Larry Benjamin

Benjamin, Larry 2017

Larry Benjamin was born on October 11, 1959. He is the author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a novella—all with a gay focus.

Benjamin was born in the New York City borough of the Bronx to Ray Benjamin, who was a carpenter, and his mother, Kathleen, a schoolteacher. He attended P.S. 130, P.S. 138, P.S. 131, and Adlai Stevenson High School, where he graduated in 1977. Following high school, Benjamin enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he says he studied many things and learned everything he hadn’t in the previous seventeen years of his life.

Looking back on his childhood, Benjamin recalls about growing up gay, “I think the biggest challenge was not having anyone to talk to or any visible role models. Being gay in and of itself didn’t particularly trouble me. It was like being Black: it was what it was. It never occurred to me to want to change either fact. I just accepted it and moved on. If other people had a problem with it, well that was really their problem, wasn’t it?”

While in college, Benjamin came out to his roommate while he was learning to use chopsticks. “‘I know,’ he said. I asked him if it bothered him and he said, ‘No, you’re you. You’re my friend.’ Then he chastised me for not paying attention to the chopstick lesson.”

Benjamin has published three novels, “What Binds Us,” “Unbroken” (a 2014 Lambda Literary Award finalist and IPPY (Independent Publishers) Gold Medalist), and “In His Eyes,” along with the allegorical novella “Vampire Rising,” and the short story collection, “Damaged Angels.” More about Benjamin and his blog, This Writer’s Life, can be found on his website.

When asked why he writes, Benjamin says, “A few years ago it occurred to me that if we want our stories told, we must tell them. If others control our narrative they control our stories. When I think about service to the LGBTQ community, I’d have to say I write in service to our community. I am committed to telling the stories of queer people of color—and getting it right. We need to be visible and heard. Words, stories, have the power to change hearts and minds. I offer up stories so we can see ourselves and our lives reflected, and so others can learn what it is like to be a queer person of color in America. I like the fact that my writing gives me—us—a voice, and allows me to share our narrative, to give breadth and depth to the traditional white homonormative narrative. That is my activism.”

Benjamin makes his home in Philadelphia, and is married to Stanley Willauer, Jr., the man he first met nearly 30 years ago. Benjamin and Willauer had a commitment ceremony on June 28, 1997, and were legally married on June 28, 2014—their 17th anniversary, and the 45th anniversary of Stonewall. They have two dogs, a thirteen-year-old Silky Terrier who Benjamin describes as “my best friend and sidekick,” and a five-year old Bichon Frise they found on the street. Benjamin enjoys walks in the woods with his dogs, reading, and cooking for friends.

We thank Larry Benjamin for his contributions to writing, and for his support of our community.

Whitfield Lovell

Lovell, Whitfield 2017

Whitfield Lovell was born on October 2, 1959. He is an acclaimed visual artist best known for his contemporary installations and works on paper using historical African American images and found objects. In 2007, Lovell was awarded the MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Whitfield MacAllister Lovell was born in New York City. He was the third of four children born to Allister Lovell, a postal worker and self-taught photographer of Barbadian descent, and Gladys Glover Lovell, an elementary school teacher whose parents migrated from South Carolina during the Depression. Lovell was drawn to the arts early on, studying voice and piano, and doing quite a bit of creative writing. Due, in part, to his shyness, Lovell moved away from the performing arts and eventually concentrated on visual arts.

Raised in the Bronx, where art was either misunderstood or dismissed, Lovell felt isolated and had to seek out resources that were available in other areas of New York City. He attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, where he was recognized for his writing and received several arts awards. Lowell enhanced his art studies by attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art High School Programs, The Cooper Union Saturday Program, and the Whitney Museum Art Resources Center.

Following graduation from high school in 1977, Lowell spent the summer in Mallorca, Spain, studying painting and sculpture with Manhattanville College. He returned and enrolled at The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Lovell also studied at Parsons School of Design, and The Cooper Union School of Art, where he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1981. He traveled throughout Europe with the American Institute for Foreign Study, and later attended New York University’s Graduate Program in Venice, Italy.

