Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My first encounters with Aleta were through her and Jean's groundbreaking "Fenceberry" clippings distribution in the mid-90s. This was at a time when there were few online gay and lesbian news sites, nor was there the idea of a “blog.” It was still the dawn of the Internet Age, and Aleta and Jean were right
there - doing it all from their home in Sioux City. The scope was amazing for the time: They were informing a nation of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people and straights about the goings-on in big cities and small towns across the country regarding GLBT rights, sending dozens of clippings a day to the email boxes of an ever-growing list of us throughout the United States and around the globe.

It was exactly the type of activism that several Silicon Valley gay organizers had predicted would occur when I'd interviewed them for my book Queer in America just a few years earlier, in 1992. Now it was all happening, and Aleta and Jean were at the forefront. I remember one day just receiving their clips, having been added to their list - and then communicating with Aleta and Jean thereafter quite a bit, sometimes laughing together at various news items and other times being horrified at the news and needing to vent! I so admired them, true heroes of the movement, showing how anyone can make a difference right from his or her living room. For me, as a journalist and author, Fenceberry became invaluable. I often wondered if Aleta and Jean realized just how influential and how important their work was becoming, particularly since so many other communicators like myself became reliant on them as we took the message farther and wider.

I'd hoped I could one day meet them and then my wish came true: They were brought to New York by Out Magazine, after having been put on the Out 100 list in 1996. It was a ceremony to honor their and other pioneers' work. Aleta was so warm to me, just as she'd always been on email - except now I could see and feel that huge smile on her face! I know that the trip -- and the honors -- were nothing she expected or even wished for, because for her the reward was simply in putting out those clips and maybe inspiring or cheering up a young lesbian or an older gay man somewhere. Still, the trip was a way for her to finally meet the faces behind the names and to make a personal connection. Aleta was so full of love for the GLBT community that I couldn't help but think it was something that would stay with her forever. She will often be in my thoughts, and I know she will be remembered as an activist and friend to countless other people across the world.

Michelangelo Signorile
New York, New York


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