Lunch with Randy Forrester

You can choose any person from history to teach you any topic you want. Who’s your teacher, and what do they teach you?

Lately, I’ve been reading some LGBTQ memoir type books – learning about our history from the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s through the eyes of Sean Strub (“Body Counts“) and Kelly Cogswell (“Eating Fire My Life as a Lesbian Avenger“) as well as through recent movies and documentaries. For good and for bad, with all of their flaws, they have educated me about important chapters and controversies in our history.

What’s less clear to me is the decades prior, especially the late 1960’s and the 1970’s. Obviously, the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots has me curious, but I’m also intrigued by the local media coverage of the gay community which seemed to be more liberal in the 1970s than in the 80s and onward. And I must admit that the new Queer History Project has me quite excited.

I’m no historian so I’m not setting out document anything other than my impressions. My choice for person(s) from history would be to simply have a conversation with those who witnessed LGBTQ history as it unfolded in the 1970’s.

I would pick Randy Forrester who passed in 2008 at the age of 60.

Simply googling Randy has taught me quite a bit, but I’m a little shocked that there’s no Wikipedia entry for him. There’s no entry on WikiQueer. There’s a lot of tributes from national LGBTQ media from his death, but that’s not exactly the same thing as honoring his legacy.

Do you know about the Western Pennsylvania Mattachine? It was the first LGBTQ rights group in Pittsburgh. Randy founded it.

And by legacy, I mean telling his story. His true legacy is embodied in the thriving Persad Center which he co-founded in 1972, the second oldest LGBTQ mental health center in the nation. But his story, his experiences, his fearlessness is something unmatched in contemporary Pittsburgh. We have no visionaries with the charisma and intelligence seizing the day and AND sharing the spotlight.

It isn’t solely about honoring the legacy and accomplishments of a great man. It is about learning from him and using his wisdom to tackle the challenges we face today. That’s the missed opportunity.

On a related note, I’m fortunate enough to be in touch with Sean Strub who has PA ties. I’d love to bring him to Pittsburgh to talk about his work challenging  HIV criminalization and his book. If you are interested in that too, drop me a line.

Randy Forrester
Randy Forrester Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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