Reginald T. Brown

Brown, Reginald T. 2017

Reginald T. Brown was born on January 14, 1952. They are a social justice, faith-based activist, an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS and who are homeless, and a proponent of HIV decriminalization.

Reginald Thomas Brown M.Ed. was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Rufus T. Brown, who was a railroad worker, and their mother, Clydia P. Turner, a nurse practitioner. They have a sister, Sabrina, and a stepsister, Barbara, five grown nieces, and a nephew. Brown attended Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas, where they graduated in 1970. They were the first Black foreign exchange student, and lived in Chile in 1969 through the American Field Service. Brown spent the summer in Chile prior to their senior year in high school, and witnessed the moon landing in a public square in Concepción, Chile because the family with whom they lived did not own a television.

Reginald T. Brown was the first Black drum major in a predominantly white school of 2,500 students, and was active in numerous clubs and organizations in high school. Their name is one of the many listed in the Social Hall of Wyandotte High School’s Hall of Fame.

Reginald T. Brown enrolled at the University of Kansas, where they obtained their bachelor’s degree in early childhood development. Brown is a member of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, and were elected in their freshman year as president of the newly-formed Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in 1971. Brown was part of the lawsuit against the university for its failure to fund and supply office space for the GLF in the Student Union. William Kunstler, famed civil rights attorney and advocate, represented their case pro-bono. They lost, but got funding and office space the following year. The GLF formed a speaker’s bureau that traveled to various campuses throughout the state to conduct teach-ins, so that students could know queer people, and the organization’s members could publicly present their pride in being themselves.

While participating with the speaker’s bureau at Emporia State College, Brown encountered several of the neighborhood bullies that taunted, teased, and ridiculed them as a child. This was a catharsis for Brown, who was no longer afraid, and was able to boldly look the former bullies in the eye and exclaim, “YES! This is who I am!” Much of the anti-gay sentiment at the university came from the members of the Black Student Union (BSU), of which Brown was not a member. Brown’s agenda and goals were not those of the BSU, and because of that rejection, the BSU lost out on all that Brown had to offer.

As a campus activist, Brown participated in many demonstrations, including anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. A week after the gunning down and murdering of the Kent State Four in Ohio, Brown was part of a demonstration that was tear-gassed as bullets whizzed past their heads. Unfortunately, one of their colleagues was shot and killed.

As a sophomore, Brown happened upon a class being taught by dancers from the Martha Graham Company. One male dancer caught Brown’s eye when they saw the dancer’s beautiful body doing incredible things. Brown stayed, took the class, and realized that they could do that as well—or at least try—because they did not want to be 44 years old and wonder IF they could have.

Brown went on to attend Christmas and summer classes at the Martha Graham School in New York City until graduation in 1975. That summer, Brown danced as one of the cowboys in the musical “Oklahoma,” and served as dance captain due to their photographic memory of the dance steps. Brown moved to New York in August of 1975 with less than $200, and lived with a college buddy. In 1979, Brown took his first and only dance company to Mexico City, where they served as their business manager and as lead dancer for ten months.

After they disbanded the company, Reginald T. Brown returned to New York City, modeled, and eventually took a position with the German logistics company, Deutsche Post (also known as DHL), and traveled throughout Europe, including London, Vienna, Lugano, Munich, and Amsterdam.

Brown lived and worked for ten months in Utrecht, a half hour train ride from Amsterdam, before moving to Berlin, West Germany for three months. There they accepted an offer to dance and teach in Athens, Greece, where they learned to speak fluent Greek on stage and television. Brown spent six years in Athens, teaching dance, choreographing, singing, acting, modeling, and dancing, and performing in a children’s television show and various theaters and nightclubs. Brown was awarded the Ithakis Festival Award for their choreography of a Greek musical. They co-starred and performed in “Man Friday,” an adaptation of “Robinson Crusoe.”

To be a part of the lives of their nieces (who were one and two years old at the time), and not wanting to be the absent male that was heard about but not known, Brown returned to New York in 1990 to serve as a substitute teacher. They attended Adelphi University’s master’s-level early childhood and special education program, graduating in 1995. Brown was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education. They graduated in two-and-a-half years, and became a tenured teacher after three years. Brown stopped teaching due to a nervous breakdown after eleven years of service. They were diagnosed as HIV positive+ in 1986, with AIDS in 1997, and unable to transmit HIV since 2013.

