid to lead the call against it. That’s the common thread that’s gone through his life.”
Born Norman Elliott Kent in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Oct. 18, 1949, his family soon moved to North Woodmere in Nassau County on Long Island.
“Ever since I was a little kid growing up in North Woodmere and taking Bus 53 to junior varsity games, I was a good, competitive baseball player. The doctor once said I had steel springs in my legs,” Kent said. “I just loved the game. I love it now because you don’t know what’s going to happen on the next pitch. It’s not scripted like a movie. Like comedians, you never know what the next joke is going to be.”
To never miss a game, Kent equipped his longtime small, two-bedroom Victoria Park home with 16 televisions.
“It looks like mission control,” Cormican said. “Heaven forbid there are four baseball games on. He has to see each one.”
Thirty years ago, he even owned a baseball card shop at the Gateway Shopping Center in Fort Lauderdale, Norm Kent’s Baseball Heaven.
Kent, who is survived by older brother Richard and younger brother Alan, once flirted with becoming a professional ballplayer but their dad Jesse told him, “You’re going to be the lawyer in the family.”
After graduating in 1971 from Hofstra University on Long Island with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and sociology, Kent made his father happy and received a Hofstra law degree in 1975.
During college, Kent began establishing a national reputation as a leading proponent of legalizing marijuana use.
Kent joined NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1971. He served 1992-94 on NORML’s national board, rejoined the governing body in 1998 and from 2013-14 served as national board chairman.
In 1988, Kent made headlines representing singer Elvy Musikka, a Hollywood woman nearly blinded by cataracts who was busted for growing pot in her own backyard.
“After 23 different operations for cataracts,” Kent recalled March 28, “she found the only thing that let her see was by taking marijuana. It had a certain THC in it which let her see.”
He continued: “Who was her government, or the president, to stop her from seeing? And when the police came to her house in Hollywood and said we’re going to have to arrest you for smoking pot, she said, ‘I dare you to. I don’t care. It’s my life. It’s my right to see.’
“She went to a lawyer. She went to me. And I said let’s go to court. We argued a case in [Broward Circuit Court] before Judge Mark E. Polen and we won. He said your right to smoke marijuana is a lot more important than the right of the government to tell you what to do with what you can smoke. That case became the seminal case for hundreds of others.”
While dying of cancer, Kent himself couldn’t find pain relief smoking marijuana: “No,” he said, “I had a respiratory condition in 2018 when I got a defibrillator and pacemaker.”
Shortly after college, Kent worked briefly as an urban affairs analyst for the New York Legislature, and in 1978 relocated to South Florida where his parents had moved.
Kent never officially told them he was gay.
“My parents always suspected he was gay from the time he moved to Fort Lauderdale,” said his brother Alan, a retired psychologist. “They would always ask me, ‘Do you think Norman is gay?’”
Alan Kent, who also is gay, came out to their parents in 1982. Five years later, after their father died, Norm called Alan from Provincetown, Mass., with some news: I’m gay.
“I said really? Tell me something I don’t know,” Alan Kent recalled.
Before he died, Norm Kent said that for him “there was no such thing as being in [the closet].”
“There was always this fear that as a gay lawyer it might cost me economically,” Kent said. “But there I was, a gay lawyer who was representing gay bars and gay friends and gay owners.”
Kent said that decades ago he never cared if people knew his sexual orientation. Once, a South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter interviewed Kent for a story and asked about rumors that he was gay — and then never published that he was.
“It’s not my job to do their thinking for them. It’s my job to be who I am. And I’m proud of every minute and moment of who I am and what I was,” Kent said. “And if that meant I was a faggot who could throw a baseball, that’s their problem.”
After he moved to South Florida, Norm Kent briefly wrote a column for Playbill magazine and taught sociology at Florida Atlantic University. Soon he became known locally as an advocate for runaway gay youths who hung out at Fort Lauderdale Beach.
On the strip, Kent interviewed 30 boys ages 12 to 20 working as prostitutes. By 1984, Kent had spoken with about 150 boys on the strip — a third of them said they had sold their bodies to survive.
For years, Fort Lauderdale police and politicians worked to downplay the local homeless problem, according to a 1989 Miami Herald profile of Kent headlined “Upholder of the Unpopular.”
“It was like the mayor in Amity denying that there was a shark out there,” Kent told the Herald, referring to the blockbuster 1975 film of the era, “Jaws.”
