Obituary: Randal G. Forrester / Eloquent, tireless advocate for gay, lesbian rights

Dec. 13, 1947 - April 23, 2008


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Randal G. "Randy" Forrester was 16 when he came out as a gay man to his parents, and likewise was open about his sexuality with his friends and classmates.

That was in 1963, when society's attitudes about homosexuality were in the Stone Age compared to today, and it illustrated Mr. Forrester's honesty and bravery.

Those attributes, along with intelligence, passion and a sense of humor, would serve him well over the next four decades as he worked tirelessly as a pioneering crusader for the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community as well as for women, black people and other minorities.

Mr. Forrester, 60, died Wednesday in Forbes Hospice, where he had been treated for 10 days. He died of cell carcinoid cancer of the liver.

He was first diagnosed with a tumor 26 years ago, but, amazingly, only in the last year did it present him with serious health problems, said Jim Huggins, Mr. Forrester's life partner of 37 years.

Mr. Huggins, who co-founded the Persad Center with Mr. Forrester in 1972, said he was a visionary who affected innumerable people through his activism and the way he lived his own life.

"Randy was at the forefront of most changes in the sense he was a person who kept pushing the envelope, getting people to look at what gay people and lesbians are really about and not to look at the stereotypical images," said Mr. Huggins, who with Mr. Forrester lived on a houseboat docked at Fox Chapel Yacht Club.

"People are people, human beings are human beings and our 37 years of an incredibly loving relationship is certainly testament to that."

"He was incredibly always ahead of his time, a visionary," said Betty Hill, executive director of the Persad Center, the nation's second-oldest licensed counseling center specifically created to serve the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. "I think he arguably is this region's most influential gay rights figure. I can't think of anyone else who has done more for the gay community and the HIV community."

Dr. Tony Silvestre of the Pitt Men's Study, the long-standing AIDS research project that Mr. Forrester helped launch, noted that Mr. Forrester's pioneering work for gay rights was courageous, occurring as it did at a time that was "risky and dangerous. People were still being attacked on the street, activists were receiving threats.

"Driven by his vision, driven by the need he saw ... he stepped out loudly and never quieted down for his whole career. I think it took incredible courage, incredible determination and great compassion. I have no doubt he has had a profound, positive effect on thousands of people if not tens of thousands of people. He was a true hero."

Mr. Forrester was No. 53 in Pittsburgh Magazine's list of the 100 most influential Pittsburghers of the 20th century.

A North Hills native, he studied psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and music at Duquesne University.

From 1972 until 2001 he was executive director of the Persad Center, after which he served as a consultant for Persad and other nonprofit groups.

He served as president and vice president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of AIDS Service Organizations; was a board member of the Southwestern Pennsylvania AIDS Planning Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union; and assisted in the creation of the Governor's Council for Sexual Minorities.

He chaired the city's Commission on Human Relations from 1991 to 1994, was on the community advisory board for WQED/WQEX-TV, and founded the Lambda Foundation, a fund-raising organization for the regional lesbian/gay community.

A Democratic committeeman from 1990 to 1993, he ran for Allegheny County commissioner in the 1979 Democratic primary. He lost the election but succeeded in using his candidacy to illustrate the need to include in the political process the views of sexual minorities, women, blacks and others who often were disenfranchised, Mr. Huggins said.

"After he ran, there was a lot more awareness on the part of politicians," Mr. Huggins said.

"Randy was such a character, just a very bold and interesting personality," said Ms. Hill. "That just added to the way he was able to get people to listen, to challenge systems, to challenge discrimination."

"He was a very intelligent, very witty, very kind and loving person," said Mr. Huggins. "He made friends easily. He was a perfect spokesman because he was so bright and articulate and knew what he was talking about."

Mr. Huggins said he and his partner loved to travel -- they visited Egypt and England twice as well as Greece, Italy and Thailand, among other countries -- and to play with their Labrador retrievers, Willie and Joey.

Even in death, Mr. Forrester gave to others, donating his body to science.

A celebration of Mr. Forrester's life will be held May 4 at 2 p.m. at The Priory on the North Side.


Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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