Charleston gay rights leader Tom Chorlton passes away

Leader's passion was LGBT rights, politics, American history

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: January 6, 2014 in In Memoriam

Charleston gay rights leader and professor Tom Chorlton died Jan. 5 at the age of 67.  (Photo copyright Washington Blade; used with permission.)

Charleston gay rights leader and professor Tom Chorlton died Jan. 5 at the age of 67.
(Photo copyright Washington Blade; used with permission.)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Thomas Patrick Chorlton, an LGBT rights leader, author and professor at the College of Charleston, died on Jan. 5 at the age of 67, as originally reported by the Washington Blade. Chorlton died from complications associated with leukemia.

Chorlton began his tenure as an assistant professor of political science at the College of Charleston in 2003. Previously, he was a resident of Washington, D.C., for 20 years from the mid-1970s through the early-1990s. There, Chorlton helped found the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic clubs in 1982, serving as the group’s first executive director from 1982-1987. He also served as president of the Washington, D.C., Gertrude Stein Democratic Club in 1981 and 1982.

He was also the first openly gay candidate for a seat on the Washington, D.C., City Council in 1988, running as a candidate for the D.C. Statehood Party.

Chorlton saw success as an academic and an author, taking decades of research into his passion on early American history and turning it into a 2011 book, “The First American Republic: 1774-1789.” In an interview about the book with qnotes, Chorlton stressed the importance of history, patriotic skepticism and active citizenship.

“One of the things I denounce constantly in my political science classes is this idiocy flag waving,” Chorlton said. “After 9/11 everybody put a damned flag on their car. What stupidity; what good does that do anybody? I say go out and vote and participate; run for office or support someone running for office; pass out petitions or sign petitions. Roll up you sleeves and get involved; just sticking a flag on your car is about the laziest thing I can think of.”

He added, “Democracy demands participation. If you don’t participate then you’ve opted out and you’ve just left it to some other idiot to decide what’s going to happen. So often we look at what our rights are — freedom of speech or religion — but there are responsibilities that go with those rights — responsibilities to stand up and be counted.”

After leaving Washington, D.C., Chorlton taught history and government at Columbia College’s Lake Campus in Missouri.

Throughout his academic career, Chorlton remain involved heavily in Democratic Party politics. He attended his first Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. In 2008, he penned a short first-person report for qnotes on openly lesbian South Carolina congressional candidate Linda Ketner’s attendance at the Democratic convention in Denver.

Deacon Maccubbin, the former owner of the Washington, D.C., LGBT bookstore Lambda Rising, and Maccubbin’s husband, Jim Bennett, are serving as executors of Chorlton’s estate. Plans for a memorial service will be announced. According to the couple, a portion of Chorlton’s ashes will be interred at Charleston’s St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, as well as a family plot in Belleville, Ill.

You can click here to read Chorlton’s full obituary by writer Lou Chibbaro, Jr., at the Washington Blade