Whitfield Lovell started teaching art to children on a freelance basis so that he could have enough time to devote to his creativity. He moved into a loft in Manhattan, where he maintained a studio and did mostly works on paper.

The death of Lovell’s older sister, Reva, at age 22, and the violent death of his grandfather, Eugene Glover, led to his works becoming extremely personal and of an autobiographical nature. There were many family stories and narratives that wove in and out of his art. Lovell worked from his father’s photographs for about 10 years before he began to ponder the images in his grandmother’s photo albums. Lovell became increasingly intrigued by the history of African Americans during the post-slavery and Jim Crow eras.

During his childhood, Lovell’s summers were spent with relatives in the South, where he learned about his Southern heritage. Lovell’s relationship with his grandmother, Mary Jane Glover, whom he describes as true griot and a dear friend to him, cemented his interest in memorializing this group of people. They were the ancestors whose names and stories were lost to history, who rarely if ever appeared in the art created during their lifetimes, but who left behind the wonderful studio photographs they had posed for—the proof that they were here. Lovell began making works on paper with imagery drawn from vintage studio portraits that he found at flea markets and antique stores. Having collected over 1000 vintage photos, Lovell eventually began making full-scale installations with drawings on wooden walls, incorporating found objects.

Lovell started drawing on the walls of old houses, first in an old villa in Italy during a residency, and then at Project Row Houses, a not-for-profit arts organization in Houston, Texas. He was given an empty “shotgun” house, and carte blanche to create a full-scale installation, which occurred while he was in Houston for a yearlong teaching residency at Rice University. Lovell subsequently created installations at such venues as Cuba’s Havana Biennale, The Bronx Museum, The Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, and Whispers from the Walls, an installation created at the University of North Texas in Denton, which traveled to 15 museum and art center venues across the nation.

While Whitfield Lovell enjoys the act of drawing, he says he gets the most excitement from the “hunting and gathering” aspect of his work, scouring through flea markets for inspiration for new works, as well as hunting down specific items to help resolve a work in progress. He learned to bargain from his grandmother, a flea market enthusiast who took him to Englishtown, a market in New Jersey that his family enjoyed visiting on weekends.

Lovell’s experience teaching children led to a college teaching position at the School of Visual Arts Art Education Department, which he held from 1987 through 2001. He trained student teachers, and ran arts and crafts programs for homeless children (for which he received an American Red Cross Special Service Award and The City of New York Human Resources Administration’s Certificate for Volunteer Services).

Today, Lovell enjoys interacting with young artists during visiting artist engagements, and in alternative settings such as residency programs. He continues to serve on the board of governors at the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture, a program that made a major impact on him when he attended in 1985. It was here that Lovell found the support and encouragement that was hard to come by for a young Black artist in the New York City art world of the 1980s.

Lovell’s extraordinary and moving works have been honored with a 2007 fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (commonly referred to as the “Genius Awards”), a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award Grant, a National Endowment for the Arts Mid-Atlantic Fellowship, and a New York State Council on the Arts Grant.

Whitfield Lovell’s work is in the permanent collections of some of the finest galleries across the nation, including The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; The Smithsonian American Art Museum, DC; The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, DC; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA; The Yale University Art Gallery; The Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Seattle Art Museum, WA, and many others.

From October 2016 to January 2017, The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, hosted The Kin Series and Other Related Works. The major exhibition focused on Lovell’s Kin series and his Tableaux and other installations. A monograph, Whitfield Lovell Kin, was published in tandem with the exhibition by Skira Rizzoli.

A global travel enthusiast, Whitfield Lovell’s hobbies often inform his artwork. He is passionate about antiquing, music, cinema and theater. Particularly fond of jazz and classical music, Lovell is a self-described scholar on the life and music of Nina Simone, whom he met several times and considers a mentor. He is an avid movie buff, and considers theater among the major inspirations for his installation works.

Whitfield Lovell lives in New York City with artist Fred Wilson, his close partner of nearly 37 years.

You can view some of Lovell’s remarkable work here.

We celebrate Whitfield Lovell, and thank him for his creative brilliance, his loving art, and his continuing commitment to our community.

