People who devote some parts of their lives to working around sexuality and gender rarely receive public acknowledgment (or thanks) for the work they do. Sex celebrities exist, but more often than not the price of fame is a disavowal of what is radical. When these people die their communities remember them, but if you didn't already know them you aren't likely to ever find out about who they were, what they did, how they lived. What follows is a very incomplete list of the activists, artists, educators, academics, and other folks who died in 2012 and who spent some of their time on earth trying to make things better for the rest of us (even if many of us don't get how or why).
As in previous years, this list is presented in no particular order and without a lot of rules. In writing about them, I have chosen to use people's first names. I didn't know most of these people and hope that the familiarity doesn't sound like disrespect. Instead I use their names because it seems like a warmer way to remember them.
Stephane Tchakam (December 16, 1972 - August 13, 2012)
Stephane Tchakam was a journalist, editor, and a beloved queer activist who lived and worked in Douala, Cameroon. At the time of his death, at age 41, he was the news editor at Le Jour, but he was equally known for his own reporting and his seemingly endless generosity of time, mentoring, and spirit to others fighting for gay rights in Cameroon and beyond. Steave Nemande, co-founder of Alternatives Cameroon, was the person who shared news of Stephane's death with me. In a memorial article Steave explains Stephane's impact,
"He deserves the credit for the recent trend toward objective treatment of homosexuality in the press in Cameroon, especially in the newspapers he edited. This is a big loss for gay rights activists. Many people will remember him as very friendly and warm, a person who was always ready to help a young colleague."Another friend says,
"As a writer, Stephane always tried to improve the living conditions of gays. That’s a courageous thing to do in an environment as opposed to LGBTI people as ours. His loss is a disaster for us because he was a gentleman who was always approachable, someone we could confide in without fear."It may have been this combination of passion, courage, ability to communicate, and willingness to share his skills and time that have left so many of his friends and fellow activists at a complete loss on news of his death.
Erasing 76 Crimes: Stephane Tchakam: Vibrant LGBT Activists Memory Lives On
ILGA: Loss of Cameroonian Activist, Colleague and Friend Stephane Tchakam (with video in French).
Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz (March 22, 1943 - May 13, 2012)
Cuban-American ethicist and professor emerita at Drew University, where she was the founder and co-director of the Hispanic Institute of Theology, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz was considered the mother of Mujerista theology, an articulation of social justice, rights, and faith that centers the experiences of Latina women. In a memorial column about her Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado shares:
Her Christian ethics interwove theoretical analysis, autobiography, and ethnographic research. Long before the field of Religious Studies took its more recent ethnographic turn, Ada was interviewing grassroots Latinas and using their insights as the starting point of her ethical analysis. Her discussions of racial identity and hybridity are one of the first that highlight the presence of Afro-Hispanic culture and religion. Ada’s research on lo cotidiano argued for the epistemic value of everyday life within the study of religion.Ada encountered resistance throughout her life and career, including the year of her death when a keynote talk she was invited to give was canceled due to her support for the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood and her religious participation in her nephew's same sex marriage.
rd Magazine: Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Mother of Mujerista Theology
New York Times: Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Dissident Catholic Theologian, Dies at 69
Robyn Few (October 7, 1958 - September 13, 2012)
A sex worker and sex worker rights activist, Robyn Few organized and directed the Sex Worker Outreach Project USA, and was instrumental in starting and organizing December 17th as International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Robyn fought her own legal battle (sparked in part by the Patriot Act), but when that was done she never stopped organizing and advocating for sex worker rights to be understood as workers rights and human rights. According to one remembrance of Robyn, her most memorable rally chant was: "One-Two-Three-Four - We are queer and we are whores! Five-Six-Seven-Eight - we get paid to masturbate!" My thanks to Tara-Michele Ziniuk for sending in a remembrance of Robyn.
Bound Not Gagged: In Memoriam: Robyn Few
Moral High Ground: Hear Robyn talk and read a collective poem created on March 3 as Robyn and friends celebrated Sex Worker Rights Day
Bill Brent (July 17, 1960 - August 18/19, 2012)
A writer, publisher, and queer sex activist in the earliest days of there being something recognizably called queer sex, Bill took his own life the weekend of August 18th in San Francisco. In 1992, aware of a lack of resources for folks who didn't fit neatly into straight or gay boxes, Bill published The Black Book which he described as "a resource for everyone sexual in the 'other' category." he published six more editions of it along with multiple collections of erotica, and eventually the sex magazine Black Sheets through his own publishing company Black Books (tag line: "Kinky. Queer. Intelligent. Irreverent"). I knew his work well but never met him, but so many of his friends and collaborators have shared their memories of Bill in print and online. Carol Queen, founding director of the Center for Sex and Culture shared with the Bay Area Reporter,
"Bill was a wonderful writer, but to my mind his greatest importance came in the way he created queer/bi/pansexual literary community. He introduced many new writers via the zine, readings, and anthologies, and many of them remained close even after Bill left the Bay Area."And Lori Selke, in an obituary for Lambda Literary Review shared, among other remembrances this: "Bill loved Joni Mitchell and Janet Jackson. He loved flannel and famously wrote an entire essay testifying to its sexiness."
