For many gay men of a certain age, the late Mark Thompson was a mentor, a role model and a spiritual leader. Well known in the leather and Radical Faerie communities, he served for many years as an editor of The Advocate, the country's first national gay news magazine, and authored a number of books on LGBT issues and history. A longtime HIV survivor, he died last month at age 63.
"Mark Thompson's writing changed my life," May told us. "30 years ago, I read his book Gay Spirit—the combination of gay spirituality, politics and art spoke to me. It gave me the confidence to realize that I could be a person interested in all three of these things and be gay."
Thompson, who first became active in the gay rights movement while studying journalism at SF State, initially joined The Advocate in 1975. In the following decades, his prolific output painted a rich portrait of gay life in the post-Stonewall era. In addition to Gay Spirit, his books included The Fire in the Moonlight: Stories From the Radical Faeries, Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People Politics and Practice, Gay Soul: Finding The Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature.
He also authored Long Road to Freedom, a history of the early days of the gay rights movement that incorporated much of the reporting he did for the Advocate.
"He had a sense of his place in history," Healey said. "He came out during the 1970s, and as an editor at The Advocate, he knew that he was a part of something that was growing."
Healey had a long friendship with Thompson. "Mark loved my writing and my poetry," he said. "He was a mentor—I felt like he was an older brother. He gave me encouragement, and that meant a lot."
According to Healey, Thompson worked for decades to make people from all walks of life feel welcome in the gay community. "He was a principled person and a mentor to people. He was a true activist, a true Faerie and a true leatherman. There was nothing false about him ... He made everyone feel like his best friend."
In addition to tomorrow night's reading, Healey is hopeful that the GLBT History Museum will find a way to honor Thompson's legacy. May noted that Thompson had photographed many important historical figures in the queer community, and that perhaps some of them could become a part of the museum's collection.
"You don't want young people to go through what we did," Healey said, referring to the days when LGBT people faced legal discrimination and police harassment. "But we want them to know."
Thompson "urged young queer artists to share their work—he always had a sense of passing on his knowledge as an elder," Healey said. "He wanted to bridge the generations, and he shared in words the experience of it. If you don't write about it, it's forgotten."