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Dorothy Height

Task Force mourns death of Dorothy Height

WASHINGTON, April 20 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mourns the death of Dr. Dorothy Height, a civil rights pioneer, who died today at the age of 98. Height was a key figure in the struggles for school desegregation, voting rights, employment opportunities and public accommodations in the 1950s and 1960s. She was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years.

Height lobbied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on behalf of civil rights causes in the 1940s. In the 1950s, she insisted President Eisenhower move more aggressively on school desegregation issues. Height was among those invited to the White House to witness President Kennedy’s signing ceremony of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. In 1994, President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In 2004, Height also received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest decoration Congress can bestow.

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“Today we deeply mourn the loss of Dorothy Height, who staunchly stood for the civil rights of all people. Dr. Height was a hero to many by devoting her life to those struggling for equality. We are in awe of her crusade for racial justice and gender equality that spanned more than six decades. She was a champion of social justice, a champion of women’s rights, a champion of civil rights. Her legacy is profound and everlasting. To have met her was an honor. To speak with her, a joy. And, to have been inspired by her, a gift.”

Statement by Darlene Nipper, Deputy Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“A huge part of Dorothy Height’s legacy will be the grace with which she directed her power for the good of all people. As an African-American woman in the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, I am so honored to have met her, witnessed her leadership and benefited from her extraordinary sacrifices.”

Rodger McFarlane

Statement by Friends & Family of Rodger McFarlane on his Death

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our friend, colleague, and hero, Rodger McFarlane. A pioneer and legend in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights and HIV/AIDS movements, Rodger took his own life in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico last Friday. In a letter found with his remains, Rodger explained that he was unwilling to allow compounding heart and back problems to become even worse and result in total debilitation. We know that Rodger was in a great deal of pain. Already disabled in his own mind, he could no longer work out or do all the outdoor activities he so loved. He was also now faced with the realization that he could literally not travel, making employment increasingly difficult. As his friends and family, we thought it was important that we communicate to the world that it has lost an amazingly wonderful individual who contributed so mightily to our humanity.

Rodger approached every aspect of his life with boundless passion and vigor. While many people go their entire lives wanting to be good at just one thing, Rodger excelled at virtually everything he did. Brilliant activist and strategist, decorated veteran, accomplished athlete, best-selling author, and humanitarian are just a few of the accolades that could be used to describe our friend. To know Rodger was to love an irreverent, wise-cracking Southerner who hardly completed a sentence that didn't include some kind of four-letter expletive. He fought the right fight every day, was intolerant of silence, and organized whole communities of people to advocate for justice. These were traits that endeared him to us and are traits that make his legacy incredibly rich and powerful.

The power of Rodger's many personal and professional accomplishments cannot be denied. He was on the forefront of responding to the AIDS epidemic that ravaged our country – and specifically the gay community – in the 1980's. Before HIV even had a name, in 1981, Rodger set up the very first hotline anywhere; he just set it up on his own phone. That was the Rodger we knew. A born strategist and leader, Rodger took three organizations in their infancy and grew each into a powerhouse in its own way, empowered to tackle this national tragedy.

One of the original volunteers and the first paid executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, the nation's first and largest provider of AIDS client services and public education programs, Rodger increased the organization's fundraising from a few thousand dollars to the $25 million agency it is today. Until his death, he was the president emeritus of Bailey House, the nation's first and largest provider of supportive housing for homeless people with HIV.

From 1989 to 1994, he was executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA), merging two small industry-based fundraising groups into one of America's most successful and influential AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. During his tenure at BC/EFA, annual revenue increased from less than $1 million to more than $5 million, while also leveraging an additional $40 million annually through strategic alliances with other funders and corporate partnerships. Rodger was also a founding member of ACT UP – NY, the now legendary protest group responsible for sweeping changes to public policy as well as drug treatment and delivery processes.

