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Kay Lahusen, LGBTQ equality rights pioneer has died at 91

Kay was the first out LGBTQ photo journalist, an author and partner of her beloved Barbara Gittings. They were pioneers in LGBTQ activism

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Kay and Barbara at 25th anniversary of Stonewall (Photograph by Karen Ocamb)

By Mark Segal | PHILADELPHIA, PA – Kay Lahusen, 91, died in gentle hospice care at Chester County Hospital on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, after a brief illness.  She was born in Cincinnati in January 1930 and as an infant was adopted and raised by her grandparents.  After graduating from Ohio State University, she moved to Boston, where she met her lifelong partner Barbara Gittings at a Daughters of Bilitis picnic in 1961.  

Kay and Barbara lived variously in New York, Philadelphia and Wilmington DE. They were gay activists from the early days of the Gay Rights movement in the US, marching openly in picket lines in Washington DC and Philadelphia in the early 1960s.  Kay became known as the first openly gay photojournalist. Her photos documenting these and many later activities were printed in various gay publications including Gay (a national weekly) and The Ladder.  Her photos are archived in the New York Public Library, which drew upon them for the 2019 book, Love and Resistance; out of the closet into the Stonewall era.

Kay researched and wrote the book Gay Crusaders (1972), which was published under her pseudonym Kay Tobin and with the addition of a male “co-author” (her friend, Randy Wicker) to help with its public acceptance.  The original research materials for that book are also archived at the New York Public Library.

Kay and Barbara remained activists throughout their lives.  Shortly before Barbara’s death in 2007, they moved to Kendal at Longwood, Kennett Square PA.  After Barbara’s death Kay continued to contribute to Gay history, giving many interviews, especially about their work with the American Psychiatric Association and the American Library Association.  She collaborated in 2015 with Tracy Baim to produce Barbara Gittings, gay pioneer, a biography of Barbara which used many of Kay’s photos.  She decorated her room at Kendal with dozens of photographs, and she would talk about her experiences as a gay activist at the drop of a hat, even regaling the nurses at Chester County Hospital with her story days before her death.

Kay is survived by Trusted Friends: Judith Armstrong of Hockessin DE, John Cunningham of Philadelphia, Ada Bello of Philadelphia, and James Oakes of Secane PA, and by the many, many friends, acquaintances, and admirers — too numerous to name here — who made up her chosen family.

Kay’s remains will rest in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington DC, along with her partner’s in a bench designed to express their love for each other and their dedication to showing that Gay is Good.  Due to COVID-19, a public memorial will be postponed.  In lieu of flowers, Kay would welcome your contributions to William Way LGBT Community Center,  1315 Spruce St, Philadelphia PA 19107  or to Kennett Area Community Service, P.O.Box 1025, Kennett Square PA 19348 for their local food cupboard.

Condolences may be left at foundsfuneralhome.com.

In December of 2019, the Philadelphia Gay News ran a profile on the 90th birthday celebration of Lahusen. She was asked, So visibility is one of the hallmarks of your life? 

In answer she noted; “Oh, absolutely. I enjoyed working on “The Ladder.” I tried to put wonderful women on the covers. That was very important, because before then we only had drawings on covers. We went against the American Psychiatric Association and succeeded in removing homosexuality from the mental illness allegation. I wasn’t at Stonewall, but I certainly admired it. I had a lot to say about it and write about it. I’ve had a terrific life. I think gay couples, getting back to that question, should get involved, and give it all they’ve got. It’s so much fun. Don’t you agree?”

You can read the entire interview here: https://epgn.com/2019/12/27/activist-kay-lahusen-celebrates-90th-birthday/

Mark Allan Segal is an American journalist. He participated in the Stonewall riots and was one of the original founders of the Gay Liberation Front where he created its Gay Youth program. He was the founder and former president of the National Gay Newspaper Guild and the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News.

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LGBTQ ally Olivia Newton-John has died at 73

Performer had been battling breast cancer for over three decades

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Olivia Newton-John (Photo by DFree/Bigstock)

In an announcement on Facebook Monday, John Easterling, the husband of singer and actress Olivia Newton-John relayed the news that she had died at age 73.

Newton-John had been battling breast cancer for over three decades, her first cancer diagnosis in 1992 when she was 44. Although she had previously seen her cancer in remission, in 2017 she was diagnosed again.

In October of 2020 in an interview with The Guardian the pop star and actor spoke about her third diagnosis of cancer. “Three times lucky, right?” she smiles warmly. “I’m going to look at it like that. Listen, I think every day is a blessing. You never know when your time is over; we all have a finite amount of time on this planet, and we just need to be grateful for that.” She genuinely sounds as if she means every word.

The cancer’s return in 2017 was, she told The Guardian, not unexpected. “It’s been a part of my life for so long. I felt something was wrong. It’s concerning when it comes back, but I thought: ‘I’ll get through it again.’”

