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Remembering the lives we lost in 2018

Tab Hunter, SpongeBob creator, AIDS activists and others

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Tab Hunter, gay news, Washington Blade
LGBTQ people died, Tab Hunter, gay news, Washington Blade

Actor and 1950s heartthrob Tab Hunter died earlier this year. (Photo courtesy the Film Collaborative)

Many acclaimed LGBTQ people died in 2018 from the worlds of entertainment, sports, advocacy, business and beyond. They include:

Victor Salisbury, a Realtor, banking analyst, gay rights supporter and D.C. area resident, died on Jan. 4 at 66.

Eddie Weingart, a D.C.-based massage therapist and anti-gun violence activist died at age 39 on Jan. 11. After the 2012 Newtown, Conn. mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he helped to found the Project to End Gun Violence. In 2013, Weingart received the “Be the Change Award from the Washington Peace Center for his advocacy.

Dr. Mathilde Krim, a wealthy straight scientist and who was a pioneer in AIDS activism and research, died on Jan. 15 at age 91. She was the founding chairwoman of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Dennis Peron who led an effort to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in California died on Jan. 27 at age 71 in a San Francisco hospital.

Robert Pincus-Witten, a renowned art critic, died on Jan. 28 at 82 after a long illness.

John Mahoney, British-born actor, beloved for his portrayal of Martin Crane, the father on the hit TV sitcom “Frasier,” died on Feb. 3  at age 77. He was nominated twice for an Emmy for his role on “Frasier.”

Judy Blame, the fashion stylist, died at age 58 from cancer in London on Feb. 20.  There was a retrospective of Blame’s work at the ICA in London in 2016.

David Ogden Stiers, who played Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III in the renowned TV show “MASH,” died March 3 at age 75. At age 66, he came out as queer.

Barbara Wersba, an acclaimed lesbian author of books for young adults, died at age 85 on Feb. 18 in Englewood, N.J. She was among the first YA authors to write about same-sex relationships.

Hubert de Givenchy, the renowned French fashion designer who for decades dressed icons from Jacqueline Kennedy to Grace Kelley to Audrey Hepburn, died at age 91 on March 10.

Steve Elkins, founder and executive director of CAMP Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach, Del., died at age 67 on March 15.

J.D. McClatchy, a Lambda Award-winning-poet, died at age 72 on April 10. He was the author of eight poetry collections and several opera librettos, including “Our Town” for Ned Rorem’s settings of Thornton Wilder’s drama.

Jean McFaddin, who planned Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades, Santaland at Christmas, spring flower shows and July 4th fireworks in Manhattan for 24 years, died on April 18.

Richard Peck, a gay author of stories about rape, suicide and other difficult topics for young readers, died on May 27 at age 84.

LGBTQ rights activist Connie Kurtz died at age 81 at her home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Kurtz and her wife Ruth Berman were plaintiffs in a lawsuit over domestic partner benefits for New York City school employees.

On April 14, David Buckel, a prominent LGBTQ rights lawyer and environmental advocate, age 60, committed suicide by dousing himself with gas and setting himself on fire, in Brooklyn, N.Y. His death was a political act of self-immolation.

Robert M. Higdon, a friend of President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan and fund-raising director for the Reagan Presidential Library, died at age 58 on June 19.

Dick Leitsch, a pioneering gay rights activist, died at age 83 on June 22 in Manhattan. In 1966, Leitsch led a protest when a bartender at Julius’ in the West Village in New York wouldn’t serve openly gay patrons.

Tab Hunter, a 1950s movie star, died on July 8 at age 86. He was closeted until he came out in his 2005 autobiography (written with Eddie Muller) “Tab Hunter Confidential.”

Tom Gallagher, the first Foreign Service officer to come out publicly as gay, died on July 8 at age 77. “I don’t want any of you… ever to take for granted what it took for people like Tom Gallagher to pave the way for all of you,” Hillary Clinton said in 2012 on the 20th anniversary of GLIFAA, a State Department LGBT employee organization.

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, feminist, activist and author died at age 72 on July 10.  

Gary Beach, an actor who won a Tony Award for his performance as director Roger De Bris in “The Producers,” died at age 70 on July 17.

Charles Hamlen, the founder of Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS, died at age 75 on Aug. 1.  He started the group, which later merged with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, in 1993 five years after his partner died of AIDS in 1988.

John Glines, who won a Tony Award as a producer of “Torch Song Trilogy,” in 1983, died on Aug. 8 at age 84. At the Tonys, Glines thanked his lover Lawrence Lane.  It’s believed to have been the first time anyone at the Tonys said they were thanking their gay lover, reported the New York Times.

