Urvashi Vaid died from breast cancer at the age of 63. / "Gay Pride parade 1991, Madison, Wisconsin (03)" by James Steakley is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

2022 In Memoriam: Notable LGBTQ Community Leaders Lost

The LGBTQ community lost many members in 2022, including at least 35 people in incidents of hate violence against individual transgender people and against patrons of the Club Q bar in Colorado. Here are other memorable losses for the community in 2022:


Urvashi Vaid

One of the LGBTQ movement’s most longstanding and beloved leaders, Urvashi Vaid died May 14 in Manhattan from breast cancer. She was 63.

Many prominent mainstream news publications memorialized Vaid’s decades of activism, including the New York Times, the New Yorker, and National Public Radio. As the New Yorker tribute by staff writer Masha Gessen stated, Vaid “wasn’t the head of all the gays, but only because that job does not exist.”

Vaid started her activism in Boston, working with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and the then Gay Community News. She moved to Washington, D.C., to take a job as an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project. By 1986, she was public information spokesperson for the then National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. In 1989, when she was just 30, she was elected executive director of the organization. She led the group through some crucial years, pressing the federal government to do more to fund efforts to combat a growing AIDS epidemic and pushing the community itself to be more inclusive of women, people of color, and other minority causes.

Vaid left the Task Force in 1992 but continued to contribute a prominent voice, ideas, and organizing to advance the movement: writing books (most notably Virtual Equality in 1996); serving as executive director of the Arcus Foundation, a global funder of LGBTQ social justice; and helping found numerous other groups seeking to advance equality for LGBTQ people.

Vaid lived in Provincetown and Manhattan with her partner of 34 years, pioneering lesbian comedian Kate Clinton.


Former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe

 As the New York Times obituary put it, former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) “for a decade was the only openly gay Republican in Congress.” He died of a stroke December 3 at the age of 80.

Kolbe served 12 years in Congress before publicly acknowledging he was gay, in 1996. The acknowledgement came only after he was the target of an outing campaign over his vote for the anti-LGBTQ Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). When he did come out, Kolbe said, “That I am a gay person has never affected the way that I legislate.” And he emphasized that being gay was not a “defining” aspect of his identity. Log Cabin Republicans called Kolbe a “strong ally” and a “pioneer for all LGBT conservatives.”

Kolbe, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, is survived by his spouse of 18 years, Hector Alfonso. They made their home in Tucson. According to the Arizona Daily Star, Kolbe disassociated himself with the Republican Party in 2020, saying then President Trump had polarized the country and was “not capable” of doing the job of president.


Dawn Smith

There are thousands of people, LGBTQ and straight, who have saved and enriched the lives of people struggling with HIV infection. Very few get much attention or thanks for work that often is conducted in quiet labs and obscure offices. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, POZ magazine, and PrEP4All took notice of one of those unheralded champions in October, when Dr. Dawn Smith died.

Smith, 72, had worked on HIV-related programs for decades, as an epidemiologist, medical officer, and researcher in CDC’s Division of HIV Prevention. During the past decade, she became “one of the nation’s leading analysts of and advocates for expanding access to and use of PrEP,” according to an HIV.gov article. Before her death, Smith had been part of the CDC’s multinational response to the Mpox virus, which initially was cropping up among men who have sex with men.

“Dawn was really at the forefront of working to eliminate HIV-related health disparities and ensure equity in our response to HIV,” said Timothy Harrison, the HIV policy office of the Department of Health and Human Services. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, called Smith “a warrior for social justice whose weapons were science and public health.”

Smith was married for six years to Harvard economist Gregory Dahl. She is survived by two children.


Joe Tom Easley

Joe Tom Easley devoted much of his life to improving the lives of LGBTQ people through efforts that were also more behind the scenes but nevertheless garnered notice through New York Times and Washington Post news obituaries. Easley died in Miami February 13 from complications of lung disease. He was 81.

A Navy veteran of the Vietnam War who was dismissed for being gay, Easley focused many of his efforts on overturning the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned gays from the military. An attorney and law professor, he co-chaired the board of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a preeminent national group that spearheaded countless legal challenges to protect the rights of LGBTQ people. And he served in top leadership roles in numerous other LGBTQ organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Easley lived in New York and Florida with his spouse of 39 years, journalist Peter Freiberg. Their wedding notice was one of the first same-sex marriage notices published by the New York Times.


Abigail Kawananakoa

Very few people knew she was gay until five years ago when she married a woman, but Abigail Kawānanakoa was well known to Hawaiians as the “last princess” of Hawaiian royalty. Her death December 11 at the age of 96 drew many headlines in her native state and in the New York Times.

On her mother’s side of the family, Kawananakoa was the eldest granddaughter of David Kawananakoa, a nephew of Hawaiian Queen Kapai’olani. The Hawaiian Kingdom was abolished in 1893, so the designation as “princess” was largely honorific. Nevertheless, the governor ordered the state and U.S. flags to fly at half-mast “to honor the late Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa….” And just before her death, the Iolani Palace, the restored home of past Hawaiian royalty, thanked Kawananakoa for a recent donation, saying she had been the palace’s largest benefactor.

On her father’s side, Abigail Kawananakoa was heiress to a sugarcane estate whose assets have grown to be worth more than $300 million.

According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, Abigail Kawananakoa had a “storied” life, including a brief engagement to a star polo player. She never married a man but, 21 years ago, began a relationship with a woman, her secretary Veronica Worth. Worth took Kawanankoa’s last name when the two women married in 2017.

The Hawaii LGBT Legacy Foundation awarded Abigail Kawananakoa its Vision Without Limits Award in 2015.