Honoring GLBT Notables Who Died in 2015

Published in: January-February 2016 issue.


AS IS OUR CUSTOM, we remember noteworthy individuals from the GLBT community who have died over the past year. All dates are in 2015 unless otherwise indicated.



Sydney Abbott, lesbian feminist and activist who died in April, was memorialized in the November-December issue.

Sam Ciccone, co-founder, in 1982, of GOAL (Gay Officers Action League), the first organization established for GLBT law enforcement personnel, died of heart disease on May 10th, at the age of 71. Born in New Jersey, he became a police officer near his hometown in 1964, eventually rising to detective sergeant. He served, closeted, for fifteen years, then retired and moved to New York. He went on to receive a law degree from Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He was known for his ability to work behind the scenes and for his talents as a conciliator and strategist. His autobiographical play, Nothing to Report, ran Off-Broadway in 1987. He is survived by his companion, Ta-Wei Yu.

Mario Cooper, who urged lawmakers to address the effect of AIDS on minorities, died on May 29th at age 61. He had been suffering from HIV-related depression. Born in Mobile, Alabama, to a very politically involved family, he received a law degree from Georgetown. He was quoted as saying that he knew he was gay when he was a young boy and had a crush on civil rights leader Julian Bond. He was esteemed for his work with grassroots AIDS activists, the Democratic political establishment, and major African-American leaders; he was manager of the 1992 Democratic convention. A year later, he engineered the first-ever meeting of a president—Bill Clinton—with gay and lesbian leaders. In 2006, he called for a campaign of civil disobedience, using Act Up as a model, to point out the disproportionate effect of hiv/aids on the African-American community.

Marcia Diehl, long-time feminist and musician, died on March 11th at the age of 65, after her bicycle was hit by a truck in Cambridge, Mass. She was a graduate of Boston University and the Cambridge-Goddard Graduate School for Social Change. A member of the New Harmony Sisterhood Band, whose 1977 record And Ain’t I a Woman was reissued in 2006 by Smithsonian Folkways, she was a cofounder of the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network and the Cambridge Lavender Alliance. She spent her professional career as an administrator at Harvard. At the time of her death, she was working on a memoir. Her papers are at Harvard.

Danny Garvin, a participant in the Stonewall Riots who was interviewed for the book Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution (2004), died on December 9, 2014, at the age of 65. He was born and grew up in New York City. He was honorably discharged from the Navy after a suicide attempt stemming from pressure related to coming out. His life centered around New York’s gay community, from living in New York’s “first gay hippie commune,” according to a lengthy obituary in Gay City News, to working at The Zoo, the first gay bar with a back room. He was invited to attend the 2014 White House celebration of Pride Month, and at President Obama’s request had his photo taken with him and Michelle Obama.

Barbara Hoffman, deeply devoted to civil rights, women’s rights, voters’ rights, and LGBT rights, died on April 3rd at the age of 82. Born in Westchester County, New York, and raised in rural Connecticut, she seldom spoke about her early years. She entered Radcliffe College at the age of sixteen, having moved alone to Boston. She received a doctorate in psychology from Boston University and was a clinical psychologist and area director of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. After retirement, she devoted herself full time to activism, working for organizations ranging from the Bay State Stonewall Democrats to the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus, where she was a major actor in a 1980s effort to get Harvard to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


Artists and Entertainers

Melvin Bernhardt, theatrical and television director, died on September 12th following complications from a fall, at the age of 84. Particularly known for his casting talents and ability to work with everyone, he directed Off-Broadway shows, regional theater, and TV programs. He won a Tony Award in 1978 for the play Da, which ran almost 700 performances, and is also remembered for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and Crimes of the Heart. Born in Buffalo, New York, he was coerced into law studies at college but eventually rebelled, earned an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, and began his career as a stage manager. At that time, he added a ‘t’ to his original last name (Bernhard) as a tribute to Sarah Bernhardt. He is survived by his spouse Jeff Woodman.

Ronnie Gilbert, a midcentury folksinger who died in June, was remembered in a full obituary by Irene Javors in the September-October issue.

Lesley Gore, née Lesley Sue Goldstein, singer and songwriter, died of cancer on February 16th at the age of 68. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Tenafly, New Jersey, she received a degree in English Literature from Sarah Lawrence. Best known for “It’s My Party,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” all recorded when she was a teenager, she came to the attention of Quincy Jones at Mercury Records, who mentored her. She came out publicly in 2005 when she hosted episodes of the PBS series In the Life. Her last album, Ever Since, was recorded that same year. She had been working on a memoir and autobiographical Broadway show at the time of her death. She is survived by her partner of 33 years, Lois Sasson.

