Early N.C. gay rights pioneer dies

Bob Bland, 64, dies in Texas from cancer and kidney complications while driving to native North Carolina

by QNotes Staff  Staff Reports  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: June 24, 2011 in News

EL PASO, Texas — North Carolina-native and longtime LGBT and Democratic Party activist Bob Bland, one of the original members of the New York Gay Liberation Front (GLF), passed away on June 7 while being treated for cancer and kidney problems at the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. He had become ill while driving from Bisbee, Ariz., to North Carolina to see his elderly mother. He was 64 years old.

Bob Bland

Born in North Carolina in 1947, Bland was a dedicated Democratic activist since childhood. He was first elected president of his high school’s Young Democrats in Goldsboro, N.C., and later to Rice University’s Young Democrats, where he was largely responsible for getting the Texas Young Democrats to oppose the Vietnam War in 1967.

From 1970-71 Bland was an active member of New York GLF and part of the 17th Street Collective household and Gay Flames, a GLF publication. In 1972, he returned to North Carolina and founded the Triangle Gay Alliance, the first LGBT organization in the state. He was the first openly gay person to be elected delegate to a Democratic county convention.

Bland later moved to Atlanta where he became involved in Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. After Carter’s victory in 1976, Bland moved to Washington and joined the staff of the Democratic National Committee as a direct response fundraiser.

In 1979, Bland moved to Boston to become development director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. An avid bicyclist and member of the Chiltern Mountain Club, an LGBT outdoors group, he founded the Boston-Provincetown Bicycle Ride. The 130-mile, one-day activity continues to be the major annual event for the LGBT cycling community. He also was a member of the Boston Lesbian and Gay Alliance.

In 1990, Vershire, Vt., became his residence and he quickly got involved in state politics there as well as serving as director of individual support for the Student Conservation Association. He was elected town auditor in 1997 and was active in the 2000 state battle for civil unions.

In 2001, he became the Orange County, Vt., Democratic Party chair and was elected the party’s state treasurer in 2005.

Bland finally made Bisbee, Ariz., his full-time home in 2007, and continued to be active in county and state Democratic activities. He became chair of the Cochise County Democratic Party, served on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Bisbee, and most recently was elected chair of the Arizona State Democratic Party.

In 2009, Bland joined the GLF 40th anniversary contingent in the LGBT Pride march in San Francisco, along with a number of old GLF friends, including Nikos Diaman,Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Martha Shelley, Roberto Camp, Jason Serinus, Dajenya, Joey Cain and others, and in spirit with his GLF brothers Allen Young, Steven Dansky, Mark Segal, Richard Landman and Perry Brass who participated in New York’s march on the East Coast.

“Bob Bland was one of those Gay Liberation Front activists who helped get us where we are today,” said Allen Young. “There was nothing he liked more than fighting for LGBT rights and Democratic Party principles. He is sadly missed.”

— compiled from release