Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager

The pioneering and longtime advocate Leslie Feinberg, best known for the groundbreaking 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues, died November 15 from complications of a decades-long fight against a tick-borne illness.

Feinberg’s influence was vast -- including significant work advancing understanding of transgender, lesbian and gender-expansive identities. Feinberg (who used both she/her and zie/hir) also fought to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in its earliest years and organized around class issues in the United States. She/zie influenced a generation of LGBTQ people, including some who went on to become activists themselves.

“Reading Stone Butch Blues changed my life,” recalled HRC Foundation Children, Youth and Families Program Director Ellen Kahn. “The way I understand my own gender, my privilege, and the my shared experience with other people who are on the margins of what we consider traditional and mainstream. The novel inspired in me a deep empathy for Leslie and other LGBTQ people who lived through such brutality, and gratitude for their strength and determination in making life better for my generation."

HRC Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program Director of Latino/a and Catholic Initiatives Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera was particularly influenced by Feinberg’s work, remembering the advocate as “an uncompromising trans activist who stood tall in the face of societal, personal and political challenges.”

“Personally I met Leslie when I was a budding activist, still in my teens,” Meléndez Rivera recalled. “Leslie was a mentor both politically and as a young butch. Leslie walked me through what it meant to be masculine-of-center, yet woman-identified. She saw in me a maturing lesbian and validated who I was. Many talk about knowing Feinberg through books, speeches and long time commitment to political work and specifically to all things justice and solidarity. I can honestly say Feinberg’s legacy and hard work still drive my work today.”

Feinberg wrote extensively and identified as an “anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist.” She/zie also campaigned for organized labor and abortion access, among other issues.

According to loved ones, Leslie Feinberg’s final words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.” And we will remember Leslie as such – but also as revolutionary when it came to issues of gender, race, class, sexuality and identity.

HRC extends our sincerest condolences to Feinberg’s spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt, family and loved ones. 

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