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First United States Gay Ambassador James C. Hormel dies at 88

“Jim Hormel was a barrier-breaking public servant, champion for LGBTQ equality, and cherished friend who will be dearly missed.”

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Former U.S. Ambassador James Hormel embracing U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (2015 photograph courtesy of Speaker Pelosi Flickr)

SAN FRANCISCO – The first openly gay diplomat appointed as the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, has died at 88. James C. Hormel, heir to the Hormel meatpacking fortune, was a longtime philanthropist who parlayed his financial interests and contributions as a longtime Democratic Party activist and donor, into actively pursuing LGBTQ+ equality and civil rights.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Ambassador Jim Hormel. Jim devoted his life to advancing the rights and dignity of all people, and in his trailblazing service in the diplomatic corps, he represented the United States with honor and brought us closer to living out the meaning of a more perfect union,” former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement. “We will always be grateful for his courageous and principled example, as well as the kindness and support he gave us over so many years. Our thoughts are with his family and all who loved him.”

Hormel’s work as an openly gay supporter for equality led to his being one of the founders of the Human Rights Campaign Fund along with fellow native Minnesotan Steve Endean. In 1995 the organization was renamed the Human Rights Campaign.

A long time San Franciscan, Hormel served as a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the American Foundation for AIDS Research. He also founded and funded the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center located at the San Francisco Public Library.

Two notable national Democratic Party political figures and fellow San Franciscans, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reflected on Hormel’s long service.

Sen. Feinstein’s statement read in part, “San Francisco lost a great friend today. A philanthropist, civil rights pioneer and loving spouse and father, James Hormel lived an extraordinary life and will be deeply missed by many, Feinstein said. I had the pleasure of working closely with him on several issues, most notably on the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Tapped to be the ambassador to Luxembourg by President Clinton in 1997, he was the first openly gay person to serve as an ambassador. While his nomination was controversial at the time, his service was distinguished and helped advance LGBTQ rights both at home and abroad.”

House Speaker Pelosi released a statement praising Ambassador Hormel’s commitment to advancing LGBTQ+ Equality rights.

“Jim Hormel was a barrier-breaking public servant, champion for LGBTQ equality, and cherished friend who will be dearly missed in San Francisco, in our nation and around the world. Jim Hormel made history as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, showing the world how the voices of LGBTQ Americans are integral to foreign policy, and paving the way for a new generation of leaders,” said Pelosi. “With his gentle yet powerful voice and undaunted determination, Jim made it his mission to fight for dignity and equality for all. Paul and I are heartbroken at this tremendous loss, and hope it is a comfort to his husband, Michael, and his children Alison, Anne, Elizabeth, James Jr. and Sarah, that Jim’s extraordinary life continues to serve as a beacon of hope and promise for LGBTQ children across our country and around the world.”

Born at the height of the Great Depression in January of 1933, Hormel, the grandson of Hormel Foods founder George A. Hormel, earned his bachelor of Arts Degree from Swarthmore College in suburban Philadelphia and later a law degree from University of Chicago Law School. He later served as the school’s Dean of Students and Director of Admissions.

Hormel’s Democratic Party activism coupled with his dedicated efforts to advance the cause of LGBTQ equality led to a chance dinner conversation in 1992 with then candidate Bill Clinton’s campaign treasurer, Bob Farmer.

Cynthia Laird, the editor of The Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco’s LGBTQ newspaper noted Hormel’s recounting that conversation which was originally published in B.A.R. in 2016;

Over dinner, Farmer suggested to Mr. Hormel that he seek a presidential appointment as an ambassador.

“I was quite surprised when he brought up the idea,” said Mr. Hormel, noting that over 60% of such positions are held by career employees who have come up through the ranks in the Foreign Service.

The appointment did not happen easily, Mr. Hormel recalled.

In fact, it wasn’t until five years after that dinner that Clinton nominated Mr. Hormel for the job. During that period, recalled Mr. Hormel, he made “dozens of visits and hundreds of phone calls” to keep his name in consideration.

Mr. Hormel said he was persistent because, if appointed, “I would break a ceiling and make it easier for gay people to serve at the highest levels of government.”

