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Beloved ‘organizer, planner’ Ryan Moberly Bennett dies at 37

Worked as lighting DJ at Town, Nation

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Ryan McMillan Moberly Bennett (Photo courtesy Cunningham Funeral Home)

Ryan McMillan Moberly Bennett, a longtime resident of Falls Church, Va., who served as a lighting DJ at the D.C. gay nightclubs Nation and Town Danceboutique and assisted with stage lighting design for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, died peacefully in his sleep on Dec. 9, 2021, at the age of 37, according to his husband Rick Bennett.

Rick Bennett said the cause of death is pending the outcome of toxicology tests from the Virginia Medical Examiner that could take several months to complete.

“Anyone who has met Ryan will tell you he was the most generous, giving, and energetic person,” a write-up about his life prepared by his husband and other family members and friends says. “He was the life of the party, and the hostess with the most-est,” the write-up continues.

It says his hosting of Friday night RuPaul’s night gatherings got him through the pandemic years, and his co-hosting of an annual XMAS Thieves party with his husband Rick was celebrated for the 16th time in early December.

“He spent his life welcoming people to the table; he could (and would) always find room for one more,” the memorial write-up about his life says, which is posted on the website of the Alexandria-based Cunningham Turch Funeral Home. “His table was never too full, and those of us who are lucky enough to have been seated at his table will keep welcoming others in his spirit.”

According to his husband Rick Bennett, Ryan was born and raised in Falls Church and attended Falls Church High School, where he graduated in 2002. He studied culinary arts for a few years before graduating from Northern Virginia’s Stratford University with a degree in Hospitality Management. Ryan worked in the field of property management for most of his career, Rick Bennett said.

He said that during the past two years, Ryan served as an assistant executive property manager for Carydale Apartments, a local company that serves as property manager for apartment buildings and town homes in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax counties.

In earlier years, his work for more than 14 years as a lighting DJ at Nation and Town Danceboutique nightclubs, which have since closed, “was a huge part of Ryan’s social circle,” Rick Bennett said. “He loved being in the DL booth creating exciting light shows for the dancers but also working with the drag queens,” Bennett said. “The last few years at Town he worked behind the stage with the drag queens to make sure the shows ran smoothly.”

Jarrod Bennett, technical director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, said Ryan was considered a valued member of the GMCW family.

“He was always willing to help with lighting designs for shows, bringing a spark to our annual retreat decorations, assisting with sound reinforcement, ensuring our pride float was powered and pumping out the tunes and so much more,” Jarrod Bennett said. “Ryan’s dedication to GMCW was truly amazing and his presence will be missed. Our hearts go out t his husband, Rick Bennett, and his family.”

Rick Bennett said he and Ryan would have celebrated their 18th anniversary as a couple on April 10 of this year. He said the two met when Ryan was 20 and he was 24.

“Ryan was my everything and truly balanced me,” Rick Bennett said. “He had the most caring and empathetic nature, always wanting to help anyone who needed it. He was also the organizer, planner, and leader when it came to vacations, parties, and getting our sometimes-disparate groups of friends all together,” Rick Bennett added.

“He wanted everyone to know they were welcomed,” said Rick Bennett. “We loved to host, and Ryan would cook up the most amazing dinners. He was our friends’ ‘mama’ since day 1.”

The write-up posted on the funeral home website says the love Ryan shared with everyone had its roots in his family. “Ryan deeply loved his family and was deeply loved by them,” it says.

“Mama, as his closest family group of friends called him, was the organizer, the planner, and always the driver,” according to the write-up. “The scale of his abilities was wide and varied: from installing stereos for friends to designing and providing lighting setups for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington to cooking batches of Grandma’s BBQ sauce and Mom’s Martha Bars, Ryan was someone for whom a creative spark came naturally,” says the write-up.

“Ryan was always unapologetically himself. We are all better for having known him and we will mourn his loss for years to come,” the write-up concludes.

It says Ryan Moberly Bennett is survived by his husband, Rick Bennett; his parents, Bill and Cathy Moberly; his brother Evan Moberly; his sisters Laura Jones and Kristin Forsht; his nephews Harvey and McCarroll Moberly; and his grandmother, Jackie Fleming – along with many aunts, uncles and cousins.

A celebration of life service in his honor was held Dec. 18 at St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Annandale, Va., on the same day he was interred at National Memorial Park in Falls Church, Va.

Family and friends have said donations in his honor could be made to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.

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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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