Bruce Friedman made American history come alive every week with his lively seminars at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors. But his voice is now forever stilled; Friedman, one of Queens’ most prolific LGBT activist, died on Monday after a long battle with leukemia.
“He was such a light here,” said the center director, Chynna Pitlock, who in the four years she worked with Friedman always looked forward to seeing Friedman buzzing around the center and putting smiles on people’s faces.
Despite his illness, in addition to teaching his wildly popular weekly American history seminars at the center, he also worked tirelessly to organize social events, raise money, address general concerns and recruit new members.
Pitlock spent the entire night after receiving news of Friedman’s passing calling members to let them know personally.
“Their friends become their family,” said Pitlock about the LGBT community. “That was a big part of the center because it was his family.”
Friedman’s history of working to serve others dates back to the ’70s when he became very involved in the LGBT synagogue of New York, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) where he was introduced to members by a college friend. He was elected in 1976 to the board of trustees and served on the board for 14 years after being re-elected seven times. He built many lifelong friendships at CBST.
Friedman was also a former president of the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens and served in an elected position at the clubs since the late 1990s.
“Bruce’s leadership of the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens was pioneering,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, who founded the club 25 years ago in order to give the LGBT community a voice in the Queens political sphere. Dromm faced discrimination as an openly gay teacher before being inspired to enter the world of politics.
Friedman worked to better the lives of the LGBT community in an era when homophobia was still rampant and doing anything in the LGBT community was a statement, and one that could potentially lead to negative consequences.
“In 1980, going to a [pride] parade meant you could be fired,” said Larry Menzie, who worked as a executive vice president under Friedman at the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club. “There was risk associated with that and he was willing to take those risks.”
According to Menzie, when Friedman moved to Queens in 1984 he was interested in not only working for LGBT rights but working toward solving issues in the Queens community as a whole. He was always willing to speak up and always willing to speak out but willing to hear other people’s views.
He was interested in Queens issues and in showing how the LGBT communities’ issues affected the borough as a whole.
“His strength and spirit will be sorely missed by LGBT and non-LGBT people alike,” said Dromm.
Funeral arrangements have not yet announced, but the center will be holding a memorial service for Friedman on Oct. 2.