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PASSAGES Notable deaths nationally in 2017
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2018-01-03

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—Bishop Eddie Long: Long, the controversial leader of one of the nation's largest megachurches, died at age 63. He was a preacher who led an infamous march against same-sex marriage and denounced homosexuality. However, in 2010, he also settled a lawsuit filed by four young men who said he pressured them into sexual relationships; terms of the settlement were never disclosed.

—Stuart Timmons: Timmons—known for chronicling the history of gay Los Angeles in the book Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, co-authored with Lillian Faderman—died Jan. 14 at age 60.

—William A. Norris: Norris—a former federal appeals court judge who, in 1989, wrote an iconic ruling on gay rights ( in the case Watkins v. United States Army ), long before same-sex marriage entered the lexicon—died at age 89.

—Gilbert Baker: Baker—best known for creating the LGBT symbol known as the rainbow flag—died in his sleep in New York City's Harlem neighborhood at age 65. Baker's first flag ( which had eight colors, but which now has six, after pink and turquoise were dropped ) flew over the 1978 Pride festivities in San Francisco.

—Lil Peep: Rapper Lil Peep died at age 21. The musician, who came out as bisexual in August, amassed a cult following for his genre-melding of hip hop and emo music, and released his debut album Come Over When You're Sober ( Part One ) in August.

—Michelle Rounds: Rosie O'Donnell's ex-wife died at age 46 of an apparent suicide.

—Sheila Abdus-Salaam: The first African-American woman to serve on New York state's highest court was found dead in the Hudson River. She was 65.

—Edie Windsor: Windsor, a lesbian activist who was a pioneer for LGBT rights and brought down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, died at age 88. Windsor was best known for being the plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in 2013 striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. That ruling was the precursor for the 2015 Obergefell decision extending marriage equality nationwide.

—Hugh Hefner: Hefner—the famous and controversial Chicago-born Playboy magazine editor who for decades threw lavish parties, lived a glamorous Hollywood life, and interacted with celebrities, civil-rights leaders and journalists—died at age 91. Hefner was also known as an advocate, fighting for LGBT, women's and civil rights and taking public stances on such issues as marriage equality and transgender rights.

—Pastor Megan Jane Jones: Jones, 49, was co-director of the Naming Project, whose mission is to create places of safety for youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities where faith is shared and healthy life-giving community is modeled.

—Charles Shively: Shively, one of the pivotal figures in the Gay Liberation Movement, died at the Cambridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Home, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at age 79. At the 1977 Boston Gay Pride march, Shively became infamous for his burning of the Bible—as well as his insurance policy, Harvard diploma, and teaching contract—as a protest against oppressive institutions.

—Debra Chasnoff: Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist Chasnoff, 60, died of metastatic breast cancer at her home in San Francisco. Known as "Chas" by almost everyone, she was nationally known as a visionary filmmaker and an LGBTQ rights champion as well as a social-justice educator.

—John Paul De Cecco: De Cecco, a professor emeritus at San Francisco State University and longtime scholar in the field of human sexuality, died at his home at age 92.

—Liz Smith: Longtime gossip columnist Smith, who started her column at the New York Daily News more than four decades ago, died at age 94. She came out as bisexual in her 2000 memoir Natural Blonde—something she dubbed "gender neutrality." Among other honors, GLAAD awarded her with its Vito Russo Award in 2001; she won an Emmy for her reporting in 1985.

—Jim Nabors: Jim Nabors—a singer/actor best known to many as the lovable television character Gomer Pyle—died in Hawaii at age 87. Nabors' husband, Stan Cadwallader, confirmed the death to the Associated Press.

—Nelsan Ellis: Ellis, best known for playing gay cook Lafayette Reynolds on HBO's True Blood, died at age 39. Ellis, who was born in Harvey, Illinois, was also in the Oscar Best Picture nominee The Help alongside Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Emma Stone.

—Cardinal Bernard Law: Law—the former archbishop of Boston whose failure to stop priests from molesting children led to the worst crisis in U.S. Catholicism—died in Rome, where he was archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, at age 86. The pope said nothing about Law's death during his weekly general audience; also, in a condolence letter, he made no direct mention of the cardinal's tenure in Boston.


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