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Gay activist Robert Coggin dies at 62

Robert Coggin, gay news, obituary, Washington Blade

Robertg Coggin (Submitted obituary photo)

Robert Mitchell Coggin, a longtime D.C.-area resident who played a key role in helping to pass a gay rights law in Montgomery County, Md., in 1984, died Jan. 19 from complications associated with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy. He was 62.

His friends Tanner Wray and Karl Debus-Lopez said Coggin became active in gay rights activities in 1972 when he co-founded the first gay student group, the Gay Student Union, at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1976.

Wray and Debus-Lopez said Coggin became the founder of the Suburban Maryland Lesbian and Gay Alliance in Montgomery County in 1982 after becoming a resident of the county.

“He was a leader in the fight to have Montgomery County, Md., pass a non-discrimination law that includes gays and lesbians in 1984,” the two said. “Over the years, Robert continued to be active with numerous gay and lesbian rights groups in their efforts to move forward on civil rights legislation.”

Coggin, who lived in Silver Spring, Md., was born in Danville, Va. He worked for many years for the National Institutes of Health in Maryland as an administrative assistant, Wray and Debus-Lopez said.

“During his time at NIH, Robert received many awards for his outstanding performance,” the two said. “Despite the fact that he had a chronic and degenerative illness, Robert’s outlook on life was always positive,” they said. “He enjoyed movies, theater, dinners out with friends, and he was a pioneering crusader in the fight for gay rights in the mid-Atlantic region.”

Through his estate, Coggin made arrangements to establish a scholarship fund for LGBT students at the University of Virginia, according to Wray and Debus-Lopez.

He is predeceased by his parents, Belva Mitchell Coggin and Henry Ernest Coggin, and a brother, William Henry Coggin. He is survived by numerous cousins and friends, including Debus-Lopez and Wray and his former partner Don Crisostomo.

A memorial service is being planned for the near future. Donations can be made to the University of Virginia Fund of Charlottesville, Va., under the name Robert Coggin, and to the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Tucson, Ariz.


Businessman, philanthropist Bob Alfandre dies at 86

Robert "Bob" Alfondre, Dionne Warwick, AIDS, Whitman-Walker Clinic, gay news, Washington Blade

Robert “Bob” Alfondre, pictured here with Dionne Warwick at a Whitman-Walker event in 1988, was a prominent D.C.-area homebuilder and donor to AIDS-related causes. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Robert “Bob” Alfandre, a prominent D.C.-area homebuilder and philanthropist who contributed to LGBT rights and AIDS-related causes, died June 12 in his home in Washington following a long battle with cancer. He was 87.

Alfandre is credited with working in collaboration with his brother to transform a modest construction company they inherited from their father into a major homebuilding enterprise.

During the post-World War II economic boom, his Aldre Construction Company built thousands of single-family homes and apartments in the Washington suburbs, according to biographical information from his family and from the Rainbow History Project, a D.C. LGBT group that interviewed Alfandre in 2012.

“Bob used his wealth to become a major philanthropist for the LGBT community,” the Rainbow History Project says in its 2012 write-up of Alfandre’s contribution to LGBT and AIDS-related causes.

Biographical information from his family released through the Joseph Gawler funeral home in Northwest Washington, where a visitation will be held Friday, June 20, says Alfandre’s philanthropic endeavors included generous support for D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Clinic during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and early 1990s.

He also supported the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was an active member of the French Heritage Society, the Cosmos Club, and the Washington Club, and was a Knight of the American Order of St. John, information released from the family says.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who served as executive director of Whitman-Walker Clinic in the 1980s and early 1990s, said Alfandre became an active supporter of the clinic following the death of his partner, Carroll Sledz, to AIDS in the early 1980s.

“He was a very substantial contributor and a great source of support for me and others in the early years,” Graham said. “You couldn’t overstate the significance of what he did.”

The Rainbow History Project’s biography of Alfandre says he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved to Washington, D.C. with his family in 1935 at the age of 8. He attended Anacostia High School, served in World War II, and graduated from Swarthmore College with financial help from the G.I. Bill, the Rainbow History Project bio says.

It says Alfandre worked briefly for the CIA after finishing college.