What of her health problems? “I don’t think of myself as sick with cancer,” she says firmly. “I choose not to see it as a fight either because I don’t like war. I don’t like fighting wherever it is – whether it’s outside or an actual war inside my body. I choose not to see it that way. I want to get my body healthy and back in balance. Part of that is your mental attitude to it. If you think: ‘Poor me,’ or ‘I’m sick,’ then you’re going to be sick.”

The popstar-singer was arguably best known for her breakout role in Grease, the 1978 American musical romantic comedy film based on the 1971 musical of the same name by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, which co-starred Oscar nominated actor John Travolta.

Travolta paid tribute to his co-star in a post on his Insta:

Newton-John was an ally to the LGBTQ community who was appreciative of her LGBTQ fans. In an interview with Logo/MTV she noted: “The gay fans have always been very loyal, they are a really great audience and have always been there for me.”

Out actor George Takei tweeted his remembrance:

In addition to her husband she is survived by her 36-year-old daughter, Chloe Lattanzi. 

The family asked for donations to be made to her cancer organization, the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, in lieu of flowers. 

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Priest, Dignity Washington fundraiser David Pichette dies at 81

‘Generously shared his time, resources and spiritual gifts’

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David Pichette, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who friends say transitioned to become a grant writer for nonprofit organizations and who for many years became involved with the LGBTQ Catholic organizations Dignity Washington and Dignity Northern Virginia, died June 27 from complications associated with pancreatic cancer at a hospice in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 81.

A write-up about Pichette’s life published in the Dignity Washington Bulletin and prepared by Dignity Washington Vice President Peter Edwards says that among Pichette’s activities related to the two Dignity groups was to celebrate Sunday mass for the groups’ members in his role as a priest.

The Dignity Washington write-up says Pichette and his life partner, Gene Vollmer, were also beloved, active members of the D.C.-based Catholic group Communitas. 

“Dave generously shared his time, resources and spiritual gifts for nearly twenty years, joining in community liturgies, socials, and retreats,” Edwards’ write-up says about Pichette’s involvement with the Dignity groups and Communitas.

“Workwise, Dave transitioned to being a nonprofit professional specializing in grant writing for nonprofit organizations,” according to the write-up. “Over the years, he assisted many smaller nonprofits in obtaining grants to continue their mission. Dave’s strong work ethic continued his effort to help several nonprofits right until he entered the hospital,” Edwards says in his write-up.

“Dave was instrumental in helping Dignity Washington with several fundraising drives,” the write-up says. “The most successful effort raised money to pay off the Dignity Center mortgage and put the overall Dignity Washington finances on a sound footing.”

Among those who point to Pichette’s support for LGBTQ Catholics and for the LGBTQ community are Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, the Mount Rainier, Md., based national group that advocates for LGBTQ Catholics, and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s current executive director. 

“I admired Dave’s incredible grasp of history, his deep involvement in the life of the church, and his sense of responsibility as a citizen,” Gramick said. “Even more, I appreciated his sense of fairness and justice for all,” she said. “Of course, he was especially concerned about the rights of LGBT people, and he will be sorely missed by those who knew him,” Gramick told the Blade. 

DeBernardo called Pichette a “great priest,” among other things, because of his friendliness and his understanding of people’s pain and suffering from his own experiences.

“He knew that the greatest thing that gay people needed from the church was affirmation of their identities,” DeBernardo said. “And he knew that the greatest thing that the church needed from gay people was their forgiveness.” 

In his write-up on Pichette for the Dignity Washington Bulletin, Edwards says Pichette and his partner Vollmer moved to Miami around the time of Pichette’s retirement, but that the two made annual summer visits to the D.C. area and to a cabin the two had bought in West Virginia.

“During their annual trips north, they would frequently travel in from West Virginia to attend Mass at both Dignity Washington and Dignity Northern Virginia,” Edwards wrote. “Dave was a radiant and energetic person, with words of cheer and humor and good will toward everyone.” 

Edwards’ write-up says that Pichette’s partner Vollmer preceded Pichette in death. The write-up says a funeral Mass for Pichette was held on July 9 at Holy Redeemer Church in the Liberty City section of Miami. A burial was scheduled to take place at a family plot in upstate New York, where Pichette was born and raised, on Aug. 5. 

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Attorney, LGBTQ activist and author Urvashi Vaid dies

Former National LGBTQ Task Force executive director passed away in New York

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Lorri L. Jean, Rea Carey, Urvashi Vaid and Matt Foreman (Photo courtesy of the National LGBTQ Task Force)

Urvashi Vaid, a powerful longtime influential attorney and LGBTQ activist whose career spanned from the early days of the AIDS pandemic to the contemporary battles over equality and equity for the LGBTQ community died today at her home after a bout with cancer in New York.

Vaid, 63, known for her extensive career as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, anti-war efforts, immigration justice and many other social causes, had served as the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force from 1989-1992 and served prior to that as the organization’s media director.

