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The idea that significant deaths come in threes is an attractive myth that’s always easy to see in hindsight – consider December 2011’s intriguing grouping of Vaclev Haval, Christopher Hitchens and Kim Jong Il. But the year did see three notable deaths of people whose passing was keenly felt by D.C.’s LGBT community.
The entire nation mourned the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, whose aura of glamour never seemed to fade following her days as a Hollywood starlet. While she may have staked her fame as the silver screen’s most beautiful woman in the world, it was her work during the darkest days of the AIDS crisis that made her an icon and hero to the gay community. Not just lending her name to a cause, Taylor co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research, testified before Congress, and made a frightened nation see the human cost of an epidemic. That her name graces the Whitman-Walker Health medical building speaks to her deep and ongoing ties to Washington.
As an example of bravery in difficult times, it’s hard to do better than Frank Kameny, whose time as an activist stretched all the way back to the 1950s, when he was fired from his government job for being a homosexual. Before he died at age 86 he saw homosexuality removed from the category of mental illness; gay rights laws passed in cities across the nation; the striking down of sodomy laws nationwide; the implementation and repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; the debut of marriage equality in D.C.; and a formal apology from the openly gay director of the federal Office of Personnel Management. An energetic presence at LGBT community events for decades, his ongoing declarations that ”Gay is good!” will be sorely missed.
Nearly 40 years younger than Kameny, Jeff Coudriet may have enjoyed some of the benefits of Kameny’s early activism but he made a name for himself in D.C.’s LGBT community by carrying on the case for equality. President of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) in the 1990s, Coudriet was a key part of that decade’s successful effort to end the city’s sodomy law. In recent years, he worked inside politics, for Councilmember Jack Evans and D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration. Coudriet’s death at age 48 from lung cancer left behind a local legacy of equality.