Passages of Artists and Activists in 2011

Published in: January-February 2012 issue.

IN KEEPING WITH our annual tradition, we remember some of the writers, artists, and activists who died during the past year.


Axel Axgil (né Axel Lundahl-Madsen), gay rights pioneer, died in Copenhagen at age 96 on October 29, 2011, of complications from a fall. Inspired in 1948 by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, he co-founded one of Europe’s first gay rights groups and became its first president. In 1954, he became editor of the magazine Vennen (The Friend) and was co-owner of the International Modelfoto Service. This led to his arrest and prison sentence for the distribution of what Danish authorities considered quasi-pornographic materials. In 1989, he and his partner of almost forty years, Eigil Eskildsen, were the first gay couple in the world (according to the Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History) to enter into a same-sex registered partnership. The two men had merged their first names to form a unique last name. Eigil Axgil died in 1995.

Cheryl B. (née Cheryl Burke), poet and performer, died in New York on June 18, 2011, at age 38, of cancer. A performance artist, her career began in the early 90’s at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City. Known for her intense, dark, yet humorous narratives, her work has appeared in anthologies published by Alyson and Seal Press, among others, and on her blog ( Known as supportive of her friends and courageous in the face of illness, she was named one of GO Magazine’s Top 100 Women for 2011. She is survived by her partner Kelli Dunham.

Hugues Cuénod, opera tenor who made his Met debut as Emperor Altoum in Turandot in 1987, died at age 108 on December 6, 2010, at his home in Vevey, Switzerland. The oldest person ever to debut at the Met, he began his career as a concert singer in the 1920’s and sang for most of the century. A champion of both early music and more contemporary works, he appeared at La Scala, Glyndebourne, and Covent Garden. He was born in Switzerland, where he later studied music, starting as a baritone and later becoming a tenor. A biography, Un Diable de Musicien, by Jérôme Spycket was published in Switzerland in 1979. He is survived by his partner, Alfred Augustin, with whom he entered into a civil union in 2007.

Paula L. Ettelbrick, leader of several major GLBT right groups, died in Manhattan on October 7, 2011, at age 56, of cancer. Born on a U.S. army base in Germany, she graduated from Northern Illinois University and received her law degree from Wayne State University. She went on to become legal director of several national GLBT rights organizations, including Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She also taught at Barnard and was a contributor to this magazine. Most recently, she was executive director of New York’s Stonewall Community Foundation. She is survived by former partner Suzanne B. Goldberg, present partner Marianne Haggerty, and two children.

Arthur Evans, gay rights leader and scholar, died in San Francisco on September 10, 2011, at age 68, of a heart attack. Although he did not participate in the Stonewall riots, he was inspired to join the Gay Liberation Front. Not finding it assertive enough, he and a group of friends split off in December 1969 to form the Gay Activists Alliance. It became a model for gay rights organizations nationwide, working to ban discrimination in housing and employment. Members also staged “zaps” and confrontations with homophobic individuals and organizations. Born in York, Pennsylvania, Evans attended Brown University and transferred to City College, later starting a doctoral program in philosophy at Columbia. He was the author of four works of nonfiction, the most recent of which was Critique of Patriarchal Reason (1997), in which he argued that logic and physics were influenced by misogyny and homophobia.

Peter J. Gomes, pastor, writer, professor, died at 68 in Boston on February 28, 2011, of complications from a stroke. His death was front-page news in the Boston Globe. Born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, he gave his first sermon when he was twelve. He graduated from Bates College and Harvard Divinity School, after which he taught at Tuskegee, returning to Harvard in 1970, where he served as the first African-American minister of Harvard’s Memorial Church. In 1991, after an ultra-conservative Harvard undergraduate publication, The Peninsula, inveighed against homosexuality, Gomes risked his reputation and his job security when he announced that he was gay at a GLBT rights rally in Harvard Yard. This would prove a turning point, and he decided to dedicate himself to addressing the religious roots of homophobia and to advancing the cause of equality. He was a prolific writer, most recently of The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good about the Good News? (2007). A Republican most of his life, he became a Democrat in 2006 to support Massachusetts’ first African-American governor, Deval Patrick.