Kent spent the rest of his life advocating for homeless gay youth. In 2000 — after having just survived treatment for lymphoma — Kent met John Fugate, then 18 and disowned since middle school by his Lakeland family. Kent, who at the time published the Express Gay News in Fort Lauderdale, offered Fugate a job delivering newspapers.
“I was living under the bridge on Federal Highway just south of 26th Street,” Fugate said March 28, weeping, a few feet from Kent’s hospice bedside. “And Norman found out that I was sleeping on the street and he invites me to the Floridian Restaurant for dinner.”
That night, Kent told him: “I just want you to know if you ever need a place to stay, you can always stay at my house. Here are the keys.”
At first, Fugate said he was “too proud and scared” to come to Kent’s home. But a few weeks later, about 3 a.m. on a cold, rainy morning, Fugate showed up. Eventually, he moved in.
Despite their age difference, Kent, 53, and Fugate, 21, became partners. Seven years later, they ended their romantic relationship. But they remained close friends and continued to work together on and off. After Kent’s health began to decline in 2018, Fugate and his new husband Brian Swinford stepped in as Kent’s caregivers.
Fugate said Thursday that Kent died of a recently diagnosed lung cancer.
On April 10, Fugate posted on Facebook: “Sometimes you start to doubt your beliefs and wonder why it’s happening to good people and telling yourself why can’t the good people live in why does it have to be this way? I’m so lucky to have had Norm Kent in my life forever changed me to make me a better person, there’s no way on earth I could ever repay him or show him the love that I have for him other than being here for him now.”
Mark Possíen, Kent’s close friend since 1977, described his Victoria Park home as “a refuge for so many people.”
“If you were down and out, he would invite you to come and stay with him. He’d get you a job. If you were on drugs, he tried to get you off drugs,” Possíen said. “He was selfless. He did everything with no expectation of any kind or return or reward from the person.”
About 1991, Possíen moved into a spare room in the Victoria Park house where Kent helped him launch Catalog X, one of the first gay-owned mail-order adult toy businesses.
“I was Dildo Central!” Kent wrote in his final SFGN column published March 30.
By 1998, Possíen had opened two Catalog X retail stores, one in Fort Lauderdale, the other in South Beach. “It was a gay department store. We had everything we thought gay people would be interested in.”
Possíen, who closed Catalog X in 2003, now lives in Lake Worth. In late March, Kent told him that his “biggest disappointment” about having terminal cancer was not having enough time “to sue Ron DeSantis for the drag queen stuff.”
“He said, ‘I’ve taken on all these cases all my life, I didn’t make money on them and sometimes they cost me money,’” Possíen said. “When he saw something that was wrong or unjust, he wanted to fix it.”
During college on Long Island, Kent dabbled as a reporter writing for the local Jewish Journal and Nassau Herald.
Later in South Florida, Kent himself became a media celebrity.
“He’s lived his life in the public eye,” Kent’s brother Alan said. “Norman has done a lot of good stuff and he’s had a lot of recognition for what he accomplished.”
Norm Kent’s name frequently appeared in both the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald. Among his high-profile legal cases:
- Helping adult video store owners charged with obscenity in the 1980s.
- Representing the owners of nude dance clubs in the 1990s, when South Florida municipalities tried to shut them down.
- Defending countless men charged with public sex in restrooms, in parks and on beaches throughout South Florida well into the 2000s.
A 1992 case that got particular attention: When gay radio superstar Neil Rogers, Kent’s close friend, was charged with indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in South Beach.
“Millions” of other men were arrested under the same circumstances, Kent recalled March 28.
“Only straight men would go free. … And people like Neil would get into trouble. I said ‘What the hell is going on here? This isn’t right. This isn’t fair to gay people.’ Over the years, so many would be wrongfully and unjustly arrested and prosecuted.”
From 1989 to 1992, Kent had his own daily talk show on WFTL AM. Later, he hosted various radio programs including one broadcast live during the breakfast rush at the Floridian on Las Olas Boulevard.
He also represented Rogers in the radio business. “I wound up making him, as his agent, $1.5 million a year,” Kent said.
Kent said that for years, Rogers made fun of him on the radio and elsewhere, sometimes referring to him as “Norma.”
