Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Saddest news in a while: Bob Kohler has died

You might remember that in June of last year I wrote about the big anti-violence rally and march through the streets of Manhattan in the wake of the anti-gay attack against queer singer Kevin Aviance.

At the time I said that I was surprised by the numbers of people who showed up for the rally considering the apathetic state in queer rights activism today. What I didn't say was that I also was awe-struck when I noticed long-time queer rights hero Bob Kohler as he watched the crowd head down to Christopher Street along 7th Avenue.

I caught up to him just as he asked trans activist Melissa Sklarz (pictured next to Bob above) what the march was about. When Melissa explained how people had shown up in support of Kevin and in anger against hate crimes, he just beamed that incredible smile of his and said "Oh, good! That's good!" probably amazed that something could move people to action.

A few minutes ago I got a message announcing that Bob, who was already into his 80's, had passed away this morning. He joins another personal hero of mine, Marc Rubin, who passed away in his 70's back in March.

Who was Bob Kohler? Well, he was a Stonewall veteran for one, and was amongst the founders of the seminal queer rights organization Gay Liberation Front. He also stood up for struggling transgender activists such as Marcia P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera and a myriad of causes including Sex Panic!, the queer youth organization The Neutral Zone, Fed UP Queers, Irish Queers, ACT UP and Fierce [The Village Voice's Runnin' Scared blog has more information here; Gay City News has the most comprehensive coverage here].

Funeral arrangements and memorial services are still in the works. I will update this post when more details become available.

UPDATE: Here's a video shot this past summer at the Stonewall Inn in which Bob, Danny Garvin and Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt talk about the life of Marsha P. Johnson. Thank you Marti Abernathey for pointing it out to me.

UPDATE (from Joo-Hyun Kang & Imani Henry): "Bob was an amazingly funny, politically principled and kind person (well, maybe not always kind if he thought you weren't being politically principled….). You always knew you could count on him to show up at a picket, rally, meeting, or special scouting mission that could be helped by an older white man with blue eyes who just needed to use a bathroom in that corporate headquarters…. He was in many ways a bridge for and to many communities, and an example of what it could mean to be a white ally to communities of color. He was honest and cranky as hell, and we loved him for it."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Meet 4pm at the LGBT Center (the one that eventually had to let Sylvia back in!)
March at 5pm to Christopher Street & to the pier
- Demand space for queers & queer youth of color in the Village.
- Demand a cure for AIDS, HASA for all,* and housing & respect for PWAs
- Demand respect for "the crazies" who (as Bob liked to point out) are the ones who usually lead the way.

There will be a memorial for Bob in a few weeks, in addition to this action. For info, e-mail


Anonymous said...

Bob was a great friend to the members of Gay Youth in the late 60s and early 70s. For the two years that I was chair (1971-73) he was an elder who gave good advice and set a good example. I saw him last that day he spoke at the Stonewall Bar to those students, from where was it, Minneapolis? and I felt I was in the presence of greatness.

Karmalize said...