“He left the spy agency during the early days of the McCarthyite witch hunts, convinced that his life as a gay man would make career advancement impossible,” the Rainbow History Project bio says. “Instead he focused on the modest construction company he inherited from his father, Joe Alfandre. With his brother, he became a major participant in D.C.’s postwar economic boom.”

The Rainbow History Project bio, which is based on interviews with Alfandre, says Alfandre – like many gay men of his generation – married a woman and had a family, raising two daughters, one of whom runs the family business. When he met Carroll Sledz and the two fell in love, he and his wife divorced but remained friends, the bio says. It says that in recent years he and his former wife, Priscilla Alfandre, remarried.

Rev. Jerry Anderson, an Episcopal priest, said he met Alfandre in the 1980s through All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in D.C., where Alfandre was a parishioner and Anderson served as director of the D.C. group Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS. He said he and Alfandre became friends and kept in touch after Anderson moved to Miami and later to Los Angeles.

“He was a wonderful human being,” said Anderson. “He was one of those gay men who responded immediately and wholeheartedly to the AIDS epidemic. He was a very generous, passionate advocate for the AIDS cause.”

Anderson and Rev. Beddington, current pastor of All Souls Episcopal Church, said Alfandre had a wry sense of humor and became admired for lifting up the spirits of his friends and associates, including people with AIDS.

Anderson said Alfandre often hosted fundraisers and social gatherings at his home in D.C.’s Kalarama section and often invited AIDS patients. He said he has especially fond memories of a party Alfandre hosted for residents of the Carroll Sledz House, a Whitman-Walker facility that Alfandre initiated and funded in honor of his late partner.

“In spite of the fact that it was an AIDS party, everyone was having a great time,” said Anderson. “And Bob was at the center of the party. He always made life fun.”

Added Anderson: “I have two memories or two associations for Bob. One is he took the epidemic very seriously and got seriously engaged and was very generous as a contributor to the cause. But he also wanted us to have fun in spite of it all. Those are the two images of Bob Alfandre that I have.”

Alfandre is survived by his wife, Priscilla; daughters Dominique Palmer and Nicole Alfandre Halbreiner; four grandchildren; his brother Jack Alfandre; and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews and many friends.

A visitation was scheduled for Friday, June 20, from 6-8 p.m. at Joseph Gawler’s, 5130 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.

A funeral service was scheduled for Saturday, June 21, at 11 a.m., at All Souls Episcopal Church, 2300 Cathedral Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.


Joseph F. Vivalo, Jr. dies at 53

Joe Vivalo, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr. in 1987.

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr., 53, a former resident of Washington and Arlington who was active in political and AIDS charity fundraising and events management, died in Key West, Fla., on Feb. 5.

His death was from suicide, according to Terry Michael, with whom Vivalo shared an apartment on Capitol Hill in 1986-87 and again in 1992-93. Vivalo, who was gay, worked as a waiter at Mr. Henry’s restaurant, Michael said, after moving to the District from Portland, Ore., in July 1986. Living in New York from 1988-92, he returned to Washington in November 1992, where he resided again on Capitol Hill and later in the Logan Circle area, before settling in Arlington. At the time of his death, Vivalo had been living and working at a guesthouse in Key West.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Vivalo was a director of the Pallotta TeamWorks AIDS Ride in Washington in the late 1990s and was director of the Whitman-Walker Health AIDS Walk in 2000, when he also produced a fundraising concert for Whitman-Walker at the Kennedy Center, featuring singer Patti LaBelle. He worked in several AIDS walks in Manhattan in the late 1980s.

Specializing in arts and entertainment fundraising, Vivalo was fundraising director for former U.S. Rep. and 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, in her unsuccessful race for the U.S. Senate in New York in 1992. He had served in the Mondale-Ferraro presidential campaign in Portland, Ore., in 1984, as a young field worker. He worked on the Clinton-Gore Inaugural Committee in Washington in 1992. And he was on the facilities management staff of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. in 2012. For a time, he ran a bike restoration business in Arlington.