“Do you know that they gave me an award for donating money to the Broward General Cancer Society in 2000,” Kent recalled. “And they put my name up on a plaque. And one of the ladies who made the plaque, she really thought my name was Norma. She didn’t put ‘Norman Kent’ on the plaque. She put ‘Norma.’ I said, ‘Neil, you did that.’ We thought that was hilarious.”
In 1999, Kent took on a new title: Newspaper publisher. He launched the Express Gay News, which covered all aspects of queer life in South Florida.
Kent sold the paper four years later to Window Media, a national LGBT media group that renamed it the South Florida Blade. Window Media went bankrupt in November 2009 and quickly shut down the Blade. Most of the staff of the Blade reorganized and launched the Florida Agenda, which shut down in 2016.
In January of 2010 Kent launched a new newspaper and website called South Florida Gay News, along with a new business partner Piero Guidugli, who stayed with the company until 2020.
Celebrating 400 issues of SFGN in 2018, Kent and Guidugli highlighted a few of their most compelling stories, including:
- A five-year long program of entrapment by two West Palm Beach policemen who had entrapped more than 300 men.
- Hollywood police fired officer Mikey Verdugo in 2010 after the department learned he had appeared in a 15-minute gay porn scene 14 years earlier. (Verdugo now owns Bodytek Fitness in Davie and Wilton Manors.)
- The 2010 firing of licensed practical nurse Ray Fetcho AKA drag queen Tiny Tina, when it came out that 35 years earlier Fetcho had been charged with a lewd act for hosting a wet jockey shorts contest at the old Copa nightclub in Fort Lauderdale. (Fetcho died at 68 of cancer and diabetes in 2015.)
In 2016, Kent wrote in a publisher’s column about the last of the big gay bar raids in Broward County, when in 1991 then-Sheriff Nick Navarro created a media spectacle arresting men at the Copa and at Club 21 in Hallandale Beach.
“Sheriff Navarro orchestrated the raid as if he were hosting a Hollywood opening,” Kent wrote. “As the news report by Steve Rothaus indicates, the sheriff turned the raid into a media event, placing the entire LGBT community in a false light. Navarro arrived on the scene, believe it or not, in a helicopter, accompanied by his wife, dressed in an evening gown. Reporters were shocked by the crass celebration, amazingly accompanied by foreign Russian dignitaries to show off for.”
Kent said he never regretted publishing a story, even if it got him into hot water with local power figures, including activists and elected officials.
“It’s the newspaper. It’s what editorial cartoons are all about,” he said. “It’s not for the politician to be thin skinned. It’s for the politician to go naked before the canon and accept the fact that he, too, can be criticized no matter how good they think they are.”
The past five years, Kent suffered several life-threatening health setbacks. He had two brain surgeries to remove tumors, COVID in 2021 and then the pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Last September, he stepped down as publisher and handed the running of SFGN to Associate Publisher Jason Parsley.
“Jason has established himself as a very powerful voice, not afraid to stand up to anybody,” Kent said March 28.
Parsley, 45, a one-time hair stylist who in 2007 got a journalism degree from Florida Atlantic University, has worked at SFGN since 2011.
These days, a local LGBT newspaper and website are more important than ever, Parsley said.
“Our stories, need to be told, must be told,” he said. “Unlike big corporate media, an LGBT paper is invested in the community.”
“You have a hostile legislature that wants to silence and erase our voices and stories. And because this isn’t taught in school, places like the gay media are where you are going to be informed and educated and learn about the queer community.”
Parsley said Kent “had a passion for journalism and being a storyteller.”
“He leaves a long legacy of journalism and a dogged pursuit of the truth,” Parsley said. “He wasn’t just a news reporter. He also wrote scathing and biting — truthful — editorials that would sometimes call out members of our own community and push the ball forward.”
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBTQ issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald. @SteveRothaus on Twitter.
Norm Kent’s eloquence and outlook on life expressed in final column
Thirteen days before his passing, on March 30, South Florida Gay News published an opinion column written by Norm Kent entitled, “What is Hospice and What it Means to Me,” in which he movingly and eloquently described his outlook on life and his passion for journalism as noted by those who knew him.
“Last week, the doctors told me about a new and invasive cancer and tumor that would require even more sudden and maybe midnight trips to the ER and hospitals, ending the day with newer needles in my arms and weakening veins,” Kent wrote.
