Bright Lights That Dimmed Last Year

Published in: January-February 2023 issue.

IN KEEPING WITH our annual tradition, we remember here some of the people who left us over the past year—the writers, artists, performers, and activists who made a significant contribution to LGBT culture and community. All dates are in 2022 unless otherwise indicated.



Leslie Cohen, memoirist, activist, and entrepreneur, died on March 16th at age 76. Born in Manhattan, and a self-described tomboy, she met Beth Suskin on her first day of freshman year at Buffalo State College. She received a master’s degree in art history from Queens College and became a gallerist in the 1970s. She and three lesbian friends became the first women in Manhattan to own and manage their own lesbian club, the Sahara, which was notable for its apparent lack of mob interference. She and Suskin were the lesbian figures sculpted by George Segal for the Gay Liberation Monument in Greenwich Village, which was cast in 1980. In 1992, she received a law degree from NYU. Her 2021 memoir, The Audacity of a Kiss: Love, Art and Liberation, was reviewed in this magazine. She is survived by her wife, Beth Suskin.


Kathleen DeBold, activist and writer, died on October 9th at age 66. Brooklyn-born but raised in Maryland, she went to the University of Maryland and then joined the Peace Corps, where she taught beekeeping in the Central African Republic. After returning to the U.S. in the late ’80s, she became an activist, working for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and editing the book Out for Office: Campaigning in the Gay Nineties (1994). She was a frequent book reviewer, cartoonist, and crossword puzzle contributor to a number of LGBT publications. In 1999, she became executive director of the Mautner Project, an organization for lesbians with cancer, where her leadership was seen as “transformative.” In 2015, she was cited as a “Community Pioneer” by the Rainbow History Project in Washington. She is survived by her wife, Barbara Johnson.


Joe Tom Easley, activist and lawyer, died on February 13th at age 81. Born and raised in small Texas towns, he received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M and then taught English. After serving in the Navy, he went to law school at the University of Texas. Moving to New York, he became co-chair of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in the mid-’80s, and later president of the Human Rights Campaign Fund. In the 2000s, he served on the board of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, where he helped fight against the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He is survived by his husband, Peter Freiberg. Theirs was among the first same-sex marriages featured in the New York Times.


John Stephen Hunt, writer and human rights activist, died on March 17th at age 85. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he came out while in the Army, attended several universities in the U.S. and the U.K., and traveled extensively. He had a special interest in post-apartheid South Africa. He was active in the worldwide LGBT rights movement and was one of the founders of Lambda Resource Center for the Blind in Chicago, where he lived. A major booster of this magazine, he was a member of many professional LGBT organizations and was the U.S. correspondent for Out! New Zealand Magazine. His scholarly works include Religion and LGBTQ Sexualities: Critical Essays (2016).


Rusty Mae Moore, educator and activist, died on February 23rd at age eighty. Assigned male at birth, she felt from early childhood that this was the wrong gender. She grew up near Pittsburgh and received a doctorate in law and diplomacy at Tufts University near Boston. She taught at a number of universities and was dean of the Hofstra Business School, where she launched the first transgender studies class. Her Brooklyn home, called “Transy House,” became a shelter for trans people and was large enough to shelter a dozen individuals who would otherwise have been homeless. It was modeled after a shelter she had run with Marsha P. Johnson in the 1970s. In 2019, Frameline made a short film about it titled Changing House. She is survived by her wife, Chelsea Goodwin. They had transitioned together in the early 1990s.


Urvashi Vaid, activist, writer, attorney, and former executive director of the ngltf, died on May 14th at age 63. She is remembered by Richard Burns in this issue.


Artists and Performers

James Bidgood, film director and photographer, died on January 31st at age 88. He arrived in New York at age eighteen, having fled his home state of Wisconsin. With visions of the Ziegfeld Follies in his mind, he worked as a drag performer in the East Village. When not onstage, he tended bar, and the tips he made allowed him to go to Parsons School of Design. In the 1960s, he began photographing for physique magazines with the aim of making the men as beautiful as Playboy bunnies, staging lavish photo shoots in his apartment. In 1971, his motion picture directorial debut, Pink Narcissus, for which he also designed costumes and sets, was released, and it became an underground classic.