Born Dec. 30, 1960 in Youngstown, Vivalo was a son of the late Joseph Vivalo and Marie Ann “Dolly” Vivalo, who survives, along with siblings Debbie, Jeff, John, Katie, Jacqueline, Michael and Kimberly. He is also survived by friends in the Washington area, including Walter Quetsch of Capitol Hill, at whose Fire Island cottage Vivalo was a frequent guest during the past two decades, and Washington attorney Jim Prunty, whom Vivalo met during his years in Portland.

Vivalo attended Ohio University, where he earned a degree in political communication. He was an active swimmer in high school and college. He had a passion for dance music and was a friend of the late San Francisco disco icon Sylvester James, “who visited Joe at our apartment on Capitol Hill in late 1987,” Michael said, noting that “Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and ‘You Are My Friend’ tracks became Joe’s signature songs.”

A memorial service for Vivalo was held in Youngstown Feb. 8.


Trans activist Roberta Gills dies at 63

Roberta Gills, gay news, Washington Blade

Roberta Gills, an active member of the D.C. Trans Coalition, died June 7 after a battle with cancer. (Photo by Shannon Wyss)

Roberta “Bobbie” Gills, a longtime advocate for transgender equality and an active member of the D.C. Trans Coalition, died June 7 following a battle with cancer. She was 63.

A statement released by D.C. Trans Coalition organizer Jason Terry says Gills was born in D.C. and lived most of her life in Arlington, Va.

“Bobbie was a tireless advocate for human rights,” Terry said. “She joined the D.C. Trans Coalition in 2009 and she quickly sparked conversations that ultimately led to the successful passage of the Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Act last year [by the D.C. City Council].”

Gills became a leader in D.C.’s Trans Needs Assessment Project and represented DCTC at a number of events,” Terry said.

According to Terry, Gills worked for many years in the parts department at a car dealership in Arlington before she was fired after she came out as transgender.

“Undaunted, she increased her activist efforts, enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and also began working with the Kiwanis Club,” Terry said. She served from 2012 to 2013 as co-chair of the Capital Trans Pride celebration. She later graduated from NOVA with honors, according to a write-up released by family members.

“She was one of the most generous people I knew,” said DCTC organizer Shannon Wyss. “Cancer has claimed another wonderful person, someone who found her truth, lived it despite its costs and because of its triumphs, and advocated so that others could be as true to themselves as she,” Wyss said.

Gills is survived by her mother, Clara S. Gills; her brother, George W. Gills; sister-in-law, Thu Nyugen; and sisters Suzanne J. Macinnis and Janet G. Kimble along with many cousins, aunts and friends.

A funeral service was held June 12 at Murphy’s Funeral Home in Arlington. Interment took place at Mount Comfort Cemetery in Alexandria, Va.

Family members suggest that donations in her honor be made to the D.C. Trans Coalition or the Northern Virginia Community College Education Fund.


Green Lantern owner dies in Florida

Greg Zehnacker, Green Lantern, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Greg Zehnacker, 55, was the principal owner of the D.C. gay bar Green Lantern since 2001. (Photo courtesy of Green Lantern)

Greg Zehnacker, 55, the principal owner of the D.C. gay bar Green Lantern since 2001 and a popular figure in the D.C. LGBT community for more than 30 years, died Feb. 18 while on vacation near Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“It is with overwhelming sadness that we share with you the death of Green Lantern’s beloved owner, Greg Zehnacker,” a statement released by the bar says. “It appears that he died peacefully in his sleep,” the statement says.

The statement, which was posted on the Green Lantern Facebook page, says Zehnacker was a fixture in the D.C.-area LGBT community since the 1980s, when he worked in several gay bars, including the Lost and Found, Pier 9, Rascals and Peppers.

“He was a supporter of D.C.’s many gay clubs and organizations, and routinely provided space at Green Lantern for charity events and meetings, including, among others, the D.C. Center’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Working Group, the Centaurs MC [motorcycle club], and the Washington Scandals Rugby Club,” the statement says.

“Greg loved bringing together people from all walks of life and ensuring they had a good time under the Green Lantern’s roof,” according to the statement. “In that spirit, and as a way of honoring Greg, we will be open during this difficult time and encourage all to come in, raise a glass to Greg, and share your favorite memories of our friend and colleague.”

Derrick Jones, the Green Lantern’s social media director, said Zehnacker was also involved in past years in real estate endeavors. Jones said Zehnacker was born and raised in the D.C. area.