Currently, Reginald T. Brown volunteers twice a week—enriching their artistic and intellectual senses—at WNET Channel Thirteen, the flagship station of the Public Broadcasting Service, where Brown just celebrated 10 years of service. Brown is an active member of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Movement in New York, a social justice ministry founded more than 35 years ago by Archbishop Carl Bean. Social justice is Reginald Brown’s ministry—speaking truth to power and standing up for those who cannot or will not stand up for themselves. “If I can help somebody, my living is not in vain,” Brown proudly proclaims.

Reginald T. Brown is a board member of Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY). They were re-appointed to the HIV and AIDS Services Administration (HASA) by former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Brown has been selected to participate in the Building Leaders of Color (BLOC) Regional Training as part of NMAC in February of 2018.

In June 2015, Brown, along with 53 others, was arrested in a civil disobedience direct action protesting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s inaction on the rent control laws that protect many New Yorkers. Although they did not secure nearly as much as they wanted, they did get a zero percent rent increase for one year, rent-stabilized tenants. It was the first zero percent increase in the nearly 50 years of rent regulation.

This was Brown’s first civil disobedience direct action, and one of the proudest moments of their life. Brown’s mother always told them to stand up for what they believe in—even she disagreed— and be willing to accept the consequences. As Brown was being led away in handcuffs they sang the freedom song, “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes” at the top of their lungs, and could hear the other protesters join in song behind them.

Brown attended their first Native American sweat lodge on a self-care/healing sabbatical in Las Vegas, Nevada in September of 2015. This was a spiritual healing and awakening for Brown, who as a child learned their grandmother was Native American but did not take it seriously. This ceremony kindled a spiritual awakening of things familiar that were not fully understood.

The following month, Brown attended their first Native American intertribal pow wow honoring veterans in Las Vegas. They had to unlearn all the lies and misconceptions that had been learned about Native Americans. The beauty, pride, pageantry, and tradition of what they now call their “Mitakuye Oyasin” (All my Relations) further awakened a deeper longing to discover, honor, and respect all of Brown’s relations. That included “enhanced appreciation and connection to the four-legged creatures, the two-legged creatures, the winged creatures, the Earth, our Mother, mountains and Creator.”

On March 24, 2017, Brown was arrested in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Three days later, they were arrested in Albany to force Governor Cuomo to release the $2.5 billion that had been on hold since January 2016 to build supportive housing. On July 19th of that year, Brown was arrested along with more than 175 others to block the repeal of the ACA.

Brown discovered the writings of James Baldwin while living and working in Europe, and identified with the picture Baldwin painted of an intellectual outsider. They were proudly influenced by Nina Simone, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, and Eartha Kitt as activist artists who came into their own only after leaving the United States. Brown identified with the experiences of these activists because Brown did the same.

As a queer, Black, gender fluid, gender non-conforming activist, Brown believes it is their God-given assignment to be visible so that the experiences of Black long-term AIDS survivors are written into the AIDS epidemic narrative, and that others will know they are not alone and were around in the beginning. Brown sees themselves as a role model, and a physical manifestation of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

We thank Reginald T. Brown for their lifelong commitment to the arts and education, for their strong advocacy on behalf of people affected by HIV/AIDS, and their many contributions to our community.

JL King

King, JL 2017

JL King was born on December 4, 1952. He is a best-selling author, publisher, an HIV/STD prevention activist, and as he told Oprah Winfrey’s millions of viewers, “a proud Black gay man and father.”

Known simply as “Jimmy” when he was a child, James Louis King was born in Springfield, Ohio, the son of Louis V. King and Lillie M. King. His father worked for the government for fifty years before he retired, and his mother was a homemaker who previously worked as a maid, served in the retail industry, and as a banquet server at a hotel. King’s father was originally from Browns, Alabama, and his mother hailed from Cartersville, Georgia. King has one younger brother, Ronald L. King.