John Adewoye

Adewoye, John 2017

John Adewoye was born on July 30, 1959. He is a respected chaplain and a knowledgeable human rights activist in the United States serving the needs of African LGBTI immigrants seeking asylum or refuge from oppression and persecution.

John Ademola Adewoye was born in Oro, in Nigeria’s Kwara State, to the family of Michael and Princes Agnes Oladiyun Adewoye. He is the last of four surviving children, and has two sisters and a brother. His father was a lawn man, while his mother was an entrepreneur, trading in cooking oil. He was reared in a staunch Catholic family, and attended mass almost daily.

John says his childhood was filled with “thrilling experiences,” but a trauma for his mother. He loved to experiment with cross dressing, a mystery she never quite understood. John says he outgrew that obsession, but the memory of that experience gave him courage to identify and honor his true nature when it was appropriate. When he was a child, he was interested in becoming a nun, a chapter of his life journey that his father recounted during his ordination reception.

John’s parents read and wrote Yoruba, a classic African language spoken by around 30 million people. They were very determined to have their children receive a western education. John attended Saint Andrew Catholic Primary School, in Oro, from 1966 to 1972, and went on to attend high school at Our Lady and Saint Kizito Seminary in Ede, Osun State, from 1973 to 1979.

Education was of great importance to the Adewoye family, but school was a cruel place for John as a young gay boy growing up in Africa; he fought regularly due to name calling and bullying. But by his final year in elementary school, he made up his mind not to go any further, and declined high school just to avoid the continuing ordeal. After he grounded himself for a year at home, he was reminded by his grand aunt of his childhood aspiration for theological studies.

When the seminary high school entrance form was promoted in his church, John’s father was proud and filled with the anticipation of having a son who would be a priest, and he was excited because he thought the school would be free of bullying. But it turns out the difference was minimal, and John continued to be called names, but never challenged to physical fighting. By the time he hit puberty in high school, he had boyfriends and enjoyed sexual activity that was both exciting and new.

John would later be expelled in his final year of high school after he participated in a revolt against the school principal who, by all standards, was different from the fatherly principal he had in his first year. That experience seemed to be the beginning of his activism.

John attended College at Saints Peter and Paul, in the Bodija district in Ibadan, Oyo State; the school is a Nigerian affiliate of the Urban University of Rome, Italy. He then studied philosophy and theology for seven years, and graduated with the United States equivalent of a Masters of Divinity degree. When he moved to the U.S., he worked hard to obtain his Masters of Social Work degree from Chicago State University in 2006.

John has served as a hospital chaplain at the University of Chicago Medical Center since October 2000. In his 17 years of service, he has provided emotional support to hospitalized patients and their families, respecting each patient’s faith background and utilizing his nurturing and spiritual encouragement to reunite patients with their families and their communities.

John Adewoye also works with LGBTI asylum seekers in his free time. He founded the Center for Integration and Courageous Living to serve asylum seekers in the LGBTI community effectively. He is also the co-founder and current leader of Chicago LGBTI Asylum Support Partners, and has provided psychosocial support for asylum seekers for the past ten years.

LGBTI asylum seekers are those looking for safe haven from legally homophobic countries, including Russia, and many countries in Africa and the Middle East. Asylum seekers fleeing persecution often go to safe countries without knowing anyone there. John has welcomed many and provided them with accommodations and essentials at his home. He has also connects people with pro bono lawyers and other services, assisting some to gain freedom from immigration detentions in the state of Illinois.

As a man of faith and compassion, John Adewoye loves serving humanity, and is moved by Jesus’ statement: “When you do it to the least of these people, you do it to me.” John sees this as an empowering affirmation that he believes “is about human rights.” John looks to the Black community as “the builders of our world, especially through slavery, and as the earth’s original peoples, we are the very cradle of humanity.” But he adds, “Yet the most oppressed group of people worldwide are our creator’s greatest gift: the people of Africa.”

According to John Adewoye, “Of great importance to me is the plight of the SGL/LGBTI community, and how to change things for better.” Hence, he founded the Center for Integration and Courageous Living to create change and confront homophobes through social media and other means of communication. John is currently the executive director of the Center, as well as leader of Chicago Asylum Support Partners (CLASP), and chair of the board of directors of the Queer Alliance.