Blackberri, singer-songwriter, died on December 13th, 2021, at age 76. Born in Buffalo, NY, he was raised in Baltimore, and loved all aspects of music from his earliest years. He always knew he was gay and was discharged from the Navy after being outed by another sailor. Later, he lived at a feminist collective in Arizona, where he changed his name to Blackberri. His music mainly focused on the LGBT experience and civil rights. In 1975, his performance at the Two Songmakers concert was broadcast on KQED, marking the first time that music about being gay was aired on public TV in San Francisco. He was an AIDS activist and an HIV educator, working with the African-American community. Several films have used his music, including Tongues Untied (1989).


Leslie Jordan, actor and writer, died in an auto accident on October 24th at age 67. Raised in a Southern Baptist household in Chattanooga, TN, he is best known for his portrayal of Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace (2001-06 and 2017-20). After working through his gayness, alcoholism, his height (4’11”), and a move to L.A., he landed a part on the TV series The Fall Guy in 1986. Roles on numerous series would follow (Murphy Brown, Lois & Clark, Star Trek: Voyager, Boston Legal, et al.), culminating in his recurring role on W&G as the sexually ambiguous Beverley, a foil for Karen to spar with. His later career included numerous TV and film roles and some theatrical work, including his autobiographical stage show Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far, which ran Off-Broadway for a full season.


Robert Kalfin, theater founder, died on September 20th at age 89. Born in the Bronx, he received a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama and started working in local television in New York and New Jersey. In 1965 he started the Chelsea Theater Center, which changed locations frequently over its two decades of operation. Some of the plays it premiered were sufficiently successful to move to Broadway, and it received acclaim as one of the country’s most innovative theaters. Kalfin was predeceased by his partner, George Bari, the original production manager at the Chelsea Theater Center.


Marcus Leatherdale, photographer, died on April 22nd at age 69. Born in Montréal, he traveled the world as a young man, arriving in New York in 1978 to attend the School of Visual Arts. He started his career as Robert Mapplethorpe’s office manager (and lover) and quickly became a popular member of the downtown club scene, photographing a wide range of individuals from the not-yet-famous Madonna to Andy Warhol. His work was published in many magazines, including The New Yorker and Art in America. By the 1990s, he spent most of his time living and photographing in India. His work is collected in Out of the Shadows—Marcus Leatherdale: Photographs, New York City, 1980-1992, published in 2019. He was predeceased by his partner, makeup artist Jorge Serio.


Tim Lewis, jazz pianist and graphic artist, died on September 12th at age 65. Born in Palo Alto and raised in Santa Barbara, he began playing the piano at the age of five. He left home on his eighteenth birthday and moved to San Francisco, where he attended Lone Mountain College and began his graphics career, working for underground papers and becoming art director of Drummer. He also designed posters and covers for books in the Straight to Hell and Meatmen series. He began performing in cabarets in the mid-1980s, playing jazz and show tunes, and was the musical director for a group of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, accompanying them at many of their performances.


James Rado, actor and co-creator of the musical Hair, died on June 21st at age 90. Growing up in the Rochester, NY, and Washington, DC, areas, he graduated from the University of Maryland and studied drama there and in New York. Hair, written with Gerome Ragni (d. 1991) and Galt MacDermot (d. 2008), was the first rock musical on Broadway and the first Broadway show to feature both full nudity and a same-sex kiss. In 1967, it premiered at the Public Theater, moving to Broadway the following year, where it ran for more than 1,800 performances. Rado originated the role of Claude, who was about to be drafted and sent to war. In his private life, he identified as omnisexual and confirmed in 2009 that Hair was based in part upon his relationship with Gerome Ragni, whom he’d met in 1964 when they were working in an off-Broadway show.


Antony Sher, actor, died on December 3, 2021 at age 72. Born in South Africa, he moved to London in the late 1960s to study drama, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982. Winner of several Olivier awards, he was knighted in 2000. He acted in an enormous variety of roles, from Richard III to Willy Loman to Arnold Beckoff in the London debut of Torch Song Trilogy. He wrote novels, plays, and memoirs, including Beside Myself: An Actor’s Life (2015) and Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries (2018). When he died, Helen Mirren was quoted as saying that “the theater has lost a brilliant light.” He is survived by Gregory Doran, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. They were one of the first gay couples in the U.K. to enter into a civil partnership and were married in 2015.