JL King attended Springfield South High School in Springfield, Ohio, and after graduation, went into the United States Air Force and pursued his degree. While in military service, he was stationed in Turkey, and it was there that he married and had his first child, Ebony. King said that he loved living overseas, and as a 19-year-old father with an 18-year-old wife, he grew up fast and accepted the responsibilities of being a young parent.

After he was honorably discharged, King returned to Springfield—now as a father of two children—and started his life stateside, working in various jobs to make sure he could take care of his family. King seemed to have a balanced, happy life; he enjoyed spending time with his wife’s large family and cherished his own, and they were active in church and lived a comfortable, middle class life.

King was content to live his life on the “down low” but that abruptly ended when he was confronted by his wife in an intimate situation with another man. He spoke about that in his first book, and how that experience led to his long journey of coming out. The discovery led to a divorce, and King moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he started working in corporate America. It was also there that he experienced his first gay relationship, which lasted more than five years.

During this period of his life, King held varies jobs, including at the Urban League, and working as an independent pre-release instructor at four state prisons. King was awarded bid contracts over nine other established social service agencies, and soon started his first company, The King Group, which specialized in providing pre-release employment training for the criminal justice industry.

In 2000, King started writing “On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of Straight Black Men Who Sleep with Men,” which was released four years later and became a New York Times bestselling book for more than 30 consecutive weeks. The book became an instant success that led him to four appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and he received recognition as an “Ebony Magazine” “50 Most Intriguing Blacks,” the cover of “Jet” magazine, and interviews with every major media outlet.

From 2004 to 2009, King served on several boards and contributed to the community by raising money for homeless LGBTQ youth, hosting fundraisers at his Atlanta home, giving money to aid efforts to reach men who have sex with men, and using his brand and platform to raise awareness. He founded the National Black Gay Fathers organization to empower members to be involved in their children’s lives and not give up.

In 2006, King produced “The DL Exposed,” an award-winning documentary that was broadcast on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and became the most-watched program on the network that year.

JL King has been named one of the power brokers in Atlanta, and honored as a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work.

King is currently the owner of JL King Publishing, publishing books for self-published authors, with a focus on minority writers. He is the author of sixteen books, and his memoir, “Full Circle,” is available at: www.authorjlking.com. In addition to “On the Down Low,” King has authored “Coming Up from the Down Low: The Journey to Acceptance, Healing, and Honest Love,” “Love On a Two Way Street,” “CP Time: Why Some People Are Always Late,” “On the Down Low 2,” and the stage play, “Raw.”

“I think that the Black LGBT community needs to identify a national leader to represent us in [Washington] DC, and established programs to develop future leaders and to establish the power that the Black LGBT community has,” said King. “The Black LGBT community could have the same clout that the white LGBT community has in all walks of life. That is what I want my legacy to be. I made a difference as a Black gay man.”

King is a father and grandfather, and resides in both the New York City borough of Brooklyn and in Atlanta, Georgia. When he is not writing or traveling, he enjoys art, music, and motivating others to follow their dreams and live a “faith over fear” life.

We thank JL King for the power of his words, and for his many contributions to our community.

Glenn Burke

Burke, Glenn 2017a by Mark Hundley AP
Photo: Mark Hundley/AP

Glenn Burke was born on November 16, 1952 (to May 30, 1995). He was a Major League Baseball (MLB) player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 through 1979, and the first and only active MLB player known by teammates and team management to be same-gender loving.

Glenn Lawrence Burke was born in Oakland, California. His father, Luther, was a sawmill worker, and left the family when Burke was only 11 months old; his mother, Alice, supported Burke and his seven siblings working in a nursing home. Burke grew up attending church six times a week, singing in two choirs, and serving as an usher. He attended Berkeley High School, and later Merritt College in Oakland, California, and the University of Nevada-Reno.

Burke was an accomplished high school basketball star, leading the Berkeley High School Yellow Jackets to an undefeated season, and the 1970 Northern California championships. He was elected to the Tournament of Champions, and received a Northern California Most Valuable Player award. Burke was named Northern California’s High School Basketball Player of the Year in 1970. He was able to dunk a basketball using both hands—a remarkable accomplishment for someone who was just over six feet tall.