John also volunteers with Gay Liberation Network Chicago, and has traveled to Springfield, Illinois with Equality Illinois, and to Washington, DC, for advocacy work through the Creating Change Organization and the LGBT Freedom and Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN). In 2012, he participated actively in demonstrations at the Nigerian House in New York City against anti-gay, same-sex prohibition bills. He is a member of Solidarity Alliance, a coalition of Nigerian LGBTI activists and organizations, working to make life better for the LGBTI communities in Nigeria.

John is a gifted poet and has sung with the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus for more than a decade. He admits that he isn’t a great singer, but says the chorus gives him a voice and a stage to be “as open as possible to the world, especially to other LGBTI immigrants who need to enjoy their new-found freedom in their new home.”

John Adewoye is married, and he and his husband, also named John, make their loving home in Riverdale, Illinois.

We thank John Adewoye for his contributions as a cleric and activist, and for his brave support of our community.

Dirg Aaab-Richards

Aaab-Richards, Dirg July 29

Dirg Aaab-Richards was born on July 29, 1959. He is a respected Jamaican-British writer, human rights activist, and community builder.

Dirg Aaab-Richards was born in Jamaica, the fifth of six children of John Richards, a retired builder, and the late Norma Chisholm Richards, a realtor and master gardener. He attended Stella Maris Preparatory School and the New Day Primary and Junior High School, all in Kingston, Jamaica. After his family relocated to the United Kingdom in 1969, he attended William Penn Secondary School in South East London, and served as Head Boy for 1976-1977.

On his journey as a Black gay man in 1978, aged 19, Dirg Aaab-Richards felt a great deal of personal stress due to conflicting religious dogma and homophobia at home and in the wider community, and a crushing sense of isolation. This led to some mental health issues upon coming out, which temporarily interrupted this young man’s education. With months of rehabilitation, work in the hotel industry, and some personal counseling, Dirg regained his strength and dignity. He was resilient and able to graduate from London’s Goldsmiths College with a Certificate Qualification in Community and Youth Work.

Dirg became a member of the Gay Black Group – London, and helped to organize Britain’s first Black gay men’s conference, “In This Our Lives,” in October of 1987, and the International Lesbian and Gay People of Colour Conference, which was held in London in 1990. Dirg became the first Black gay men’s outreach worker for an innovative project which focused on galvanizing the Black LGBTI community to establish a Black Lesbian and Gay Centre from 1985 through 1990.

Dirg Aaab-Richards was honored to be part of a groundbreaking anthology, “Tongues Untied” (Gay Men’s Press, 1987), along with many other young, Black, gay poets, including Essex Hemphill, Isaac Jackson, and Craig G. Harris.

Dirg Aaab-Richards served as a volunteer for twelve years with South London Lesbian and Gay Young People’s Group, facilitating a weekly meeting space so that lesbian and gay youth under the age of 21 could socialize within their own age group, and had access to advice, gay literature, and telephone counseling. The youth group traveled to the Houses of Parliament to lobby for a change in the UK’s age of consent (“at which a person, whether male or female, may lawfully consent to a homosexual relationship”), and participated in the successful campaign in having it reduced to 18 years of age (it would later be reduced to 16). His commitment to the youth group stemmed from having a difficult coming out story to tell, and he wanted other young people to have a more positive and enlightened experience.

He co-founded Black Lesbians and Gays Against Media Homophobia in 1992 with Theadore “Ted” Brown, which helped to force into the headlines the issue of Jamaican homophobia in dancehall music. Known as “murder music,” it outraged many on both sides of the Atlantic with its lyrics encouraging violence. Protests garnered an on-air apology from the relatively new, Jamaican reggae star, Buju Banton. Shabba Ranks, another reggae performer, undermined his own commercial future with live homophobic ranting as the VHS video of “The Word” reached GLAAD in the United States. Dirg salutes and acknowledges Ted Brown, Peter Tatchell, and Outrage!, who were driving forces doing sterling work, calling public attention and disapproval to so-called “murder music.”

