Eric Rofes, longtime AIDS and gay rights activist, has died suddenly of a heart attack. Rofes was 53 years old. He is survived by his partner, Crispin Hollings. Rofes was a prolific author, an organizer for more than three decades, and a political pioneer on HIV/AIDS and GLBT issues. A wonderful man with a brilliant mind, he will be greatly missed. As can be seen by several national LGBT organizations expressing their grief.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said he and his organization is mourning the death of Rofes, calling him a leader, activist, visionary, former board member, and dear friend to the Task Force. “Words cannot express the loss we all feel. For more than 30 years, Eric was our movement’s visionary. He pushed us to be better, to never lose sight of what our movement for liberation is all about, and to love each other, fight for each other and celebrate our community,” said Foreman. “He was an organizer without par, a brilliant thinker and writer, and above all else, a wonderful person and friend. Our hearts go out to his partner Crispin Hollings and all the members of his extended family.”
“Eric Rofes was one of the most extraordinary voices in our community. He spoke—and suffused others—with the joy of being who we are. His leadership in the communities where he lived, and in the national community, contributed enormously to our understanding of the need for honest discussions about the LGBT community and its issues,” said Task Force board member Loren Ostrow, co-chair of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. “Eric’s death is a loss to all of us, of a rare voice of truth.”
“Eric fought fiercely and organized tirelessly for our freedoms to love, to live, and to thrive. His leadership and energy guided much early organizing in Boston,” said Sue Hyde, director of the Task Force’s Creating Change conference. She said that Rofes and other Boston organizers morphed into the famed “Boston Mafia,” a cadre of activists who left the city and assumed leadership positions in LGBT and AIDS organizations in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles. “I met Eric at Gay Community News in 1983 when, as a greenhorn from the Midwest, I was honored to learn and grow in his political light and determination to change the social and political space we queer folk occupy,” she said. “Eric’s circles of friends go far beyond Boston, and he will always be remembered as a world changer who showed us the way. No better memorial can be built to him than to walk his path to freedom, to liberation and to democracy.”
“Eric Rofes was a strong feminist who was never afraid to put his privilege on the line for those around him,” said Kerry Lobel, former executive director of the Task Force. “He bore witness to every major issue for three decades as he talked about war, homelessness, HIV, violence, health, reframing our families, sex, and sexuality. His gentle spirit will be sorely missed.”
Human Rights Campaign also mourns Rofes’ passing.
“Eric Rofes was a leader in the best sense of the word, and his loss will be deeply felt by the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movement,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Our profound sympathy goes to Eric’s partner, family, and friends. The mark Eric left on this world made us all better activists and his contributions will be remembered for their enormous impact on the movement.”
Eric Rofes started his activism in the 1970s in Boston, where he worked on Gay Community News. He was a founder of Boston’s first group for LGBT teachers, two of the first LGBT youth groups in the country, and the first Boston-based group focused on organizing gay and lesbian voters (Boston Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance). He was a founding member of the Boston Men’s Childcare Collective, which provided childcare at women’s music concerts and shelters for battered women. He was an elected delegate to the 1980 White House Conference on the Family.
From 1985 to 1989, Rofes served as executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, the largest LGBT nonprofit organization in the world. During his tenure, the center initiated some of the nation’s first HIV prevention programs, created a shelter for LGBT and homeless youth and opened the first and largest HIV testing site in California. In 1989, he became executive director of Shanti Project, a pioneering AIDS service group in San Francisco. 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. Rofes co-chaired the Southern California No on LaRouche Committee, which successfully defeated a statewide AIDS quarantine initiative. At the time of his death, he served on the board of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation.
He led the organizing of three national summits focused on the health and wellness of gay male communities, including the most recent summit in October 2005 in Salt Lake City. From 1999 to the time of his death, Rofes was an associate professor of education at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.
He was a major contributor to the Task Force’s Creating Change conference, which he attended annually and where he presented some of the most challenging and stimulating material.
In addition, he published 12 books, including Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men’s Sexuality and Culture in an Ongoing Epidemic (Haworth, 1996) and Dry Bones Breathe: Gay Men Creating Post-AIDS Identities and Cultures (Haworth, 1998).
The memorial service originally scheduled for MCC Church has been moved to Eureka Valley Recreation Center, 100 Collingswood Ave, at 18th Street in the Castro. The service takes place at 3pm, followed by a 5pm reception.