It is impossibly ironic to write of the passing of Eric Rofes in this issue devoted to the conversation between generations, as there is no one who had more to say to this generation and the next, more to offer, than Eric. There is something equally bittersweet about his passing so close on the celebration of Gay Pride in its 37th year. To say I am stunned or sad isn’t enough. I’m pissed off; the loss is immeasurable. It’s not fair.
Eric was a staunch supporter of this journal and a member of our Advisory Board. In the last year, he and Chris Bartlett from Philadelphia had partnered with us to offer The Leadership Academy to continue the discussion of how we can share the lessons we’ve learned and how the next generation of leaders could creatively and positively stand up to the challenges to the LGBT community in the 21st century. In characteristic Rofes thinking the Academy was asset-focused, optimistic and uplifting. In classic Rofes fashion, it was an iconoclastic, challenging process, offered in a warm and relaxed setting, stepping outside the bounds of “how we do things” to challenge people to create new ways, new paths, new, higher thinking. “Queer leaders must lead,” he insisted. He was a master at taking the abstract ideal and making it flesh and blood real.
Eric Rofes was sui generis, a pillar in our community. From his early days as a sixth grade teacher in Boston, he went on to a long career as an organizer, activist, author and professor. Eric Rofes started his activism in the 1970s on Gay Community News. Teacher is how I will always think of him; Teaching, with a capital T is his lasting legacy, in the truest sense of what it means: learning to learn, embracing the excitement of connecting with other minds, creating community.
Audacious. Innovative. Challenging. Intelligent. These are words that get tossed around a good deal, but they are, essential when talking about Eric Rofes. It’s almost impossible to underestimate the accomplishments of this natural born leader and teacher. He published twelve books on topics ranging from children and divorce to gay men’s responses to HIV/AIDS to charter schools. His prolific writings from The Kids Book of Divorce, I Thought People Like That Killed Themselves, to Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men’s Sexuality and Culture in an Ongoing Epidemic and Dry Bones Breathe: Gay Men Creating Post-AIDS Identities and Cultures, and his latest, A Radical Rethinking of Sexuality and Schooling: Status Quo or Status Queer took on the problems and challenges of the LGBT community, posing difficult questions and challenging readers to rise to the occasion. More meaningfully, he never had less than absolute conviction that the gay community had everything it needed to rise to any occasion and was a special gift in the world. His books are vital components of the queer canon.
To say that Eric was a long-time progressive activist who worked on issues related to gay and lesbian liberation, HIV/AIDS prevention and gay men’s health, racial and economic justice, and poor people’s access to education is an exercise in the power of understatement. It’s hard to think of another individual who has been more effective—and virtually omnipresent—in the formation of institutions in the gay community. He served as the founder of the Boston Lesbian & Gay Political Alliance, was director of Shanti Project, San Francisco’s pioneering AIDS organization, and executive director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center. He was a member of the PerfectUnion.net Working Group and active in the movement to democratize marriage in the United States. He coordinated for the annual North Coast Education Summit, which brings together educators, activists, and parents for three days of workshops focused on education, democracy, and social justice.
He served as a member of the Los Angeles AIDS Commission and the San Francisco Ryan White Council, and was a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Lesbian & Gay Health Association and the Funding Exchange’s OutFund for Gay Liberation. In recent years, Eric established the biannual Gay Men’s Health Summits and we were honored and excited when he approached us about offering The Leadership Academies in California and New York under the auspices of White Crane Institute. Eric was the first member of our advisory board with whom White Crane had worked to expand our mission.
Eric Rofes was Associate Professor of Education at Humboldt State University (HSU) in Arcata, California. Prior to HSU, Eric taught at U.C. Berkeley and Bowdoin College in Maine. A graduate of Harvard College, he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Studies from the University of California’s Graduate School of Education. He taught courses in community organizing, social foundations of education, leadership studies, teaching in higher education, and gay & lesbian issues in K-12 schools.
He lived in San Francisco and Arcata, California and is survived by his husband, Crispin Hollings, and a generation of teachers, healthcare workers, and social activists across this country and around the world.