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Law professor, LGBT rights advocate Joe Tom Easley dies at 81

Played key role in effort to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

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Joe Tom Easley

Joe Tom Easley, a nationally recognized attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate who taught at three U.S. law schools and served on the boards and in leadership positions at several national and D.C. LGBTQ and human rights organizations, died Feb. 13 at a hospital near his Miami Beach residence of complications associated with lung disease. He was 81.

Peter Freiberg, Easley’s husband and partner of 39 years, said Easley’s skills as a negotiator, speaker, teacher, and political strategist enabled him to serve as a volunteer advocate for LGBTQ and civil rights causes beginning in the late 1970s, when he began as a tenured law professor at American University Law School in D.C.

In 1978, according to Freiberg, Easley was appointed as an assistant dean at the A.U. Law School in addition to his teaching duties at a time when he came out as gay. “At that time, there were very few out university administrators,” Freiberg said.

From 1981 to 1983 Easley worked as a professor at the then-Antioch Law School in D.C., where he also served as an adviser to LGBTQ student groups. Antioch’s D.C. Law School later evolved into the University D.C. Law School.

Freiberg said that around the time Easley left Antioch in 1983 he began his affiliation as a lecturer with BARBRI, the nation’s largest training course and coaching program for law school graduates preparing to take their state bar exam.

“Based on student reviews, he was an extremely popular lecturer, making even his assigned, somewhat difficult subjects – contracts and real property law – interesting and enjoyable,” Freiberg said. He said the BARBRI organization arranged for Easley to travel to cities throughout the country to give his bar preparation lectures, usually in the months prior to when the winter and summer state bar exams are given for prospective lawyers.

He continued his lecturing with BARBARI until his retirement in 2013, Freiberg said.
Easley became active with D.C.’s Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance from 1980 to 1982, according to Freiberg, and in 1982 Easley was elected as president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group. Freiberg said that around that time, then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry appointed Easley as a member of the D.C. Police Civilian Complaint Review Board, which LGBTQ activists played a lead role in persuading the D.C. Council to create.

“Joe Tom was certainly a passionate, articulate and politically savvy champion of human rights in so many ways, most crucially in the fight to establish a Civilian Complaint Review Board,” said D.C. LGBTQ activist Craig Howell.

From left, Leslie Harris, Craig Howell, Joe Tom Easley, Frank Kameny, Tom Chorlton, Mel Boozer and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry at the Civilian Complaint Review Board law signing ceremony on Nov. 21, 1980. (Blade archive photo by John M. Yanson)

In 1983, Easley moved to New York City to live with Freiberg after the two became a couple that year. A short time later, Easley, while continuing his activism, enrolled in Yale University’s graduate school where he received a master’s degree in public health in 1986. Freiberg said Easley then taught public health law at Yale’s medical school part time for the next two years. During his time as a student and as a teacher at Yale, Easley commuted from Manhattan to New Haven four days a week, Freiberg said.

Easley, an only child, was born in Robstown, Texas, near Corpus Christi and spent his early childhood years in Truby, Texas, a small farming town where he started school in a one-room schoolhouse. His family moved to Eagle Pass, a Texas border city on the Rio Grande River in 1950, Freiberg said, where Easley graduated from Eagle Pass High School.

He received his undergraduate degree with a major in English from Texas A&M University in 1963. Freiberg said when Easley was about to be drafted during the Vietnam War in 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on a Naval intelligence base on a small island near the Alaska-Russian border.

“After a year, he was told that a friend who had propositioned him for sex before he ever joined the Navy informed the government that he was gay,” Freiberg said in recounting Easley’s brief period of military service. “His commander apologetically told him that he had no choice but to kick him out—all gay people were barred from serving—but that because of his exemplary service he would ensure Joe Tom received an honorable discharge and veteran benefits.”

His Navy benefits through the longstanding G.I. Bill veterans’ education program helped to pay Easley’s tuition at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, where he received his law degree.

During and shortly after his law school years Easley became involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement and during summer breaks as a law student became involved with the first group of Ralph Nader’s, “Nader’s Raiders” drawing attention to government and corporate malfeasance, according to Freiberg.

