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David Carter, Historian of Stonewall, Dead at 67

David Carter

David Carter, a historian who wrote what’s considered the definitive book on the Stonewall riots, has died at age 67.

Carter died Friday at his apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village, the Washington Blade reports. The cause of death was apparently a heart attack.

Carter’s book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution came out in 2004 to positive reviews, and it became the basis for the documentary Stonewall Uprising, which aired on PBS’s American Experience and won a Peabody Award. Carter also worked with the National Park Service to have the Stonewall Inn and the adjacent area designated a national monument and an historic landmark.

“The Stonewall uprising is historic for one reason,” he said in a 2019 presentation to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the rebellion, according to the Blade. “It inspired the creation of a new phase of the movement for the rights of gay men and lesbians and later for bisexuals and the transgendered, and this new phase, the gay liberation movement, created a mass movement, making most of the gains over the past five decades possible.”

Carter, who was gay, was born in Jesup, Ga., and became involved in the LGBTQ rights movement in the late 1970s as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The liberal city of Madison was then one of the few U.S. municipalities with a gay-inclusive nondiscrimination law, and Carter helped found an organization that successfully defended the law against repeal attempts. He later was active in the campaign that led Wisconsin, in 1980, to become the first state with such a law.

He also raised funds with a Madison event to fight Florida homophobe Anita Bryant’s efforts to repeal the gay rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County. Her campaign, however, succeeded. The ordinance was restored many years later.

His other books included a collection of interviews with Allen Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996, and young-adult books on gay history. At the time of his death, he was working on a biography of LGBTQ rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who lost a job with the federal government because he was gay and went on to become a notable activist. It’s unclear if someone else will finish the book, according to the Blade.

In addition to his writing, Carter held a full-time job as senior medical editor at communications firm Saatchi & Saatchi. “In his medical editing and his LGBT history work, he showed a passion for accuracy,” his longtime friend Eric Danzer told the Blade. “In his LGBT history work, he was painstakingly methodical in assembling the facts, passionate about following them wherever they led to make sure that our history is recorded accurately.”

"David was a wealth of knowledge on the history of Stonewall," Stacy Lentz, co-owner of Stonewall Inn and CEO to the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, says to The Advocate. "He was always willing to share that knowledge especially with younger generations that might not have known how important the Stonewall riots were for shaping some of the liberties they enjoy today. His book and research are critical to making sure that the history is told accurately as often it is not." 

Memorial services will be held later in Georgia and New York.

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