Susie Bright's Journal: Catullus 101, for Bill Brent
Bay Area Reporter: Pro-sex publisher Bill Brent dies
Lambda Literary Review: In Remembrance: Bill Brent, Groundbreaking Queer Sex Publisher
Maita Gomez (May 23, 1947 - July 12, 2012)
Maita Gomez began her public life in a role that's often divisive when it comes to sexual and gender politics; she won the 1967 Miss Philippines beauty pageant. Her modeling career continued for a while, and Maita represented the Philippines in the Miss World competition. I don't know how those experiences settled with her later life as a communist, a radical, and a fighter for social justice and women's rights. This work, which she was remembered for upon her death in July, began when Maita was a student in medical school. She was politicized on campus and later joined an underground communist movement fighting the Marcos dictatorship. After the revolution she continued to fight for social justice and women's rights as one of the founders of the women's coalition Gabriela in the 1980s.
Tribute to Maita Gomez from Prof. Jose Maria Sison
William Brandon Lacy Campos (1977 - November 9, 2012)
Brandon was a writer and activist and co-excutive director of Queers for Economic Justice. He wrote and spoke wonderfully, eloquently, and challengingly of his life, in all its glory and complicatedness. On the back cover of his collection of poems "It Ain't Truth If It Doesn't Hurt" he describes himself as and "Afro-Boricua, African-American, Ojibwe, Euro, poz, writer, blogger, performance poet, policy wonk, organizer, and rabble rouser." He talked about the intersections of race, sexuality, gender, and class in ways that felt at once personal and accessible to audiences that both did and did not share parts of his lived experience.
In so much of his writing that's available, even in the most challenging material, there's a wild and often joyful energy that many of his friends and community are remembering as hard to resist and impossible to repress. Below are just a few links to his writing, to a great keynote address he have at Tuft University, and remembrances from colleagues and friends.
Brandon Lacy Campos: Queer, Poz and Colored: The Essentials ; A New Kind of Blackness: Remarks at Tufts University's Black Solidarity Day ; My Feet Only Walk Forward (his blog)
Gay City News: William Brandon Lacy Campos
Honoring Brandon Lacy Campos: Watch Video
Hollie Stevens (January 4, 1982 - July 3, 2012)
I"m grateful to author Thomas Roche for telling me about Hollie's passing this year. Hollie was a model, a porn actor, and a writer, perhaps best known for her work in the clown porn genre. January Seraph who was a friend of Hollie's, shared these thoughts with me via email,
"being the Queen of Clown Porn symbolizes Hollie's carefree nature, her ability to truly enjoy whatever moment she was in, her intense interest of all things slightly (or hugely) perverse, and of the smiling mask she wore for the benefit of others, almost until the day she died. Hollie wasn't fake, she just wanted others to be happy. Being a constant entertainer was one of the ways she showed her love."Hollie was also an AVN award winner who graced the cover and pages of Girls & Corpses (many times) while kickboxing and painting in her spare time.
SF Weekly: Queen of Clown Porn Hollie Stevens, has Passed Away.
Farideh Mashini (1960 - May 30, 2012)
Quranic researcher, women's rights activist, and Islamic feminist, Farideh Mashini fought both for women's rights and for the families of political prisoners in Iran. She was a member of the board of the Institute for Women's Studies and a member of the reformist party Islamic Iran Participation Front. Between an Islamaphobic West and her own country which routinely denied women's rights, Farideh was in a position where she had to say clearly that "There is no contradiction to what is written in the Quran and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). We should be an example to the world by ratifying the CEDAW and promoting the future of our women."
Persian Paradox: Farideh Mashini and the Fate of Women's Studies
Kyle Scanlon (September 5th, 1969 - July 3, 2012)
Kyle Scanlon was a patient, sweet, kind, and generous educator, activist, and member of Toronto's queer and trans communities. He worked for many years, in different positions at The 519 Community Centre in Toronto. I didn't know Kyle well but was on a number of organizing committees with him and the last time I saw him was when we were both presenting as allies at a symposium on building bridges between Deaf and hearing queer communities.