Barbara Grier, pioneering publisher and book editor, died at age 78 in Tallahassee on November 10. She will be remembered in a longer appreciation in the March-April 2012 issue.

Michael Hattersley, writer and frequent contributor to this magazine, died at age 63 on May 30, 2011. He was remembered in an article by Richard Schneider Jr. in the September-October 2011 issue.

Frank Kameny, pioneering gay rights activist, died on October 11, 2011 at age 86 in Washington, D.C., after a period of failing health. A New Yorker who had been interested in astronomy since early childhood, he graduated from Queens College. After serving in World War II, he received a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard and became an astronomer with the Army Map Service. He was fired from that position in 1957 after a routine screening revealed that he’d been arrested in a gay cruising area. He took his case to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. In 1965, he spearheaded the first gay rights march at the White House and other iconic sites. Today, the National Museum of American History has twelve of the picket signs from these protests, and his papers are archived at the Library of Congress. Other achievements include coining the slogan “Gay is good” in 1968, persuading the American Psychiatric Association to de-list homosexuality a mental disorder in 1973, and getting the District of Columbia to repeal its anti-sodomy law. (A 2003 interview with Frank Kameny appears in this issue.)

Aristide J. (“A. J.”) Laurent, a gay rights pioneer, died of cancer at age seventy on October 26, 2011, in Los Angeles. In 1967, while an employee of ABC-TV, he was one of the creators of what became The Advocate. He produced its earliest issues in ABC’s basement print shop and wrote its nightlife column, “Mariposas de la Noche,” under the pseudonym “P. Nutz.” Born in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, he joined the Air Force after high school and served for four years, though he was questioned about his sexual orientation. Moving to L.A., he took part in the Black Cat Bar raids in the early 1960’s. Throughout his life, he was active in gay civil rights and anti-war organizations, as well as act up, calling himself the “Forrest Gump of the gay movement” in a 2005 profile in the Blade.

Arthur Laurents, giant of stage and screen, died in Manhattan on May 5, 2011, at age 93, of pneumonia. Born in Brooklyn, and a graduate of Cornell, he enrolled in a New York University writing course and sold his first radio play to CBS. He debuted on Broadway with his 1945 play Home of the Brave, which focused on anti-Semitism in the U. S. military. His first mega-hit as a playwright on Broadway was West Side Story in 1957. His many awards for writing and directing include Tony Awards for Hallelujah, Baby (1968), Gypsy (1975), and La Cage aux Folles (1984). Known as convivial yet blunt, he could be scathing in his criticism of actors, directors, and writers. He was the author of two memoirs, Original Story By (2000) and Mainly on Directing (2009). In 2010, he created the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation award, to be given every year to a young playwright. He was predeceased by his partner of 52 years, Tom Hatcher.

Perry Moore (né William Perry Moore IV), author and film producer, died on February 17, 2011, at age 39 in Manhattan, of a prescription drug overdose. Executive producer of the fantasy movie series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” he was the author of the young adult book Hero (2007). Born in Richmond, Virginia, he grew up in Virginia Beach and graduated from the University of Virginia. At the time of his death, a film adaption of Hero was planned. He is survived by his partner Hunter Hill, a film director.

Akilah Oliver (née Donna Lynne Oliver), poet and activist, died in Brooklyn on February 24, 2011, at age 49. Raised in L.A., where she graduated from the New College of California, she was a founder, in the 1990’s, of the feminist performance collective Sacred Naked Nature Girls. She taught at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, the New School in New York, and Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Her self-described academic interests included the intersection of language, memory, and violence with the experience of being African-American, female, and queer. The author of a half-dozen books and chapbooks, she received the PEN Beyond Margins Award for the she said dialogues: flesh memory in 1999. At the time of her death, she was writing a book-length meditation on lamentation. She was predeceased by her son.

Reynolds Price, acclaimed writer, died at age 77 on January 20, 2011, in Durham, North Carolina, of a heart attack. Often compared to William Faulkner, he was the author of almost fifty works in many genres. Born in Macon, North Carolina, into a family of storytellers, his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, was published in 1962 to almost universal acclaim for its evocation of rural Southern life and dialogue. While his novels treat gay and homosocial themes indirectly, he liked to call himself queer, and came out in his 2009 memoir, Ardent Spirits. Except for three years as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, he lived his whole life in northeastern North Carolina. He taught at Duke University, his alma mater.

