In Memoriam: 09.04.20

COVID-19 Community Losses Continue

In March, we started documenting the lives of LGBTQ people who have died from COVID-19. With over 5 Million positive cases and over 180,000 deaths in the U.S., the pandemic continues to impact the country. A lack of LGBTQ-inclusive data makes it difficult to know the full impact of the coronavirus on our community.

qnotes will continue to try and honor LGBTQ people who have died from COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. If you’ve lost a friend or loved one in the LGBTQ community, email chrisrudisill@goqnotes.com.

Maria Mercader

CBS News journalist Maria Mercader died on March 29 in a New York hospital. She was 54. Mercader was a network veteran who covered breaking news for nearly three decades and was the director of talent strategy later in her career. She was active in coordinating CBS News participation in the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists. “Maria Mercader was, I guess, a typical journalist — always asking questions,” said friend and colleague Marcy McGinnis. “But she was anything but typical. Maria asked questions, not because she was producing a story, but because she wanted to know about you and your life.”

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Anthony Brooks and Phillip Tsai-Brooks

Married six years ago, Texas councilman Anthony Brooks and his husband Phillip Tsai-Brooks died two days apart after contracting COVID-19. Brooks, 42, died on April 12 and Tsai-Brooks, 52, died on April 14. Live Oak Councilman Anthony Brooks was an employee at San Antonio Military Medical Center and a military veteran. His husband, Phillip, was a local business owner. The two were both active in the San Antonio-area community. Their deaths have helped raise national awareness about the threat of the virus. Robert Tsai, one of Phillip’s brothers, told NBC affiliate WOAI-TV that their deaths “should serve as a warning that the coronavirus can be deadly, even to those who are otherwise healthy and relatively young.”

Shahin Shahablou

Award-winning gay photojournalist Shahin Shahablou died on April 15 in a London hospital. He was 56. The freelance photojournalist did work for Amnesty International and Cooltan Arts. Shahablou was raised in Iran and fled in 2011 for Britain where he gained refugee status. Prior to this he was a well-respected photographer for two decades, exhibiting his work in solo shows in Iran and India and was a board member of the Iranian Photojournalists Association. Many of his subjects were from the LGBTQ community. In the 1980s, he was once imprisoned for more than two years for being a member of a dissident group.

Dr. Kenneth Lewes

Influential scholar Dr. Kenneth Lewes died on April 17 in New York. He was 76. He challenged views of homosexuality with his book “The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality” (1988). He defied the previous ideas that being gay was an illness and explored the psychiatric profession’s “century-long history of homophobia.” His book’s title was later changed to “Psychoanalysis and Male Homosexuality” in later editions and has been credited as a major force in shaping social acceptance of homosexuality. He was a professor of Renaissance Literature at Rutgers University and received a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from University of Michigan in 1982.

Beth Salamensky

Former Los Angeles attorney Beth Salemensky died on April 17 in Chicago, Ill. She was 43. As a lesbian whose relatives had vanished from her life, she found a new family at Beth Chayim Chadashim, a queer synagogue in Los Angeles, where she moved after graduating law school in 2002. After moving back to her hometown in the Chicago area to care for her mother who was later institutionalized, she was left essentially homeless after the family home was liquidated to pay for care. Following a call to Reboot, a progressive Jewish non-profit, four strangers showed up to make sure she would not be buried alone. “I thought it was really important to be here,” said one of those “dedicated mourners” in a Chicago Sun Times story. “I’m a lesbian and wanted to represent that, and also Jewish. I thought it was important that she have a sister here, that she was represented.”

Dosha “DJay” Joi

Youth advocate Dosha “DJay” Joi died on May 14 in Milwaukee, Wisc. He was 28. He was part of a group that successfully lobbied for a law that allows young people eligible for special education to remain in foster care until age 21. He testified on behalf of a change in state law that eliminated work permits for 16- and 17-year-olds and fought for changes in Wisconsin child welfare law. Joi identified as queer and championed greater rights for the LGBTQ community. “He knew about his efficacy and his importance and his purpose,” said U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore who became close to Joi when he shadowed her at the U.S. Capitol as part of a program for foster youth. Just before his death, Joi was honored by Kids Matter, Inc. where he had volunteered for more than four years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, commonly known as CASA. Moore and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, have introduced the Dosha Joi Immediate Coverage for Former Foster Youth Act that will, if passed, immediately ensure that eligible former foster youth have access to Medicaid until the age of 26.

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James J. Smith

Dubbed “the Father of Gay Pride” in Staten Island, N.Y., James Smith died on June 28. He was 79. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard, was a founding member of the Pride Center of Staten Island and co-founded the Miss Staten Island Pageant. Professionally, Smith was an addiction counselor and worked in the Office of Addiction Services and Supports at the South Beach Psychiatric Center. He also was a regular blogger for the Staten Island Advance, writing about gay life on the Island.

Durvi Martinez

Vermont farmworker and Migrant Justice activist Durvi Martinez died on July 1, three months after being deported to Mexico. They were 32. According to a GoFundMe.com page to support the family’s hospital and funeral expenses, Martinez, a transgender woman, suffered severe violence before immigrating to the U.S. and was deported despite a pending asylum claim. Migrant Justice referred to them as “a brave and outspoken advocate for immigrant and LGBTQ rights” in a statement following their death. “Durvi will be remembered as a loving and supportive friend.” The organization is claiming that Martinez contracted the virus while in detention and was denied medication, weakening their immune system. Martinez was a frequent participant in Migrant Justice protests and events, including marches for the release of other detained farmworkers.

Rev. Vickey Gibbs

Progressive pastor in Houston, Texas, Rev. Vickey Gibbs died on July 10. She was 57. According to a profile on CNN, her last sermon described what she called a fractured nation, and the impact that the coronavirus was having on her community. Rev. Gibbs was ordained in December 2014 at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church and became the associate pastor in 2015. Her passion for social justice extended outside of the church, calling out racism in daily life and participating in countless marches and events in the city. She was diagnosed with lupus at a young age and had exceeded her life expectancy, according to her wife Cassandra White. Houston-based Out Smart Magazine said, “Houston lost one of its most powerful pastoral voices.”

Rev. Clay Ollis

Community leader and former managing editor of qnotes, Rev. Clay Ollis of Kings Mountain, N.C. died on Aug. 19. He was 55. Rev. Dawn Flynn, the pastor at New Life MCC in Gastonia, N.C., said that Ollis was a “dear friend and dedicated practitioner.” He was a member of MCC Charlotte and New Life MCC for many years. At New Life, he served as the choir director, music director, vice moderator and was a on the Board of Directors. He loved music and was a frequent soloist. Ollis served as managing editor of qnotes from May 2000 through June 2001. Rev. Paul Whiting said on Facebook that the community is “missing some beautiful music today” upon his death.

Photo Credits:

Maria Mercader, CBS; Anthony Brooks and Phillip Tasi-Brooks, Facebook; Shahin Shahablou, Instragam; Dr. Kenneth Lewes, penlibrary.org; Beth Salamensky, Facebook; Dosha “Djay” Joi, Twitter; James J. Smith, Staten Island Advance; Durvi Martinez, Migrant Justice; Rev. Vickey Gibbs, Metropolitan Community Church; Rev. Clay Ollis, personal archives.

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