After law school Easley served as a law clerk for a federal judge in Boston from 1971 to 1972 before serving as an assistant professor for the next two years at the University of Georgia Law School in Athens, Freiberg said.

Easley next left for Europe in 1975, where he worked for the Brussels-based European Bureau of Consumer Organizations. Among other things, he assisted with an investigation of price-fixing by pharmaceutical companies.

Freiberg recalled that over the course of his career Easley also taught part-time for short periods at the University of Virginia Law School and New York’s Cardozo Law School.

He said Easley’s devotion to LGBTQ equality and civil rights for other minorities, including African Americans, began in full force when he returned to the U.S. from Europe to begin teaching at American University in D.C.

In addition to his affiliation with local D.C. LGBTQ groups, over the next 30 years Easley became involved with and helped advance the work of a number of national LGBTQ organizations. Among them was Lambda Legal, the New York-based LGBTQ litigation group for which Easley served on the board of directors from 1981 to 1991 and as board co-chair from 1983 to 1987.

From 1988 to 1995 he served as president of the Human Rights Campaign Fund Foundation, which later changed its name to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. He also served on the board of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national group that assisted LGBTQ service members facing discharge from the military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Freiberg said Easley’s own discharge from the Navy for being gay helped to solidify his commitment and dedication to the cause of LGBTQ service members.

With Easley’s active involvement, SLDN played an important role in the successful campaign to persuade Congress to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which continued to be used to discharge LGBTQ people from the military if their sexual orientation or gender identity became known to military authorities.

Freiberg said Easley’s skills as a public speaker on behalf of LGBTQ equality surfaced in 1988 when he delivered the closing speech before more than 200 LGBTQ leaders from across the country attending a “War Conference” in Warrenton, Va., called by AIDS activist Larry Kramer to draw attention to the continuing AIDS epidemic, anti-LGBTQ court decisions, and anti-gay vitriol by religious right groups.

In what he and Easley also considered a gesture in support of LGBTQ equality, Freiberg said he and Easley in 2003 traveled to Toronto to legally marry. Their wedding became what the couple believed to be the first same-sex wedding to be written about in the New York Times’s wedding celebration feature.

“We felt strongly that legal marriage would not make one bit of difference in our relationship, and it didn’t,” said Freiberg. “But we wanted to make a political statement that our love and devotion was equal to anyone else’s, and that gay couples deserved equality before the law, including benefits and responsibilities,” Freiberg said.

“His whole life was animated by a desire to work for social justice and to do good,” said Freiberg. “He supported the underdog, whether LGBT people, African Americans, an injured Iraqi boy or the disabled, which he was in his last three years.”

Freiberg was referring to the national news media attention Easley received in 2005, including a story in the New York Times, after he arranged for an Iraqi boy injured in Iraq by a U.S. bomb to be brought to the U.S. for medical treatment.

“Joe Tom Easley was a dear friend and mentor who taught me much about leadership, LGBT politics, the law and about giving,” said Vic Basile, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign and a longtime LGBTQ rights advocate. “He led by example, giving generously of his time and broad knowledge to help others in need, never asking or expecting anything in return,” Basile said.

Easley was predeceased by his parents, Tom Lee Easley and Lady Hampton Easley.

He is survived by his husband and partner of 39 years, longtime journalist Peter Freiberg; his sister-in-law and brother-in-law Eileen and Barney Freiberg-Dale; his niece, Sabrina Freiberg-Dale; his nephew, Hunter Dale and fiancée Eve Lichacz; a cousin, Jane Hays; and many friends around the world.

Plans for a memorial service, including a memorial event in D.C., will be announced. Contributions in his memory can be made to Lambda Legal, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the National Parks Foundation.

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Obituary

Pioneering transgender computer scientist Lynn Conway dies at 86

Early supercomputers pioneer fired after she transitioned

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Lynn Conway (University of Michigan faculty headshot by Charles Rogers and Xerox photo by Margaret Moulton)

BY ERIN REED | Tuesday, news broke that transgender woman and computer pioneer Lynn Conway passed away at the age of 86. Her story is nothing short of remarkable.

Conway helped pioneer early supercomputers at IBM but was fired after she transitioned. She went “stealth” and had to rebuild her career from the ground up, starting as a contract programmer at Xerox with “no experience.”