“Nope, no more,” he continued. “I think I have done my share for here and now. An activist for gay rights and your rights; for NORML and human rights. Your body. Your life. Your call. I hope I have made you proud.”
He reminisced about his life experiences and those dear to him along with loved ones who have been at his side during his illness before stating, “So folks, that all brings me to home health care hospice, like President Jimmy Carter has just done. It’s not to say goodbye, but to thank you for the many hellos. From the many memories; from your local hospitality establishments and homes and businesses.”
And in keeping with his philosophy on life, Kent concluded by saying, “Keep on doing what is right, remembering what is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right. You will always find a path belonging to you. Like Yogi Berra, New York Yankees Hall of Famer once said, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ It’s your own. Forever.”
— Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trans military advocacy organization nominates new president
Navy Cmdr. Emily Shilling ready for new role at SPARTA
WASHINGTON – SPARTA, a nonprofit advocacy organization representing transgender military service members in the United States, has nominated its new president and board chair — Cmdr. Emily Shilling of the U.S. Navy.
Shilling, who has served in the military since 2005, has had a full and eventful 18 years in the Navy. She’s completed more than 60 combat missions and now serves as an Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer where she oversees acquisitions. She previously worked as the director of membership at SPARTA.
Shilling grew up moving from place to place around the United States and abroad with her father, who was a pilot during the Vietnam War era and then a doctor for the U.S. Navy for two decades. She traveled around the United States and abroad growing up, including in Pensacola, Fla., Virginia Beach, Va. and Iceland. She was infatuated with all things science fiction and, of course, planes.
“Things like Star Trek, Star Wars, anything that was showing futuristic, fast flying — huge inspirations to me,” Shilling said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something with airplanes or spaceships.”
Shilling joined the Navy to give back and give freedom back to women and fight for educational rights for people, she said. But she stayed for the people and the lifelong connections with fellow service members.
“I have to say, ‘Thank the service for letting me serve.’ They have given me so much. They gave me a lifetime of experience,” Shilling said.
When Shilling came out as trans in April 2019 to friends and family, the Trump-era executive order that barred trans people from serving openly in the military and prevented trans people from enlisting had just taken effect.
“Everybody looks at me like, ‘Oh my god, you got horrible timing. Why didn’t you just come out before?’ I wasn’t ready,” she said.
Shilling would put on her uniform and go to work as her “old self” for several months. It was disenfranchising, awkward, and depressing, she said. In the fall of 2020, she had enough. Shilling came out to the Navy, even though the executive order was still in place. She was willing to “throw out,” everything, including her pension.
“I needed to go live my own life,” she said.
Shilling took out her phone and crafted a coming out message, which she copied and pasted to every contact. To her surprise, almost everyone she worked with was incredibly supportive.
And the 2020 election went her way — President Joe Biden was elected, and he repealed the executive order shortly after he was sworn in.
But she’s still uneasy. If the next presidential election doesn’t go blue, she could be forced to leave.
“I’m still beholden to an executive order,” Shilling said. “The 2024 timeframe makes me very nervous.”
Shilling founded SPARTA in 2019 online and immediately reached out to the communications director and now previous president, Bree Fram. The nonprofit has provided connections, friends, and support for Shilling and the more than 2,000 other members of the organization. Outside of Reddit threads and Discord servers, there was not a safe space for trans military members to come together and find peer support. SPARTA changed that, Shilling said.
This type of community is incredibly important, especially if trans military service is outlawed once again.
In stepping into this new role, Shilling wants to foster relationships with non-trans aspects of the military and bring in more allies to the movement. She also wants to increase involvement in the diversity action teams and the LGBTQ initiative teams at the Pentagon to ensure representation when crafting policy.
“The worst thing that happens is when people write policy for trans troops, and there’s not a single trans troop in the meeting,” Shilling said. “So continuing to grow those relationships and make sure that we have a seat in the room when people are making policy.”
But most of all, she’s going to keep pushing laws ensuring trans-inclusive service be on the books — and to demonstrate how equipped trans people are to serve.
“Ultimately, our biggest power as an organization is to continue to thrive as trans individuals in service, proving that we are both mentally and physically fully qualified to do some of the most extreme jobs in the military,” Shilling said.