Most recently, Rodger served as the executive director of the Gill Foundation, one of the nation's largest funders of programs advocating for LGBT equality. He transformed the Foundation by sharpening its strategic purpose. He focused its philanthropy in the states, aligned its investment with political imperatives and forged relationships with straight allies that helped to further both the LGBT movement as well as the greater progressive movement. Rodger was instrumental in the creation of the Gill Foundation's sister organization, Gill Action. The brilliance of Rodger's vision is being seen today as important protections for LGBT people become a reality in more and more states.

No one will ever doubt that our friend Rodger lived a rich and complete life. A proud U.S. Navy veteran, Rodger was a licensed nuclear engineer who conducted strategic missions in the North Atlantic and far Arctic regions aboard a fast attack submarine. A gifted athlete, he was a veteran of seven over-ice expeditions to the North Pole. He also competed internationally for many years as an elite tri-athlete, and in 1998 and 2002, competed in the Eco-Challenges in Morocco and Fiji, where he captained an all-gay female-majority team.

In spite of the fact that Rodger never completed college, he was an accomplished and best-selling author and the producer of works for the stage. Rodger was the co-author of several books, including The Complete Bedside Companion: No Nonsense Advice on Caring for the Seriously Ill (Simon & Schuster, 1998), and most recently, Larry Kramer's The Tragedy of Today's Gays (Penguin, 2005). In 1993, he co-produced the Pulitzer Prize-nominated production of Larry Kramer's The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart.

Rodger had a reputation as a hard-ass. That reputation didn't do him justice. Many of us will remember Rodger as a caregiver, a man who nursed countless friends and family members battling cancer and AIDS. He was the most compassionate and giving of friends, especially to those in physical or emotional distress.

His many achievements were recognized throughout his life. Most recently, he had received the Patient Advocacy Award from the American Psychiatric Association. Other honors included the New York City Distinguished Service Award, the Presidential Voluntary Action Award, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, and the Emery Award from the Hetrick Martin Institute, as well as Tony and Drama Desk honors.

How do you sum up someone's life in just a few words? It's impossible and you can't. To commemorate Rodger's life, his friends will organize celebrations of his, the details of which are still in the planning stages. If Rodger was anything, he was a character through and through; there are, quite literally, thousands of "Rodger stories." That's part of what made him such a special person. During our celebrations, we'll share some of these stories and reflect on the many legacies left by our friend for life, Rodger McFarlane.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mourns death of pioneering community hero Del Martin

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mourns the death of Del Martin, 87, who died today in San Francisco, Calif. Martin married Phyllis Lyon, her partner of 55 years, on June 16, 2008. In 1955, the couple joined six other lesbians in founding the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco, the first lesbian rights organization in the nation. In 1997 and 2004, the Task Force honored Martin and Lyon for their decades of community service.

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has suffered a devastating loss today with the passing of Del Martin, who was one of our movement’s most courageous and extraordinary figures. We extend our deepest sympathies to Del’s family and, especially, to her life partner and, most recently, legally wedded spouse, Phyllis Lyon.

“Del Martin, with Phyllis Lyon always at her side in a remarkable relationship that spanned more than five decades, dreamed a world in which sexual orientation and gender identity and expression would be accorded full dignity and respect. They spoke the unspeakable, wrote the unthinkable, and lived their lives as few before them ever had: open and proud lesbians in 1950s America.

“Del and Phyllis were inspiration in action, living openly and proudly as a loving couple long before many others felt safe to stand with them. Their love for each other gave them strength and sustained them; that same love, courage and grace have left an indelible mark on our movement, and in each of our hearts.

“Del and Phyllis have personally been an inspiration to me since I came out when I was 16 years old. In my office, a picture of the two of them looks over me as I work to carry on their work and their vision for living our lives in truth. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will honor Del’s life by using our uncompromising voice and fighting for justice and equality — a voice made louder and stronger by her 87 years of life. Thank you, Del, for showing so many of us the way.”

