Saturday, November 08, 2008

Philip Reed (1949-2008)

I first met Phil Reed nearly 20 years ago, when I first became an executive committee member of Manhattan's Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats. As I recall, his relationship with certain senior GLID members was often prickly; he was a district leader at the time, and his political priorities were often local. Not a few fuzzy-minded dilettantes withered under his blunt and irreverent style. He was more than willing to compromise the luxurious, often abstract principles of middle-class whites from the Village and Chelsea if it meant he could more readily meet the day-to-day needs of the residents of East Harlem, Manhattan Valley, and the "Upper Upper West Side," where he lived, on Central Park West and 103rd Street.

By 1992, the ground had shifted and a rapprochement of sorts existed. GLID honored him at that year's annual dinner; that's me presenting his award "for his commitment to health care issues and for promoting lesbian and gay political power in the Upper West Side." And six years later he returned the favor: he served as presenter when I received the 1998 Howard Schaetzle Award, named in memory of a mutual friend who was an unsung grassroots activist.

As "the first openly gay black member of the City Council," as well openly HIV-positive, Phil chalked up a lot of footnote firsts. But, like any friend, he was more to us than these categories, which he reluctantly resigned himself to for political purposes but resented all the same--"I'm openly male, too," he once said to me under his breath when he endured such descriptions at yet another event. And he was one of the funniest politicians I'd ever met; his caustic, catty, campy wit pretty much insured he would never be elected to a higher post. (Without directly naming him, I mentioned him in an anecdote I recalled last year about the difficulties black men faced simply hailing a cab in Manhattan.)

Since I "retired" from politics a few years ago, I hadn't seen him much, something I'll forever regret. He is and will be missed.