Stephen Sondheim, composer and lyricist and winner of eight Tony Awards, died on November 26, 2021, at age 91. He was remembered by Jackson Cooper in the May-June 2022 issue.


Jeff Weiss, playwright and actor, died on September 18th at age 82. Born in Reading, PA, he grew up in Allentown and wrote his first play when still a child. He dropped out of high school at age sixteen and made his way to New York City, where he cofounded the ten-seat theater Good Medicine and Company in the Lower East Side. The other cofounder was his life partner Carlos Ricardo Martinez, who predeceased him. Weiss’ plays were produced at Caffe Cino and LaMaMa and were highly unconventional in structure and content. Some plays would last for eight hours; others would contain many scenes presented in no particular order (actors learned the sequence each night an hour before show time). He also appeared on and off Broadway beginning in the late ’80s, joining all-star casts in plays ranging from Macbeth to Present Laughter.


Journalists, Editors, Publishers

Chuck Colbert, journalist, died on June 30th at age 67. Originally from Pennsylvania, he received an MBA from Georgetown and divinity degrees from Boston College. A freelance writer based in Cambridge, MA, he wrote for many publications, ranging from LGBT newsweeklies to the National Catholic Reporter, for which he reported on the sexual abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese. He eventually abandoned Catholicism and became a convert to Judaism. He was a member of the board of the NLGJA (National Association of LGBTQ Journalists) and president of the Boston chapter in the 1990s.


Kim Corsaro, publisher, died on January 29th at age 68. Her career at the San Francisco Bay Times began in 1981, when she turned the paper from a bar rag called Coming Up into a robust LGBT newspaper devoted to local politics and in-depth reporting. She made sure that the AIDS crisis was a central focus of the paper and was an unwavering supporter of ACT UP. In 1992, the Bay Times rose to prominence because of a cover story featuring San Francisco’s police chief, which resulted in his firing. In 2011, Corsaro sold the paper and was hired to work on Obama’s re-election campaign. In this pursuit she suffered life-changing injuries in an accident in Cincinnati. She spent years recuperating and was finally able to return to San Francisco before her death.


Rebecca Juro, journalist, Internet radio host, and activist, died on December 17th, 2021, at age 59. Born in New York and raised as a male, she felt “like a girl” from the time she was a teen, though was not able to give a name to her feelings. In 1996, seriously contemplating suicide, she came across Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors, and believed that the book saved her life. Juro came out as trans the following year at the age of 35. She wrote for a wide range of publications, including The Advocate, Huffington Post, and She started her own Internet radio show in 2006, which is credited as an early example of how the web could be used to promote a diversity of voices. She was known for her mantra: “The ‘T’ [in LGBT]is not silent.”


Richard Labonté, editor and writer, died on March 20th at age 72. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, he went to Carleton University in Ottawa, where he was editor of the student newspaper. He then worked at The Ottawa Citizen, where he became one of the first journalists in Canada to come out as gay. Soon thereafter, he and his lover moved to San Francisco, where he helped found and later managed A Different Light Bookstore. He edited over two dozen anthologies for Cleis Press, edited the gay version of the magazine Books to Watch Out For, and reviewed books for a range of publications. He was, in the words one colleague, “a sweet presence [who]exuded a calming eminence.” In his last years, he lived in British Columbia with his husband, Asa Liles, who survives.


Thomas (Thom) Senzee, editor, died on March 22nd at age 54. A California native, he was a graduate of Los Angeles Pierce College with degrees in journalism and English. Editor-in-chief of the San Diego LGBT Weekly, he was also a contributor to many publications, including The Advocate, Out, and The Washington Blade. He was founder and moderator of the national series LGBTs in the News, a live panel discussion. Best known for his investigative reporting, he was described by one colleague as “a talented journalist who respected the truth, a caring and insightful friend and perhaps the most decent guy I’ve ever met.”