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

More about Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Founding the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon launched the world’s first organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbians. When they published The Ladder in 1956, the first magazine by, for and about lesbians, the couple created the means for lesbians to know themselves and each other and to break out of the stultifying isolation that marked many lesbian lives, inviting thousands of women to join a nascent but growing lesbian community.

Throughout their decades of activism, Martin and Lyon made the vital connections among communities and movements, engaging in social justice advocacy projects that included anti-war, civil rights, anti-poverty, HIV/AIDS, and women's health and empowerment. In 1964, they participated in the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, the first organizing in this country to forge a wider space and a welcoming place for LGBT people in faith communities.

In 1972, the couple published their groundbreaking book, Lesbian/Woman, named by Publisher’s Weekly in 1992 as one of the 20 most influential women’s books of the past 20 years. Lesbian/Woman spoke to a new and hungry generation of women, eager to answer their clarion call to sexual liberation and freedom. Martin was an early leader in the battered women’s movement, again breaking new ground with the publication of Battered Wives in 1976, a book that inspired grassroots organizing to end domestic violence and the establishment of shelters for battered women.

Lyon-Martin Health Services, founded in 1979 in San Francisco and named in honor of Martin and Lyon, is the only free-standing community clinic in California with a specific emphasis on lesbian/bisexual women and transgender health care, delivering quality health care services regardless of ability to pay.

In 1995, they were appointed to the White House Conference on Aging; they continued to advocate on behalf of older lesbians through Old Lesbians Organizing for Change.

The valuable lives and good works of Martin and Lyon are the subject of the 2003 award-winning documentary, No Secrets Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, by filmmaker Joan E. Biren.

Martin and Lyon made history again, becoming the first same-sex couple to be married in the state of California on June 16, 2008.

In 1997, at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s 10th annual Creating Change Conference in San Diego, Calif., Martin and Lyon received the Community Service Award for their organizing work and political involvement. At the 2004 conference in St. Louis, Mo., they were honored with the Creating Change Award, which read, “You spoke the unspeakable, you wrote the unthinkable. You lived openly and proudly as a loving couple long before a movement would stand with you.”

Photos: Del Martin (left) and Phyllis Lyon (right) at the 2004 Creating Change Conference in St. Louis, Mo.

Krister Stendahl

Lutherans Concerned/North America celebrates the life and prophetic witness of Krister Stendahl, 1921-2008

April 17, 2008

Krister Stendahl, pastor, bishop, teacher, theologian, and former Dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, died at the age of 86 following several years of illness. He was a stalwart advocate for full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church he so loved.

Indeed, it was he who first used "extra ordinem" and "extraordinary" to describe the ordinations of Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zilhart, and Jeff Johnson in 1990. Stendahl, then the Myra and Robert Kraft and Jacob Hiatt Distinguished Professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University, wrote celebrating St. Francis Lutheran and First United Lutheran congregations for the courage to call openly gay and lesbian pastors.

In a letter to the three ordinands, he said "Since I cannot be with you at your ordination which--it seems--must take place 'extra ordinem,' I want to send you a greeting affirming my conviction that the steps that your congregations and you are taking stand well before God."

In 2001, in keeping with his commitment to the Gospel that is all inclusive, he was able to be present for the "extra ordinem" ordination of Anita Hill, who was called to serve at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran in St. Paul, Minnesota. Emily Eastwood reports that on the day of the ordination she asked Stendahl what he wished to be addressed as publicly, given his many titles. He paused and said with a twinkle in his eye, "Today, given what is about to happen here, you must address me as Bishop."

All three congregations were punished for their actions: St. Francis and First United were removed from the ELCA; St. Paul-Reformation was censured.

Dean of the Harvard Faculty of Divinity from 1968 to 1979, he was known for his skill in guiding that institution through a transformation to a more diverse student body, faculty and curriculum, with "an astute, sometimes blunt decisiveness that was tempered by his wry humor and his enormous gift for listening, which were part of a complete, and consistent, pastoral presence," as Harvard reports.