With colleagues and support from the British trade union, Unison, he actively participated in a yearlong campaign to shift the homophobic reporting and attitudes at “The Voice,” a prominent British Black newspaper. The campaign achieved successful outcomes which included a right-of-reply, and the implementation of an Equal Opportunity Policy at the newspaper.

Dirg is hopeful that Jamaica will recognize all of its citizens, and endorses the campaigns for the withdrawal of the so-called “’Buggery Law,” which was enacted by the British colonialists and has been so harmful to Jamaicans and the Jamaican psyche. Dirg invites everyone to see “The Abominable Crime,” a 2014 documentary (www.commongoodprod.com) that he highly recommends because it gives voice to gay Jamaicans who, in the face of endemic anti-gay violence or threats of violence, are forced to flee their homeland. The film follows Simone Edwards, a mother, and human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson (who we’ve profiled here at the Ubuntu Biography Project), as they navigate the conflict of loving their country and staying alive.

Dirg worked as a London bus driver for six months before becoming an outreach worker for Age Concern Lambeth, which serves the South London borough of the same name, meeting the needs of older residents. He also worked with the Pimpernel Group, which served the needs of older gay men, while continuing to serve at Age Concern.

Dirg Aaab-Richards is the recipient of two Community Awards for work in the Black lesbian and gay community: from Blackliners HIV & AIDS Project (whose inaugural meeting he attended), and a Black Gay Community Award two years later in 2002.

Dirg has worked as a self-employed professional gardener, specializing in window boxes and hanging basket floral displays for West End restaurants and hotels. He lives in London, where he remains active in the vibrant gay community. Dirg never misses an opportunity to promote the “’free to the world” internet school, Khan Academy, and invites you to check it out at  khanacademy.org.

Dirg Aaab-Richards modestly says, “No man is an island unto himself,” and he humbly acknowledges the many good people, especially young people, with whom he has worked over the years and who continue to inspire him on his journey.

We thank Dirg Aaab-Richards for his contributions to literature and human rights advocacy, and for his support of our community.

Carl Phillips

Phillips, Carl 2017

Carl Phillips was born on July 23, 1959. He is a celebrated American writer and translator, the highly acclaimed author of 13 collections of poetry, and has served as the Professor of English at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. His thirteenth book of poetry, “Reconnaissance,” was released in September 2015, and he has a new book of poems, “Wild Is the Wind,” coming out in January 2018.

Carl Phillips, Jr. was born into a military family in Everett, Washington, the son of Carl Phillips Sr., who served in the United States Air Force, and his mother, Helen Elizabeth Savage, who was a homemaker. Like most military families, he and his two sisters moved frequently. His family settled down in time for him to graduate from Falmouth High School on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, in 1977.

Phillips is a graduate of Harvard University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Classics in 1981, and enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he earned his Master’s degree in Latin and classical humanities in 1983. He returned to Harvard as a doctoral student in classical philology but moved to Boston University, where he received his Masters of Arts degree in creative writing in 1993. While at Harvard, he was a member of the poetry board for the “Harvard Advocate,” a student literary magazine. Following his graduation from the University of Massachusetts, he taught Latin in that state’s high schools for eight years.

In 1992, Phillips learned that his first book of poems had been selected for publication. One of the judges reviewing his poetry noted the “homoerotic aspects” of his work. He was surprised by this as he hadn’t been fully conscious of those aspects when he was immersed in creating the poems. This detached observation was cause for some soul searching and discovery on his part, and led him to embrace this part of his identity as a same-gender loving man.

His first collection of verse, “In the Blood,” won him widespread acclaim and the 1992 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. Phillip’s second book, “Cortège,” was nominated for a 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award. “From the Devotions” followed in 1998, and “Pastoral,” a 2001 Lambda Literary Award winner for Gay Poetry, were each published by Graywolf Press. His subsequent poetry collections have appeared from Farrar, Straus & Giroux: his beloved book “The Tether,” a 2002 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award winner, was followed quickly by “Rock Harbor” in 2002, “The Rest of Love” in 2004, “Riding Westward” in 2006, “Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006,” which he published in 2007, “Speak Low” in 2009, “Double Shadow” in 2011, and “Silverchest,” released in 2013.