Burke was considered capable of being a professional basketball player, but his first offer came from Major League Baseball. When he began his baseball career, Burke was declared by scouts as the “next Willie Mays.” Burke was recruited by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972, and sent to play in the minor leagues in Utah, Washington, Connecticut, and New Mexico, before becoming an outfielder for the Dodgers in 1976.

Some in the clubhouse knew that Glenn Burke was gay, and persistent rumors percolated around his lack of girlfriends. But Burke remained wildly popular among his colleagues, known for his jovial personality, playing loud music, for his impressive dance moves, and for his spot-on Richard Pryor imitations.

In 1977, Burke ran onto the field to congratulate his Dodgers teammate Dusty Baker, after Baker hit his 30th home run in the last game of the regular season. Burke raised his hand over his head as Baker jogged home from third base. Not knowing what to do about the upraised hand, Baker slapped it, thus the two together were credited with inventing the “high five.”

Burke’s association with the Dodgers was, at times, a difficult one. According to Burke’s 1995 autobiography “Out at Home,” general manager Al Campanis offered to pay for a lavish honeymoon if Burke agreed to get married. Burke refused to participate in the sham, allegedly responding, “to a woman?” He also angered manager Tommy Lasorda by befriending the manager’s estranged gay son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr. The Dodgers eventually dealt Burke to the Oakland Athletics for Billy North, by some accounts a much less talented player, suggesting to many that homophobia was behind the trade.

The trade, in 1978, was not a popular move in the Dodger clubhouse. One teammate recounted, “He was the life of the team, on the busses, in the clubhouse, everywhere.” In Oakland, manager Billy Martin introduced Glenn Burke as a “faggot” in front of his teammates. He was given little playing time on the A’s, and after he suffered a knee injury before the season began, the team sent him to the minors in Utah, and eventually released him from his contract. Burke would play his last professional baseball game on June 4, 1979. He would later write that it was more important to be himself than be a professional baseball player.

“Gay players live a double life to survive in baseball. But at least they know exactly where they’re coming from,” said Burke. “To me, it wasn’t always hell living the double life. It could actually be kind of fun in certain situations. No one knew where I was coming from. I’d walk through the locker room like a real macho man. And after the Dodgers, A’s, and the rest of baseball found out I was gay, they’d say, ‘Glenn Burke?!’ It threw them for a loop. It had to. And some of them might have looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Shit, I could be gay, too.’”

Living as a gay man in Ogden, Utah, Burke’s dream of starring in the major leagues was as far away as ever, and he walked away from professional baseball. “The browbeating got to him,” his sister, Lutha, recalled. “I’m more than sure that being gay cost him his baseball career.”

Back home in Oakland, Burke increasingly spent time across the Bay Bridge, in San Francisco’s Castro district, the heart of gay culture. Suspicions about his sexuality swirled. A friend tried to steer him and his story to “San Francisco Chronicle” columnist Herb Caen, but Burke declined. Caen wrote only that a local ballplayer could be found on Castro Street.

While “out” to many of his teammates and friends, Burke appeared to have been unwilling to come out publicly, fearing the stings of discrimination and criticism of his personal life. But threatened with disclosure by media sources, he became the first former professional baseball player to come out of the closet when he discussed his sexuality in a 1982 “Inside Sports” magazine article, “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger,” written by Michael J. Smith, with whom Burke had been lovers for six years. He also was interviewed for a landmark news story by Bryant Gumbel on “The Today Show.”

Glenn Burke continued his athletic endeavors after retiring from baseball. He played regularly for the Pendulum Pirates, a gay softball team. He competed in the 1986 Gay Games in basketball, and won medals in the 100- and 200-meter sprints in the first Gay Games in 1982.

Although he remained active in amateur competition, Burke turned to drugs to fill the void in his life when his career ended. An addiction to cocaine destroyed him both physically and financially. In 1987, his leg and foot were crushed when he was hit by a car in San Francisco. After the accident, Burke’s life went into physical and financial decline. He was arrested and jailed for drugs, and, for a time, was homeless on the streets of San Francisco, often congregating in the same neighborhood that once embraced him.

