Barrett Brick, 59, a D.C. attorney who is credited with playing a lead role in advocating for LGBT equality on a local, national and international level for more than 30 years, died Sunday, Sept. 22, at a hospice care facility in Bethesda, Md. His death followed a 10-year battle with cancer.
Brick spent most of his professional career as an attorney in Washington working for the Federal Communications Commission.
But friends and colleagues said Brick devoted much of his free time beginning with his student days at Columbia University in New York as a key player and leader of a wide range of LGBT organizations.
He served as president of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance from 2006 through 2009 after having served as the group’s treasurer, according to current GLAA President Rick Rosendall. He served on the board of the then Capital Area Log Cabin Republicans from 1995 to 1998.
Brick served as president of D.C.’s Congregation Bet Mispachah, which reaches out to the LGBT Jewish community, from 1984 to 1985 after serving on the congregation’s board from 1980 to 1984, a GLAA biography of Brick says.
The GLAA biography says Brick served as executive director of the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations from 1987 to 1993.
He served in the 1990s as co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity of the American Bar Association.
“In a town swarming with partisan hackery, Barrett consistently stood up for principle and put the greater good before self-interest,” said Rosendall. “His wide-ranging interests brought him multiple circles of friends,” he said, adding that Brick’s role as a longtime GLAA collaborator and adviser was “beyond price.”
Brick received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1976 and a law degree from Columbia University Law School 1979. During his undergraduate studies he served as treasurer and vice president of Gay People of Columbia and founded the Columbia Gay and Lesbian Law Students Association in 1979.
D.C.’s Rainbow History Project, which inducted Brick as a Community Pioneer credited with helping to strengthen Washington, D.C.’s LGBT community, said Brick was a leader in pushing for immigration rights for LGBT people beginning in the 1990s. In 2012, the national LGBT rights organization Immigration Equality selected Brick as a recipient of its Global Vision Award in recognition of his advocacy for LGBT immigrants and their families.
The Rainbow History Project also credits Brick with working with fellow GLAA member Craig Howell’s campaign in the early 1980s to persuade founders of the soon-to-be-opened U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to include homosexual victims of the Nazi death camps as part of its exhibits and stories of the Holocaust.
“With Howell, he met members of the Jewish Community Council in February 1983 to make the case for inclusion,” the Rainbow History Project states in its biography of Brick. A short time later, with the full support of Jewish leaders and holocaust expert Elie Wiesel, the Council agreed to include gay Holocaust victims as part of the museum’s commemoration of all victims of Nazi persecution, the biography says.
Brick spoke about the significance of including gay Holocaust victims as part of the museum during an event held one day after the Holocaust Memorial Museum was formally dedicated in April 1993. The dedication took place during the same week LGBT people from across the country came to Washington for a national march for LGBT equality.
“For the living and for the dead, for ourselves and for future generations, we and this museum bear witness to the truth of our heritage and our history – of community and survival, of terror and death, of love and resistance,” Brick said. “We preserve our stories, and we tell them.”
Howell, who worked closely with Brick on LGBT rights projects through GLAA, said he was “always witty, passionate and dedicated to our community’s welfare.” Added Howell, “Barrett made himself a truly indispensable man for so many years in so many ways.”
In addition to his numerous LGBT political activities Brick was an avid soccer fan and reader of science fiction literature. His friends say that similar to his political involvements, Brick pushed for LGBT visibility in these two areas. He was an active member of the Screaming Eagles, an organization of soccer fans in the D.C. area that roots for the D.C. United professional soccer team.
He also served on the planning committee for Gaylaxicon 2008, the annual international science fiction, fantasy and horror convention for LGBT fans.
Antonio Ruffini, Brick’s husband, said the two met in September 1999 at a science fiction conference in Melbourne, Australia. As a native and resident of South Africa, Ruffini said he and Brick soon began a bi-continental relationship, with each traveling to one another’s country as often as possible.
Among Brick’s wide range of interests was astronomy and “eclipse chasing,” Ruffini said. Brick’s practice of traveling the world to witness an eclipse and on many occasions taking Ruffini with him gave the two a unique opportunity to spend time together in such places as Egypt, Mongolia and Pacific Islands.
“He saw 14 eclipses in different parts of the world and had been among the top 10 eclipse watchers,” said Ruffini, who points out that Brick was proud of the accomplishment of spending a total of 44 minutes and 57 seconds under the darkness of an eclipse.
“Barrett was very multi-dimensional,” Ruffini said. “The energy he had to get involved in all of these interests was quite something.”
In January 2009 the couple married in Johannesburg in a legally recognized ceremony under South Africa’s constitution, which includes a provision guaranteeing equal rights for gay people.
“Our plan was for him to move to South Africa,” said Ruffini, who noted that Brick had hoped to make the move in 2010 when he retired from the FCC after just over 30 years of government service.
But Brick’s bout with cancer, which had been mostly in remission since diagnosis and early treatment in 2003, resurfaced around the time of his retirement, requiring that he undergo aggressive medical treatment in Washington, Ruffini said.
He said Brick was scheduled to be buried Tuesday in his family’s cemetery plot at Beth Israel Memorial Park in Woodbridge, N.J.
Bet Mishpachah will hold a memorial service on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 5 p.m. in the party room of the Van Ness East condominium building at 2939 Van Ness St., N.W. Van Ness East is two blocks east of Connecticut Avenue and within walking distance of the Van Ness/UDC stop on the Red Line. There is limited valet parking available on site; street parking is available on Van Ness Street. All visitors must enter at the front desk, which will provide directions on accessing the party room.