Daniel Levins, a principal at American Ballet Theater died of a bacterial lung infection, on September 15th, at the age of 61. Born in Freeport, New York, he began dance classes as a child and later studied ballet at the High School of Performing Arts. He was also an actor (with roles in The Turning Point and Grease), choreographer (for Miami City Ballet, among others), and master teacher at Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech. He is survived by his spouse Eugene Gabriel-Thomas Walsh.

Richard Morrison, photographer, filmmaker, and performance artist, died on January 16th at age 67. Born in Boston, he made the film Bust with David Wojnarowicz, which was included in the Berlin Film Festival of 1993. His photographic work was widely exhibited in New York galleries. In his younger years, he had worked as a social worker and counselor. His late partner, the novelist and publisher Larry Mitchell, was remembered in an essay in the May-June 2013 issue.

Roger Rees, Welsh actor and director, died of cancer on July 10th at the age of 71. Born in Wales, he grew up in South London, acting in church and Boy Scout productions, and later studied art and painting at Slade School of Fine Art. Forced to drop out of school after his father died, he turned to scenery painting and began acting professionally in the mid-1960s. He worked for over twenty years with the Royal Shakespeare Company and, in the mid-1980s, was associate artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic. In 1982, he won a Tony and an Olivier Award for best actor for his performance in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. He lived in the U.S. for a quarter century, acting in many Broadway plays, notably Uncle Vanya and The Addams Family. He also appeared on a number of TV shows (Cheers, The West Wing) and in films. He co-directed Peter and the Starcatcher, written by his spouse Rick Elice.

Johan Renvall, a principal at American Ballet Theater, who began his career at the Royal Swedish Ballet, died of liver failure on August 24th at the age of 55. Born in Stockholm, he began as an award-winning figure skater but took up ballet on the suggestion of a skating coach. He was particularly noted for having originated the role of the Bronze (sometimes Golden) Idol in Natalia Makarova’s version of La Bayadère in 1980, in which he erupted, near-naked, as one obituary put it, into “sensational airborne bravura with perfect form.” Later in his career, he choreographed and had his own touring company. He is survived by his partner, Tom Frueh.

Ike Schambelan, director from 1985 of the Off-Broadway Theater by the Blind—which later changed its named to TBTB, Theater Breaking Through Barriers—died on February 3rd at age 75. Originally a director of radio-play readings for the visually impaired, he was inspired by his grandmother, who was blind, as well as by the Broadway production of Children of a Lesser God. Born in Philadelphia, he received his doctorate from the Yale School of Drama. Openly bisexual for many years, he is survived by his wife, of whom he said in an article in New York magazine in 2012, “‘She knows I’m bi and says it makes me more interesting.’”

Steve Solberg, actor and activist, died of cancer on January 29th at the age of 71. He is perhaps best known for the film Luminous Procuress (1971), which he co-wrote with director Steven Arnold, in which the San Francisco drag ensemble The Cockettes debuted. He was a scenic designer and actor in L.A. in the early 1980s, and went on to use art therapy in HIV Education and Prevention for the AIDS Project L.A. In 1999, he cofounded the Gay Men’s Medicine Circle with Don Kilhefner. He is survived by his partner, Kohl Miner.


Writers and Educators

Malcolm Boyd, theologian, author, and activist who died in February, was remembered in an obituary by Phil Willkie in the May-June issue.

Pedro Lemebel, Chilean writer and activist, died of laryngeal cancer on January 23rd at the age of 62. He published over a dozen works, most of which have not been translated into English, with the exception of some of his essays and the novel My Tender Matador (2001), about two gay men in Santiago during the waning years of the Pinochet dictatorship. Called “a fighter for social justice and defender of freedom” by Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, he came from a poverty-stricken family in Santiago and started out as an art teacher. Fired for homosexuality, he began to attend workshops of the Society of Chilean Writers, where he found sustenance in the form of attractive men. In 1987, he co-founded an arts collective, working on behalf of people with AIDS and sex workers. After being championed by fellow Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, he began to receive acclaim from the English-speaking world.