Joel Weinstein, co-owner of the D.C. gay bar Fireplace, said he and his brother and business partner Steve Weinstein along with another partner first opened the Green Lantern in the early 1990s. He said he and his partners closed the bar around 1995 or 1996 due to, among other things, their opening and operating other gay bars in D.C. and Pennsylvania.

He said he was pleased to learn several years later that someone had opened a new gay bar in the same building and called it the Green Lantern. Although he didn’t know Zehnacker, Weinstein said he wished the new owner well in his effort to bring the establishment back to life.

The Green Lantern’s statement says further details regarding memorials and tributes to Zehnacker would be announced soon.

Zehnacker is survived by his partner, Tom Tarantino, who, along with Zehnacker, has lived in D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood; his parents, Raymond and Charlotte Zehnacker; and his brother Mike Zehnacker and sister-in-law Carol.


OBITUARY: Sir James Merchant, 77

The late James Merchant. (Submitted photo)

The late James Merchant. (Submitted photo)

James “Jay” Melvin Merchant died on June 25 due to heart failure, at George Washington University Hospital. He was an international relations advisor at the Department of Health & Human Services.

Merchant was born on September 4, 1936 in Saluda, S.C. He held a bachelor of science degree in business administration from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree in health care administration from the Virginia Commonwealth University, Medical College of Virginia, in Richmond, Va., which was awarded with honors.

Merchant served as an international health care advisor at HHS and was the principal liaison between HHS and the international community through its embassies based in Washington. Merchant was widely regarded as an expert on the U.S. health care system and the Medicare Program in particular.  Foreign officials often came to him to help them understand the complex American health care system, and for advice on how to improve the health care programs in their own countries.

Merchant was very proud of the fact that he became “Sir” Jay in April, 2013 when he was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands into the “House of Orange” for his service to the Netherlands.

He was an active member of the board of B’nai B’rith Homecrest House in Silver Spring, Md., and the Washington Home & Community Hospices.

Merchant is survived by three sisters: Joyce Porth, Mary Merchant and Johnnie Hakim all of Columbia, S.C., as well as friend Wayne Russell of Crossville, Tenn., and his partner of 10 years Gerry Woods of Washington.

A memorial service will be held at National Presbyterian Church (4101 Nebraska Ave., N.W.) on July 26 at 1 p.m.



Mary Tuckey Requa dies at 65

Mary Tuckey Requa, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Mary Tuckey Requa, 65.

Mary Tuckey Requa died Dec. 16, 2013 at her home, according to her cousin, Susan McMillan. She succumbed to rectal cancer at the age of 65 and had been a Phelps, Wis., resident.

Originally of Lake Forest, Ill., Requa (who always went by “Tuckey,” her middle name) attended Marjorie Webster Junior College in Washington and continued to reside in Maryland for 34 years. In the 1970s, she worked for VIVA (Voices in Vital America) and for the Close-Up Foundation, which brings high school students to D.C. to learn about democracy.

For 20 years, Requa worked in theater administration, for Harlequin Dinner Theatre and NETworks, a theatrical production company that produces national tours of Broadway shows. She specialized in box office management as well as becoming an IT specialist. Requa, a lesbian, regularly sang and played guitar in Friday night cabarets at the theaters.

Requa was proficient in Spanish and in American Sign Language. She performed as a “voice actor” in musical theater productions at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf at Gallaudet University in Washington, serving as the singing voice for deaf actors who performed the roles using ASL. She was a great slow pitch softball player and played for the Montgomery County Gold Diggers women’s team from 1982-‘90.

She also enjoyed singing and playing guitar. She was an original member of the D.C. Area Feminist Chorus. One of her proudest moments was the chorus’s performance with Margie Adam at the “On the Road for Women’s Rights” concert in 1980. Tuckey performed both as a soloist and with friends at D.C.-area restaurants and clubs and at events, including at the Other Side, D.C. Pride, and at D.C. landmark club Mr. Henry’s. She also performed at fundraisers for several organizations, including a women’s shelter, My Sister’s Place. Requa performed on Judy Reagan’s 1982 album “Old Friends.” She sang with the Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington and the Not What You Think a cappella ensemble for many years, and also played with the band, the Tom Boys. She loved nothing more than singing harmonies with friends. Requa loved her many guitars and treasured one originally owned by Steve Goodman whom she had opened for in Chicago in the ‘70s.

