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Farewell to These LGBTQ+ Groundbreakers
Las Vegas illusionist Siegfried Fischbacher, the partner in work and life of Roy Horn, died of pancreatic cancer January 13 at age 81. He and Horn, billed as Siegfried & Roy, had a popular and long-running show that featured both magic tricks and wild animals. But they ceased performing after a white tiger mauled Horn and dragged him off the stage in 2003. He suffered a crushed windpipe and had a stroke soon afterward. He recovered, but he and Fischbacher spent the rest of their lives focusing on their menagerie of wild cats and on conservation work. Horn died last year of complications from COVID-19.
Pioneering gay Jewish musician and activist DJ Ari Gold, 47, died of cancer February 14. He was a force in the dance music genre with seven albums and the chart hit "Where the Music Takes You." He collaborated with Diana Ross and Cyndi Lauper, was mentored by RuPaul, wrote songs for drag legend Kevin Aviance, and modeled for Boy George's clothing line. Gold proudly sang about men in his songs, featured gay affection in his videos, and wore his queerness publicly and comfortably.
A Puerto Rican-born activist who worked with LGBTQ+ organizations from coast to coast, Carmen Vazquez (pictured on right) died January 24 of COVID19 complications at age 72. She was the founding director of the Women's Building in San Francisco and helped establish the city's Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC). On the East Coast, she held positions including director of public policy at New York City's LGBT Community Center, deputy executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, and coordinator of the New York State Department of Health's LGBT Health and Human Services Unit. She also helped form the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network. In 2020 she received the SAGE Award at the National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change conference for her work on behalf of LGBTQ+ seniors.
Lesbian feminist scholar Christina Crosby, who was paralyzed in a bicycle accident in 2003, wrote about disability in the 2016 memoir A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. Despite the accident, she returned to teaching at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where she was a professor of English literature and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies. She died January 5 at age 67, having been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer a few days earlier. She refused to offer stereotypical sentiments about disability, writing in her memoir that the conventional narrative "carries the troubled subject through painful trials to livable accommodations and lessons learned, and all too often sounds the note triumphant. Don't believe it."
A Chinese-American gay activist in San Francisco, Hoover Lee died February 11 at age 83, having suffered from several health problems. The Hawaii-born Lee was a founding member of the Association of Lesbian and Gay Asians, a cofounder of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance, founder of the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, and an organizer for many progressive political candidates and causes. He received numerous awards for his advocacy and was community grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride parade in 2002.
Lesbian feminist leader Ivy Bottini died February 25 at age 94 at her home in Florida, where the longtime West Hollywood resident had moved to be closer to her daughter. Bottini helped found the first chapter of the National Organization for Women in 1966 and designed its logo. In 1970 she led other feminists in hanging a banner reading "Women of the World Unite" on the Statue of Liberty. She was forced out of the women's movement due to homophobia in its early days but continued her activism after a move from New York to California in the 1970s. She helped defeat the Briggs Initiative, which sought to ban gays and lesbians from teaching in California public schools, as well as an initiative that would have led to the quarantining of people with HIV. She was the founder of Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing and the Los Angeles Lesbian/Gay Police Advisory Board, and a cochair of the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board for the city of West Hollywood.
Margo St. James
An advocate for the rights of sex workers and an early activist in the fight against AIDS, Margo St. James (pictured with Jane Fonda) died January 11 of complications of Alzheimer's disease. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she founded a group called COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) in 1973 and lobbied for legal protections and health benefits for sex workers. She argued that the work wasn't immoral, but its criminalization was. And she spurred an international movement that included LGBTQ+ people. She also spread the word about HIV prevention among female sex workers when it was considered solely a disease of gay men, and she was a confidante of San Francisco's first gay city official, Supervisor Harvey Milk. She and Milk were founding members of the group Citizens for Justice. St. James, who had relationships with both men and women, had a decade-long relationship with fellow sex activist and researcher Gail Pheterson. She ran for the city's Board of Supervisors herself in 1996 but did not win a seat. Her activism continued, though, as she founded the St. James Infirmary in 1999. It was the country's first health clinic in the U.S. run by and for sex workers and it led to similar clinics around the world.