Initially, Hormel was considered for an ambassadorship to Fiji by the Clinton White House, but according to published accounts in the Washington Blade, D.C.’s LGBTQ newspaper and the Washington Post in December of 1994, his name was withdrawn from consideration in part due to objections from conservatives in both parties on Capitol Hill and the government of Fiji itself.

The Washington Blade’s Lou Chibbaro reported; “The action on Hormel also comes after members of the moderate and conservative wings of the Democratic Party have said the stunning defeat last month of Democratic members of Congress was due, in part, to Clinton’s support for Gay civil rights in general and Gays in the military in particular.

Fijian officials had protested in part because same-sex intimate sexual relations were a crime punishable by long prison sentences and Hormel’s status as an openly gay man ran counter to the principles of “Fijian Culture” they claimed.

“Hormel’s nomination as ambassador to Fiji would be “dead in the water,” said one source familiar with the controversy, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” the Blade reported. “The source said Helms made it clear through intermediaries that he would bottle up Hormel’s nomination in committee.

The Blade also reported that; “The only reason Jim Hormel did not get the job was because he is Gay,” said one Gay activist leader, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.”

The Clinton Administration according to the Washington Post then explored another appointment for Hormel that would not require Senate confirmation. One option under consideration, the Post reported, was a position in a delegation to an international conference on social justice issues in Copenhagen. Another possibility, the Post said, was participation by Hormel in the United Nations commission on human rights in Geneva.

President Clinton ultimately named Hormel as a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1995, and in 1996 Hormel was named an alternate U.S. representative at the United Nations General Assembly.

The following October of 1997, the president nominated Hormel as his choice to be the U.S. Ambassador to the principality of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. While the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination with the exceptions of Republican conservative Senators Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft opposed, the battle in the Senate which got progressively uglier as contentious portions of Hormel’s philanthropic and activist work were derided by more conservative Republicans and the powerful political foes of LGBTQ+ equality rights.

Those groups included the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designated extremist anti-LGBTQ hate groups, the Washington D.C. based Family Research Council and the Orange County, California based Traditional Values Coalition Christian organization founded by Rev. Louis P. Sheldon to oppose LGBTQ+ rights. 

In a Wikimedia entry on Hormel it notes that FRC and TVC both:

  • Labelled Hormel as being pro-pornography, asserting that Hormel would be rejected in the largely Roman Catholic Luxembourg. It was later observed that much of the same material could also be found in the Library of Congress.
  • The FRC distributed video tapes of a television interview with Hormel at the 1996 San Francisco Pride parade in which Hormel laughed at a joke about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of men who dress in drag as nuns to mock religious conventions, as they passed by. The Catholic League took this as an indication of approval of what they characterized as an anti-Catholic group. In a meeting with Tim Hutchinson, Hormel declined to repudiate the Sisters. In an interview years later, Hormel objected to the idea that the video clip showed that he approved of the group and that he was anti-Catholic.
  • It was revealed that Hormel had contributed $12,000 to fund the production of the It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School, a video aimed at teaching tolerance of homosexuality to grade-school students. This especially inflamed Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, who was portrayed unflatteringly in the film. Smith contended that he opposed Hormel not because he was gay but because of his “advocacy of the gay lifestyle”.

Ultimately after Republicans were successful in stalling Hormel’s nomination, preventing a vote which was orchestrated by then Senate Majority Leader, Mississippi Republican U.S. Senator Trent Lott, President Clinton in May of 1999 in a recess appointment made Hormel the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.

The Washington Post reported, “Bypassing Senate confirmation, President Clinton moved yesterday to directly install gay San Francisco businessman James C. Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.

The president invoked a provision of the Constitution allowing him to make such appointments during a congressional recess. Hormel, who will become the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, can serve in the post through the end of 2000.

The “recess appointment” drew criticism from a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and conservative groups but was praised by gay rights activists.

“The denial of a confirmation vote by the Senate leadership, a vote he would have easily won, was nothing more than anti-gay discrimination,” said Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian political group to the Washington Post.

The Post also reported that Clinton’s recess appointment of Hormel was criticized by Lott spokesman John Czwartacki who said it was “a slap in the face,” particularly to Catholics.