Then, she did it all over again, pioneering VLSI — a groundbreaking technology that allowed for microchips to be made small enough to fit in your pocket, paving the way for smartphones and personal computers. In 1999, she broke stealth, becoming an outspoken advocate for transgender people.

Conway first attempted to transition at MIT in 1957 at 19-years-old. At the time, the environment was not accepting enough for trans people to do so. She would have faced enormous barriers to medical transition, as few doctors were knowledgeable enough to prescribe hormone therapy a the time. Like many trans people seeing enormous barriers to care, she spent the following years closeted.

Eventually, she was hired by IBM where she helped develop the world’s fastest supercomputer at the time on the Advanced Computing System (ACS) project. The computer would become the first to use a “superscalar” design, which made it capable of performing several tasks at once, dramatically improving its performance and making it much faster than previous computers. Despite her pivotal role in the project, she was fired when she informed her employer that she wanted to transition.

What she did next is nothing short of remarkable. Realizing that as an openly trans woman in 1968, few companies would hire her, she went “stealth” and pretended she had no significant prior experience in computers.

She quickly advanced through the ranks and was hired by Xerox, where she famously developed VLSI, or Very Large Scale Integration. This groundbreaking technology allowed for thousands of transistors to be packed onto a single chip, revolutionizing electronics by making cell phones and modern computers possible through miniaturization and increased processing power.

Conway didn’t stop there. After gaining fame for her computer innovations, she came out in 1999 to advocate for trans people. She was among the early critics of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, an anti-trans researcher still cited today by those working to ban gender-affirming care.

Conway slammed Zucker for practicing “reparative therapy,” a euphemism for conversion therapy. Notably, Zucker’s research continues to make false claims that “80 percent of transgender kids desist from being trans,” numbers based on his clinic’s practices, which closely mirrored gay conversion therapy. That clinic has since been shut down over those practices.

Often, those opposed to trans people paint a picture of gender transition as something new, unique, or unsustainable. Similarly, many who transition are told they cannot be successful as trans individuals.

Such claims are often weaponized by anti-trans activists like Matt Walsh, who once mockingly asked, “What exactly have ‘transgender Americans’ contributed?” Conway’s life was a resounding rebuke to these attacks. She attempted to transition at a young age in the 1950s, revolutionized computing twice from scratch, and made the cell phone Walsh likely used to post such a question possible.

Perhaps more importantly, Conway’s life gave trans people another gift: A visible example that we can grow old, and a reminder that we have always been here. In a world where so many of us have had to hide in silence or stealth, where representation has been denied, and where we are told that our lives will be too dangerous to live, Conway proved that one can be trans and live a long, fulfilling, and proud life.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Joe Lieberman dies at 82

Former senator, vice presidential nominee championed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal

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Then-U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) being interviewed in his Hart Senate Office Building suite in February 2012. (YouTube screenshot)

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who had served first as a longtime Democratic senator and then declared himself an independent winning reelection in 2006, died Wednesday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital due to complications from a fall. He was 82 years old.

The announcement of his death was released by Lieberman’s family and noted “his beloved wife, Hadassah, and members of his family were with him as he passed. Senator Lieberman’s love of God, his family and America endured throughout his life of service in the public interest.” 

Lieberman, who nearly won the vice presidency on the Democratic ticket with former Vice President Al Gore in the disputed 2000 election and who almost became Republican John McCain’s running mate eight years later, viewed himself as a centrist Democrat, solidly in his party’s mainstream with his support of abortion rights, environmental protection, gay rights and gun control, the Washington Post reported.

The Post added that Lieberman was also unafraid to stray from Democratic orthodoxy, most notably in his consistently hawkish stands on foreign policy.

Lieberman was first elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1988. He was also the first person of Jewish background or faith to run on a major party presidential ticket.

In 2009 he supported the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was passed as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 on Oct. 22, 2009, and then was signed into law on the afternoon of Oct. 28 by then-President Barack Obama.

Lieberman, who served in the Senate for more than two decades, alongside with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), were the original co-sponsors of the legislation in the successful effort to repeal the Pentagon policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which barred open service by gay and lesbian servicemembers in 2011.

