I just learned that longtime Black lesbian activist and Executive Director of Griot Circle, Regina Shavers, died of cancer yesterday.
Regina was another elder, like Bob Kohler, who I met when I was doing work as an adult ally with FIERCE! around 2001. If you are familiar with FIERCE!’s video “Fenced Out” Regina talks alot about what it was like to be a black lesbian in NYC in the 1950/60’s. My favorite quote from her in that film, when asked by members what women would do if accosted by homophobes in the street she responded, “We kicked their fuckin ass!”
I was supposed to interview Regina for a book I am co-editing called “A New Queer Agenda” on issues of aging as a Black lesbian, but she has been really sick and we weren’t able to connect in December as planned. I am deeply sorry we weren’t able to complete this project, but there are many ways her work and legacy live on.
She wrote a piece for Colorlines in 2005 that is well worth reading, and here’s some of that narrative:
“I grew up in Brooklyn. When I was in high school in the 1950s, I always knew I was a lesbian. I can’t tell you when I first knew; I’ve always known. In high school, I met other lesbians. When we talked about being gay around other people, we always talked in code. African-American code is “one of the children,” like “so and so is one of the children,” or we’d say a person was “in the life.” Of course, you have to realize, too, in those days that just wearing pants signified that you were gay or crazy. If you did anything that was out of the gender norm, everybody was aware of it immediately.
I was a gender bender. I wanted to wear pants. But my mother wanted a daughter who had little tea parties. I used to wear pinafores and Shirley Temple curls and little Mary Jane shoes. That’s what my mother wanted, so any time I deviated from that she had a fit; nobody could understand it. One time I bought a pair of jeans, and I wore them home so she wouldn’t make me take them back.
I used to hang out at the gay clubs in New York’s West Village. At the bars, there certainly were older [lesbians], but I didn’t think about older people. We had a fine life–and by that I mean we knew people in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens. You could go to two or three dances in one night. One of the things about being so closeted is that we were in a special club. And the special club had its own life.”
There’s a short biography you can also read of her from Google Books from the book The Many Faces of Gay: Activists Who Are Changing the Nation.
Also, a blog called The Butch Caucus has already posted a memorial to Regina. Here’s a bio that Queers for Economic Justice, the organization for which I serve as Board Co-chair sent out about Regina:
REGINA SHAVERS founded the GRIOT Circle, “an intergenerational and culturally diverse community-based social service organization responsive to the realities of older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, two-spirit and transgender people (LGBTST) of all colors.”
Regina Shavers had a long history of community involvement and activism.
As co-chair of District Council 37 she advocates for workers’ rights, and serves on the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Lesbian and Gay Rights Advisory Board. She played an active role in the Campaign for and Inclusive Family Policy, the citywide coalition that negotiated with Mayor David N. Dinkins to obtain Domestic Partner benefits for
New York City employees.
She also helped to found Pride At Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO that focuses on the rights and unionization of LGBT workers.
Regina was also the former Assistant Director of the NYC Department of Health’s HIV Training Institute. Here, she created and implemented curricula for HIV prevention and treatment, including curricula specifically tailored towards older populations. Regina continued with her HIV/AIDS facilitation as a member of the New York Association on HIV Over Fifty (NYAHOF).
In 1995, Regina co-founded GRIOT Circle to combat the lack of community that she had observed amongst LGBT Elders, particularly those of color. She assumed the role of Executive Director of GRIOT in 2000.
Regina Shavers founded the GRIOT Circle as “an intergenerational and culturally diverse community-based social service organization responsive to the realities of older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, two-spirit and transgender people (LGBTST) of all colors.” The goal of GRIOT Circle is to maintain a safe space for elders, provide emotional support and quality programming which affirms
age, gender, racial, spiritual and ethnic origins for the over 50 LGBTST community in Brooklyn. GRIOT Circle provides educational and informational forums, referrals to social service providers, health and fitness programs, spiritual wellness, computer training, a friendly visitors program and social outreach. Volunteer members make reassurance telephone calls and visits to homebound, sick or hospitalized persons.
UPDATE: In honor of Regina V. Shavers there will be a Celebration of Life Service on Saturday, February 2nd, 2008. Services to be held at:
Liberation In Truth Unity Fellowship Church
608 Broad Street, @ Trinity & St. Philips Cathedral
Newark, New Jersey 07102 (PATH Train to Newark–Church is about a 7 min walk from Newark Penn Station).
Viewing will be from 11 AM until 12:30.
Celebration service will follow from 12:30 to 2 PM
Immediately there after the family invites you to join them in a repass to be held at 24 Rector Street.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in the name of Regina Shavers to one of the following organizations;
Lavender Light, The Black and People of all Colors Lesbian and Gay Gospel Choir
70 –A Greenwich Street #315
New York, New York 10011
Griot Circle, Inc.
25 Flatbush Avenue, 5th floor
Brooklyn, New York 11217-1101
Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church
P.O. Box 200434
Riverfront Plaza Station
Newark, New Jersey 07102