Czwartacki cited what he said were Hormel’s links with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — drag queens who dress as nuns.

White House spokesman Barry Toiv said Hormel does not support “any such group. The idea . . . is outrageous and is false.”

The Family Research Council claimed that Hormel’s appointment was strictly to “advance the gay agenda.” on what the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group deemed a “a government-sanctioned platform.”

Hormel went on to serve as ambassador until the inaugural of President George W. Bush on January 20, 2001.

After his service as ambassador Hormel returned to his philanthropic work moving back to the City by the Bay where he was honored in 2010, with a lifetime achievement grand marshal for the San Francisco Pride parade.

Hormel also continued his lifelong advocacy work and as an elder statesmen in the Democratic Party. When then President-elect Joe Biden announced his choice of nominating openly out Pete Buttigieg as U. S. Secretary of Transportation, the Washington Blade’s White House reporter Chris Johnson reported, “Buttigieg, who made history as a gay Democratic candidate in the 2020 primary said at the time his career aspiration was to become an airline pilot and “was a long way from coming out, even to myself,” but gained knowledge from Hormel’s story.”

The Blade also reported; “I learned about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong, and just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged,” Buttigieg said. “So, two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old who might be watching right now, someone who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family, and I’m thinking about the message today’s announcement is sending to them.”

Hormel, in an email to the Blade the day after Buttigieg praised him, was able to return the favor by offering support.

“I enthusiastically support the nomination of Pete Buttigieg as secretary of transportation and will acknowledge him as the first openly LGBTQ member of the presidential Cabinet,” Hormel said.

“Today we mourn the loss of a true titan in our LGBTQ+ movement — a trailblazer, a mentor and a friend to all those who sought his counsel during his decades of leadership and advocacy. Ambassador James Hormel defined our community’s resilience — representing our nation with honor and distinction in the face of vile hate and discrimination,” Executive Director of Equality California’s Rick Chavez Zbur said in a statement.  “In the years since his diplomatic service, Jim has been unyieldingly generous with his time and his resources, working tirelessly to create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people.

“It is true that we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. I am forever grateful for the wisdom and guidance that Jim shared with me and Equality California over the past 25 years, and I am confident that generations of LGBTQ+ diplomats, advocates and community leaders will benefit from his life’s work. I know that we will continue to see the immeasurable impact of his contributions on the faces of children who dream of walking the world’s greatest halls of power without worry that who they are or whom they love could ever limit their potential.”

Hormel is survived by his husband Michael and his children Alison, Anne, Elizabeth, James Jr. and Sarah.

Additional reporting from Lou Chibbaro, Chris Johnson, The Bay Area Reporter, and The Washington Post.

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Longtime D.C. AIDS activist William Arnold dies at 83

Northern Va. native helped secure funding for AIDS drugs

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William “Bill” Arnold (Photo by Jim Driscoll; used with permission)

William “Bill” Arnold, a founder and leader of several advocacy groups beginning in the mid-1990s that helped secure federal and state funding for life saving drugs for people with HIV/AIDS, died at his D.C. home on Sept. 29 of complications associated with lung cancer, according to his friend and fellow activist Jim Driscoll. He was 83.
 
Driscoll and others who knew Arnold said he emerged as a committed AIDS activist shortly after moving from Westchester County, N.Y., where he operated a small business, to D.C. in the mid-1980s.
 
He was a founding director and served since 1996 as president and CEO of the Community Access National Network (CANN), which advocates for affordable healthcare services and support for people with HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis.
 
Arnold was also the founder and since 1995 served as director of the National ADAP Working Group, which is credited with playing a lead role in persuading Congress to steadily increase funding for the joint federal-state AIDS Drug Assistance Program known as ADAP.
 
ADAP, which operates under the federal Ryan White CARE Act, has enabled low-income people who often did not have medical insurance to gain access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs that since the mid-1990s have saved the lives of countless numbers of people infected with HIV.
 
Arnold has also served as the board co-chair and longtime board member of the ADAP Advocacy Association, which advocates for sufficient funding and improved operation of the ADAP program, including improved access to the program for people living with HIV.
 
