September 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Longtime D.C. activist Barrett Brick dies
Barrett Brick, GLAA, gay news, Washington Blade

Barrett Brick (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

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.”

Barrett Brick, GLAA, gay news, Washington Blade

Barrett Brick (left) at a 1988 protest in the City Council chamber. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Barret Brick was a hero in our community, to GLAA, and a great friend to many.
    He died too young. I watched him heroically spit in the face of death for many years.
    You will always be in my heart and thoughts, Barrett.
    Mindy Daniels
    Former President, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance

  • Barrett was a thoughtful, passionate, and witty friend. Well ahead of his peers, he actively encouraged a LGBTQ big tent in the 1980’s, including bisexual and transgender people. I so admire people like Barrett who are multi-dimensional and develop deep friendships in varied communities. His love and support will always be with me.
    Michael Beer

  • I am a better person for having known and worked with Barrett. Our community has lost a great thinker, advocate and friend.

  • Barrett was a colleague and friend from our days at the FCC in 1979 onwards. His Hanukkah parties were always a highlight — no one ever had better decorations, and he made a point of adding to his collection for each year. Also, those who heard his addresses at Bet Mishpochah on High Holidays came away knowing his careful erudition, a sharp contrast to his often outspoken and colorful personality.

  • Barrett was not only a tireless advocate for many causes in and out of the LGBT community, but he was instrumental in bringing me one of the greatest joys of my life. Barrett was the person who introduced me to my partner at Bet Mishpachah. My partner was visiting Barrett from New York, and it was “Some Enchanted Evening” when I saw my partner for the first time across the crowded room before services. My partner and I have been together almost 33 years, and married in DC almost 3 1/2 years ago. Barrett, may you rest in a well-deserved peace.

  • Barrett was a colleague at the FCC, but we became friends because of our mutual interest in Jewish education. With Barrett’s and Bet Mishpachah’s help, the Jewish Study Center produced a thought provoking class series on Jewish Diversity that was, like many of his other efforts, way ahead of its time. May his memory be for a blessing.

  • A fond memory, among many, that I have of Barrett is from the early 1990s. The State Department had begun issuing human rights reports and the first or second year of them saw a gay-related citation. I called the author of the report, requested a meeting with him to improve the gay citations in future reporter and he agreed to a meeting. My ACT UP colleague Margaret Cantrell said she would attend and we invited Barrett to join us. I think he was head of the World Jewish Congress at the time. Without hesitation, Barrett agreed to participate in the meeting and he obtained his own copy of the annual report so he could be familiar with it. At the meeting, he was the older brother to Margaret and I as we lobbied State to expand mention of global gay people and HR abuses. Barrett will always be my older brother with a big and loving heart, and fierce mind. RIP my friend.

  • Barrett was also a great supporter and friend to the Federal Triangles Soccer Club. He was a member of the host committee when we hosted the 1997 IGLFA World Championships of GLBT soccer here. R.I.P. Barrett

  • Barrett was at my wedding to Pat and I have a picture of the three of us together. His gift to me that day was a set of soccer referee cuff links for my tux shirt – one yellow labeled yellow card and one red labeled red card! My 1st wife and I and my current wife Pat attended and loved his Hannukah celebrations. I knew how important he was to the GLBT and Jewish communities and the world is a little less bright without him in it. Rest in Peace my friend!

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