Roger Margason (né Franklyn Roger Margason), writer and editor, died on November 1, in Chicago, at the age of 81. The longtime editor of Inches magazine, he wrote numerous mystery novels under the name Dorien Grey. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he graduated from Northern Illinois State Teachers College with a degree in English. He lived in L.A. during the Inches years, moving to Chicago in his later years, where he wrote over two dozen books, including the Dick Hardesty Mystery series. An epistolary autobiography titled A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home, 1954-1956 came out in 2013.

John McNeill, openly gay Roman Catholic priest, died on September 22nd at the age of 90. Born in Buffalo, New York, he served in World War II, enduring extreme hardships as a prisoner of war, and received his doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. He later trained as a psychotherapist. His 1976 book, The Church and the Homosexual, currently in its fourth edition, became an international sensation, and he went on to write subsequent books on similar topics. He was the first priest to come out on American TV, in a 1976 talk show interview, and he urged the Church to welcome members of the GLBT community (for which he was expelled from his order). A year later, he acceded to the Vatican’s demand not to speak out or write about homosexuality. Nevertheless, the AIDS epidemic prompted him to co-establish an AIDS ministry. He is survived by Charles Chiarelli. They began living together in 1965 and were married in Canada several years ago.

William P. Norris, sociology department chair at Oberlin College, where he advocated for GLBT rights and taught courses related to gay issues, died at age 71 on April 12th. An Oberlin professor from 1978 until his retirement in 2004, he had received his doctorate from Harvard. He pushed for inclusion of GLBT issues in Oberlin’s Multicultural Resource Center and initiated a Lambda Alumni organization. He contributed a chapter to the book Coming Out of the Classroom Closet: Gay and Lesbian Students, Teachers, and Curricula (1991). He is survived by his partner Clayton Koppes.

John Perrault, one of the first openly gay art reviewers and an art critic at the Village Voice from 1966 to ’74, died on September 6th at the age of 78. Born in New York City, he grew up in New Jersey and was a student of poetry at the New School for Social Research. His first book of poetry was published in 1966, at around the time that he began exhibiting his paintings. He later turned to conceptual and performance art and worked as a director and curator at a variety of museums and galleries. A friend of many artists about whom he wrote, he was a prolific writer in several genres, including fiction and poetry. He is survived by his spouse Jeff Weinstein.

Oliver Sacks, world-famous neurologist and prolific writer who helped make syndromes like Asperger’s understandable to a general audience, died August 30th at the age of 82. (See the review of his memoir, On the Move: A Life, in this issue.) Born in London, where both of his parents were physicians, he received his medical degree from Queen’s College, Oxford, and came to San Francisco in the early 1960s for an internship. There he became a friend of poet Thom Gunn. He moved to New York about five years later. He came out in On the Move: A Life (2015), though he had known he was gay from adolescence and early adulthood, at which time he was sexually active. He is survived by his partner of six years, Bill Hayes.

Ingrid Sischy, long associated with Interview magazine (founded by Andy Warhol), the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, died of cancer on July 24th at age 63. Born in Johannesburg to a family fiercely opposed to apartheid, they moved when she was a child to Edinburgh and, later, to Rochester, New York. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence, she interned at the Museum of Modern Art. She rose to prominence as editor at Artforum, helping bring to light such artists as Cindy Sherman and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and expanding the magazine’s scope with coverage of the intersection of art and fashion. She was considered an “influential chronicler” of art and culture on a global scale. She is survived by her spouse Sandra Brant.

Dirk Vanden (né Richard Fullmer) died of cancer on October 21st at the age of 81. Born in a small town in Utah, he realized as a teen that he was gay, broke with Mormonism, and began to write. His novel I Want It All, written in the 1960s, is considered the first book to explore San Francisco’s leather underworld. He had begun writing gay erotica when he was an undergraduate at the University of Utah, where he received a BA. After moving to San Francisco, he began writing for Greenleaf Classics and often featured gay Mormons in his novels. His autobiography, It Was Too Soon Before: The Unlikely Life, Untimely Death, and Unexpected Rebirth of Gay Pioneer, Dirk Vanden was published in 2012. He lost his first two partners to AIDS.


Sources Consulted: al.com, amazon.com, bbc.com, blogs.poz.com, bostonglobe.com, doriengrey.com, frontiersmedia.com, guardian.com, latercera.com, lambdaliterary.org, newyorktimes.com, newyorker.com, northjersey.com, oncampus.oberlin.edu, sltrib.com, towleroad.com, usnews.com, washingtonblade.com, wikipedia.com, windycitymediagroup.com Print sources: Bay Windows, Gay City News.