Connect with us

Obituary

In memoriam: Remembering queer lives lost in 2021

Activists, artists, and politicos who changed the world

Published

on

Steven Lee Collins, Remembrance, Black Caucus, gay news, Washington Blade
(Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The many acclaimed LGBTQ+ people and allies who died in 2021 include:Laura Weinstein, a  transgender activist in Colombia died on Jan. 2 four days after she was hospitalized with difficulty breathing. She was director of Fundacion Grupo de Accion y Apoyo a Personas Trans (GATT), a trans rights group. Siegfried Fischbacher, the magician, who with the late Roy Horn, performed in Las Vegas as Siegfried & Roy, died on Jan. 13 at 81 from pancreatic cancer. 

Bob Avian, a choreographer, director and producer died at 83 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. from cardiac arrest on Jan. 28. With his frequent collaborator, Avian worked with some of Broadway’s most well-known and longest-running shows, including “A Chorus Line.” 

Sophie Xeon, a.k.a. Sophie, a transgender producer and performer whose music was known as hyperpop, died on Jan. 30 in Athens at 30 after an accident. 

Cloris Leachman, the Academy and Emmy Award-winning actress who performed in numerous movies and TV shows from “The Last Picture Show” to “Young Frankenstein” to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” died at 94 at her Encinitas, Calif. home. 

Joseph Sonnabend, a physician who helped to establish the AIDS Medical Foundation (now Amfar), died at 88 on June 24 in a London hospital from complications from a heart attack.  

Carmen Vazquez, a force in the world of LGBTQ rights died on Jan. 27 in Brooklyn at 72 from complications of COVID-19.

Sandie Crisp, a.k.a. the Goddess Bunny, a transgender actress, model and muse to West Hollywood’s avant garde,  died on Jan. 27 at a Los Angeles hospital at 61 from COVID-19.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the acclaimed poet, who published gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s groundbreaking work “Howl,” died on Feb. 22 at his San Francisco home at 101.

James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera maestro and acclaimed conductor, died at 77 on March 9 at his Palm Springs, Calif. home. In 2018, the Met fired him after investigating allegations of sexual improprieties.

Robina Asti, a World War II veteran, mutual fund executive and oldest active flight instructor, died at 99 in her daughter Coca Astey’s home. Asti, who transitioned in the 1970s and had lived as a woman for four decades, applied for survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration after her husband died in 2012. Her application was denied. Asti, represented by Lambda Legal, successfully fought against this. As a result of her advocacy, the rules regarding survivors benefits were changed.

Jimmy Gamonet de los Heros, resident choreographer of Miami City Ballet, before he became director of the National Ballet in Peru, died on Feb. 26 at 63 at a Lima hospital from COVID-19. 

John Stephen Hunt, writer and global rights activist died at 85 in Chicago.

Pat Collins, a Tony Award-winning lighting designer, died on March 21 at her Branford, Conn., home at 88 from pancreatic cancer. 

Judge Paul G. Feinman, the first openly gay judge to be appointed to New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, died on March 31 at 61 in a Manhattan hospital from acute myeloid leukemia.

Allen Jesse Carroll, who owned bars and nightclubs in Washington, D.C., including lesbian bar Phase 1 and gay nightclub Ziegfeld’s-Secrets, died at 79 on April 14 from heart failure.

Alber Elbaz, acclaimed fashion designer whose celeb clients included Meryl Streep, died at 59 from COVID-19, on April 24 in Paris.

Paul Kellogg, who led the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y. and, later, simultaneously, led the New York City Opera died at 84 in a Cooperstown hospital on April 28.

Alix Dobkin, the folk singer who celebrated lesbians and made the iconic 1973 album “Lavender Jane Loves Women,” died at 80 on May 19 from a brain aneurysm and a stroke at her Woodstock, N.Y. home.

Kay Tobin Lahusen, gay rights activist and photographer, died at 91 on May 26 in West Chester, Pa.

Kay Lahusen, gay news, Washington Blade
Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen at the 25th anniversary of Stonewall. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Rusty Warren, a  1960s comedian, called a godmother of the sexual revolution, died on May 25 at 91 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at a caregiver’s home in Lagura Hills, Calif.

Douglas S. Cramer, who produced “Dynasty” and other popular TV shows, died at 89 from kidney failure at his Martha’s Vineyard home on June 4.

Madeline Davis, the first openly lesbian delegate to a national political convention (the Democratic 1972 convention) died on April 28 at 80 from complications from a stroke at her Amherst, N.Y. home.

Richard J. Meislin, a New York Times editor and journalism pioneer, died at 68 from Merkel cell carcinoma at a Manhattan hospital on June 25.

Paul Huntley, for decades the hair stylist and wig designer for Broadway stars from Carol Channing to Alan Cumming, died at 88 in London on July 9. 