A native of Northern Virginia, Arnold grew up in a family that traveled extensively overseas to accompany his father who served as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. He received his high school diploma from the Deerfield Academy prep school in Deerfield, Mass. Arnold next received his bachelor’s degree in China Area Studies from Yale University before attending the U.S. Army Artillery and Missile School from which he emerged as a commissioned second lieutenant in the Army, according to Arnold’s LinkedIn page.
 
Driscoll, who worked with Arnold on AIDS related projects beginning in the middle 1990s, said Arnold played an important role leading the ADAP Working Group’s efforts to persuade conservative members of Congress to increase funding for what they initially viewed as a liberal entitlement.
 
Describing Arnold as a “peace maker and a deal maker,” Driscoll said Arnold, a lifelong Democrat, “neither demonized conservatives nor canonized progressives.” Instead, according to Driscoll, Arnold “kept the focus on the needs of the patients and the value of the treatment for both the patients and for long term public healthcare costs.”
 
Carl Schmid, founder and executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, called Arnold an important figure for many years in the ongoing effort to secure support for people with HIV.
 
“Thousands of people living with HIV are staying healthy and alive today due to Bill Arnold’s work over the years,” Schmid said. “He was there at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and stayed active until his death fighting for access to antiretroviral medications and healthcare, particularly for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program,” Schmid said. “We owe so much to Bill, and he will certainly be missed.”

Brandon Macsata, an official with the ADAP Advocacy Association, said in a statement released by the group that Arnold “brought out the best in everyone who surrounded him, doing so with minimal effort because he embodied fairness and goodness.”
 
Macsata added that Arnold’s “ability to maintain a balanced perspective on even the most controversial, complex issues was a trait unique only to him. And Bill’s institutional knowledge about the 44-year fight to end the HIV epidemic is unmatched, and his passing has left a giant hole in the hearts of the lives he personally touched.”
 
In its statement, released on Oct. 1, the ADAP Advocacy Association said Arnold “left this Earth as gracefully as he lived his life on it for 83 years. Bill passed away peacefully in his home surrounded by Michael Pickering (his partner), Sally (his sister), Sue (his niece) and Leiden (his dog). It is truly a great loss for us and our community.”
 
Pickering couldn’t immediately be reached to obtain information about funeral or memorial service arrangements.

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D.C. singer turned Broadway star Julia Nixon dies at 66

Beloved cabaret performer brought diverse communities together

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Julia Nixon (Photo by Cade Martin; courtesy Craig Henson)

Julia Nixon, a singer, songwriter, and actress who got her start singing at D.C. bars and nightclubs in the 1970s before becoming an internationally recognized vocalist who played the lead role in the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” in 1983, died Sept. 29 at a hospital in Raleigh, N.C. of complications associated with COVID-19, according to her longtime D.C. friend Craig Henson. She was 66.
 
Henson said that when New York choreographer-director Michael Bennett selected Nixon to replace “Dreamgirls”’ original lead actress Jennifer Holliday, Nixon assured her loyal D.C. fans that she would return to D.C. after completing her run with “Dreamgirls.”
 
Sure enough, Henson said, Nixon did return to perform at Mr. Henry’s in Adams Morgan, where she got her start, as well as other D.C. nightspots, including Blues Alley in Georgetown and Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill.
 
But during those years in the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s and beyond, Nixon also performed as the opening act in shows headlined by some of the nation’s most famous singers and performers; including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner. She also accepted an invitation by the late comedian Richard Pryor to join him on a world tour as his opening act, which brought her to Tokyo, Paris, London, Russia and other international destinations.
 
Among the places she performed in the U.S. included New York’s Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, and Carnegie Hall. In D.C. she had also performed at the Kennedy Center and the White House and performed several times on the main stage at D.C.’s annual Capital Pride celebration on Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol before throngs of her loyal LGBTQ fans.
 
Henson said he and countless other fans of Nixon faithfully turned out to the D.C. nightspots, where Nixon performed when she returned to D.C. in the mid-80s and early 90s.
 
“Washington was still a somewhat racially divided city back then and it was Julia who brought together both black and white, gay and straight at Mr. Henry’s throughout the 80s and early 90s and where Julia won over her life-long devoted fans,” Henson told the Washington Blade.
 
