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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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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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Obituary

JR.’s owner Eric Little dies

Beloved figure supported LGBTQ charities, started iconic high heel race

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Eric Little (left) with longtime friend Paul Williams (right). (Photo courtesy Williams)

Eric Little, longtime owner of the iconic 17th Street gay bar JR.’s and the recently closed gay bar Cobalt, also located on 17th Street, died peacefully in his sleep on May 1 at his home in Hollywood, Md., of unknown causes, according to his partner Barry Spencer.

Under Little’s stewardship, JR.’s has been the recipient of multiple neighborhood and community awards, including the Washington Blade’s Best Neighborhood and Best Happy Hour bar. Little has also been credited with arranging for JR.’s and the nearby gay bar Cobalt that he owned from 1999 to 2019 to host fundraisers for local LGBTQ charities, including Casa Ruby.

Little began his involvement with JR.’s since the time it opened in 1986 as an employee and manager for its original owners. He bought the bar in 1996, according to David Perruzza, who began working at JR.’s under Little in 1997 and continued working there as manager until 2018.

Little owned the popular gay bar Cobalt, located at 17th and R Streets, N.W., for 20 years before he closed it in 2019 after the owners of the building in which the bar was located sold it to developers who planned to convert it into residential occupancy. Cobalt featured dancing and live entertainment as well as a restaurant with outdoor seating at various times during its 20-year run.

Perruzza said Little started the annual Halloween high heel race on 17th Street, which now draws thousands of spectators, in 1986 when he first came to work at JR.’s. In 2018, Perruzza left JR.’s to open his own gay bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own in Adams Morgan. He has credited Little with serving as his mentor.

“I spent 22 years with Eric Little and he taught me everything I know about the bar business,” Perruzza said in a Facebook post. “He was my gay dad and helped me make a lot of life defining moments.”

D.C. nightlife advocate Mark Lee said he recalls that Little started out as a server and bookkeeper at JR.’s and later as manager under the previous owners before buying the popular gay bar.

“Like nearly every other operator of our city’s nightlife hospitality establishments, Eric Little started out working in service and support staff positions,” Lee said. “He exemplified the best and the beauty of what is an industry of opportunity, in which servers and bartenders and bookkeepers become managers and operators and owners, both leading local venues and creating new ones,” said Lee, who now coordinates the non-profit advocacy organization D.C. Nightlife Council, a trade association.

“He employed and mentored others who have continued that expanding chain of commerce by going on to open new venues or grow as nightlife professionals,” Lee said. “Eric’s legacy will be long-lasting and much-appreciated, remembered for his straight-up straight-talking leadership helming the socializing and entertainment venues, past and present, that have been his gift to the LGBT community.”

“I considered Eric my best friend and muse for nearly 30 years,” said longtime friend and D.C. resident Paul Williams. “He helped many, and our laugh sessions together likely annoyed many. But they remain priceless as do the many shenanigans we brought upon ourselves together all over the world,” said Williams. “He will be deeply missed by all.”

“We are blessed that there are so many people who love him, and we feel the warmth and prayers of our Southern Maryland friends and our JR’s family,” said Spencer in a Facebook post announcing Little had passed away. “Thank you to all who have reached out today.”

Family will receive friends for Little’s celebration of life on Wednesday, May 18, from 4-7 p.m., with a memorial service at 7 p.m., at Brinsfield Funeral Home, PA, 22955 Hollywood Rd., Leonardtown, MD 20650. Interment will be private.

Memorial contributions may be made in Little’s name to the Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60601 or www.alz.org.

Condolences may be made to the family at www.brinsfieldfuneral.com.

Arrangements by Brinsfield Funeral Home, Leonardtown, MD.

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Longtime LGBTQ+ journalist & editor Thomas Senzee dies at 54

California native’s award winning career spanned nearly thirty years in media

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Thomas Senzee at San Diego Pride in 2012 (Thomas Senzee/Facebook)

PALM SPRINGS – The former Editor-In-Chief of the San Diego LGBT Weekly webzine and frequent contributor to The San Diego Reader, an alternative press newspaper, has died at age 54.

Thomas Senzee, a California native whose award winning career spanned nearly thirty years in media, writing for outlets including The Huffington Post, The Advocate/OUT, The Fight Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Los Angeles Business Journal and other publications, was found deceased on Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Palm Springs.

The Coroner’s Bureau of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has listed his death as undetermined pending further investigation by the Coroner’s office.

Senzee served on the board of directors of the San Diego Press Club, and was that organization’s Professional Development Committee chair. He was also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party and a Civil Service Commissioner with the County of San Diego government paid tribute to Senzee;

“I am saddened to hear about the passing of Thom Senzee the former editor-in-chief of LGBT Weekly. I met Thom a little over a decade ago and worked as one of his reporters and social media director. I learned a lot from him as he took me under his wing and educated me. He was kind, thorough, dedicated to the truth, and he always challenged me to do my best on every story,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said adding;

“He was an award winning veteran journalist with over 30 years of experience writing and editing for a number of news organizations and served on the board of directors of the San Diego Press Club. He would check in with me from time to time as the years went on. Rest In Peace, my friend.”

Veteran LGBTQ+ correspondent and former editor of The Los Angeles Blade, Karen Ocamb, marked Senzee’s passage writing:

“Thom Senzee was indefatigable. He loved the news. He loved journalists reporting the news. And he especially loved LGBTQ reporters and media personalities putting their spin on news about LGBTQ people and the ongoing issue of AIDS. Several times he invited me to sit on panels he created in conjunction with the Los Angeles Press Club. As host, Thom would throw out a question like: ‘Have sexual orientation and gender identity become non-issues?’ and then let actors Jason Stuart and the late Alexis Arquette and me vie for ‘air time’ in response. It was a hoot – and informative. And family. We need more folks like Thom Senzee. He will be missed.” 

Senzee is survived by a brother and two sisters. The family has started a GoFundMe page to defray funeral expenses and would appreciate any donations to help with his funeral/memorial costs

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