The life of lesbian leader Janet Weinberg, who died at 63 on September 1, was celebrated Sunday by her longtime partner and wife, State Appellate Division Justice Roz Richter, along with hundreds of her friends, co-workers, and comrades at the Educational Alliance on the Lower East Side. Weinberg served at the social services agency as executive vice president — her last post in a long life of leadership positions at non-profits including Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the LGBT Community Center.
Congressmember Jerry Nadler, the incoming chair of the US House Judiciary Committee, called Weinberg “fearless” and “a beacon for others.”
“She knew how to push public officials” in just the right way to advance LGBTQ rights and access to services, Nadler said, crediting her with having “saved the Center.”
Richard Burns, now the interim leader of Lambda Legal and the former longtime executive director at the Center, praised Weinberg for pressing to correct the Center’s “lack of wheelchair access,” recalling how she would corner political leaders on the issue “by blocking them with her wheelchair.” Burns said she played a central role in the creation of the New York City AIDS Memorial in the West Village adjacent to the former site of St. Vincent’s Hospital and in the development of a planned LGBTQ history museum.
Urvashi Vaid, who formerly led the National LGBTQ Task Force, talked about her more personal connection with Weinberg, standing with four other women who, with Weinberg and her, were part of a breast cancer support group they called “the Breasties.”
“We hated the color pink and loved saying ‘fuck cancer.’” Vaid said.
Judith Turkel, an attorney who served with Weinberg on the Center board, spoke on behalf of Weinberg’s many friends, and a letter was read from Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, where Weinberg had been a member since 1992.
Marjorie Hill, who served as executive director of GMHC while Weinberg worked there, praised her for her “unwavering compassion and determination” and recalled how Weinberg successfully pressed her to offer free HIV testing at the annual AIDS Walk that draws upwards of 40,000 people in spite of the logistical hurdles to doing so.
Rabbi Joanna Samuels, who leads the Manny Cantor Center at the Educational Alliance, said that Weinberg “had been living on borrowed time for a very long time” but made more out of that time than anyone she knew. She talked about how insistent Weinberg was that Samuels take care of herself by taking vacations.
Alan van Capelle, the CEO of the Educational Alliance who formerly headed up the Empire State Pride Agenda, paid tribute to what a great mentor and colleague Weinberg was. She always pushed him, van Capelle said, to make sure that despite his professional obligations and duties as a father, he continued to keep his sex life with his husband alive.