Rick Stafford, a longtime LGBT activist in the Democratic Party, died on Sept. 2 at a hospital near his home in southern Minnesota, according to his friend Kurt Vorndran. He was 65. The cause of death was a heart ailment.
“He was a major force within the Democratic Party even though I don’t think he was a household name,” Vorndran said. “He was just a brilliant strategist who knew the party rules and really knew how to get things done. He was a member of the national committee and knew all the major national figures — Hillary Clinton, Obama, Bill Clinton.”
Vorndran said Stafford would often stay with him when he visited Washington.
“He would say, ‘I’m here running a caucus or I have a ward committee meeting. … He was just so involved in grassroots retail politics and that’s what made him such a tremendous force, I think, his whole life.”
Stafford, a Minnesota native who lived there his whole life, was born Aug. 25, 1952.
Stafford was credited with playing a lead role in lobbying, cajoling and nudging the Democratic Party to take a strong stand on LGBT rights and to change its delegate selection rules and policies to reach out to minorities, especially LGBT people, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of LGBT delegates.
He was a veteran of national Democratic conventions having been to at least 10. He came out in the 1970s.
In 1992, Minnesota Democrats elected Stafford as chair of the state party, making him the first out gay person to win election to chair either of the two major parties in a state.
Since the 1990s Stafford served at various times as a member of the Democratic National Committee. He chaired the DNC’s LGBT Americans Caucus.
“I was a rabble rouser,” said Stafford in a 2012 Washington Blade interview. “But we knew about timing, when it’s the best time to pick and choose your battles. It’s just sheer stupidity when we’re even thinking about a negative protest when we have so much to celebrate.”
“He really believed politics could make a difference in the lives of ordinary people,” Vorndran said.
Stafford was single. No information about services was immediately available.
Lou Chibbaro Jr. contributed to this report.