Phillips’ poems, which include themes of spirituality, sexuality, mortality, power, identity, and faith, are featured in “American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets” published in 2006, and many other anthologies. In 2004, his critical collection, “Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry,” was issued by Graywolf Press. His second and most recent book of critical prose, “The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination,” is available here.

Carl Phillips’ books have been awarded such prestigious honors as the Kingsley Tufts Prize, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress. He is a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and his numerous honors include the Theodore Roethke Memorial Foundation Poetry Award, and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry. He was named a Witter Bynner Fellow in 1998, and in 2006, he was named the recipient of the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, given in memory of James Merrill. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2006 to 2012.

Phillips was a judge for the 2010 Griffin Poetry Prize. In April 2010, he was named as the new judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, replacing Louise Gluck. In 2011, he was appointed to the judging panel for The Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards. His collection of poetry, “Double Shadow,” was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for poetry, and also received the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the Poetry category.

Carl Phillips is a member of the esteemed Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Society of America, and an advisory editor of “Callaloo,” the premier journal of arts, letters, and cultures of the African Diaspora.

In addition to his poetry, Carl Phillips is an influential critic, literary scholar, and translator. His articles, ranging from the poetry of George Herbert to the issue of identity in African-American poetry, appear regularly in periodicals such as “American Poet,” “Field,” and the “New England Review.” Phillips’ work has been published in the “Yale Review,” the “Atlantic Monthly,” the “New Yorker” magazine, the “Paris Review,” and the “Kenyon Review.” In addition to contemporary poetry and the writing of it, his academic interests include classical philology, translation, and the history of prosody in English. In addition to his teaching duties as Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, he previously served as Professor of African and Afro-American Studies.

As someone who understands the marginalization that happens when you are both Black and gay in America, Carl Phillips says, “Having grown up in both categories, these communities are extremely important to me.” He uses his gifts of writing as his contribution to activism, which reveals itself through both his verse and his teaching. He states, “I feel that it can be a form of activism, to live and write honestly about who one is and to insist on the fact of difference.”

For someone who is so universally celebrated, Carl Phillips is a remarkably humble, approachable, and an easygoing man of genuine kindness. His work speaks cheerfully for what he holds dear, and directs the reader to see his ethereal vision of our world. You can check out his work, and here is a good place to start.

Carl Phillips is happily partnered, and lives with his dog, Ben, in St. Louis, where he spends his time cooking, doing yard work, and keeping Ben well-exercised.

We thank Carl Phillips for his contributions to literature, and for his ongoing support of our community.

Godfrey Sealy

Sealy, Godfrey 2017 (2)

Godfrey Sealy was born on July 3, 1959 (to April 26, 2006). He was an important Trinidadian playwright, director, actor, singer, producer, and a crucial HIV/AIDS and same-gender loving activist regarded as a trailblazing visionary in the Caribbean.

Godfrey Sealy was born in Port of Spain, the capital city of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. He grew up in the cultural hub of St. James, and attended Fatima College, a Catholic boys secondary school where two teachers encouraged his blossoming talent for writing. He cited the influence of his grandmother and his time in St. James, where he was exposed to diverse cross-cultural influences from both African and Indian traditions.

In the early 1980s, Godfrey tutored for the Prime Minister’s Best Village Trophy Competition, an initiative sponsored by the Ministry of Community Development to build cultural, environmental and sporting skills of people within the context of indigenous traditions in Trinidad and Tobago. His early work in theater was as an actor, first in various Fatima productions, and then he appeared with Helen Camps’ Tent Theatre in the early 80s. Sealy went on to work as an actor associated with All Theatre Productions. His first staged play was the co-authored review “Yes We Can” in 1983. The following year, he founded the Playhouse Company to stage the cult musical “The Rocky Horror Show,” which was followed in 1985 with his own musical, “Limin.’”