In 2005, Requa left D.C. to return to the Northwoods where her family had spent summers for more than a century. Requa moved to Phelps, Wis., and became the computer technician for the Phelps School District. She designed websites for local businesses through her Nakapaglaja Web Design. From 2005-2011, she co-hosted a local afternoon music show on public radio called “Your Favorites,” with her father Charley. She was the vice-chair of the WXPR board of directors. She was devoted to the town and volunteered countless hours for the Long Lake of Phelps Lake Association and the Phelps Chamber of Commerce. Requa was also an avid darts and horseshoe competitor.

She is survived by a large extended family and many friends.

Memorials can be sent to Patrick Requa (22486 West Illinois Route 173, Antioch, IL 60002). Initially, to be used to establish an osprey nest on Long Lake, a second memorial with the Phelps School District will also be created. A service and celebration of a great life will be held on July 27 at Hazen’s Inn, Phelps, Wis.


Longtime D.C. resident Eric Lease dies at 66


Miles "Eric" Lease (submitted photo)

Miles “Eric” Lease (submitted photo)

Miles “Eric” Lease, a home improvement contractor and well-known figure in the D.C. gay community since the late 1960s, died June 27 at his home in Northwest Washington. He was 66.

His longtime friend Stephen Crowley said friends weren’t sure about the exact cause of death but he believes it was related to a heart ailment.

Lease was born and raised in Ford City, Pa., where he graduated from Ford City High School and attended Kutztown University in nearby rural Pennsylvania. Crowley said Lease moved to Atlantic City, N.J., in the late 1960s and lived there for a short period of time before moving to D.C.

“Eric was a successful and talented general contractor, who was very well-known in Washington, D.C.,” according to information released by his family through the Welch Funeral Home in Pennsylvania.

“Eric was an avid traveler, having extensively traveled a lot in Europe,” the family write-up says. “Eric enjoyed collecting antiques and camping, and was an animal lover. He was the proud owner of two dogs and three cats.”

Crowley said he and Lease became a couple in 1968 when he met Lease at a party in Washington shortly after Lease moved to D.C. Although the relationship ended several years later, the two remained close friends for the past 46 years, Crowley said.

“Eric was known to just about everybody who went to the gay bars and who were part of Washington’s longtime gay community,” Crowley said. “He was very visible and he was probably the nicest person anybody ever met.”

In his work as a contractor, Lease established a large clientele in a home renovation business that he owned and operated in the D.C. area, Crowley said. Crowley said Lease was especially proud of the renovation work he did on his own home on Iowa Avenue just off of 14th Street, N.W.

At various times Lease worked in collaboration with organizers of antique shows, providing carpentry and structural space in which the antiques were displayed, Crowley said.

“He was really good at what he did,” said Crowley.

Lease is survived by his mother, Marian Artman Lease of Ford City; his sister, Marjorie Guthrie of Kittanning, Pa.; his niece, Jennifer McKelvey of Stephens City, Va.; and a great-nephew Gavin McKelvey.

A private funeral service was held in Pennsylvania.


BREAKING: Fred “God hates f*gs” Phelps is dead

Phelps showed the US that anti-gay hate is real. IMHO, America is about to lose its most effective gay advocate


Activist Elliott Brager dies at 72

Attorney Elliott A. Brager died in his Mount Washington home on July 7 from heart failure at the age of 72.

He was known in Baltimore as a fundraising giant as he aggressively sold tickets to numerous fall fundraisers and spring bunches during the 1980s on behalf of the then- Gay and Lesbian Center of Baltimore.  He also founded the Baltimore chapter of GAMMA — Gay and Married Men’s Association — a support group that met at the community center.

In addition, Brager was an activist in the fight against AIDS as he lost many friends from the disease during the 1980s. He worked with organizers of an annual charity, Lifesongs for AIDS, to raise money for medical research. He also advocated for the Chase Brexton Health Center and AIDS Action Baltimore.

He is survived by a brother, a son and a daughter and friends.