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Farewell to LGBTQ+ Artists and Activists
San Francisco activist Lee Mentley was known as "the princess of Castro Street" -- which became the title of his 2016 memoir -- and the godfather of the rainbow flag. He died January 20 of congestive heart failure at his home in Sonora, Calif.; he was 72. A native of Los Angeles, he moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and helped open the city's Gay Community Center, where he ran the Top Floor Gallery, showcasing the work of artists and photographers. He also managed punk bands and became the first out gay city employee with the San Francisco Arts Commission's Neighborhood Arts Program. In 1978, as a member of the executive committee for the Pride Foundation, he facilitated the creation of the first rainbow flag. "He was involved in the big picture -- organization, securing money, etc.," friend August Bernadicou told The Bay Area Reporter. In 1983, Mentley moved to Hawaii, where he worked with A I D S organizations and advocated for marriage equality. In 2000 he moved to Los Angeles, where he became AIDS history curator for ONE Archive at the University o f Southern California and worked for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
Photographer and physician Lucas Murnaghan died March 23 of cancer at his home in Toronto at age 45. An orthopedic surgeon, triathlete, and diver, he began photographing sports but became known for fine art images of men underwater that expressed a vision of both male vulnerability and confidence. His first solo show, "Beneath the Surface," in 2019, inspired a photo book of the same name. "I want my audience to experience the water as less of a literal location and more of a metaphoric alternate reality," he previously told The Advocate's Christopher Harrity. Murnaghan's partner, Antonio Lennert, will release the photographer's unpublished work.
Bill LaVallee -- an actor, storyteller, and addiction and AIDS activist -- died March 7 in Los Angeles at age 77. He had suffered multiple strokes last year. During the AIDS crisis, he was known for bringing members of Alcoholics Anonymous to visit people with AIDS in the hospital, because "dying gay men [were] in need of solace and love from their family of choice," as the Los Angeles Blade put it. At the time, LaVallee (pictured above left) was one of the first volunteers with Project Angel Food, which provides meals to people with AIDS and other serious health conditions. As an actor in the 1960s, he had kissed Elizabeth Taylor, and he was friends with other luminaries, including Carrie Fisher.
Rochelle “Roe” Hager
Rochelle "Roe" Hager, a TikTok star who used the platform to chronicle her love story with fiancee Brittanie Lynn Ritchie, was killed March 29 when a large tree branch struck her car. She was 31. Hager lived in Waterville, Maine, where she worked as executive chef at the Woodlands, a housing complex for seniors. On TikTok, she also promoted LGBTQ+ causes and advocated for people in recovery, having been sober for 10 years. Ritchie, the mother of two children, and Hager were planning to marry in October.
Jasan Ward, who died March 19 at age 49, was a health activist focusing on Black LGBTQ+ people and those living with HIV. In 2019 Plus magazine, a sister publication of The Advocate, named Ward, who had received a positive diagnosis in 1995, as one of its "Most Amazing People Living with HIV." Ward worked in New York with the nonprofit In Our Own Voices and the MOCHA Center. In 2018, he became a program administrator for the New York State Department of Health, running HIV-related services. He spoke at the Obama White House several times and he became a spokesperson for the 2014 campaign HIV Stops With Me. He was also a trainer for the Trevor Project. A Facebook post from In Our Own Voices noted his work benefited "hundreds, if not thousands of individuals...and the world is a better place because of him."