LA’s Fountain Theatre co-founder Deborah Lawlor dies at 83
“More than anyone I’ve ever known, she is the foremost example of utilizing one’s privilege for the benefit of others”
LOS ANGELES — Fountain Theatre co-founder Deborah Lawlor passed away last night, Tuesday, May 2, at the age of 83.
Lawlor’s extraordinary career began in the ’60s as a dancer, choreographer and actor in New York, where she was a member of the storied Judson Church/Caffe Cino scene in the Village. She moved to South India in 1968. There, she pioneered Auroville, a 12-square-mile utopian international community created for human unity that now holds 3,000 inhabitants from around the world.
While there, she also created two full-length outdoor dance/theater pieces celebrating the community. After India, she spent ten years in Australia and France studying ancient cultures of India and Egypt. As an author, she translated the French philosopher and mystic R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz’s work on sacred architecture in “The Temple in Man” (1977), Egyptology in “Symbol and the Symbolic” (1978), and esoteric philosophy in “Nature Word” (1982).
Returning to the U.S. in 1986, she independently produced plays in Los Angeles’ burgeoning intimate theater scene and, in 1990, she and Stephen Sachs co-founded the Fountain Theatre.
Dubbed the “Fountain Theatre’s godmother of flamenco” by the Los Angeles Times, Lawlor was responsible for the Fountain’s extensive dance program, including the company’s renowned “Forever Flamenco” series.
Deborah’s 25-year collaboration with Maria Bermudez and Sonidos Gitanos at the Ford Amphitheater and the Fountain began in 1995.
Other dance projects at the Fountain include The Women of Guernica, Lawlor’s flamenco-based adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, which she also directed, and three full-evening dance-theater pieces which she created and directed: Declarations: Love Letters of the Great Romantics; The Path of Love, which she also directed in South India; and the dance opera, The Song of Songs, with music by Al Carmines.
In 2006, she directed the West Coast premiere of the delightful Taxi to Jannah.
In 2017, the Fountain, in partnership with the Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy, premiered Lawlor’s play Freddy, the tragic story of legendary dancer Freddy Herko who was a denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory and a personal friend of Lawlor’s during her Judson Church days.
In 2010, Actor’s Equity Association honored Lawlor with its Diversity Award for her dedication to presenting work at the Fountain that is culturally diverse.
In 2013, she received special commendations from the City of Los Angeles and the Spanish Consulate for her contributions to the art of flamenco.
Deborah grew up in Riverside, California. Her father, Arthur A. Culver, was president of the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper from 1969 to 1984. He remained on the board of directors until his death in 1994. Deborah’s brother, Tony Culver, passed away in 2002.
“The Fountain Theatre, as it now exists, would not be if not for Deborah Lawlor,” says Sachs. “More than anyone I’ve ever known, she is the foremost example of utilizing one’s privilege for the benefit of others. She will be deeply missed, but she lives on: in Auroville, at the Fountain, and in the hearts of those she touched and the countless lives she changed.”
A memorial celebration to take place on the outdoor stage at the Fountain will be announced at a later date.
Former Mayor Riordan’s support of the LGBTQ+ community
It is incumbent upon LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS communities to recognize the historic advances Riordan made in helping us strive towards full equality
By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan died Wednesday night at the age of 92. Other than a brief mention in LAist, readers of his Los Angeles Times obituary and other remembrances might have no clue about the profound impact this rich, white, old, moderate Republican had on LA’s LGBTQ community and how many lives he helped save during the height of the Second Wave of AIDS.
I covered Riordan’s 1993 mayoral race against LA City Councilmember Mike Woo and was shocked to learn that not everyone in the lesbian and gay community supported the strong Democratic ally who represented Silver Lake and other gay strongholds in the city.
The beginning of 1993 was full of promise. LA-based ANGLE (Access Now to Gay and Lesbian Equality), with the strong leadership of gay political consultant David Mixner, had just organized the first-ever gay voting bloc to elect Mixner’s friend Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton as President of the United States.
Clinton had promised an AIDS Czar and funding for AIDS research, plus he’d lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the US military and would sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Two years earlier, in 1991, as a nod to the emerging radical Republican right led by Congressmember Newt Gingrich, California Gov. Pete Wilson had vetoed AB 101, a state gay civil rights bill he’d promised to sign. LGBTQs and allies protested en masse for two weeks.