He said she did this while appearing weekly at the Mr. Henry’s in Adams Morgan before sold-out shows, which included two back-to-back shows each weekend evening.
 
“Her racially and sexually diverse audiences came from communities all over D.C., with the mayor and a City Council member in attendance, always ending in a thunderous standing ovation demanding an encore—and sometimes going two or three more,” Henson said.
 
In a June 2006 interview with the Washington Post, Nixon told of her decision to put her performing career on hold around 1995 to raise her then-8-year-old son in her home state of North Carolina. Henson said this took place at the time Nixon and her husband separated and later divorced.
 
“Julia retreated to her home base of Raleigh to raise her son near family,” Henson said. He said that around the early 2000s, her son Nicholas, who goes by the name Nikko, who was around 18 at that time, secretly contacted Dr. Phil McGraw, the popular TV psychologist whose “Dr. Phil” shows highlighted the lives of people in all walks of life.
 
Henson said Nikko urged “Dr. Phil” to consider doing a show about his mother and her talented career that was at the time on hold, and he agreed to do so. In early 2002 “Dr. Phil” had both Nixon and her son on an episode called, “How Do I Get My Career Back.”
 
“Following ‘Dr. Phil’, Julia had a comeback show recorded live at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria to a sellout crowd of 500, ending with encore after encore,” Hanson said. “Her magic was back, and in the city where she launched her storied career.”
 
According to Henson, a short time later Black Entertainment Television arranged for Nixon to perform in a series of overseas concerts “representing American jazz music, winning over Russians, Europeans and South Americans with her amazing classically trained five octave voice.”
 
He was referring to Nixon’s studies in voice at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where she learned to sing opera. Henson also points out that Nixon’s father was a gospel singer at the family’s church in North Carolina, providing her with a strong background in yet another genre of music.
 
In 2006, Nixon won a Helen Hayes Award for her leading role as the character Caroline Thibodeaux in the Broadway musical “Caroline, or Change.”
 
Henson said recordings, including CDs, were made of some of Nixon’s popular songs, including a 1985 dance record “Breakin’ Down,” which became a hit in the U.K.; and a 2007 album called “Keeping on Track.”
 
A promotional announcement of Nixon’s return appearance at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill for a Jan. 17, 2016, performance with her longtime piano accompanist Dave Ylvisaker and her son Nikki, who also accompanied her as a drummer, appeared to capture the sentiment of Nixon’s longtime fans as well as those who reviewed her performances.
 
“Upon first hearing Julia Nixon, you notice people sit up a little taller and smiles begin showing up all over the room,” the promotional announcement says. “Julia Nixon’s classically trained voice is as enchanting with a 120-piece orchestra, a jazz trio or singing on a stool unplugged in the crook of a grand piano. You can’t help falling in love with this singer.”
 
Nixon’s last performance in the D.C. area took place July 3 of this year at the Birchmere. Henson said she had plans to return once again to perform at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill this fall.
 
“As fate would have it, or perhaps even Providence, her beginnings were with Mr. Henry’s as was her end—amongst those who loved her most,” Henson wrote in a statement to the Blade. “Julia was due to start back at Mr. Henry’s when COVID took her life,” he wrote.
 
“She once told me: ‘God gave me a voice to sing, and I’m going to use it until the day I die.’ Julia indeed fulfilled God’s intentions,” Henson wrote. “She will forever live in our hearts and souls. Thank you, Dear Julia, for the music, the love, the joy.”
 
Nixon is survived by her former husband, Chuck Nixon of Hyattsville Md.; her son Nicholas ‘Nikko’ Nixon of Raleigh, N.C.; and six siblings: James E. McGirt of Florence, S.C.; E. Albertina McGirt of Greensboro, N.C.; John E. McGirt of Rowland, N.C.; Gregory A. McGirt of Issaguah, Wash.; Cynthia O. McGirt of Raleigh, N.C.; and Lee E. McGirt also of Raleigh.
 
She is predeceased by her parents, John Neally McGirt and Julia Smith McGirt.
 
Information about funeral or memorial services have not been publicly announced by the family.

