People who choose to work around sexuality and gender often don't get the acknowledgment from the mainstream media or from society as a whole that they would if their work was in another field. Every year, I feel this absence when I read the lists of famous people who died. Since 2006, I've tried to change that by sharing some of the sex and gender activists, educators, artists, and outlaws we lost in the year that is ending. Here is a list of sexual losses in 2011.
It is a very incomplete list, and if you have other people you want to suggest for the list, please email me. There's no master plan for the list. The two requirements for getting on the list are that they worked in some way to explore sexuality or gender, and that they passed away in 2011. People are not listed in any particular order.
Carmen Rupe (October 10, 1936 - December 15, 2011)
A reader alerted me to the loss this year of Carmen Rupe. Carmen was born in New Zealand and became the first (out) Maori drag performer both in New Zealand and Australia. She is being remembered as a activist a cultural icon and sexual iconoclast. Carmen ran for mayor of Wellington in 1977, was a life long advocate for gay, trans, and indigenous rights, and outspoken HIV/AIDS activist. In addition to performing drag Carmen ran several businesses, including Carmen's International Coffee Lounge which is described by GayNZ as a place where:
…customers could get something hot in a cup downstairs and receive the same in a bed upstairs. It defined an era where homosexuality was illegal but festooned fabulousness was not. Tea cups were the secret code which allowed people to romp with whoever they preferred and Carmen set up an elaborate system of doors and stairways for escape, should it ever be raidedThanks to Gill, a reader of Violet Blue's Tiny Nibbles site, who found this page through Violet and emailed me to tell me about Carmen. Gill shares this thought: "she had such monumental courage, and because of that courage, generations of New Zealander's will have the freedom and respect she fought for."
Te Papa's Blog: Carmen - Ahead of Her Time
Igor Kon (May 21, 1928 - April 27, 2011)
One of Russia's great sexologists, Professor Igor Kon was a historian whose work and perspective included sociology, psychology, and philosophy, as it considered sexual mores in Russia and in particular the experience of being gay in Russia. He was an outspoken support of various LGBT communities and was known not only for his insistence that science trump morality in legislating sexuality, but also for his humor and his care for individual experience.
Russian LGBT Network: Famous Scientist Igor Kon Died in Moscow
Winstone Zulu (1964 - October 12, 2011)
The first Zambian to come out as HIV positive and the founder of the first support group for people living with HIV in Zambia, Winstone Zulu began his public conversation about HIV as an HIV denialist, rejecting the relationship between HIV and AIDS and refusing to take medications to manage his own HIV. As he became increasingly debilitated, he began taking antiretroviral medications and in 2002, at a National HIV/AIDS Congress, delivered a deeply personal and powerful talk about his own experiences with, and what he came to see as the dangerous power of, AIDS denialism.
Winstone was also a pioneer in connecting HIV and tuberculosis, and his work in this area built connections among activists and health care workers across what were significant divides of understanding and knowledge. Many of the sexual health lists that I am on were flooded with emails of remembrance from friends and colleagues around the world, all of whom were grateful for knowing Winstone and felt both a personal and global loss with the departure of such a calm and passionate leader.
Treatment Action Group: Mourning the Loss of Pioneering AIDS and TB Activist Winstone Zulu
AIDS-Free World: Winstone Zulu (1964 - 2011)
Wendy Babcock (May 24, 1979 - August 9, 2011)
A determined and outspoken social activist who fought on many levels to reduce the violence that sex workers experience in their daily lives, Wendy Babcock took her own life this year. Babcock did so much for others; strangers, friends, chosen family, and her son who was taken away from her by Children's Aid in 2003. She was open to talking with anyone and working across lines of power and privilege (notably working with city officials and police, as well as with grassroots sex worker rights organizations). She wrote a memoir that she planned to publish when she graduated from law school and her friends are now planning on publishing the work for her. In an Xtra! about her death, friends and colleagues shared these memories:
"What a lot of people are forgetting is that Wendy was just a regular person, but she took a realistic view to sex work. There was no romanticizing it. Some people choose to do sex work, while others are forced to because they have no other option, but all deserve the same respect."
"She should have been a comedian. She used to say, ‘A blow job is better than no job.'"
"Wendy broke new ground and blazed a trail... She was always open and honest about her history with everyone, and that took a lot of courage. She pushed rights for sex workers forward."Globe and Mail: A Champion for those Without a Voice
Xtra!: Wendy Babcock Found Dead
Liu Huang A-tao (1923 - September 1, 2011)
Liu Huang A-tao was the first woman in Taiwan to speak out and publicly demand an apology from Japan for being forced to perform sexual services for Japanese soldiers as a "comfort woman" first in Indonesia (where she was also seriously wounded during heavy fighting) and then for three years in Japan. She had agreed to work as a nurse, but with thousands of other women she was confined and then forced to live in brothels often on the battlefield.
Inspired by South Korean activists, Liu Huang began connecting to other Taiwanese women who had survived their experiences as comfort women and eventually filed an international lawsuit against the Japanese government. Japan has continued to fight her attempts, refusing to give a public apology. For her activist efforts, she is referred to as Grandma A-tao. Referencing the shame many survivors feel, and the injustice that these crimes go unanswered, she was quoted as saying, "It is not us, but the Japanese government that should feel ashamed." Her last suit was filed in 2010 and was still pending at the time of her death.
The Telegraph: Life and Times of Grandma A-tao, Taiwan's Most Famous Comfort Woman
Chloe Dzubilo (1960 - February 18, 2011)
Chloe Dzubilo is described in many ways across several passionate and touching obituaries, but my favorite may be how she is described on this page that gives people the chance to donate to a fund in honor of her memory:
"Chloe Dzubilo: Trans-activist, equestrian, punk rock star, visual artist, recovering human, mother to many children, sister, lover, long-time survivor. Chloe advocated tirelessly for transpeople, addicts, and people living with HIV locally and beyond. She lived her singular vision of equality for all with fierce kindness, humor and reverence."
Chloe was involved with the group the Transsexual Menace, volunteered at the Gender Identity Project, and founded the Equi-Aid project, a New York City-based program for children impacted by HIV/AIDS. She was also the first trans person to be on the cover of POZ (she eventually graced the cover three times). Read more about Chloe's life and the impact it had on others below:
Village Voice: Trans/AIDS Activist Chloe Dzubilo
POZ Blogs: In Memoriam: Chloe Dzubilo, 1960 - 2011
The Bilerico Project: My Friend Chloe
James Gruber (August 21, 1928 – February 27, 2011)
James Gruber was the last living member of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay rights organizations (what back then they called a homophile organization). According to the Bay Area Reporter obituary, Gruber has an unpublished memoir, "The Deviant: an Illustrated Autobiography," that sounds like it would be quite a page-turner. Gruber identified as bisexual, grew up in Los Angeles, and later moved to San Francisco and then eventually Palo Alto. It's worth reading more about his life, but I'm just going to offer my favorite paragraph from the Reporter's obit:
"In 1946, at the age of 18, Mr. Gruber enlisted in the U.S. Marines where, in close physical proximity to men for the first time, he, as he put it, "went bananas in the sex department." He enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers, even as he continued to have affairs with women, and was honorably discharged in 1949."Bay Area Reporter: James Gruber, Last Original Mattachine Member, Dies
Noxolo Nogwaza (1987 - April 23, 2011)
Noxolo Nogwaza was a friend, a daughter, a single mother of two small children, and a South African LGBT rights activist and a member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee. Noxolo was 24 years old when she was sexually assaulted and murdered. Her friends and community immediately identified this as a hate crime, something that Human Rights Watch agreed with and began to publicize outside of the country. In public statements at the time of her murder, local police seemed to be resisting this idea, saying they needed to investigate further and that to them "murder is murder."
Nogwaza is only one of many queer activists and regular people who risk violence and death to fight for the right to live openly. Unfortunately, these stories only seem to gain attention for a few days after a particularly violent and brutal crime, and for those of us who don't live in daily fear of this kind of violence, they can quickly recede in the background. Please note that some of the links below include very graphic descriptions of the assault and murder.
Mail & Guardian Online: Final March of a Peaceful Soldier
BBC News: South Africa Killing of Lesbian Nogwaza 'A Hate Crime'
Andrea True (July 26, 2943 - November 7, 2011)
A cross-over star before we talked about them so much, Andrea True was a porn actor (working under various names including Louis Grimes, Ida King, Inger Kissin, and Singh Low) who performed in dozens of films and was more recently featured in the documentary Inside Deep Throat. She was also a one-hit disco diva, releasing the worldwide hit song, and later album, "More, More, More," which she ingenuously got made while waiting out a bad political situation in Kingston, Jamaica (she was there doing TV commercials and working as a spokeswoman for a real estate venture... talk about cross-over).
She wasn't able to replicate the success of that one title, but her song has been covered and used widely, and in 2002 she was quoted as saying, "I want to be remembered as someone who gave people pleasure, with my music." Of course, none of us can control how we're remembered, but I hope that she's okay being remembered for giving people pleasure in other ways, too. After all, the gift of pleasure is a legacy to be proud of.
The Independent: Andrea True: Disco Diva of 'More, More, More' Fame
Alfred Mordecai Freedman (January 7, 1917 – April 17, 2011)
In 1973, psychiatrist Alfred Freedman was instrumental in having homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, effectively changing the official medical understanding of sexual orientation. He listened to and eventually came to support the position of many gay rights activists and fought for the removal of homosexuality as a sexual deviation. He was deeply committed to other issues of social inequality, advocating for community-based services for drug addicts, and arguing that psychiatrists cannot ethically play a role in executions of death-row prisoners.
New York Times: Alfred Freedman, a Leader in Psychiatry, Dies at 94
Florentina Gomez Miranda (February 14, 1912 - August 1, 2011)
Florentina Gomez Miranda was a lawyer, a teacher, and a Member of Parliament for the Radical Civil Union in party between 1983 and 1991. Her political work began decades earlier, fighting for women's rights, for children's rights, and most notably spearheading divorce laws in Argentina. One quickly realizes how cut off you are from the great works of others when you aren't able to speak or read different languages, but the little I have been able to learn about Gomez Miranda from the English writing and the Google translating suggests that she was a woman of passion, intellect, and humor.
Buenos Aires Herald: UCR Legend Florentina Gomez Miranda Dies at 99-Years Old
Joyce McDougall (April 26, 1920 - August 24, 2011)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/oct/24/joyce-mcdougall-obituary According to The Guardian's obituary, Joyce McDougall's significant contributions to the field of psychoanalysis and theories of sexuality began with a rash. As a child, she would get a rash every time she visited her grandparents' home in New Zealand. At the age of five, she made the connection between the rash and the presence of her grandmother, between the unconscious mind and the body. She also demonstrated a clear predilection for self-reflection (something analysts should be good at, even though they aren't always).
McDougall wrote four books, and while her analytic approach to understanding human sexuality may not be one that we all share (she began one book with the statement that human sexuality is "inherently traumatic"), her lifelong resistance to the "othering" of trauma or difference is a stance that we all benefit from. She coined the term "normopathy" to describe what she saw as the unnecessary fear of difference that is found in so much early writing about sexual variation.
The Guardian: Joyce McDougall Obituary
Julie Ann Johnson (March 14, 1942 - February 25, 2011)
Trans activist, Evangelical Christian, and author Julie Ann Johnson seemed to have the ability to connect, collaborate, and support multiple communities based on her own experiences and passions. She was a past chairperson of the International Foundation for Gender Education, as well as being active in the Chicago Gender Society, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and in organizing the Be-All gender conference. She was also author, editor, or contributor to eight books, including a seminal history of the Aurora and Elgin railroad. It's great to read the obituaries, which seem to effortlessly describe Julie's life without either hiding or overemphasizing her gender transition.
Chicago Tribune: Julie Ann Johnson, 1942 - 2011
Wangari Maathai (April 1, 1940 - September 25, 2011)
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Maathai had an understanding of the ways that human poverty and environmental poverty or degradation went hand in hand, and to address either one had to hold them both. From the New York Times obituary:
"Dr. Maathai, one of the most widely respected women on the continent, played many roles — environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977. Its mission was to plant trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women."Nobel Peace Prize 2004: Wangari Maathai
New York Times: Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dies at 71
Jean Harris (October 24, 1944 - June 15, 2011)
According to the LA Times obituary of political activist Jean Harris, she was once referred to as "'the lesbian Al Sharpton' for her colorful personality and confrontational style." Her hair wasn't bad either. Harris played a role in getting many openly gay political candidates elected, and earlier in her political work, she fought for inclusion of sexual orientation in school curricula. Harris, it seems, was not confused about power and gender. The Times obit quotes her explaining why she wears ties when she works: "I want every man who sees me to know … I'm after their power. … They know right up front, I'm a dyke, I'm tough, I'm here, I want to know exactly what's going on, and if you've got the power, I'm gonna try and take it from you."
LA Times: Jean Harris Dies at 66; Forceful Gay-Rights Organizer
David Kato (February 13, 1964 – January 26, 2011)
David Kato, an outspoken gay rights activist in Uganda, received many death threats. He lived in a country whose government was considering a bill that would make being gay a crime punishable by death, and along with dozens of other men, his picture was published in a Ugandan newspaper that was inciting readers to find gay people and "hang them." Kato and others sued the newspaper and won, but that did not reduce the risk and the visibility from the suit likely made Kato a larger target. As with Noxolo Nogwaza, Kato's brutal murder was considered a robbery by the police, but was clearly a hate crime that was all but sanctioned by the government.
Kato was a school teacher but came to be thought of as the father of the Ugandan gay rights movement, and was a vocal opponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He was quoted in a New York Times article as saying that he would like to be a "good human rights defender, not a dead one, but an alive one.” In response to Kato’s death, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “This crime is a reminder of the heroic generosity of the people who advocate for and defend human rights on behalf of the rest of us -— and the sacrifices they make.”
BBC News: Obituary: Uganda Gay Activist David Kato
LGBT History Month: David Kato
Barbara Grier (November 4, 1933 - November 10, 2011)
I can't remember where I was, but I'll never forget the first collection of erotica I bought with my own money. It was a collection of erotic stories by authors who had been published by Naiad Press, perhaps the best known and most successful publishing company that focused on lesbian authors. Barbara Grier, who died this year at age 78, was one of the founders of the press, which she described as being “about lesbians who love lesbians, where the girl is not just going through a phase.” I love this anecdote, published in the Times obituary about Grier's experience coming out as lesbian:
"When Ms. Grier was 12, she told her mother that she was “a homosexual,” Ms. Grier said in the “Before Stonewall” profile. “Mother said since I was a woman, I wasn’t a homosexual, I was a lesbian. She also said that since I was 12, I was a little young to make this decision and we should wait six months to tell the newspapers.”New York Times: Barbara Grier, Publisher of Lesbian Books, Dies at 78
Frank Kameny (May 21, 1925 - October 11, 2011)
Frank Kameny was a key figure in the gay rights movement in the U.S. In 1957, he was fired from his job for being gay and went very public with it, challenging his dismissal in the courts (he took it as far as the Supreme Court, which in 1961 declined to hear the case). Kameny's life intersected with several other people who also died this year. He was a founding member of the Mattachine Society of Washington and advocated for the removal of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder in the DSM.
New York Times: Franklin Kameny, Gay Rights Pioneer, Dies at 86