André Leon Talley, fashion editor and memoirist, died on January 18th at age 73. Raised by his grandmother in Durham, NC, he began reading the fashion magazines that he found in the public library, attended North Carolina Central University, and earned a master’s degree in French at Brown. Moving to New York, he held numerous jobs before becoming the Paris bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily and the editor-at-large of Vogue. His memoirs A.L.T. (2003) and The Chiffon Trenches (2020), which was reviewed in these pages, detail various aspects of his life, including his struggles with being a Black man in a very white world. He was the subject of the 2018 documentary, The Gospel According to André. An openly gay man, his death from Covid was followed by an outpouring of tributes from his many friends and fans.


Writers and Scholars

Red Jordan Arobateau, writer and artist, died on November 25th, 2021, at age 78. Born in Chicago of Honduran and African-American heritage, he was raised as a female and initially identified as a lesbian. Later, he identified as bisexual and transgender. His voluminous output of short stories, novels, plays, art catalogs, and poetry began in the 1970s. In his early years he was published by small presses and sold his writings in lesbian bars, bookstores, and on the street. He was one of the first trans persons of color to document LGBT street life. He appeared in several documentaries, including Transgender Tuesdays: A Clinic in the Tenderloin (2012). Nightboat Books will publish two of his books posthumously. He is survived by his partner, Dalila Jasmin.


Leo Bersani, scholar, cultural critic, and philosopher, died on February 20th at age 90. Born in the Bronx, he received his doctorate in comparative literature from Harvard and taught at several universities, moving to UC-Berkeley in the early 1970s. He spent the remainder of his career there, starting out as chair of the French department. He wrote extensively about French writers and philosophers, becoming close friends with Michel Foucault. His 1987 essay “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” published in the journal October, was a provocation and much discussed. His 1995 Homos, a critique of queer theory, was praised by some and disparaged by others. One of his most recent books was Thoughts and Things (2020), an essay collection. He is survived by his husband, Sam Geraci.


Marie-Claire Blais, novelist, playwright and poet, died on November 30th, 2021, at age 82. The oldest of five children in a working-class family in Québec City, she was forced to drop out of high school at age fifteen to help support her family. Moving to Montréal, she took a night course in creative writing, where her talent was immediately noticed. After her first novel La Belle Bête (1959) was championed by critic Edmund Wilson, she won a Guggenheim grant. Her best-known book was Une saison dans la vie d’Emmanuel (1965), though she may be better known to lesbian readers for Les nuits de l’underground (1978), a study of Montréal’s lesbian scene in the 1970s. One of Canada’s most celebrated writers, she lived part-time in Key West for many years. She was predeceased by her partner, painter Mary Meigs.


Randy P. Conner, writer and activist, died on May 5th at age 70. He received a master’s in English literature from the University of Texas at Austin, and in the ’70s he instituted the first gay and lesbian workshop there. He received a doctorate in humanities and religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and taught at a number of colleges. He moved to the San Francisco area in 1978, becoming a member of Bay Area Gay Liberation and campaigning against the Proposition 6 Briggs initiative. His main scholarly interest was Western paganism and its LGBT subtexts. His Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming Connections between Homoeroticism and the Sacred (1993) was reviewed in this magazine. He is survived by his husband David Hatfield Sparks.


Terrance Dean, writer and educator, died on August 11th at age 53. He was born in Detroit to a mother who later succumbed to complications from AIDS, as did two of his brothers. After college at Fisk University, he moved to New York and worked his way up at MTV, becoming an executive producer. He came out publicly in his 2008 memoir Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry—from Music to Hollywood, which shed light on the gay hip-hop subculture and down-low sex parties, at which he was a participant-observer. He later received a doctorate from Vanderbilt and served as assistant professor of Black Studies at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.


Elana Dykewomon, writer, educator, and activist, died on August 7th at age 72. Born in New York City, her family relocated to Puerto Rico when she was eight. She received an MFA from San Francisco State, where she later taught. Her first novel, Riverfinger Women (1974), published under her birth name (Elana Nachman), is No. 87 on the Publishing Triangle’s list of the 100 greatest gay and lesbian novels. She served in editorial positions at the journal Sinister Wisdom from 1987 to ’95. She took the name Dykewomon, in the words of one critic, “to avoid etymological connection with men.” She died moments before the streaming presentation of a staged reading of her play about her late spouse, Susan Levinkind, titled How to Let Your Lover Die.


