Leonard P. “Len” Hirsch, a senior policy adviser at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington for 26 years and founder of the organization representing LGBT employees of the federal government known as Federal GLOBE, died June 12 at the National Institutes of Health Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 59.
Friends said the cause of death was cancer.
Hirsch has been credited with playing a key role in bringing together scientists and public policy makers in his role as senior policy adviser at the Smithsonian’s Office of International Relations and the Office of the Under Secretary for Science from 1988 to 2014.
A statement released by those who knew him at the Smithsonian says Hirsch, who specialized in global environmental issues, helped to found the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), an international data gathering operation that “allows anyone, anywhere to access data about all types of life on earth, shared across national boundaries via the Internet,” according to its website.
The statement says Hirsch represented the Smithsonian before national and international meetings and organizations, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, a group founded by a 1992 international agreement on conservation of natural resources.
“He also dealt with a wide range of issues in history, art and culture, as well as astronomy,” the statement says.
Information released by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says Hirsch in 1988 organized the first meeting of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees of the U.S. government that became known as Federal GLOBE. It happened during his first year working at the Smithsonian.
A short time later he was elected president of Federal GLOBE, a position he held for more than 10 years.
Hirsch also played a lead role in founding a GLOBE chapter at the Smithsonian and helped others form GLOBE chapters at more than a dozen federal government agencies.
“He was an important, early voice for LGBT rights for U.S. federal government personnel,” said Selim Ariturk, president of GLIFAA, the GLOBE-affiliated group representing LGBT employees in U.S. foreign affairs agencies. “Len was a great friend and supporter of GLIFAA since our organization’s inception in 1992.”
Richard Socarides, who served as the White House liaison to the LGBT community during the administration of President Bill Clinton, said Hirsch worked hard behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for an executive order that Clinton issued in his second term banning sexual orientation discrimination in the federal workforce.
“I remember Len as a tireless advocate not only for LGBT federal employees but for civil rights for all Americans,” Socarides said. “He was such a warm and dignified presence, even while a most vigorous advocate.”
Hirsch was born and raised in Queens, N.Y. Nancy Gray, a friend since the two were teenagers, said Hirsch graduated from Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens before starting at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., where he received a bachelor’s degree in International Relations in 1976.
He received both a master’s degree in 1978 and his Ph.D. in 1980 in political science at Northwestern University in Chicago.
After completing his doctorate degree Hirsh landed a teaching job at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he helped start an LGBT faculty organization, according to a Rainbow History Project write-up on Hirsch at the time he was named one the of group’s LGBT Pioneers.
The write-up says that during the 1984 annual conference of the American Political Science Association, Hirsch helped organize the first meeting of what became the association’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.
It says Hirsch moved to D.C. in 1985 to join his partner, Kristian Fauchald, whom he met in 1983. Fauchald, a marine biologist, began a 35-year career at the Smithsonian in 1979, where he conducted research at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
In his first three years in D.C. prior to joining the Smithsonian, Hirsch worked for a data management firm, started a company that produced a personal computer, and conducted research under a U.S. Department of Education grant at Prince George’s Community College, the Rainbow History Project’s write-up says.
During their years together in Washington, Hirsch and Fauchald became domestic partners in 2001 and married in 2008 in California. The couple’s 32-year relationship ended when Fauchald died in April of this year at the age of 79.
“We are heartbroken from the loss of Len so soon after Kristian passed away, but find comfort believing they are now together again,” said Merete Fauchald, a member of the Fauchald family, in a Facebook posting earlier this week.
Scott Miller, the Smithsonian’s Deputy Undersecretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support, said he worked closely with Hirsch for 15 years.
“He knew what was going on in both the science community at large and across the Smithsonian very well,” said Miller. “He was one of those people who were good at building bridges between what was going on somewhere else, what was going on at the Smithsonian, and who should know each other,” he said.
“He was a professional networker before the term was trendy,” said Miller.
Gray, an attorney in Los Angeles, called Hirsch a “brilliant and generous” person. “Len was dedicated to the pursuit of truth and scientific fact,” she said. “And he was blessed to have an extraordinary group of friends around him, and several of us were there when he died.”
She said that in keeping with his wishes, Hirsch was to be cremated. Gray said a memorial service is being planned for July 28 in Washington at a location to be announced soon.
He is survived by his father, Michael Hirsch, and a wide circle of friends and relatives.