Kyle had a kind of calmness of presentation that made it easier to put ones guard down. His way of being, I think, created a space for others to feel like they could be present, ask for what they need, and share something of themselves. So many of us have been put down, turned away, and beaten up so often by the world (literally or figuratively) that entering a new space and feeling like you have a right to be there can itself feel like too much. Kyle's energy made that a bit easier for a lot of people. He also worked a lot, volunteered often, and gave. Probably too much, in retrospect. Kyle took his own life, a choice that is, of course, every ones to make, but one that comes with a particularly kind of pain when the person doing it is someone who devoted their life to supporting others, often others who felt like their lives were not worth living. Kyle may have felt differently but for those people around him, his life was eminently worth living, and the world is simply a poorer place without him.
Torontoist: Toronto's Trans Community Grieves Loss of Kyle Scanlon
Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives: Kyle Scanlon
Chavela Vargas (April 17, 1919 - August 5, 2012)
The legendary singer who became famous for performing rancheras in a "brash manner" which among other things referenced her gender bending public presence died in August at the age of 93. She was famous not only for her voice and performances but for the company she kept. She was a muse to Pedro Almodovar, friend (and it's said occasional lover) of Frida Kahlo, and while she is quoted as talking about her queerness early on, she came out officially at the age of 81 in her autobiography And If You Want to Know about My Past. Some people's radicalism is expressed through political action, for others it is who they are and how they are in the world that feels defiant and radical. Reading some of Vargas' words, watching her perform, and reading remembrances from fans and friends make it clear Vargas was in the latter camp.
Racialicious: RIP Chavela Vargas
NPR: Chavela Vargas describes her own voice
Anthony Smith (1959 - November 7, 2012)
Professor Anthony Smith was the chief investigator of the Australian Study of Health and Relationships (sometimes referred to ask the "Australian Kinsey" study) and was one of the country's preeminant scholars in sexuality. His work contributed to an understanding both deep and wide of sexual health across age groups and, as one obituary states, "it is impossible to over-state the impact that this work had on sexual health policy in Australia over the past decade." He began his career as a zoologist, studying crocodiles, but his own activist and advocacy work around HIV led him to work in human sexuality. It was through that work that he met his partner, the writer, academic, and gay rights activist Dennis Altman, in the 1990s. They were together until Anthony's death. I received many emails from colleagues of Anthony's remembering him to me for this article, as well as some from former students who remembered him as someone who made the shift from supervisor or mentor to colleague feel easy and always respectful.
Australasian Society for HIV Medicine: Vale Professor Anthony Smith
Referred to as both India's first and Bombay's most famous transsexual, Aida Banaji was an out and outspoken entertainer and through her very public presence and performance is considered by many to have made way for so many trans and genderqueer folks who came after her. Aida was remembered to me by Roy Wadia, whose brother, the late gay activist, writer, and filmmaker Riyad Vinci Wadia, made the 1996 documentary "A Mermaid Called Aida" that documented Aida's life through interviews and experimental narrative. I wasn't able to find dates of Aida's birth or death, but found a reference to her funeral in Goa on October 28th, along with this comment from a close friend,
“Despite a life filled with challenges, triumphs and mistakes, (Aida) was an inspiring figure to many. Aida Banaji, you will never be forgotten by me and countless others. We do not mourn, but rather celebrate your life and legacy.”Transgender-Net.de: A Mermaid Called Aida
Sister Boom Boom (February 21, 1955 - August 5, 2012)
Sister Boom Boom was the drag nun persona of Jack Fertig, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an early AIDS activist and queer rights rabble rouser. Sister Boom Boom ran twice for public office in San Francisco (according to an obituary in SF Weekly, she listed her occupation as "nun of the above"). She never won but she used the opportunity to raise awareness of issues largely ignored by mainstream candidates. After leaving the Sisters, Jack quit drinking and drugs and he folded his experiences with sobriety into much of his activist and advocacy around issues relevant to queer folks of color, the un- and under-employed, immigration reform and more.
In another remembrance a friend described Jack as having "a tremendous sense of humor and a huge heart." He became a professional astrologer in the 1980s. One of his fellow Sisters, Mary Media, shared memories in a Huffington Post column, highlighting one of Jack's important characteristics as an activist and performer,
"Whether it was a dog show, basketball game, sex club party, or exorcism, Boom Boom kept things moving with trenchant humor, usually in the service of exposing hypocrisy rather than being mean.Thanks to Carol Queen for remembering Sister Boom Boom on this list.