Mat George, co-host of the podcast “She Rates Dogs,” died at 26 in Los Angeles on July 17. He was hit and killed by a car.

Gil Wechsler, who designed the lighting for more than 100 Metropolitan Opera productions, died at 79 from dementia on July 9 at a Warrington, Pa. memory-care facility.

Sally Miller Gearhart, a prominent LGBTQ rights activist, died July 14 at 90 in Ukiah, Calif.

Louise Fishman, an artist whose work expressed her feminist, lesbian and Jewish identity, died on July 26 in Manhattan at 82.

James Hormel, America’s first openly gay ambassador (to Luxembourg under President Bill Clinton), died at 88 in San Francisco on Aug. 13.

James Hormel (Photo by Michael Nguyen via Skyhorse Publishing)

Barbara Kannapell, a renowned deaf activist, died at 83 from complications from hip surgery on Aug. 11 in Washington, D.C.

Barbara Kannapell (Photo courtesy of Mary Eileen Paul)

Saleem Kidwai, co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology “Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History,” died at 70 at a Lucknow, India hospital on Aug. 30.

Carl Bean, 77, a minister and AIDS activist died in a Los Angeles hospice on Sept. 7. He helped make the 1970s Motown hit “I Was Born This Way” into a gay Pride anthem.

George Malkemus, who helped Manolo Blahnik’s shoe designs to become known worldwide, died on Sept. 16 from cancer at 67 at his Manhattan home.

Tommy Kirk, child star of “Old Yeller” and other Disney movies, died at 79 at his Las Vegas home on Sept. 28.

Ganga Stone, who co-founded God’s Love We Deliver, an organization that delivers meals to people homebound with AIDS and other diseases, died at 79 on Sept. 29 in a Saratoga Springs, N.Y. health care facility

Marcia Freedman, the first American-born woman to serve in Israel’s Parliament, known as the Knesset, died from renal and heart disease at 83 on Sept. 21 at her Berkeley, Calif. home.

Brian Carney, Blade TV and film critic, died at 58 from complications associated with congestive heart failure and advanced kidney disease on Jan. 28.

Stephen Karpiak, a pathbreaking researcher who advocated for elders with AIDS and against ageism, died from kidney damage from an infection at 74 on Oct. 16 at Manhattan hospital.

Elaine Romagnoli, a  fixture of New York  nightlife and creator of the lesbian bars Bonnie & Clyde’s, the Cubby Hole and Crazy Nanny’s, died at 79 on Oct. 28 at her Manhattan home.

Etel Adnan, an acclaimed Lebanese American writer and artist, died at 96 in Paris on Nov. 14.

Scott Robbe, 66, a progressive activist and TV-film-stage producer, died in hospice care at his sister’s Hartford, Wisc. home on Nov. 21. He was a prominent founding member of two New York City direct action groups: ACT UP and Queer Nation.

Stephen Sondheim, 91, the acclaimed, award-winning composer – one of the most notable composers of the 20th century – died on Nov. 26 at his Roxbury, Conn. home. His many musicals include: “Company,” “Follies” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Stephen Sondheim (Screen capture via CBS)

Adolfo Sardina (a.k.a. Adolfo), the fashion designer who won worldwide fame for dressing Nancy Reagan, died at 98 at his Manhattan home on Nov. 27.

Stu Rasmussen, 73, the first openly transgender mayor in America, died on Nov. 17 from prostate cancer at his home in Silverton, Ore. where he served as mayor for two terms.

Antony Sher, a British actor acclaimed for his interpretations of Shakespeare, died at 72 on Dec. 2 from cancer his Stratford-upon-Avon, England home.

Marie-Claire Blais, an acclaimed French Canadian novelist, often compared to Virginia Woolf, died at 82 on Nov. 30 at her Key West, Fla., home.

Venus Thrash, a nationally acclaimed Black, lesbian, Washington, D.C. poet, who wrote her first poem when she was in first grade, died at 52 on June 19 from heart disease at the MedStar Washington Hospital in D.C.

Venus Thrash, gay news, Washington Blade
Venus Thrash died June 19 of heart disease. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Linda Lopez McAlister, a philosopher and founder of the feminist journal “Hypatia,” died at 82 from heart failure at her Albuquerque on Nov. 9.

bell hooks, the trailblazing Black feminist writer whose groundbreaking work focused on race, class, gender, justice and discrimination, died at 69 from end-stage renal failure at her Berea, Ky., home on Dec. 15.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Obituary

Longtime D.C. resident, humanitarian Eric Scharf dies at 65

Center Global volunteer passed away on Sept. 21

Published

on

Eric Greene Scharf of Washington, D.C., passed away on Sept 21, 2023, at age 65 after a long battle with cancer. Eric was the first born with his twin brother, Edward (Ted) at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Conn., on April 22, 1958, to Patricia K. and John Stewart Scharf. He spent his early childhood in Syracuse, N.Y.; Essex Junction, Vt., and Barrington, R.I., until he was five when the family moved to Yarmouth, Maine. 

