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Obituary: S. Eric Thomas, 56

Thomas was one of the original investors in the popular Nellie’s Sports Bar in Washington D.C.

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S. Eric Thomas, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade
S. Eric Thomas, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Original Nellies investor S. Eric Thomas (Photo courtesy of Tim Schoeffler)

S. Eric Thomas, an investor who helped start Nellies Sports Bar in Washington, died May 15 at Sibley Memorial Hospital after a battle with cancer of the kidneys, according to his friend Tim Schoeffler. He was 56, gay and had been a D.C. resident since 1983.

Thomas, a Minneapolis native, was the son of W. Lee Thomas and Jean McGrath Thomas and was born on Dec. 29, 1956, the second of five children. He graduated from Cook County High School in 1975 and the University of Minnesota in 1980.

Thomas worked as assistant press secretary to Minnesota Congressman Gerry Sikorski before becoming a PR consultant with the Fratelli Group where he became vice president. He continued there as a principal of the firm until his death.

Thomas is survived by his mother, sisters Leah Thomas, Carah Thomas, Emily Thomas and brother Matthew Thomas, and his nieces Molly Thomas, Sophia Anderson, Audrey Yukimura and Elise Yukimura.

A memorial was held at LongView Gallery in Washington on May 18. Doug Schantz, Nellie’s owner, gave the eulogy. About 350 attended. A memorial is planned in Thomas’s Grand Marais, Minn., hometown in June.

Donations may be made in his name to the Casey Trees Foundation (crowdrise/com/ericthomasmemorial) or the Cook County Historical Society (razoo.com/story/eric-thomas-memorial-fund).

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Obituary

Johnny Randolph Hunt dies at 72

Known for his many years at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Johnny Randolph Hunt passed away quietly on May 27, 2024, after a well-fought battle against late-stage metastatic prostate cancer that had spread to his bones. He was 72.

Hunt was well known for his many years at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C., and for his artistic talents, where he used recycled junk mail to make whimsical masks and wall hangings known as Peculiars.  

In high school, he was a top-performing cross-country runner, and he frequented Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway for long hikes and camping trips. Hunt was born on Feb. 15, 1952 to parents Janette Simshauser Hunt of Amherst, N.Y., and Melvin Hunt of Covesville, Va., both now deceased. He is survived by his husband of 45 years, Jeffrey David Miller and three sisters, Motanna Cason, Joyce Brown, and Shirley Shiflett, and one brother, Rocky Hunt, and a host of other relatives.  

A celebration of life was held on Saturday, June 15. There will be follow-on services in Kinsale, Va., Charlottesville, Va., and Amherst, N.Y., which will be announced later. His favorite charities were  Wounded Warriors, the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation, Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and Habitat for Humanity. Donations in honor of Johnny should be directed to your charities of choice.

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Obituary

Bruce Bastian, beloved LGBTQ philanthropist, WordPerfect co-founder, dies at 76

Pioneering Utah software expert credited with supporting LGBTQ rights, performing arts

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Bruce Bastian (Screen capture via Mormon Stories Podcast YouTube)

Bruce Bastian, a successful Utah businessman and pioneering computer software developer who co-founded the word processing company WordPerfect before becoming a beloved philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to LGBTQ rights causes and the performing arts, passed away on June 16, according to an announcement by the LGBTQ organization Equality Utah.

“No individual has had a greater impact on the lives of LGBTQ Utahns,” Fox 13 TV News of Salt Lake City quoted Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams as saying. “Every success our community has achieved over the past three decades can be traced directly back to Bruce,” Williams was quoted as saying. 

Fox 13 reported that Bastian co-created a word-processing program which later became WordPerfect as a graduate student at Brigham Young University with co-founder Alan Ashton, who was a Brigham Young computer science professor. The two developed the software under contract with the city of Orem, Utah, but they retained ownership of it, according to Fox 13.

“Bruce was definitely a legend, running one of the most successful companies, and an out and proud gay individual,” his friend David Parkinson said in a 2022 interview with Equality Utah, Fox 13 reports. “Not only does he give his money, but he gives his time, he gives his connections, he gives his knowledge, to help change Utah,” Parkinson told Equality Utah, of which Bastian was a founding member.

Fox 13 reports that among the organizations to which Bastian was a generous supporter and financial donor were the Utah AIDS Foundation, Utah’s Plan-B Theatre, the Utah Symphony and Opera and Ballet West, and the University of Utah.

A Wikipedia article on Bastian’s life and career says that in 2003, he donated more than $1 million to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. It says he donated $1.7 million in 1997 for the renovation of the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall, and in 2000 donated $1.3 million to support the university’s purchase of 55 Steinway pianos. The article says he also supported the university’s LGBTQ Resource Center on campus.

Both Fox 13 and Wikipedia report that in 2010 President Barack Obama appointed Bastian to the Presidential Advisory Committee of the Arts.  

Wikipedia, citing the OUTWORDS archive, reports that Bastian was born March 23, 1948, in Twin Falls, Idaho, was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and served as a missionary in Italy. It says he received a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in computer science from Brigham Young University. As an undergraduate, he served as director of the university’s Cougar Marching Band, the article says. 

