Arnie Kantrowitz, a literature professor and author who was an early champion of gay rights and a tireless campaigner for fairer treatment of gays by the media, died January 21 in a Manhattan rehabilitation center. He was 81.
The cause was complications from Covid-19, said his life partner, Dr. Lawrence D.Mass.
The gay movement emerged in mid-1969 as a result of the uprising triggered by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, which led to the founding of the Gay Activists Alliance a few months later. Mr. Kantrowitz became the organization’s vice president in 1970, which was also the year he mastered his own homosexuality.
In 1985, he was a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (now known as GLAAD), which was formed to counter negative media coverage of the AIDS crisis.
His memoir, “Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay” (1977), exposed a wide audience to the difficulties he and his gay contemporaries faced in the 1950s and 1960s and recalled how he had confronted them – including two suicide attempts. The book also chronicles historical events in the movement, including what was called the first Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day Parade, which was held in New York City in 1969.
“He was a leader of the generation of activists in the immediate aftermath of the Stonewall uprising who risked their lives and livelihoods to promote gay liberation,” Andy Humm wrote on GayCityNews.com last month.
dr. Mass called Mr. Kantrowitz “a true sage and champion”.
Arnold Kantrowitz was born on November 26, 1940 in Newark. His mother, Jean (Zabarsky) Kantrowitz, was a real estate agent. His father, Morris, was a lawyer and salesman.
Arnold graduated from Weequahic High School and was accepted by Columbia and Princeton. But he later recalled that, being both gay and Jewish, he didn’t enroll in either school because he lacked confidence.
“I felt ‘different,'” he said in an interview with the Queer Newark Oral History Project in 2015. “I felt different than my parents wanted me to be.”
“My mother even took me to a doctor,” he added. “He didn’t think I was gay, he thought I was sensitive. And I was! Both!”
He graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with a bachelor’s degree in 1961 and a master’s degree in 1963 from New York University, both in English literature. He also completed his PhD preparation at NYU
His first teaching position was at the State University of New York at Cortland, from 1963 to 1965. He taught from 1965 until his retirement in 2006 at City University’s College of Staten Island, where he introduced one of the first gay college courses. In 1999 he was appointed chairman of the English department.
Mr. Kantrowitz was a leading supporter of Walt Whitman’s work and the author of a biography of Whitman that was published in 2005 as part of the “Gay and Lesbian Writers” series.
At one point, he shared a house at 186 Spring Street in lower Manhattan with two other gay rights leaders: James W. Owles, who died of AIDS in 1993 at age 46, and Dr. Bruce Voeller, who died in 1994 at age 59. age died of AIDS. .
Together with Dr. Mass, a physician and writer who was the founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Mr. Kantrowitz is survived by his brother, Barry.
Because he was present at the founding of the gay rights movement and outlived so many of its other founders, many of whom died of AIDS, Mr. Kantrowitz provides a longer perspective on the movement’s progress, and on the personal balance between patience and willpower. power needed to endure being gay in an unwelcome world.
He recalled in his Queer Newark interview that during his early days in the Gay Activists Alliance, he assumed same-sex marriage would be embraced by Americans immediately. A few years later he realized it would take much longer,
“And now that I look back, it took a moment, you know,” he said, “because if we look at the long historical view, how many years is it? Forty-six, 50 years, whatever? That’s a small amount of time considering the span of history.”
Likewise, he recalled gay students asking him about their sexuality while teaching, cautiously, but with a frankness that he had never felt comfortable with when he was a student.
“Students came to me with their secrets and, you know, I was as supportive as I could be,” said Mr. Kantrowitz, “and encouraged them by saying, ‘I survived and so did you.'”