Joanna Russ, feminist science fiction writer, died in Tucson on April 29, 2011, at age 74, of complications from a stroke. Originally trained as a dramatist, she wrote over a dozen books as well as essays and criticism. She was best known for her lesbian separatist utopian novel, The Female Male (1975), which helped inaugurate feminist science fiction as a genre. Praised as a prose stylist, she won a Nebula Award in 1972 and a Hugo in 1983. Born in the Bronx, she graduated from Cornell and the Yale Drama School. She was active in feminist, civil rights and the gay and lesbian rights movements, and was the subject of several critical studies, most recently 2009’s On Joanna Russ.

Taylor Siluwé, writer and activist, died in New Jersey on June 19, 2011, at age 43 of cancer. Born and raised in Jersey City, he graduated from New York University, where he studied creative writing. His articles appeared in such magazines as Details and Out in New Jersey, and his short stories were published in Alyson and Cleis Press anthologies. His short story collections were published by SGL Café Press.

Kate Swift (née Barbara Peabody Swift), nonsexist-language pioneer, died of cancer at age 87 on May 7, 2011, in Middletown, Connecticut. In 1970, while editing a sex education manual for preteens, she realized that the pronouns were “overwhelmingly masculine.” Author of Words and Women, which she wrote with her partner Casey Miller in 1976, who predeceased her, she put forth alternatives for words like “fireman” and “stewardess.” Born in Yonkers to a long line of journalists, she graduated from the University of North Carolina with a journalism degree. A political activist, she worked toward Connecticut’s Marriage Equality Act, and spent her life writing and editing.

Kip Tiernan (née Mary Jane Tiernan), founder of Rosie’s Place in Boston, the first shelter in the U.S. for homeless women, died of cancer in Boston on July 21, 2011, at age 85. Born in West Haven, Connecticut, and orphaned as an infant, she was raised by a charitable grandmother who gave food to those down on their luck. In 1947, she entered Boston Conservatory of Music, but was expelled for drinking; she went on to become a copy writer with her own agency. While volunteering at a Roman Catholic civil rights ministry, she observed homeless women dressed as men seeking shelter at a homeless facility. After meeting with social activist and founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, she founded Rosie’s Place in 1974. She is survived by her partner of fifteen years, Donna Pomponio, whom she married in 2004.

George Tooker, artist who depicted 20th-century alienation, died at age ninety on March 28, 2011, in Hartland, Vermont, of kidney failure. After growing up in Long Island and graduating from Harvard, he served in World War II until he was medically discharged. He began studying with Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League, where he met Paul Cadmus and his brother-in-law Lincoln Kirstein, who helped in his early career. Known as a magical realist, he was often left by the wayside as the art world rushed to abstraction, but was rediscovered in the 1980’s. His New York Times obituary called him “one of the most distinctive and mysterious” of American painters. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2007. He was predeceased by his partner William Christopher.

Gennady Trifonov, dissident Russian poet, died in March, 2011, at age 65. He was remembered in an article by Charles-Gene McDaniel in the November-December 2011 issue.

Dana Turner, a lawyer who specialized in transgender issues, died of a heart condition on April 28, 2011, in Manhattan, at age 56. Born in Gary, Indiana, she graduated from Georgetown Law School and practiced law in New York, specializing in work with the HIV-positive and transgender communities. She pioneered the use of public theatre for civil rights activism, notably in what the New York Times called the “first-ever Drag Show on the Mall” at the 1993 March on Washington. She also appeared as “Mz Liberty” in New York City’s Gay Pride events. As the lawyer for several transgender women in men’s prisons, Turner was featured in the 2006 documentary Cruel & Unusual.

Doric Wilson died on May 7, 2011, at age 72; and Lanford Wilson died at age 73 on March 24, 2011. Both playwrights were remembered in an article by Martha Stone in the September-October 2011 issue.

Sources: The Boston Globe; Completely Queer (1998); Encyclopedia of LGBT History in American (2004); Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage (1995); Historical Dictionary of the Lesbian Liberation Movement (2003);Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History (2001). Websites:;;;;;;;;;;;;;;