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Dr. Maya Angelou dies at 86

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Award-winning author, renowned poet and civil-rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou has died at 86 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, according to .

Angelou had been reportedly battling health problems. She recently canceled a scheduled appearance of a special event to be held in her honor. Angelou was set to be honored with the "Beacon of Life Award" at the 2014 MLB Beacon Award Luncheon on May 30 in Houston.

She received more than 50 honorary degrees, and was Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.

Born April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou is known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman, according to .

According to USA Today, Angelou was many things. She wrote 36 books. She was an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer—and she once worked as a madam in a brothel, and as the first female and first Black street car conductor in San Francisco.

She later wrote the poem "On the Pulse of Morning"—one of her most famous works—which she recited at President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993. Part of the poem reads:

"There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African, the Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree."

It may have been the first time the word "gay" was said at an inauguration, with the word's current meaning.

Cementing her position as an ally of the LGBT community, The New York Times reported in 2009 that Angelou placed three calls to New York state senators urging them to support marriage equality, saying she felt compelled to speak out because she believes that legalizing same-sex marriage is a matter of social fairness—a subject that has been a theme of her writing.

In a statement, PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby said, "As PFLAG members reflect on her passing, we will remember her for how she made us feel as a staunch ally for equality for people who are LGBT. But for PFLAG, it will also be alongside all that she said on behalf of all people who are disenfranchised, and her lifelong actions to bring attention to the need for compassion and understanding to close the gaps that injustice creates." (At PFLAG's first-ever Straight for Equality Gala in 2009, we had the tremendous privilege of recognizing Dr. Angelou as our inaugural Straight for Equality honoree in the area of Arts & Humanities.)

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a separate statement, "Angelou has said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. LGBT people know this truth well—and it is part of why so many in our community have looked to her as a hero for so long. For those of us whom Angelou inspired to tell our own stories and live our own truths, we will always miss her indispensible voice."

— Andrew Davis

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