Vivian Matalon, who won a Tony Award for directing “Mornings at Seven” in 1980, died at age 88 on Aug. 15.

Craig Zadan, who with his producing partner Neil Meron, won the Academy Award for best picture for Chicago in 2003, died on Aug. 21 at age 69. They produced “The Sound of Music” and other live musical revivals for NBC.

Rev. Robert Wood, the first American clergy to support marriage equality and to urge churches to welcome gay people died on Aug. 20 at age 95, the Blade reported.

Lindsay Kemp, a choreographer and teacher of David Bowie and Kate Bush, died at age 80 on Aug. 24. Kemp and Bowie were lovers for a time.

Crime writer Amanda Kyle Williams died at age 61 on Aug. 31. She is the author of the Keye Street series, whose titles include “The Stranger You Seek.”

Disability advocate and gay rights activist Janet Weinberg died on Sept. 1 at age 63.  She was a leader at LGBTQ rights groups, including the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center.

Jeanne Ashworth, who won a bronze medal in the 500-meter race at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., died on Oct. 4 at age 80 at her home in Wilmington, N.Y. She was one of the first women to compete in speedskating in the Olympics.

Ruth Gates, an acclaimed coral-reef biologist and marine conservationist died at age 56 from brain cancer on Oct. 25. Gates advocated breeding a “super coral” to resist the impact of climate change.

Maria Irene Fornés, a playwright who won eight Obie awards, died at age 88 on Oct. 30. Acclaimed for her experimental theater work, she received an Obie for lifetime achievement in 1982. “She’s not spoken of as an important American playwright, and she should be,” playwright Tony Kushner told the New York Times.

Ray Hill, a former Baptist evangelist and ex-convict who became a Houston LGBT rights activist and helped to organize the first gay rights march on Washington died at age 78 on Nov. 24. In the 1980s, he helped to found Omega House for AIDS patients. Hill hosted a radio talk show for prisoners and their families.

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the cultural phenomenon “SpongeBob SquarePants” died at age 57 on Nov. 26. Hillenburg, who was straight, had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  “SpongeBob,” the animated adventures of a yellow, pineapple-dwelling, sea creature, that airs on Nickelodeon, has a big queer following.

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National

Activists demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Protest took place outside agency’s D.C. headquarters on Wednesday

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Jessycka Ckatallea Letona, an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who spent nearly two years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, participated in a protest in front of ICE's headquarters in Southwest D.C. on Oct. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessycka Ckatallea Letona is an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who fled persecution in her homeland because of her gender identity.

She asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2016 when she entered the country in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ckatallea on Wednesday told the Washington Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed her in a pod with 70 men at a privately-run detention center in Florence, Ariz. She also said personnel at another ICE detention center in Santa Ana, Calif., ridiculed her because of her gender identity and forced her to strip naked before she attended hearings in her asylum case.

Ckatallea spent a year and eight months in ICE custody before her release. She won her asylum case and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Ckatallea as she spoke with the Blade in front of ICE’s headquarters in Southwest D.C. “I came to a country thinking that it would take care of me, that it would protect me because of my gender identity.”

Ckatallea is one of the more than a dozen immigrant rights activists who participated in a protest in front of ICE’s headquarters that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention campaign organized. Ckatallea, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris and other protest participants demanded ICE immediately release trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from their custody.

The groups placed on the sidewalk in front of the building a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” to honor three trans women—Victoria Orellano, Roxsana Hernández and Johana “Joa” Medina León—who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. The “ofrenda” also paid tribute to Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS who died in ICE custody on Oct. 1.

Immigrant rights activists on Oct. 27, 2021, placed a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest D.C. that honored three transgender women and a man with AIDS who died while in ICE custody or immediately upon their release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ckatallea, Morris and the other protesters approached the building’s entrance and presented security personnel with a petition that calls upon President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately release all transgender people, people living with HIV, and people with medical conditions from ICE custody.”

ICE has repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in their custody.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center, the same privately-run facility in which Gotopo was held until his hospitalization. The person with whom the Blade spoke described conditions inside the detention center as “not safe” because personnel were not doing enough to protect them and other detainees from COVID-19.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is among the dozens of lawmakers who have called for the release of all trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from ICE custody. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday reiterated this call during a virtual briefing that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention Campaign organized.

“ICE’s clear inability to do better leads me to seek to end of ICE’s detention of all trans migrants,” said Quigley. “During both the Trump and Biden administration I led dozens of my colleagues to demand that ICE release transgender detainees and end its practice of holding trans migrants in custody. We had hoped that things would change with the new administration, so far I’m disappointed.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also participated in the briefing alongside Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford and Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress and others.

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Texas

Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.

********************

Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.

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National

Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled

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Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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