At the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation on April 25, we celebrated Clinton’s victory and the belief that the end of AIDS — the end of all the endless dying — was near. Earlier, Clinton posed with a handful of lesbian and gay leaders in the Oval Office holding “Conduct Unbecoming,” Randy Shilts’ signed book about gays in the military presented by Torie Osborn.
We had reason for optimism.
But while Richard Riordan seemed very nice with his broad smile and humorously awkward mangled syntax, he was still a Republican. Pete Wilson had proven that using “moderate” before the party affiliation was simply a Trojan Horse. Plus, Riordan’s law firm, Riordan & McKinzie, represented Cardinal Roger Mahoney’s Catholic archdiocese, a target of ACT UP/LA. It was almost inconceivable that LA — as torn up as it was by the riots sparked by the not guilty verdict for four LAPD cops videotaped beating the crap out of motorist Rodney King — would elect a Republican after 20 years of the beloved Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley.
And then I was introduced to Mike Keeley, an out gay Democrat who was a highly regarded partner in Riordan’s law firm, personal friend, and advisor on gay issues.
Keeley introduced me to others who backed Riordan – as did the then-mostly-moderate Log Cabin Republicans. Riordan, we were promised, judged people on their merits, and touted his version of conservative Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater’s phrase about gays in the military: “It’s not whether you’re straight or gay — it’s whether you shoot straight.” The stance was greatly appreciated after so many of us felt betrayed when six months into his presidency, Clinton announced the horrid “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the witch hunts intensified.
Riordan also had good answers when I peppered him with questions, including a promise to ride in the Christopher Street West Pride Parade. Former Mayor Bradley had only ridden once.
He kept that promise, accompanied by LA City Councilmember Joel Wachs, who, despite being closeted, had pressed for anti-gay and anti-AIDS discrimination laws and supported recruitment, hiring and promotion of out lesbians, gays and bisexuals in the LAPD.
During his two terms as mayor, Riordan went beyond expectations and helped renew our faith in America just a tad — appointing Keeley as LA’s first out gay deputy mayor; appointing Art Mattox as LA’s first out gay LAPD police commissioner; contributing to and riding the last leg of the first California AIDS Ride, a fundraiser for the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center run by Executive Director Lorri Jean; and he attended LGBT and AIDS events, including hanging out at a Project Angel Food benefit with people with AIDS such as Aileen Getty.
Riordan’s grandest progressive move was literally lifesaving. After talking with advisors such as ANGLE’s Dr. Scott Hitt — chair of the President’s AIDS Advisory Council — and learning about the spread of HIV/AIDS through IV drug use, Riordan found a way around California state law prohibiting the sale and use of drug paraphernalia. On Sept. 6, 1994, Riordan declared a state of emergency that enabled LA City AIDS Coordinator Ferd Eggan and other city officials to work with and fund privately-run healthcare programs such as Clean Needles Now.
By declaring an emergency to combat HIV/AIDS in the nation’s second largest city, Riordan circumvented conservative Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren and Republican Governor Pete Wilson, who had already vetoed two clean needle exchange bills, despite CDC and other studies showing the spread of HIV/AIDS through shared dirty needles. Riordan ordered LAPD Chief Willie Williams to tell officers who hung out near known CNN exchange areas and nabbed suspected drug users to prioritize other criminal activities.
But Riordan’s emergency order went beyond the city of Los Angeles. I interviewed LA County Sheriff Sherman Block — who was elected, not appointed — and he said that he, too, issued a department-wide memorandum telling deputies they had “higher priorities” than making needle exchange citations and arrests. (Interestingly, the Jewish Republican Sheriff was willing to stand up to the Republican state leadership and smudge the law since the Board of Supervisors did not issue a similar emergency order – but, as he told out Adelphia cable host and close Riordan friend Bill Rosendahl, Block would not provide condoms and AIDS education in jails since that would be a tacit admission that sex happened in jails.)
To be clear — there was much with which many LGBT folks could disagree with Richard Riordan. But when it mattered at a peak in the AIDS pandemic before the miraculous triple drug cocktail, Riordan appointed out lesbian and gay people to powerful posts, lifted up and participated in LGBT visibility, and most importantly, saved lives by putting healthcare above politics.
While mainstream media may ignore us with the usual benign neglect, it is incumbent upon our own LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities to recognize the historic advances the late mayor made in helping us strive towards full equality.
This article was previously published on Facebook & is republished by permission.
