Terry Kennedy, Gay activist, dies in San Francisco
Terry Kennedy, Gay activist, dies in San Francisco
by Tom Flint - SGN Contributing Writer

Terry Kennedy, 53, passed away in San Francisco on Saturday, November 24, 2007. He died after a long, slow decline in health due to complications from AIDS.

Kennedy was a prominent and well-known Gay community activist in Seattle during the early 1990s, at the peak of the AIDS crisis and radical Queer activism. Kennedy was a member of ACT UP! Seattle and a founding member of Queer Nation. He also co-founded the Seattle chapter of the Irish Gay/Lesbian Organization, which organized the Gay contingent in the annual St Patricks Day parade.

In the mid-1990s, Kennedy moved to San Francisco where he became a familiar figure in the compassionate use medical marijuana movement and helped work for the passage of legislation to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes with a doctors prescription. He also established a number of medical marijuana pharmacies to provide marijuana to people with AIDS and other chronic or terminal illness.

Terry Kennedy came from a large Irish Catholic farming family in Indiana. He earned a masters degree in engineering before he decided to turn his back on his Midwestern background and sever all connections with his family and his past in Indiana. Terry rarely spoke of his Midwestern memories, which he seemed to regard with bitterness.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, his life became an odyssey of magic and mystery as he made his way toward the West Coast and landed in the Emerald City, as he referred to Seattle. In Seattle, Kennedy immediately became involved with the lively, radical Queer scene that was in full, screaming throttle at the time.

Terrys most unforgettable quality was his sense of humor and love of fun, turning every mundane event into a costume party, with Mardi Gras beads, glitter, and outrageous hats.

Angry, conflict-ridden ACT UP! demonstrations would turn into hilarious street theatre when Kennedy showed up dressed as the statue of Lady Liberty, accompanied by his best friend Wonder Woman (Jeffry Golden). During Queer Nation days in Seattle, Wonder Woman and Lady Liberty were an omnipresent tag team of superheroes and crime-fighters in the Gay community, often taking over press conferences and stealing the show from suit-and-tie community leaders.

Kennedy was a founding member of Queer Nation and a liaison between Queer Nation and the Seattle Police Department. During the first Queer Nation demonstration, hundreds of flamboyantly dressed Queers blocked Broadway on Capitol Hill and invited onlookers to join them in a huge Hokey Pokey Dance. Hilarity filled the streets as hundreds of shoppers poured into the streets following Terrys lead over the bullhorn: You put your whole self in! You take your whole self out! You put your whole self in! THEN YOU SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT!

He led the whole carnival parade to Volunteer park shouting over the bullhorn, Out of the streets! Into the bushes! and Were here! Were Queer! Were fabulous! Get used to it!

In his hospital bed recently, Terry chuckled while retelling the story. Oh! The cops were so mad at me! I had promised them that we wouldnt disrupt traffic, but what could I do?

Many of the whimsical ideas of Queer Nation appealed to Kennedy. He helped organize a Queer petting zoo at the Bellevue Mall so that eastside shoppers would have the opportunity to meet and pet some stereotypes such as bulldykes, lipstick lesbians, clones, disco bunnies, fags, and rough trade.

Kennedy especially loved the annual Easter Bonnet Contest and Halloween costume parties.

He organized a Queer welcome wagon in which busloads of Gays in drag went to the airport to greet arriving travelers at the gates, complete with a Queer kissing booth. Terry also organized several Nights Out, during which dozens of Queers in drag or costume would invade heterosexual-dominated spaces like Hooters restaurants or singles bars.

During the height of the AIDS crisis, Kennedy was a very active member of ACT UP! Seattle, and helped establish many of the AIDS prevention and service programs which are taken for granted today. Terry was involved with the many ACT UP! activities at the 1992 Republican Convention in Dallas. He was arrested for performing civil disobedience at the 1993 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. Kennedys commitment to AIDS activism was due to his personal loss of loved ones including his best friend Michael Davidson and his beloved Doug Rowe.

In 1995 Terry moved to San Francisco to help ACT UP! San Francisco and work for the initiatives to pass statewide initiative to legalize the use of medical marijuana through California. This initiative was successful and set the example for passage of similar initiatives in a dozen other states including Arizona, Washington and Alaska.

In the past ten years, Terry became a well known advocate for people with AIDS in San Francisco. He kept his whimsical, magical sense of humor to the very last. His apartment was a magic shop filled, floor to ceiling, with toys, costumes, Tiffany glass, curiosities, and orchids.
Memories of Terry Kennedy
One of my best memories of Terry Kennedy was working with him on the hard-fought, well-deserved victory against the Queer haters who were trying to gather enough signatures to get an anti-Gay initiative on the Washington State ballot. Terry and I were with Bigot Busters, and the group's goal was to urge people to refuse to sign the petitions distributed by the "No Special Rights" reactionaries. Immediately following the announcement that they had failed in their attempts to smash protections for Lesbians, Gays and Transgendered people, we pulled together a spontaneous victory march down Broadway and all around Capitol Hill. Terry came as the Statue of Liberty in a tastefully draped bed sheet, sea green crown and matching torch. His exuberance was absolutely unstoppable!

Chris Smith,
Freedom Socialist Party


I am sorry to hear of Terry's passing. Terry was the ultimate Queer Nationalist, Bigot Buster, and courageous heart for equality. In the critical battle against Lon Mabon's hateful initiatives, Terry co-created the training for Bigot Busters and was out there educating voters not to sign the petitions. When the police harassed two men kissing on 11th and Pike, Terry organized the Queer Nation kiss-in at the East Precinct Police Station. Terry was my photographer in my bid for election in 1997. He was always a kind and gentle soul, supportive, fun loving, with a keen sense of street theater. He will be sorely missed by all of us whose lives he touched.

Janice Van Cleve