Eric graduated from Yarmouth High School in 1976 and the University of Southern Maine in 1980. As a youth he volunteered at the Yarmouth Merrill Memorial Library, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Falmouth, Maine, and on various Episcopal diocesan events and programs. While in high school and college he worked as a driver and assistant to the Right Rev. Frederick B. Wolf, sometime Bishop of Maine which took him on travels across Maine, the U.S. and even to Africa.

After graduating from college, Eric moved to Washington, D.C., where he spent 43 years as an association executive and mental health advocate. He was rarely satisfied with the world as he found it and was determined to make it right. He worked on addiction issues, help for LGBTQ refugees, depression and bipolar initiatives — for world peace even. We have more room for hope because of Eric’s work.  

His work with professional trade groups included the Passenger Vessel Association, National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America and the American College of Nurse Practitioners. In retirement he served as the D.C. voice for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and advocated for LGBT asylum issues. Eric was also involved in electing several mayors and other leaders in the District of Columbia from the mid 1980s on and worked on the staff of Anthony A. Williams.

Eric was a cradle Episcopalian who attended St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Dupont Circle. He was a founding member of the national church’s Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS and in the Diocese of Washington, the Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS. Both organizations worked to educate the church at large about the epidemic and provide services locally to people suffering from the disease.

Eric is survived by his twin brother, Ted K. Scharf of Augusta, Maine, brothers Scott W. Scharf and his wife, Susan of Portland, Maine, and Steven C. Scharf of Portland, Maine. He is also survived by his father, John Stewart Scharf of Tilton, N.H. He was predeceased by his mother, Patricia K. Scharf.

In lieu of flowers, Eric asked that donations be made to: 

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church: 1517 18th St., N.W. Washington, D.C., 20036

Capital Clubhouse, Inc.: 1517 18th St., N.W., 4th floor Washington, D.C., 20036

or

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: 55 East Jackson Blvd., Suite 490, Chicago, Ill., 60604

A memorial service will be held at St Thomas’ Episcopal Church at 1517 18th St., N.W., Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, at 2:30 p.m.  The service will be streamed live on the St Thomas’ Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/StThomasDC

Continue Reading

Obituary

Local resident, sales manager Malek Zaarour dies at 72

Lebanese American beloved for his support and respect for others

Published

on

Malek Sleiman Zaarour (Photo courtesy of Alexei Michalenko)

Malek Sleiman Zaarour, a native of Beirut, Lebanon who immigrated to the U.S. in 1991 to pursue degrees in business administration and accounting in the D.C. area before specializing in kitchen appliance sales, died on Aug. 23 from pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

His domestic partner, Alexei Michalenko, said Zaarour, who spoke Arabic, English, and French, spent his early years living in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and for a short time in Athens. Michalenko said his partner developed a keen understanding and respect for different cultures that drew the admiration of those he knew and befriended during his more than 20 years living in the D.C. area.

“For me, he was a living example of what all people should be,” said Michalenko. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And that was the greatest thing about his openness,” his partner said.

A write-up on Zaarour prepared by Michalenko says he was the sixth of nine siblings born in Beirut on Sept. 26, 1950. After graduating high school, he joined a government teaching program and earned a bachelor’s degree in math at Beirut Science University, the write-up says.

It says he left Lebanon for Saudi Arabia in 1976 shortly after the start of the Lebanese civil war. In Saudi Arabia he worked as a sales manager for a Lebanese company that specialized in kitchen cabinets and appliances, the write up says.

After 13 years in Saudi Arabia, he returned to Lebanon for one year, according to his partner’s write up. He then spent three months in Athens, before immigrating to the United States in October 1991, the write-up says.

For the next several years, the write up says, Zaarour pursued degrees in business administration and accounting from Strayer University in Maryland while working for the Sears department store chain in the kitchen appliances department.

Malek Sleiman Zaarour

Under a U.S. immigration policy that considers someone’s sexual orientation as grounds for asylum due to possible persecution and danger if they return to their home country, Zaarour was granted asylum and became a U.S. citizen in October 2014, the write up says.

“Malek met his late partner, Thomas W. Wadlow, in September 1991,” the write up continues. “They formed a love partnership for 20 years, traveling to various places and beaches and entertaining guests until Thomas’ passing on Oct. 28, 2011,” it says.

“Five years later Malek met his current partner, Alexei Michalenko, with whom he shared seven and a half years of life, fun and travel,” according to the write up. “After selling the house he shared with Thomas in S.E. Washington, Malek moved in with Alexei, sharing an apartment in Alexandria, Va.”