While Bishop of Stockholm from 1984-1988, he became known as a reformer on women's ordination, the relationship of the church and the state, as well as continuing to advocate for gay and lesbian rights.

Lutherans Concerned/North America celebrates the life and prophetic witness of Krister Stendahl and joins in the prayers of consolation for his family and friends at his passing. He will always be a bright light in the firmament of those committed to full inclusion of all God's people in the life of God's church.

A memorial service is planned for Friday, May 16, at 3 p.m. in Harvard's Memorial Church. See Harvard Divinity School's website,, for their comments on his life and service.

Rev. John Mack

Rev. John Mack dies peacefully surrounded by family

Friday, January 18, 2008

Rev. John Mack, the pastor of the gay-inclusive First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, died Tuesday of pulmonary fibrosis contracted on a November hiking trip in Nepal, according to parishioner Sandy Sorensen. He was 65.

Mack grew up in Connecticut and graduated from Princeton University and Union Theological Seminary. He served as an infantry commander in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He was the pastor of a church in Boston until he and his wife Barbara Gerlach, now retired, moved to Washington in 1984 to helm the congregation of First Church, which has been "open and affirming" of its gay members for 30 years.

In 2006, the Metro D.C. chapter of Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays recognized Mack with its Faith In Action award, an honor that his church members feel was deserved for the role he played in welcoming gays to his church.

"John's ministry of inclusiveness gave hope to so many people," Sorensen said. "It created an incredible healing space within the ministry and touched so many lives. The message of hope to the LGBT community, that you could be welcome in the church, was such a gift."

Mack is survived by Gerlach and their children, Jessica and Peter.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to First Congregational United Church of Christ, 309 E. Street, NW, Washington, designated to either the Community Chorus or the Dinner Program for Homeless Women.

Rabi Sherwin T. Wine

Rabbi Sherwin Wine has died

It is with profound grief that we inform you of the tragic death of Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of Humanistic Judaism, on Saturday, July 21, 2007. Rabbi Wine and Richard McMains, were vacationing in Morocco. Returning from dinner Saturday evening in Essaouira, their taxicab was hit by another driver. Both Rabbi Wine and the taxi driver were killed instantly. Richard survived the collision and currently is hospitalized in stable condition. We offer our heartfelt sympathy to his family and to all who loved him.


Letty Russell

Celebrating the Life, Ministry & Legacy of Letty Russell

July 13, 2007 - Yesterday we lost one of the most valiant and thoughtful theologians, teachers, writers, visionaries and spirits of our generation, the beloved Letty Russell. More Light Presbyterians gives thanks for the life, ministry and legacy of Letty Russell, and we extend our condolence and prayers to her beloved partner Shannon Clarkson.


Yolanda King

Remembering Yolanda King

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2007 — A memorial service for Yolanda King, the eldest child of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, was held today in Atlanta. Yolanda King, 51, collapsed and died last week. The National Religious Leadership Roundtable remembers her life and legacy.


Vaughn Beckman

The Passing of Vaughn Beckman

It is with heavy hearts that we report the passing of Vaughn Beckman early on the morning of September 6, 2006 in Fremont, CA. Although Vaughn had been struggling with cancer, his sudden passing was unexpected. A memorial service is planned for September 16 at The First Christian Church of San Jose, CA.


Organizational Partners

Affirm United/S'affirmer Ensemble The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists Brethren-Mennonite Council for LGBT Concerns Open and Affirming Ministries of the Gay, Lesbian & Affirming Disciples (GLAD) Integrity Reconciling in Christ Program of Lutherans Concerned/North America
More Light Presbyterians Open and Affirming Program of the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns (ONA) Reconciling Ministries Network Room for All - Reformed Church in America Welcoming Community Network - Community of Christ