Remembering Charles “Chuck” Williams
Williams Institute, a public policy research institute based at UCLA School of Law focuses on sexual orientation & gender identities issues
Editor’s note: Brad Sears, J.D., is the Founding Executive Director and David Sanders Distinguished Scholar of Law & Policy at the Williams Institute
LOS ANGELES – Hello everyone, I am writing with some very sad news. Chuck Williams, our dear friend, colleague, and founder of the Williams Institute, passed away last Wednesday night. He was at home and at peace with his partner Stu Walter by his side.
In the coming weeks and months, we will have opportunities to celebrate Chuck and remember his generosity and the incredible impact he had on our world. A memorial service is being planned for June and details will be announced in the coming weeks.
|This is a difficult loss. It is also a reminder that life passes quickly, to cherish one another, and each one of us can make a real difference through generosity and service. For me, Chuck’s legacy lies in his incredible warmth towards other people, his relationships with Stu and his many friends, and his vision and philanthropy in support of the LGBTQ community and the Williams Institute. |
Chuck turned on his charm with the first handshake. He was genuinely curious about other people, no matter who they were. He was the consummate host, taking on the role of making sure other people felt welcome and at ease. That remained true until his final days. No matter how much illness impacted his mind or body, he kept his spirits up and had a smile for anyone who walked into his room. Even when words failed, he maintained his charm offensive with his twinkling, expressive eyes.
|Chuck and Stu met in 1967 when they skied into each other arms on Lake Nacimiento. Few today have had relationships that last 56 years. Even fewer relationships have been tested as theirs has been. 1967 was two years before Stonewall, every state except Illinois had sodomy laws, and gay men were regularly entrapped by the LAPD and sent for conversion therapy in state hospitals. Chuck and Stu risked being arrested, fired, and confined if they were out. But they maintained their relationship through those years, the AIDS epidemic, and through the challenges that eventually come with being survivors and living a long full life. I am particularly honored to have witnessed Stu’s incredible strength during the past several months. He remained Chuck’s principal caregiver until the end, rarely left his side, and kept him comfortable at home.|
|Chuck also nurtured so many close friendships. From croquet in the backyard to Christmas dinner for 20 with rowdy white elephant gift exchanges, from a busy schedule of worldwide travel to late-night dinners, trips to Palm Springs, and tailgating at Bruins games—Chuck and Stu created a large and close family of choice for themselves and for so many of us who knew them. Of course, Chuck will be primarily remembered for his public service and philanthropy. But the hallmark of all great people is that they don’t merely overcome their personal challenges, they take on those challenges in a universal way—for their community, their country, or the world. Chuck could have relaxed on a hill overlooking a dazzling view of the Pacific Ocean, but that is not how he lived his life. He and Stu wanted to make life better for all LGBTQ people.|
In the 1970s, Chuck and Stu hosted one of the very first fundraisers for an LGBTQ political candidate. In those days, LGBTQ people were scared to go to an event like that—and they made donations in cash (not by check) so their support couldn’t be traced. Chuck and Stu devoted their time and resources to organizations like AIDS Research Alliance to fight the AIDS epidemic through long-term research investments for treatments and a cure. And then in 2001, Chuck founded the Williams Institute, making the same type of long-term research investments in ending sodomy laws, passing non-discrimination protections, and fighting for marriage equality. Chuck got to see all of those advances in his lifetime because he spent his life working for those advances.
|Chuck has given over $20 million to create and support the Williams Institute. Impressive on its own, but he also gave tirelessly of his time, experience, heart, and skills. He never stopped encouraging others to get involved and support our work. And animating everything he did were his bonds with Stu and his friends and their experiences. He wanted to create a world where others didn’t have to face the same obstacles. For the last 22 years, Chuck’s vision of a better world grew to include combatting poverty in the LGBTQ community, reducing overcriminalization, fighting on behalf of transgender people, and working to improve LGBTQ rights around the globe. |
Chuck never stopped working and never stopped expanding his vision of what full equality means. I hope that all of us are inspired to continue his work on behalf of others and to expand our visions for the future.
The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy, usually shortened to Williams Institute, is a public policy research institute based at the UCLA School of Law focused on sexual orientation and gender identities issues.
Chuck Williams and Stu Walter: Williams Institute Founders Award 2021:
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.”
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.
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.
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