“One of Our Sons is Missing” was Sealy’s first publicly produced play in 1988. It was groundbreaking and quickly became part of a Caribbean-wide program of workshops on AIDS. It was the first play in Trinidad to deal openly with HIV/AIDS. When Sealy tested positive for HIV a year later, he refused to surrender. His work continued to include the theatre community, the arts, work with sex workers, female impersonators and the poor.

Sealy’s second play, “Roll Call,” won the best original play Cacique Award. Two years later, he staged a revival of his play “Home Sweet Home” at the Central Bank Auditorium in Port of Spain. The play made headlines when Sealy, lead actor Heathcliff West, Mavis John and the late John Isaac were arrested for using obscene language on stage. It became a test case when the police arrested the trio mid-performance, insisting on upholding an archaic colonial-era law. They were found guilty, but discharged in 1996. The National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago president Davlin Thomas later described the arrests as a “defining moment” in Sealy’s career.

Sealy became friends with Father Clyde Harvey, who was actively counseling at-risk gay youth. Father Harvey likened Sealy to a true prophet, saying Sealy’s message challenged and upset the status quo.

Sealy was widely respected as an artist and a man of great integrity. He served as President of the National Drama Association, and was involved in promoting the arts in Trinidad and Tobago. He became a voice for the poor and the gay community, fighting tirelessly for a better way of life for gays and lesbians by giving motivational speeches, lessons in etiquette and discipline, and calling for recognition of their rights. It was said that Sealy’s home in Woodbrook, affectionately known as “Bohemia,” was open to all who needed a friend. He requested assistance from the National Achievers Fund, administered through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, to help support his artistic and cultural efforts.

Sealy’s activism and openness came at a price. He left Trinidad in 2001, citing discrimination on the part of the government. His request for assistance from the National Achievers Fund had been turned down, he said, because of his medical condition. Social Development Minister Manohar Ramsaran said at the time, “A 36-year-old man dying of AIDS? How do I explain to the nation that this is someone who qualifies for the National Achievers Fund? He added that applicants had to be “above moral and other standards.”

Sealy first moved to Miami and said he would not return to home country. “Well, there’s nothing really for me to come back to,” he said in an interview at the time. “Right now, it’s a matter of life and death, and I’m choosing life.”

Opportunities opened up for him and he moved to London, where he produced theater, including a staging of “Jean and Dinah” and “Angel,” his play for two actors about a man’s encounter with a transvestite. It was later performed as a staged reading at Trinidad’s Little Carib Theatre in 2004. Sealy would later work in New York and return to London, where he lived for three years. He went back to Trinidad over his doctor’s objections. “Now I am paying the price for my patriotism,” he said.

Godfrey Sealy organized the first gay/lesbian chat room sessions where Trinidadians could come together in a “safe” environment to discuss their concerns and the way forward. Sealy attended AIDS conferences around the world and was well respected from Antigua to Amsterdam. He worked with the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) and the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) to promote healthy sexual choices within the gay community, and was a co-founder with Catherine Williams in setting up Community Action Resource (CARe), to assist the HIV positive, especially the homeless. Sealy also worked with Friends for Life, who assisted mainly gay men and lesbian women in their daily struggles with the disease.

Just before his death, Sealy received an honor from CARICOM for his courage in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But he was not well enough to go, so Father Harvey traveled to Guyana to accept the award on his behalf.

Godfrey Sealy lost his battle with AIDS on April 26, 2006, at Mercy Home Hospice in Woodbrook. Sealy was only 46, and died of complications from pneumonia. His sister, Ann Marie, said that he had been speaking up to the day before, and went very peacefully. A very moving tribute was created by Godfrey’s partner, Cyrus Sylvester, and can be viewed on YouTube.

At the time of his death, Sealy was working on a musical called “Paradise Garage,” geared toward youth with HIV. It was posthumously staged with the assistance of his sister, Ann Marie.

Father Harvey would remember Godfrey for his courage and his strong spirit. “He was both HIV positive and homosexual, and in living out the tensions of what that meant in our society, he became a figure both of tremendous admiration and also discrimination and stigma.”

We remember Godfrey Sealy for his immeasurable contributions to the arts and his advocacy for the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV/AIDS.