Huffington Post: Remembering Sister Boom Boom, Divine Hellraiser
SF Weekly: Pioneering Queer Activist Jack Fertig, aka Sister Boom Boom, Dies at 57
Erik Rhodes (February 8, 1982 - June 14, 2012)
Erik Rhodes was a porn actor who was a contract player for Falcon Studios. He also worked as a model (most notably for mainstream discount clothing store Loehmann's), and as a sex worker. He had an identical twin brother Jon, and grew up in Massapequa, NY. During his time in porn he shared many of his experiences and struggles with drug addiction and steroid use on a Tumblr blog that was at times hilarious and harrowing. That his early death didn't seem like a shock too many around him makes it no less of a loss. I really appreciate this quote from Erik who described the difference between the porn fantasy he performs and his daily life in an interview in SX,
“When I’m doing my Erik Rhodes thing it’s a matter of living up to the image of a porn star and being what the fans expect you to be. But at home, I’m really just this boring person who sits at the computer and likes his dogs and has sex once a week.”Paper Magazine Profile: Super Soaker
Gay News Network: Falcon Star Erik Rhodes Dies
Allan Horsfall (October 20, 1927 - August 27, 2012)
Allan Horsfall was an early gay rights campaigner in England, fighting (successfully) for the decriminalization of homosexual activity in 1967. His life and activism are notable in part because of his choice to live and fight not in London, but from his miner's cottage in Atherton, Greater Manchester. After spending three years in the RAF he returned home and took a job for the National Coal Board. His friend, Bob Cant in an obituary in The Guardian, notes that in "an act of enormous political bravery, he used his home address in the mining community of Atherton as the contact point" for the North West Committee for Homosexual Law Reform, which he co-founded in 1964. He helped set up the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and continued to speak and speak out, often as a letter writer to both local and national papers.
LGBT History Project: Allan Horsfall
Guardian: Allan Hosfall Obituary
Harriet Presser (1936 - May 1, 2012)
Harriet Presser was a sociologist who founded the Center for Population, Gender and Social Inequality at the University of Maryland where she was a Distinguished University Professor. She worked hard to integrate gender into population studies and in the remembrances of her by former students and colleagues it's said that she mentored many women into the field of demography. Her role as an ally sounds like it began with her PhD dissertation on forced sterilization in Puerto Rico which collected and published data that helped Puerto Rican anti-colonialists expose to a broader public the horrific practices of the US Eugenics Record Office and eventually end the practice of US government intervention in this particular part of Puerto Rican society.
University of Maryland: CV and Remembrances of Harriet B. Presser
Family Inequality Blog: Harriet Presser
Spain Rodrigez (March 2, 1940 - November 28, 2012)
I first learned about Spain Rodrigez doing research for a half hour television special on sex and comics in the late 1990s. One of our producers ended up spending a day with Spain and his wife and came back with so much great footage and with a huge crush on both Spain's work and his sweetness (which one might not glean from much of his work). The Times quoted Art Spiegelman talking to Colin Dabkowski for The Buffalo News (Rodriguez was born in Buffalo) about Spain's influence:
“Spain was one of the seminal, in probably all meanings of that word, figures of the underground comics planet. I don’t know that there’d be such a things as these nice gentrified graphic novels that I’m associated with as well if it weren’t for the energy unleashed with such vehemence by Spain, Crumb and others.”Susie Bright's Journal: In Memory of Spain Rodriguez: March 22, 1940 - November 28th, 2012
The Buffalo News: Art Spiegelman on Spain Rodriguez
Robert Francoeur (October 18, 1931 - October 15, 2012)
Philosopher, biologist, Roman Catholic priest, and world renown sexologist Bob Francoeur authored 22 books and was the general editor of the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. When he passed away I posted the following remembrance of him. And you can read more about this warm, loving man and intellectual sexual explorer below.
Sexually Smarter: Sexuality Loses a Trailblazer
New York Times: What's Wrong With This Picture?
George Birimisa (February 21, 1924 - May 10, 2012)
George Birimisa was the first openly gay playwright to receive a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, a fact that speaks both to his talent and to the particular time he worked and lived. He was a a central figure in gay theatre in New York in the mid-1960s and his work (which was often sexually explicit) featured depictions of working-glass gay men struggling to survive in the pre-Stonewall closet. He never stopped writing, but later in life he founded an organization for lesbian and gay body building (he participated in five Gay Games). A man of many talents and interests, George was also a sex worker for a time, and was a regular at Kirk Read's Sex Worker Art Show in San Francisco. In his later years he came to understand his own sexual behaviors as addictive or at least out of control, and entered a 12-step program which, according to one obituary, he continued with until the year before his death.
Bay Area Reporter: Gay Playwright George Birimisa Dies