Lieberman said the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Congress was one of the most satisfying and thrilling experiences he’s had as a senator.

“In our time, I think the front line of the civil rights movement is to protect people in our country from discrimination based on sexual orientation — all the more so when it comes to the United States military, whose mission is to protect our security so we can continue to enjoy the freedom and equal opportunity under law,” Lieberman said.

In an statement to the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Human Rights Campaign Vice President for Government Affairs David Stacy said:

“Senator Lieberman was not simply the lead Senate sponsor of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — he was its champion, working tirelessly to allow lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve in the military as their authentic selves. The nation’s first Jewish vice presidential nominee, Lieberman had a historic career and his unwavering support for lesbian, gay and bisexual military servicemembers is a powerful legacy. Our hearts go out to his family and friends as they grieve a tremendous loss.”

In September 2011, during a press conference marking the repeal of the Pentagon policy, questions emerged about how to extend greater benefits to LGBTQ service members.

In addition to the legislation that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” reporters asked lawmakers about legislation in the Senate known as the Respect for Marriage Act which was aimed at the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited same-sex marriage. Collins and Lieberman weren’t co-sponsors of that legislation.

Collins had left the news conference at the start of the question-and-answer period. In response to a question from the Blade, Lieberman offered qualified support for the Respect for Marriage Act.

The Connecticut senator said he had issues with the “full faith and credit” portion of the Respect for Marriage Act enabling federal benefits to flow to married gay couples even if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

“I do support it in part — I think we’ve got to celebrate what we’ve done today — I certainly support it in regard to discrimination in federal law based on sexual orientation,” Lieberman said.

That issue became a mute point after June 26, 2015, when in a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Obergefell v. Hodges, justices ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Lieberman by that time however, had retired from the U.S. Senate. He announced he would not seek another term on Dec. 12, 2012, and left the Senate the following year. He was succeeded by Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy.

Following his retirement from the Senate, Lieberman moved to Riverdale in the Bronx and registered to vote in New York as a Democrat. 

In 2024 Lieberman was leading the search to find a presidential candidate for the third-party group No Labels to run against former President Donald Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden, with whom he had served with in the Senate. 

In a post on X (formerly Twitter) former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Lieberman:

“Joe Lieberman and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but he had an extraordinary career in public service, including four decades spent fighting for the people of Connecticut. He also worked hard to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and helped us pass the Affordable Care Act. In both cases the politics were difficult, but he stuck to his principles because he knew it was the right thing to do. Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to Hadassah and the Lieberman family.”

Lieberman’s funeral will be held on Friday at Congregation Agudath Sholom in his hometown of Stamford, Conn. An additional memorial service will be announced at a later date.

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William Troy dies at 69

Longtime D.C. resident worked on the Hill and in antiques

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William Troy (Photo courtesy family)

William Joseph “Bill” Troy passed away peacefully on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, at Cayuga Medical Center with his family at his bedside, from recent medical issues after living an active and robust life, according to a statement released by family. He was 69.

Troy was born April 15, 1955, in Elmira, N.Y. to William and Shirley Troy. He attended school in Ithaca and left to attend college at the University of Rochester. He worked at the university at various positions to help pay his way through, and he graduated in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He continued working at the university and living in Rochester until he accepted an internship in the federal offices of Congressman Matt McHugh of the NY 28th District from 1978-1983. 

Troy was a life-long collector of various things, starting with coins and comics as a youngster, but in the 1980s he moved on to Art Deco lamps, disco records, antique furnishings, Arts & Crafts pottery, and a multitude of similar objects. He followed his passion of seeking antiques and used furnishings in Washington where he met many like-minded people and formed friendships with collectors and dealers.

Troy lived with his friend and partner Kirk Palmatier in Washington until December 2022 when he moved to Newark, N.Y., Palmatier’s hometown. He also wanted to enjoy his Ithaca  family more by living nearer to them.

Troy is survived by five loving sisters and two loving brothers and several nieces and nephews. His death was preceded by that of his parents, William and Shirley Troy. Troy is also survived by his friend and partner Kirk Palmatier of Newark, N.Y., and a number of D.C.-area friends and business associates from over the past years. Arrangements to memorialize Troy will be with his family at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to your favorite cancer or hospice organization. 

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