Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reggie H.'s "Visionaries" + Kameny & Ettlebrick, LGBTQ Pioneers

Over at the Noctuary, Reggie H. posts a very thoughtful entry on "Visionaries" that includes tributes to civil rights pioneers Derrick Bell and Fred Shuttlesworth, whom I did not get an opportunity to memorialize, as well as to Steve Jobs. The post also includes an encomium to our dear now deceased fellow poet James Richardson, with one of his sharp, powerful poems, a sonnet to our ancestor Phillis Wheatley. I recommend it.

It feels like a season of memorials. I noted this week the passing of Frank Kameny (1925-2011), who spent nearly the last 50 years fighting for full legal and social equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, and Paula Ettelbrick (1955-2011), whose held leadership roles with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, as legal director, (1986 –1993); the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) as policy director, (1993 –1994); Empire State Pride Agenda as legislative counsel, (1994 – 1999); the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as director of family policy, (1999 –2001); and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission as executive director (2003 – 2009). I was fortunate to serve with Paula on the board of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, back in the late 1990s. 

Kameny lived long enough to see some of his hardest work come to fruition; a veteran who was later drummed out of a federal job because he was gay and one of the activists behind the American Psychological Association's decision in 1974 to cease labeling homosexuality as a disorder, Kameny was present as President Barack Obama signed the law repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell bill, and had also witnessed the legalization fo same-sex marriage in Washington, DC; legal protections for LGBTQ people enacted in the Federal District and in many states across the country; and the public mood on LGBTQ people and equality shifted, gradually but steadily, to where it is today.

Paula was on the front lines for the battle for LGBTQ equality in New York and across the country, and played a key role in Rudy Giuliani's decision to grant domestic partnership rights and benefits in 1999. That tectonic shift, in the city that 30 years before had witnessed the Stonewall Riots and decades of LGBTQ activism of varoius kinds, laid the groundwork for the momentous legislation this year enacting same-sex marriage across New York State.  Her most recent position has been Executive Director of the Stonewall Community Foundation in New York. I remember her as one of many towering figures--but also down-to-earth, funny, progressive in her vision, and a joy to work with--on that CLAGS board, people I learned from then and continue to learn from. She leaves her partner, two children, an ex-partner, and other family members.

To learn more about the Paula Ettelbrick Internship Fund, please go here.

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