Urvashi Vaid, on front left, speaks at an ACT UP DC demonstration in 1990 in front of the U.S. Capitol calling for funding of the CARE Act. (Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

“We are devastated at the loss of one of the most influential progressive activists of our time,” said Kierra Johnson, current executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “Urvashi Vaid was a leader, a warrior and a force to be reckoned with,” continued Johnson, “She was also a beloved colleague, friend, partner and someone we all looked up to—a brilliant, outspoken and deeply committed activist who wanted full justice and equality for all people.”

“Her leadership, vision and writing helped shape not only the Task Force’s values and work but our entire queer movement and the larger progressive movement. We will strive every day to live up to her ideals and model the courage she demonstrated every day as an activist and a person. She will be deeply I missed. I miss her already,” concluded Johnson.

National LGBTQ Task Force

Vaid’s impact on the politics of the the AIDS crisis and the battles over full equality was considerable. During former President George H.W. Bush’s 1990 address on AIDS, Vaid, then the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, made a statement with her sign: “Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding is Not.” Her critique made waves, disrupting the press conference, and shedding light on the failures of the Bush administration.

Another former executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Rea Carey noted in her post on Facebook:

“I am deeply sad that Urvashi Vaid has died. My heart is with Kate and all of Urv’s beloveds who have been with her these last years, months and days as she dealt with cancer. My activism has been greatly shaped by the fact that Urv took me seriously as a young leader in our movement. She seemed endlessly excited about the ideas and passion for justice that young activists held. She was one of our movement’s motivators and north stars.

Whenever Urv called, I’d clear my schedule for the next hour (at least!), pull out a pen and pad of paper and prepare to feverishly write down what were likely to be 10-20 rapid fire ideas of things she thought I should be doing, or doing much better … tomorrow!

Urv pushed me to see connections, dig deeper, and I was a better activist and leader for it. Her impact within the National LGBTQ Task Force carried on long after she left its staff. The sheer intellectual and strategic hole in our movement’s drive towards liberation and freedom, left by Urv’s death, is hard to grasp.

Up until her last months she was creating projects, mentoring others, pushing for liberation, gathering data through the National LGBTQ+ Women’s Community Survey. The only thing I ever saw Urv be more passionate about than her pursuit of freedom and liberation, was her love for Kate, their family, and her energy for her friends.

The best way we can honor Urv is to continue to fight for justice and the full liberation of all people,” Carey said.

Her time at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in which she held multiple positions for over 10 years, notably media director, then executive director, saw her bring all aspects of queer life and struggle into the public eye. While at the Task Force, she co-founded the annual Creating Change conference, now in its 33rd year. 

“I first met Urv in the early 1980’s when we were both young attorneys and lesbian activists in Washington, D.C. As we became friends and, eventually, colleagues, I admired her leadership and all that she accomplished, both within and outside of our movement—for queer people, for women, for people of color and against poverty. She continued her work to advance equity and justice until the very end.  

“I’ll always be grateful to Urv for being one of the people who encouraged me, back in 1992, to accept the job running the Los Angeles LGBT Center. And when the National LGBTQ Task Force faced severe financial challenges in 2001, she played the key role in recruiting me to step in and help turn things around, lending her support every step of the way.  

“Over the years, we spent many an hour laughing and scheming about ways to advance the causes we cared so deeply about. Urvashi was a visionary. But she was so much more: Brilliant, hilarious, charismatic, loving, determined and, above all, courageous. She made life better for all of us. Our community and our nation owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. Our hearts go out to Urvashi’s wife, Kate Clinton, and to everyone who loves her. If there’s a heaven, Urv is already organizing the angels,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean.

Troy Masters, the founder of Gay City News in New York, a longtime LGBTQ advocate and currently the publisher of the Los Angeles Blade noted upon hearing the news; “On a day when millions march to protect our rights and stand up to a right wing SCOTUS, we celebrate the life of one of our greatest social justice LGBTQ and AIDS warriors—keep shining on Urvashi Vaid.”

In 1995, after resigning from her position at the Task Force three years prior, she published her first book, “Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation,” in which she criticized the idea of “mainstreaming” what was and is, in fact, a civil rights movement. Rather than tolerance, she argued, the objective for the movement should be fundamental, actionable change. It was not an immediately popular notion, as media representation for queer people was just beginning to take shape, though it was, for her, of great moral importance. In 1996 “Virtual Equality” won the Stonewall Book Award. 

In her position as president of the Vaid Group, Vaid advised, mentored, and supported the LGBTQ movement. 

In 2012, Urvashi Vaid launched LPAC, the first lesbian Super PAC, and it has since invested millions of dollars in candidates who are committed to social justice through legislation. 

Prior to that, Vaid held positions on the boards at the Ford Foundation, the Arcus Foundation (where she served as executive director from 2005 to 2010) and the Gill Foundation.  

She was a leader in the development of the currently on-going National LGBTQ women’s community survey.

Urvashi Vaid with her longtime partner Kate Clinton/Facebook

Vaid was the aunt of activist and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon.

She is survived by Alok Vaid-Menon as well as her longtime partner, political humorist Kate Clinton. 

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