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Janet Weinberg, Leader in Health, Social Services, Dies at 63

At Community Center, GMHC, longtime activist among pioneers who built LGBTQ New York

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The death of Janet Weinberg, a longtime lesbian activist who held senior positions at the Educational Alliance, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center, has drawn tributes from LGBTQ community leaders nationwide.

Weinberg, 63, died suddenly on September 1 and is survived by her longtime partner and wife of seven years, Roz Richter, an associate justice on the New York State Appellate Division’s First Department bench in Manhattan.

During the past four years, Weinberg served as the executive vice president for programs and operations at the Educational Alliance, a non-profit group that works with 50,000 residents of the Lower East Side and the East Village to provide services to strengthen families.

In a written statement, the group said, “Over the course of her life, Janet dedicated herself to improving the lives of others through her work in the fields of healthcare and social services. All who interacted with her knew the depth of her talent, kindness, and generosity… Her expertise, strength of character, and friendship will be truly missed by her colleagues.”

Alan van Capelle, the group’s CEO, in a Facebook post, wrote, “The world has lost an incredible woman and the LGBT community has lost a fierce advocate. Many of us have lost a friend, a second mother, a sister, and mentor. It was a blessing that she was all of these things to me.”

Joe Tarver, the vice president of operations at the group, wrote, “I met Janet in the early 2000s when we both worked in LGBT organizations and I soon realized what a leader she was in the movement. I would see her at rallies, fundraisers, lobby days in Albany, and many other venues critical to the community’s quest for equality and justice. She was always upbeat and positive no matter the situation or circumstance. Such a rare character trait.”

Prior to her tenure at the Educational Alliance, Weinberg served for nearly a decade at GMHC, first as the group’s senior managing director of development and legislative funding and later as its chief operating officer. Weinberg secured the group’s first-ever federal appropriation to support its efforts to address crystal meth use among its clients. The total federal funding for that effort over time amounted to $1.8 million.

GMHC credits her with dramatically expanding its mental health and substance abuse programs, an effort that culminated in 2017 with the group opening a dedicated clinic to address those needs.

Kelsey Louie, GMHC’s CEO, in a written statement, said, “Janet’s legacy of compassionate stewardship and strategic planning helped make GMHC what it is today: an agency on the forefront of our collective work to end the AIDS epidemic.”

Prior to joining GMHC in 2005, Weinberg for many years was the development director at the LGBT Community Center.

The Center, in a written statement, said, “The Center Board of Directors and staff — past and present — join countless others in mourning the unexpected passing of Board alum and former staff member Janet Weinberg. Janet’s ferocity of kindness and human spirit, fierce activism, and unwavering commitment to justice led the way for many of us. Janet’s leadership has left a lasting impact on our Center and our lives, and her presence will be deeply missed.”

Carmen Vazquez, who worked with Weinberg for many years at the Center, wrote on Facebook, “Janet was a friend and mentor and fellow conspirator in my early life at the LGBT Community Center. Nothing of what I was able to accomplish at the Center would have been possible without her. She was funny and wise and suffered no fools. Her embrace of me was a blessing I needed.”

Weinberg, who was raised in New Jersey and graduated from the City University of New York, began her career as an occupational therapist, a role in which she oversaw the work of more than 1,000 other therapists.

In 2012, at the age of 57, Weinberg was diagnosed with breast cancer, an experience about which she wrote for a publication from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she received treatment. Writing that her cancer was caught early, she said, “I got through the experience,” adding, “I honestly feel like I’m one of the luckiest people I know.”

Weinberg also recalled what she learned from becoming a fierce breast cancer screening advocate.

“When I was diagnosed, I went on a one-woman crusade to make sure that every single person I knew was going for her mammogram,” she wrote. “I can’t begin to tell you the stories I heard. From my friend who is a physician, I heard, ‘I’m too busy.’ This physician happens to work in a hospital. I said to her, ‘Excuse me? Now tell me why you’re really not going.’ Once we broke it down, she wasn’t going because she really didn’t like the experience. When we broke it down further, it wasn’t about the machine that’s very horrible; it was about the experience of exposing yourself. I heard that story from a lot of LGBT people. They don’t go to regular doctor appointments. They don’t go for regular mammograms. It’s just an uncomfortable experience to come out to doctors every time.”

The staff at Sloan Kettering, Weinberg reported, “did pretty well with” Richter being on hand for her treatments, “but other patients and some volunteers did not.” Though she gave Sloan Kettering good marks for her care there, she said, “I want hospitals to think about where there might be opportunities to improve their sensitivity toward LGBT people, to break down barriers that discourage people from taking care of their health.”

Among the many roles Weinberg played in the LGBTQ community, she was a board member of the NYC AIDS Memorial, which sits opposite the former site of St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village, where so many early AIDS patients got care and also died. Longtime AIDS activist Eric Sawyer, who served with her on that board, wrote on Facebook, “Janet was always giving of her service, leadership, and of herself. She will be missed by so many from our community.”

Gabriel Blau, a co-founder of Equality New York, knew Weinberg from her support of the Stonewall Community Foundation and their common membership in Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. Of his relationship with her, Blau wrote, “One of the things I most appreciated about Janet (mostly) was her brutal honesty, and her willingness to push you. Her style was a common topic among those of us who were lucky enough to get her support. She would say, ‘It wouldn’t be fair of me to not be hard on you.’ And so she was. And she would remind you of your promises, check that you’d stuck to a plan.”

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers whose wife is CBST Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, wrote, “I loved my conversations with Janet. I looked forward to them; I always learned from them… and felt such support from her.”

Urvashi Vaid, a lesbian leader for decades whose many leadership positions included the helm at the National LGBTQ Task Force, wrote simply of Weinberg, “The kindest, most thoughtful, smart, loving of friends.”

Weinberg’s family asked for privacy for a period of mourning. According to GMHC, a celebration of her life will take place later this fall.

Updated 12:09 am, September 13, 2018
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