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A man who
mattered

A man who
mattered

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Jeff Katzoff had been my close friend for over 30 years when he vanished from my life May 19. Jeff suffered a linear separation in his aorta, a condition revealed by CAT scans at a Long Beach, Calif., hospital just hours before he died. Several of his vital organs were already dead, deprived of blood. His lover, Ethan-Cael Kenney, had to tell Jeff he had three hours to live; then Jeff slipped away.

Jeff and I came out a year or two after the Stonewall riots of 1969. Because of the accident of our great timing, we had a kind of public life and private confidence that had never been possible for gay men before. Jeff had "a kind of courage I'd never known so deeply felt in somebody gay," Ethan-Cael said.

Jeff did not waste a second believing that our desire for other men was immoral, pathological, or immature. We shared the kind of moral certainty typical of people in their 20s--the age Bob Dylan once described to me simply as the time when "things matter." Our self-assurance was the gigantic gift that the '60s had bequeathed us.

Like his hero, Barney Frank, Jeff came from a middle-class Jewish family in Bayonne, N.J. Fresh from Jersey City State College, he crossed the Hudson in 1972 and met his first lover, Arthur Felson, one of Manhattan's earliest gay activists. Together they attended meetings of the Gay Activists Alliance and danced their hearts out on Saturday nights in SoHo at the Firehouse, the first gay community center in Manhattan. The spirit of the times was captured by the headline on the first leaflet distributed by the Gay Liberation Front in 1969: "Do you think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are."

When Jeff and I took our first trip to California together in 1975, it was love at first sight. As soon as we started driving down the coast from San Francisco, Jeff knew California was where he had to be. To make that possible, his ambitions quickly expanded to include law school, and five years later he had graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law. He also spent a year at Gay Rights Advocates in San Francisco.

In San Francisco he worked for gay supervisor Harry Britt, who was appointed to fill Harvey Milk's seat after Milk was assassinated. Then Jeff moved to Long Beach with Ethan-Cael and founded a law practice in nearby Orange County.

The two of them shared their lives for 28 years, and they never lost their vision for a better world. They were constant supporters of HRC, the ACLU, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, the Names Project Los Angeles, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, and Lambda Legal, among many others. If every member of the gay community were as active and selfless as they were, we would finally have the movement we deserve--and maybe even a government in Washington we could be proud of.

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