Lars Eighner, author of the memoir Travels with Lizbeth, died on December 23rd, 2021, at age 73. He was remembered by Raymond-Jean Frontain in the May-June 2022 issue.


Kenward Elmslie, poet, died on June 29th at age 93. A grandson of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, he was born in Manhattan and raised in Colorado Springs and Washington, DC. After graduating from Harvard, he moved to Cleveland, where he interned at Karamu House, an interracial theater company. He published several plays and many volumes of poetry. He collaborated with visual artists and wrote the book and lyrics for several musicals, including The Grass Harp (1971), based on Truman Capote’s novel. He was the publisher of Z Press and the annual Z magazine. He was a major figure in the New York School of poets. He was predeceased by life partners and collaborators, lyricist John LaTouche (d. 1956) and poet Joe Brainard (d. 1994).


Jeffrey Escoffier, writer and activist, died on May 20th at age 79. Born in Baltimore, he grew up in New York City, receiving a master’s in international affairs at Columbia. He founded The Gay Alternative, a publication of the Gay Activists Alliance of Philadelphia in 1972, and moved to San Francisco in the late 1970s, where he was editor of the monthly journal Socialist Review. In 1988, he was cofounder of the quarterly LGBT magazine Out/Look. He and his colleagues there organized the first OutWrite literary conferences in San Francisco. He went on to become marketing director for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He was a prolific essayist and contributed to many books. His last book was Sex, Society, and the Making of Pornography: The Pornographic Object of Knowledge (2021).


Richard Howard, poet and translator, died on March 31st at age 92. He is remembered in this issue by David Bergman.


Steve Neil Johnson, author of gay fiction and mystery novels, died on December 13th, 2021, at age 64. He was remembered by John Cooke in the July-August 2022 issue.


Arnie Kantrowitz, writer, professor, and activist, died on January 21st at age 81. Born in Newark, N.J., he received a master’s in English literature from New York University. He helped lead the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in 1970, its first year, and was a guest on talk shows, dealing with homophobia from other guests and the hosts themselves. In 1985, he co-founded the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Defamation League (later GLAAD). He was chair of the English Department at the College of Staten Island, where he’d taught for over 40 years and pioneered a gay studies course there. His Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay (1977) is considered a classic. As a Whitman scholar, he wrote widely on the topic, including articles for this magazine. He is survived by his partner, Dr. Lawrence Mass.


David Melnick, poet, died on February 15th at age 83. He was born in Urbana, Illinois, and grew up in L.A. He took a master’s in mathematics at the University of Chicago, but for most of his life he worked as a copy editor at The San Francisco Chronicle. He published several books of poetry and reviewed poetry and opera. He cofounded the Gay Artists and Writers Kollective (G.A.W.K.), a group for people involved in the arts. He was perhaps best known for a pastiche of the Iliad titled Men in Aïda (1983; expanded in 2015), which was set in a bathhouse. His last work, A Pin’s Fee, was a chapbook about his partner David Nelson Doyle’s death from AIDS in 1988.


William A. Percy III, historian and writer, died on October 30th at age 88. Born and raised in Mississippi, he earned a doctorate in history at Princeton and taught ancient and medieval history in the South before landing at U-Mass, Boston, in the late 1960s, where he remained for five decades. In the early ’80s, he became involved in the gay liberation movement and contributed to a number of scholarly publications and magazines, including this one (starting in 1999). He co-authored or co-edited about a dozen books, including the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990). He was perhaps best known for his provocative 1996 book Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece.


Richard Stevenson (born Richard Lipez), mystery writer, died on March 16th at age 83. Born and raised in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, he graduated from Lock Haven University and began a stint in the Peace Corps in 1962, teaching in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Back in the U.S., he moved to the Berkshires and contributed numerous articles to major magazines and newspapers. His mystery series, featuring the openly gay detective Donald Strachey, began in 1981 with Death Trick and at the time of his death, he had written fifteen more titles in the series. Four of the Strachey novels were made into films by the Here! TV network. He is survived by his husband, Joe Wheaton.


Martha E. Stone is the literary editor of this magazine.