Remembering Eric Rofes
June 27, 2016
Today we pause, here at Woodhull, to remember Eric Rofes. Many people claim some memory of Eric and I am no different.
Here at Woodhull we know that had it not been for Eric’s passion, his vision, his beliefs, and his faith in the work of Woodhull, we would not be here today. Had it not been for the many, many hours Eric spent talking to me, for breakfasts in Philly, for endless conference calls…my vision for the future would only be half of what it is today, and the scope of our work would be lacking.
“There are many ways to contribute to social change, but there is a difference between grassroots organizing and writing a book. There is a difference between being an organizer and being a city councillor. I want to be a voice affirming the value and heroism of long-term commitment to democratic processes of community organizing. We may hate the endless meetings, be sick of licking envelopes, feel frustrated working across different identities and political visions, and be drained by community cannibalism, but we’ve got to continue doing the work…social change cannot happen without old-time grassroots organizing.” –Eric Rofes, Pittsburgh, Nov. 13, 1998, Second Annual Summit to Resist Attacks on Gay Men’s Sexual Civil Liberties, held in conjunction with Creating Change 1998
Today is the 10th Anniversary of Eric’s death.
Below is Eric’s biography with an extensive excerpt from his Reviving the Tribe, a reflection on the devastations of the AIDS epidemic and his determination to live and thrive in spite of that. (thanks to Sue Hyde for highlighting this)
… Awful things had happened. The men the music sparked me to remember were now dead, and the dreams I once had [were] mutilated beyond recognition. But I was alive and it was spring… and the music was wonderful, and the friendship inspiring. I felt myself entering my body and my life … It was then that spirit once again filled me, and the legacy available to all survivors of disasters—the return of the possibility of again living and thriving—came to me, like a wave of salty sea water washing wildly over me, giving me a moment to catch my breath, then rolling over me again…
We cannot bring the dead back to life. … Finding ways to regain mental health and perspective will be challenging, but gay men are not alone in these tasks. We are part of a large and increasing population of Americans who somehow manage to face the bizarre psychic deformations and powerful existential questions which arise in the wake of extreme events. We stand alongside political refugees from Eastern Europe, immigrants who have survived the Cultural Revolution in China or terrorism in Central America, combat veterans. …
Our plight is shared by abused children and battered women, as well as people who live their entire lives victimized by poverty, gang violence and drugs. We are not alone in our suffering.
…I hope to live my middle-age years with the ability to be present and engaged in a way I haven’t been able to be for most of the past decade. …When I enter old age, I hope to be able to speak to people about the worlds in which I’ve lived, and look back with a perspective that integrates anger and grief with appreciation and even humor.
…To see men embrace and love each other in response to neither loss nor terror revives my dreams from a life long ago. To watch masses of men dance together, celebrating raw life-giving powers of music and desire, forces me to acknowledge that the human spirit is not easily subdued. When once again two men can kiss hard on the mouth, as neither victims nor survivors nor captives, then peace and order will settle over the tribe and life will again move forward.
—Eric Rofes, Reviving the Tribe
Eric Rofes was born August 31, 1954 in Manhasset, New York. He graduated from Harvard College and got involved with gay activism in Boston in the 1970s. He joined the Gay Community News collective, started two early queer youth groups, and founded the 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 events and battered women’s shelters. In 1980, he was elected as a delegate to the White House Conference on the Family.
Eric, who once marched in the Boston Pride parade with a paper bag over his head, was fired from his sixth-grade teaching job after he came out as gay, but was soon hired by the progressive Fayerweather Street School in Cambridge. He founded Boston Area Gay and Lesbian Schoolworkers, the first local group for queer educators.
In 1985, Eric was hired as executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, which started some of the first HIV prevention and testing programs and created shelters for queer youth. He was co-chair of the Southern California No on LaRouche Committee, which defeated a statewide ballot initiative to quarantine people with AIDS.
In 1989, Eric was named director of San Francisco’s Shanti Project, which provided practical and emotional support and housing to people with AIDS. He was a member of the Los Angeles AIDS Commission and the San Francisco Ryan White Council, and once provoked controversy by testifying before the National AIDS Commission dressed in full leathers. Eric was a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and regularly attended and spoke at the group’s annual Creating Change conference.
In 1994, Eric began attending the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Education, where he earned his MA and PhD in Social and Cultural Studies. He played a key role in fostering a gay men’s health movement that focused on issues beyond HIV/AIDS. After the dissolution of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association, of which he was a member, Eric was a lead organizer of several national Gay Men’s Health Summits, beginning in Boulder in 1999, and the first Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender/Intersex Health Summit in 2002.
Since 1999, Eric split his time between San Francisco and Arcata in Northern California, where he was Associate Professor of Education at Humboldt State University, teaching courses in community organizing, the social foundations of education, and gay/lesbian issues in K-12 schools; prior to that, he taught at UC Berkeley and Bowdoin College in Maine. He was a member of the Pacific Sociological Association and the American Educational Research Association, and coordinated the annual North Coast Education Summit, focused on issues of education, democracy, and social justice.
Eric was among the most prominent critics of HIV prevention efforts that failed to account for the complexity of gay men’s desires. A proud member of the leather/fetish/SM and bear communities, he was a tireless advocate for sexual liberation.
He served on the advisory board of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which organizes around sexual freedom as a human right, and for more than a dozen years he coordinated a study group on sex and politics.
Eric and Crispin, partners for 16 years, were married at San Francisco City Hall on Valentine’s Day 2004. After his marriage — and 4000 others — were annulled by the California Supreme Court the following August, Rofes cofounded PerfectUnion.net.
Eric wrote or edited 12 books on a variety of topics, from The Kids Book on Divorce (1981) and The Kids Book on Death and Dying (1985), written with his students at the Fayerweather Street School, to A Radical Rethinking of Sexuality and Schooling: Status Quo or Status Queer (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).
Among his best-known works are Reviving the Tribe (Haworth, 1996) and Dry Bones Breathe (Haworth, 1998), about gay men’s responses to HIV/AIDS. With Sara Miles, he edited Opposite Sex: Gay Men on Lesbians, Lesbians on Gay Men (New York University Press, 1998). At the time of his death, he was completing a book on the gay men’s health movement, and working on a book about gay men in the 1970s.
www.erofes.com (NOTE – the website has been hacked)