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Obituary

Remembering deaf lesbian pioneer Barbara Kannapell

‘A fierce leader decades ahead of her time’

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Barbara Kannapell died at 83 on Aug. 11. (Photo courtesy Mary Eileen Paul)

Even as a child Barbara Kannapell, who was deaf, experienced audism — overt and subtle discrimination against deaf people.

Born in 1937, she was nurtured by her parents and other members of her family who were deaf. They taught her American Sign Language, her native language.

Yet, “my experiences with audism started at age 4,” Kannapell wrote in a 2011 open letter to the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

A principal at a school for deaf children tried “to make me say ‘United States,’” Kannapell said in the open letter.

“I struggled to say it right but I couldn’t,” Kannapell added, “She was so frustrated with me that she slapped my face.”

Kannapell, an internationally renowned linguist, educator and lifelong advocate for the rights of deaf people, died at 83 in a Washington hospital on Aug. 11.

Mary Eileen Paul, her spouse of 50 years, said the cause was complications from hip surgery.

Kannapell, known as “Kanny” to her many friends, championed American Sign Language (ASL), deaf culture and deaf identity.

Kannapell worked tirelessly to challenge the misperceptions of audism. The prejudices of audism include: the belief that ASL isn’t a language (just as English is a language); that deaf people should strive to “overcome” being deaf – and that deaf people achieve success “in spite of” their deafness.

Kannapell received a bachelor’s degree in deaf education from Gallaudet University in 1961, a master’s degree in educational technology from Catholic University in 1970 and a Ph.D. in sociolinguistics from Georgetown University in 1985.

She believed in social justice causes – from the Black civil rights movement to the LGBTQ rights movement.

Paul, who is hearing, met Kannapell at the Washington, D.C. gay bar Pier 9. She told the Blade this story in a telephone interview:

Kannapell and Paul, both white, with Ann Wilson, a Black mother of a deaf child, founded the Washington, D.C. group Deafpride. The now defunct group advocated for the rights of deaf people of all races.

“We brought hearing parents together with deaf adults,” Paul said, “so they could meet and learn from deaf people.”

At one meeting, Paul recalled, a deaf man spoke.

“His parents didn’t know ASL. They didn’t know what to do,” she said, “because they couldn’t communicate with him.”

“One day, as a child, he was outside. His dog was roaming freely,” Paul said, “but he was tied to a tree. Because his parents didn’t know what else to do with him.”

Kannapell worked with Gallaudet for four decades, beginning as a research assistant in 1962. From 1987 to 2003, she was an adjunct professor there. She taught at the Community College of Baltimore County as an adjunct professor, and later, as an associate professor, from 1987 until she retired in 2014.

Kannapell advocated for deaf people who struggled with addiction. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous, she had been sober for 50 years at the time of her death.

Often, the words “innovator” or “iconic” are overused, but Kannapell truly was a pioneer.

She “was years, if not decades, ahead of her time in every way,” Gallaudet University President Roberta J. Cordano said in a statement to the Washington Post.

“She was a fierce leader,” she added, “who saw and valued the essence of our community and who sought to ensure that it is inclusive of everyone.”

Cordano said Kannapell was “a strong advocate to the LGBTQIA+ Deaf community.”

“Kanny” was out at a time when it was unpopular to be so and lived her life authentically, Drago Renteria, executive director of the Deaf Queer Resource Center, emailed the Blade.

“She was one of our Deaf Lesbian pioneers and role models,” he said.

Kannapell and Paul were married in 2013 when same-sex marriage was legalized.

Jennifer Furlano, who is deaf and nonbinary, remembers the commitment ceremony Kannapell and Paul had in 1996.

“It was amazing,” Furlano said in a telephone interview with the Blade conducted with an interpreter, “My ex-partner officiated the ceremony. I was an usher. It was small – intimate.”

Furlano still recalls the moment in the ceremony when the couple kissed. Then, it was still often, difficult for LGBTQ people to be themselves, Furlano said.

“So they only kissed on the cheek,” Furlano added.

Kannapell loved dogs and football, Furlano said, adding, “you didn’t dare interrupt her during a game.”
R.I.P., Kanny! Thank you for your life and work!

Barbara Kannapell (Photo courtesy Mary Eileen Paul)
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