It says Bastian married Melanie Laycock in 1976 and the couple had four sons before they divorced in 1993. It says Bastian later married Clint Ford. 

“Bruce’s impact reached far beyond Utah, as a leading supporter of the national marriage equality movement, and a major benefactor and board member of the Human Rights Campaign,” the Equality Utah statement says, as reported by Fox 13. “He has been a rock and pillar for all of us,” the statement continues. 

“Our community owes more to Bruce than we can possibly express,” it says. “We send our love, gratitude and condolences to Bruce’s wonderful husband Clint, and his friends and children.”

In a statement released on Monday, HRC said Bastian joined the HRC board in 2003. It says the following year he joined fellow HRC board member Julie Johnson to serve as co-chair of “the board’s successful effort to help defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed amendment to the constitution that would have specified marriage as legal only between a man and a woman.” 

The HRC statement says Bastian passed away peacefully “surrounded by his four sons, his husband, Clint Ford, and friends and other family members.” The HRC and Equality Utah statements did not disclose a cause of death. 

“We are devastated to hear of the passing of Bruce Bastian, whose legacy will have an undeniably profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community for decades to come,” said HRC President Kelley Robinson in the HRC statement. “Bruce was in this fight, working at every level of politics and advocacy, for over four decades,” Robinson said. 

“He traveled all across this country on HRC’s behalf and worked tirelessly to help build an inclusive organization where more people could be a part of this work,” she said. ‘Bruce stood up for every one of us and uplifted the beautiful diversity of our community,” Robinson said. “It’s the kind of legacy we should all be proud to propel forward.”

The HRC statement says that in addition to his four sons, Bastian is survived by 14 grandchildren, two sisters, a brother, and numerous other extended family members. 

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Obituary

Pioneering transgender computer scientist Lynn Conway dies at 86

Early supercomputers pioneer fired after she transitioned

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Lynn Conway (University of Michigan faculty headshot by Charles Rogers and Xerox photo by Margaret Moulton)

BY ERIN REED | Tuesday, news broke that transgender woman and computer pioneer Lynn Conway passed away at the age of 86. Her story is nothing short of remarkable.

Conway helped pioneer early supercomputers at IBM but was fired after she transitioned. She went “stealth” and had to rebuild her career from the ground up, starting as a contract programmer at Xerox with “no experience.”

Then, she did it all over again, pioneering VLSI — a groundbreaking technology that allowed for microchips to be made small enough to fit in your pocket, paving the way for smartphones and personal computers. In 1999, she broke stealth, becoming an outspoken advocate for transgender people.

Conway first attempted to transition at MIT in 1957 at 19-years-old. At the time, the environment was not accepting enough for trans people to do so. She would have faced enormous barriers to medical transition, as few doctors were knowledgeable enough to prescribe hormone therapy a the time. Like many trans people seeing enormous barriers to care, she spent the following years closeted.

Eventually, she was hired by IBM where she helped develop the world’s fastest supercomputer at the time on the Advanced Computing System (ACS) project. The computer would become the first to use a “superscalar” design, which made it capable of performing several tasks at once, dramatically improving its performance and making it much faster than previous computers. Despite her pivotal role in the project, she was fired when she informed her employer that she wanted to transition.

What she did next is nothing short of remarkable. Realizing that as an openly trans woman in 1968, few companies would hire her, she went “stealth” and pretended she had no significant prior experience in computers.

She quickly advanced through the ranks and was hired by Xerox, where she famously developed VLSI, or Very Large Scale Integration. This groundbreaking technology allowed for thousands of transistors to be packed onto a single chip, revolutionizing electronics by making cell phones and modern computers possible through miniaturization and increased processing power.

Conway didn’t stop there. After gaining fame for her computer innovations, she came out in 1999 to advocate for trans people. She was among the early critics of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, an anti-trans researcher still cited today by those working to ban gender-affirming care.

Conway slammed Zucker for practicing “reparative therapy,” a euphemism for conversion therapy. Notably, Zucker’s research continues to make false claims that “80 percent of transgender kids desist from being trans,” numbers based on his clinic’s practices, which closely mirrored gay conversion therapy. That clinic has since been shut down over those practices.

Often, those opposed to trans people paint a picture of gender transition as something new, unique, or unsustainable. Similarly, many who transition are told they cannot be successful as trans individuals.

Such claims are often weaponized by anti-trans activists like Matt Walsh, who once mockingly asked, “What exactly have ‘transgender Americans’ contributed?” Conway’s life was a resounding rebuke to these attacks. She attempted to transition at a young age in the 1950s, revolutionized computing twice from scratch, and made the cell phone Walsh likely used to post such a question possible.

Perhaps more importantly, Conway’s life gave trans people another gift: A visible example that we can grow old, and a reminder that we have always been here. In a world where so many of us have had to hide in silence or stealth, where representation has been denied, and where we are told that our lives will be too dangerous to live, Conway proved that one can be trans and live a long, fulfilling, and proud life.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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