One of the many tragic consequences of the AIDS epidemic is the loss of so many creative individuals. In his Dedication of the book “Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming Out Stories” (1996), Patrick Merla listed 144 “writers lost to AIDS;” scholars, novelists, poets, playwrights and composers.
We who live in South Florida lost our share of talented, creative people, from journalists to human rights advocates. Though there are too many to mention, I will try to evoke a few I had the honor to know.
AIDS came to South Florida relatively late in the mid-1980’s, years after it first struck New York and San Francisco’s gay communities. The first friends I lost to AIDS left us in 1986, a year after Rock Hudson died. Two of them, Harry Losleben and Larry Markin, were active members of the (Miami) Dade County Coalition for Human Rights (DCCHR) and the weekly news (twn), South Florida’s gay community newspaper. A third one, Steve Selwyn, was (1984) the founding president of Saber MC and a board member of Pride South Florida.
Richard Sedlak, another founding member of Saber, remembers Selwyn as “a very popular and well-respected true leatherman. After his passing the club annually issued the Steve Selwyn Award to those who gave service not only to the leather community but to the overall LGBT community as well.”
Many of my departed friends passed away during the first half of the 1990’s, before Dr. David Ho and his team developed a protease inhibitor “cocktail” that prolonged the lives of many People Living With AIDS. These include Barnett J. Freier, founding president (1976) of Congregation Etz Chaim and an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Marty Rubin, who died in 1994, was a well-known journalist, author and activist. Ron Farago remembers Rubin as “My Mentor [who] molded and formed my gay mind.” A founding member (1975) of Thebans MC and of the DCCHR (1976), Rubin is best-remembered as the author of the “Bike Daddy” column in twn. His 1987 novel, The Boiled Frog Syndrome, a gay political thriller, sold more than 6,000 copies.
Rubin passed away in February of 1994. In August of that year, South Florida’s LGBT community lost another great leader. Tom Bradshaw was a founder (1982) of the Dolphin Democratic Club, still Florida’s oldest and largest LGBT advocacy group. He went on to serve as president of the Dolphins from 1988 to 1992 and to lead a then-futile attempt to pass an LGBT rights ordinance in Broward County. “You couldn’t help but respect his leadership, his ultimate goal of equality, his political skills, his honesty,” activist Allan Terl told the Sun-Sentinel at the time of Bradshaw’s passing.
The new AIDS medications did not come soon enough to save Allan Terl, who died of AIDS-related lymphoma in 1997. A lawyer, Terl used his legal talents to fight for the rights of LGBT people, People Living With AIDS, and other minority groups. He served as chair of United Citizens for Human Rights (UCHR), chair of the advisory board of Advocates for Sound AIDS Policy, and vice president of the ACLU. He put his legal experience to good use when he wrote AIDS and the Law: A Basic Guide for the Nonlawyer (1992). Terl was also an expert at playing and winning contests, a skill that earned him $5,000 a year in cash and prizes.
AIDS took from us a whole generation of entertainers. One of them was John Goodwin, best-remembered as the female impersonator Dana Manchester. Goodwin, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 2000, was one of the first (1977) winners of the Miss Florida Female Impersonator Pageant. (Logan Carter, who as Roxanne Russell won the title in 1974, was another AIDS casualty.) Unlike other entertainers, Goodwin was equally talented as a boy or a girl, whether he was singing as Goodwin or lip-synching as Manchester. Before he died, Goodwin was honored by the activist group Gays United to Attack Repression and Discrimination (GUARD). The Manchester Room at the Alibi in Wilton Manors was named in Goodwin’s memory.
Though I could go on forever with this sad litany, I wish to end it with Gary Steinsmith, who died of an embolism in 2007. A firebrand and fundraiser for LGBT rights, Steinsmith was remembered by his friend Norm Kent as “a pioneer in the gay rights movement in South Florida, engaging in battle and causes when others did not. He was a vibrant Democrat, a proud liberal.” Steinsmith was active in several LGBT community groups, including Americans for Equality, Dolphin Democrats, Lambda South, Pride South Florida and United Citizens for Human Rights. Though we who knew Steinsmith mourned his loss, our community is a better place because he lived and worked in it.