The write up says Zaarour was diagnosed with bladder cancer in November 2019 for which he was successfully treated. But in October 2022 he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and suffered the “challenging side-effects of chemotherapy, until deciding to cease further treatment and requested hospice palliative care until his death,” the write up says.

Zaarour is survived by his partner, Alexei Michalenko; his sisters, Afaf, Souad, and Mariam; his brothers, Ameen and Khodr (Zeineb); several nephews and nieces among whom he was especially close – Ali (Katrina), Mohamad, and Beleal, Ahmed and another Mohamad; and many friends in the U.S. and abroad.

The write up says final funeral arrangements were carried out through Islamic International Funeral Service, with prayers offered at the Islamic Guidance Center, also known as Ahlul Bayt Mosque, in Brooklyn, N.Y., with a burial held in Forest Green Park Cemetery in Morganville, N.J.

“May Malek’s memory continue to be a blessing to all who knew and loved him and whom he knew and loved,” the write up concludes. 

Continue Reading

Obituary

Air Force veteran Charles Albee Riley dies at 75

Known for a passionate drive to succeed

Published

on

Charles Albee Riley

Charles Albee Riley, a U.S. Air Force veteran, passed away at Inova Hospital in Alexandria, Va., on June 12, 2023, with family at his side, according to a statement released by family. He was 75. 

Riley was known for his passionate drive to succeed, his family said, which allowed him to excel during his service in the U.S. Air Force. As a gay man he could not serve openly, and ultimately found his true calling as a real estate agent. His success allowed him to provide for his husband and children.

His hard work and personable demeanor proved an invaluable trait for a man who began in the Air Force and progressed to a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer and was able to thrive in his true calling as a Realtor in the Washington, D.C. area, the statement says. He loved being a Realtor. In both endeavors he accumulated numerous accolades and awards. 

The youngest of three children, Riley was born Oct. 21, 1947, in Philadelphia, to Helen Arathusa Riley (Albee) and Marion Eugene Riley. He loved art and had a passion for drawing. He attended William B. Evans Grade School and Yeadon High School, both in Yeadon, PA. 

According to the statement, his dream was to attend art school, but it was 1966 and his uncle advised him to enlist in the service before he got drafted. He took that advice and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force just a few short weeks before he received the draft notice in the mail. After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Riley returned to Philadelphia and on January 5, 1967, he married his first love Charlotte Ann Riley (Doan). She remained one of his closest friends throughout his life. Soon after they were married, he and Charlotte moved to Minot, N.D. where he worked on the Minuteman Missile. In 1969 they had their first of three sons, Scott Warren Riley.

He was discharged after four years and in 1970 they returned to Philadelphia to reunite with family and embark on a career in banking. This endeavor was short lived and in less than 2 years, they were expecting their second child and the benefits the Air Force provided compelled him to reenlist. In 1972, they welcomed Kyle Patrick Riley. Riley would go on to change career fields and switched to administration and then served in Okinawa, Japan; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, where in 1977 he and Charlotte had their third son Matthew Charles Riley; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. Riley closed out his career with tours at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C., and his last duty location was Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. 

“Our mother, Charlotte, is the epitome of strength and love,” the statement reads. “When dad decided to live his life as a fully integrated gay man, she singlehandedly held the family together.” 

Riley met Wayne Edward Schwandt at a Gay Fathers Coalition (GFC) Halloween Party for the children of gay fathers in 1984. “Chuck and Wayne had their first kiss that night, and he became the love of my dad’s life. … Dad came out in a time when it was difficult and taboo to be gay. He would often talk about his and Wayne’s courtship and how there were no examples of how to be a male/male family with children. The Gay Fathers Coalition was so important to them and was an amazing support network.” 

Riley loved the arts, the theater, and “every time we hear Barbra Streisand, a song from Evita, or Cher, we will think of Dad and over time our tears will become smiles. He was a wonderful and thoughtful man. Dad will forever be in our hearts.” 

He is predeceased by his husband Rev. Dr. Wayne Edward Schwandt, his brother William “Bill” Riley (Eve), and his daughter-in-law Sherry Riley (married to Scott). Riley is survived by his former wife Charlotte Ann Riley; sister Lynne Leonardo (Joseph) of Aldan, Pennsylvania; sons Scott (grandchildren Brian (Alina and great-grandson Jameson) of Ranson, West Virginia, Kyle (Kathy and grandchildren Samantha, Sean, Shane) of Chesapeake, Virginia; Matthew (Michele and granddaughter Jordan) of Allegany, New York and close friend Dean Daniel of Elkridge, Md. 

A Celebration of Life Service will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, at Immanuel Episcopal Church-on-the-Hill, 3606 Seminary Rd, Alexandria, Va., at 11 a.m.. In lieu of flowers, Chuck’s family has asked that a donation be made in his name to the Human Rights Campaign. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular