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Sexual Pioneers 2008

Remembering Sexual Pioneers Who Passed Away in 2008


In 2008 we lost many passionate, articulate, and caring sexual workers and pioneers. Sex researchers and porn stars, feminist health advocates and sex educators, comedians, politicians, and activists; all of the people listed below contributed something to the public discourse and private experience of human sexuality and it seems like the least we can do to take a moment to honor their memory and thank them for their contribution.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey (1956 – May 1, 2008)
Deborah Jeane Palfrey who was dubbed the “D.C. Madam” by the press, had run an escort service called Pamela Martin & Associates in Washington, D.C. She was the target of a three year investigation and was convicted for racketeering, money laundering and mail fraud in what has been called by many a “modern-day lynching.” Following her arrest Palfrey had said she would release names of well-known clients. On several occasions she indicated that she was not suicidal and that she believed she may be targeted for murder that would be made to look like a suicide. By all accounts Palfrey’s business was a consensual one where workers were paid well and both workers and clients treated with respect. Palfrey is far from the only loss this year related to sex work prosecutions but that fact makes her death neither more nor less tragic.
Read more - Yardbird.com: Farewell, Deborah Jeane

Allan Henry Spear (1937 - October 11, 2008)
Allan Spear was elected to the Minnesota state senate in 1972. Two years later in a newspaper interview he came out, making him the first openly gay man to serve in any state legislature, and one of the earliest openly gay Americans serving in elected office. Spears was described as a “fierce advocate of civil rights across all demographics” fighting against discrimination based on race, orientation, and socio-economic status. Spears related his own coming out and coming into political power as being tied to his work in the black civil rights movement:

"It was out of that (1960s activism) that I think I began asking questions about myself and began to relate my activism to growing awareness of my own homosexuality, and the fact that this was not a pathology, but it was a minority status."
Read more -Minnesota Public Radio: Longtime state Sen. Allan Spear dies

Anastasia Blue (1980 – July 19, 2008)
Anastasia Blue, a porn actor who worked in the industry for three years before retiring died this year reportedly of a drug overdose. I didn’t know Blue or her work but noticed a posting about her death on Gram Ponante’s site and followed it to the real obituary (posted by her partner using her real name). There’s nothing linking Blue’s death to her work in the porn industry. It seems unfair and problematic to honor our sexual losses without considering the (likely dozens) of people who pass away each year in obscurity after performing in the adult industry. As mainstream movie goers mourn the loss of Hollywood stars they never knew, so too should fans of X-rated entertainment. We may also want to take the opportunity to consider how we could affect a change in an industry that is often so cruel and unsupportive of its talent.

Harlan Hahn (1940 – April 23, 2008)
Harlan Hahn was a disability rights activist, academic, and one of the key figures in the development of disability studies in policy research and the contemporary disability rights movement.

Hahn fought for the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. He filed an eloquent and powerful amicus brief with the California Supreme Court in a right-to-die case and was by all accounts a kind and passionate academic, activist, and regular person.

The focus of Hahn’s work wasn’t sexuality, but when he did address he seemed to understand the importance of pulling both sexuality and gender into an analysis of disability marginalization and taking both into account when fighting for disability rights.
Read more - University of Southern California: In Memoriam: Harlan Hahn, 68

Barbara Seaman (1935- February 27, 2008)
Barbara Seaman was the co-founder of the National Women's Health Network, feminist health activist, and author of several books, most notably The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill. By all accounts Barbara had as much of a personal and intimate impact on the people directly in her life as she did on the millions of us around the world who desire to advocate for our own rights to honest and direct health care.
Read more - About.com: Barbara Seaman, 1935-2008.

Gerard Damiano (1928 - October 25, 2008)
Damiano was the director of the infamous porn film “Deep Throat” among 48 other adult films. A sign of the extent to which this porn film, which was made for around $25,000 and eventually grossed more than $600 million, has permeated the pop culture imagination is the full obit accorded to Damiano in the New York Times.
Read more - New York Times: Gerard Damiano

Carol Jenkins (1945 - January 22, 2008)
Carol Jenkins was a medical anthropologist who worked for many years with the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research and was one of the leading instigators to setting up the National Aids Council. Carol was a founding member of the international editorial advisory board for the journal Culture, Health and Sexuality. She was a pioneer of “respondent driven sampling” in her work with sex workers in Fiji and Cambodia, as well as doing important work on HIV and transgender issues in other parts of the world. Carol set up an award named after her husband, jazz musician Travis Jenkins, which is presented every year to a current or former injecting drug user who has made an outstanding contribution to reducing drug related harm. I wasn’t aware of Carol or her work until I read about her death but from accounts she sounded like a loving person and important ally to those marginalized by their sexual practices, sex related occupations, and sexual identities. And she will clearly be missed by those who knew her personally and professionally.
Read more - EvidenceofCarol: Long live Carol Jenkins

Sol Gordon (1923 – December 1, 2008)
Sol Gordon was Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University where he founded the Institute for Family Research and Education. He was a prolific writer (authoring and co-authoring 28 books and hundreds of papers) and speaker, giving hundreds of lectures and talks to groups large and small across the U.S. and around the world.

Sol was honored with dozens of awards throughout his life for his work from organizations including The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting and Prevention, The Pennsylvania Coalition to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Advocates, Planned Parenthood, AASECT, and SIECUS.

Beginning in 1988 Sol transferred his library and collected writings to the Kinsey Institute which now houses these important cultural and educational artifacts.

In a recent interview he said that among the work he was most proud of was a series of comics he produced in the early 1970s about sex, STDs, and drug use (titles included Ten Heavy Facts About Sex That Your Friends Don't Know, Protect Yourself from Becoming an Unwanted Parent, and Capt. Veedee-o and Ms. Wanda Lust in VD Claptrap). A 1972 Time Magazine mention of Sol’s comic books referred to them (not disapprovingly as “overwhelmingly permissive” quoting a few favorite lines: "Masturbation is a normal expression of sex. Enjoy it." If a person wants to be homosexual or bisexual, that's his business. Pornography is harmless. Gordon's only caveats are against sex that is "exploitive" or unprotected by contraception.

He is often cited for his creation of the concept of being an “askable parent” meaning the kind of parent whose kids will ask a question, and equally as important, the kind of parent who will answer.

He was a lifelong advocate for youth, including at risk youth. I remember my one brief interaction with him was a telephone conversation we had while I was researching a documentary about sexuality and young offenders. He was in his late 70s and had been talking about these issues for well over forty years but was engaging, passionate, and generous with his time, which, by all accounts, is exactly how he was his whole life.
Read more - Debra Haffner Remembrance of Sol Gordon

Dorothy Louise 'Del' Martin (1921 – August 27, 2008)
From an obituary published by the National Center for Lesbian Rights: An eloquent organizer for civil rights, civil liberties, and human dignity, Del Martin created and helped shape the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and feminist movements. She was a woman of extraordinary courage, persistence, intelligence, humor, and fundamental decency, who refused to be silenced by fear and never stopped fighting for equality. Her last public political act, on June 16, 2008, was to marry Phyllis Lyon, her partner of 55 years. They were the first couple to wed in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court recognized that marriage for same-sex couples is a fundamental right in a case brought by plaintiffs including Martin and Lyon.

Martin’s activism went back farther and delved deeper than same sex marriage. She was an early advocate for attention and services for women who were victims of domestic violence, she fought for the removal of homosexuality from the DSM, and in 1995 she and Phyllis Lyon spoke at the White House Conference on Aging and reminded the attendees that queer people grow old too and need to be counted.
Read more - About.com: Dorothy (Del) Martin, 1921-2008

George Carlin (1937 – June 22, 2008)
Comedian George Carlin may not have worked specifically to improve our sexual lives or increase sexual rights, but his groundbreaking and painfully hysterical stand up and writing never strayed too far from sex, and always felt like an honest and genuine attempt to communicate some sort of truth. If you haven’t taken the time to watch some of his work lately, or ever, do yourself a favor and get thee to YouTube.
Read more - New York Times: George Carlin

Bettie Page (1923 - December 11, 2008)
Perhaps the most famous and widely recognized pinup girl, Bettie Page went from model to recluse to cult icon. At the height of her fame she left the public realm and for thirty years lived a private life (one that sounds like it was a struggle). In the past twenty years Page’s influence on a new generation of sexual hipsters and fashionistas occasionally found her granting interviews for newspapers but she never wanted to be photographed. In the New York Times obituary she was quoted as having said ““I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times…I want to be remembered as a woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.”
Read more - New York Times Bettie Page

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