Bil Browning

Pioneering Gay Rights Activist Ruth Simpson Dies at 82

Filed By Bil Browning | May 12, 2008 5:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: Daughters of Bilitis, From the Closet to the Courts, gay activists, lesbian activists, LGBT activists, New York, obituary, Ruth Simpson

Ruth Simpson, author and gay rights activist since ruth.jpgthe 1960's, died May 8 in Woodstock, New York. After several years of, as she said, "sampling an assortment of illnesses on the palette of old age," she finally succumbed to her breathing difficulties at the age of 82.

Ruth is the daughter of Ethel and Edward Simpson, two prominent leaders of the early labor union in Cleveland, Ohio. A veteran of rallies and strike violence by the age of 12, she earned her place in GLBT history by heading the New York chapter of Daughters of Bilitis, founding the country's first lesbian community center and facing down the New York policemen who tried to close it.

She authored From the Closet to the Courts, a first-hand account of lesbian life and activism as it relates to family, the courts, law enforcement, psychiatry, and the workplace that was heralded in reviews as "the most mature, honest and courageous description...of what it means to be a lesbian."

Simpson and her life partner of 37 years, Ellen Povill, moved from NYC to Woodstock, NY in 1976. There, she served on the Woodstock Library Board for more than 25 years, 10 as Board President. She has produced her very popular weekly local access political talk show "Minority Report" since 1982, and was also active in town politics. Ruth died shortly after midnight on May 8, 2008.

The funeral service will be held on Friday, May 16th at 2:00pm at the Lasher Funeral Home at 100 Tinker Street in Woodstock, NY, followed by a reception at the Woodstock Public Library at 5 Library Lane.


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Bil, I'm so glad you posted this. From what I understand, Ruth was great and fiery up until the last days of her life. I happened -- completely randomly -- to live with her nephew when I was in DC. He's also gay. He was helping her over the last few years republish From the Closet to the Courts. It's been out of print for some time. I'm not sure where the process is now, but if folks are interested in the text they can contact Scott Simpson at scottwsimp@gmail.com.