Burke’s final months were spent with his sister, Lutha, in Oakland, California. He died of AIDS complications in 1995 at the age 42.

When news of his battle with AIDS became public knowledge in 1994, Burke received the support of his former teammates, and the Oakland Athletics organization. In interviews given while he was fighting AIDS, Burke expressed little in the way of grudges, and only one big regret—that he never had the opportunity to pursue a second professional sports career in basketball.

Four years after Burke’s death, former Major Leaguer Billy Bean came out as gay. Like Burke, Bean had played for the Dodgers, but was deeply closeted as a player.

On August 2, 2013, Burke was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. The following year, Major League Baseball decided to demonstrate an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion, and invited Burke’s family to the All-Star Game in Minneapolis—the league’s first official recognition of Burke’s early role in a movement just now gaining traction across the sports landscape. On June 17, 2015, the Oakland Athletics honored Burke as part of Athletics Pride Night. Burke’s brother, Sydney, threw the ceremonial first pitch at the game. In 2017, a plaque honoring Burke was added to San Francisco’s Rainbow Honor Walk, which celebrates deceased LGBTQ luminaries.

Glenn Burke helped to break the stereotype about same-gender loving men in professional sports. His pioneering courage and honesty is often cited as inspiration by other athletes who are struggling to be open about their sexual orientation.

We remember Glenn Burke in recognition for his pioneering honesty, his impressive athletic accomplishments, and his many contributions to our community.

Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.

Tibbs, Thurlow Evans 2017

Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr., was born on August 8, 1952 (to January 16, 1997). He was a highly educated engineer and urban planner who distinguished himself as a leading African American art dealer, historian, celebrated art broker, philanthropist, and archivist. His Evans-Tibbs Collection, featured in a Smithsonian Institution exhibit, was hailed as one of the most important private collections of African American art ever assembled.

Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr. was a lifelong resident of Washington, DC, where he was raised by his educator father, Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Sr., following the death of his mother at a young age. Also helping to raise Thurlow, Jr. was his grandmother—noted opera singer Lillian “Madame Evanti” Evans-Tibbs—and an uncle and aunt. The Tibbs town house, in the family since 1904, hosted important Black political and cultural figures, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Langston Hughes. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Growing up, the younger Tibbs had the opportunity to view works of African American painters in his home, and acquired an appreciation for art that lasted a lifetime. After graduating from Cardozo High School, he studied art at Dartmouth College, where he graduated in 1974. Two years later, he earned his Master’s degree in city planning from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Tibbs began collecting art in the mid-1970s with paintings left to him by his grandmother. He supported his passion by working at an engineering firm, before joining the General Services Administration as a facilities planner. He left the agency in 1989, and opened an art gallery in the historic family home, hosting exhibitions such as “Surrealism and the Afro-American Artist” and “Six Washington Masters.” Tibbs would eventually acquire more than 600 works of art for the Evans-Tibbs Collection, including those of African American painters and obscure artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the pieces were purchased at auction and flea markets.

When interest and prices for African American art began to increase, Tibbs became an art dealer in the mid-eighties. In 1996, he donated archives and 33 works to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, at the time the largest donation of historical American art and reference materials given to the museum in nearly half a century.

Artists ranged from Henry Ossawa Tanner and William Harper to Betye Saar and Raymond Saunders. The collection grew over the years, and in 2015, the National Gallery of Art announced its acquisition of more than 6,000 works from the Corcoran, including the significantly expanded Evans-Tibbs Collection.

In an interview published in the “Washington Blade” in 1996, Tibbs described himself as “not gender-focused.” Although he was known to be contradictory and vague about his sexuality, he told the interviewer about gay guests at his mother’s dinner table and that “…it wasn’t until my aunts started asking when I was going to get married that my family got the picture.” Friend Philip Pannell described Tibbs as “homosexual rather than gay, gay being a way of being, homosexual being a sexual orientation.”

On January 16, 1997, Tibbs died at his home at the age of 44. The cause of death was ruled “acute ethyl chloride intoxication” and the manner of death “accidental.” On January 26, memorial services were held at the historic St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and later that day at the Corcoran.

We remember Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr. for his legacy in art and philanthropy, and for his support of our community.