In Memoriam: Leslie Feinberg, 1949-2014

Transgender pioneer and global icon, Leslie Feinberg died at home with the love of her life, Minnie Bruce Pratt, in Syracuse, NY, on Nov. 15. Feinberg had endured a long illness with multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, but the author, in her signature wit, attributed her catastrophic health crisis to “bigotry, prejudice and lack of science.”

During her 65 years, Feinberg profoundly influenced the national and international movement for Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) liberation, particularly through her groundbreaking novel Stone Butch Blues. Released in 1993, it sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and was translated into seven languages, including Chinese and Hebrew, with royalties donated to ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women (www.aswatgroup.org/en).

“Feinberg was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of ‘transgender liberation,’ and her work impacted popular culture, academic research, and political organizing,” Pratt wrote in the Nov. 17 Advocate. A poet and professor, she was Feinberg’s spouse of 22 years.

An anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, revolutionary communist, Feinberg was a proud member for many years of the NWU and Pride at Work, an AFL-CIO constituency group. A member of Workers World Party (WWP), which she discovered at a demonstration for Palestinian self-determination in the early 1970s, Feinberg participated in hundreds of anti-war, pro-labor, anti-racist and pro-choice demonstrations. One of her last protests was in defense of CeCe McDonald, a transwoman sentenced to jail in 2012 for defending herself against a bigoted attacker.

Feinberg began writing in 1974 as a WWP journalist, editing the political prisoner page for 15 years and becoming a managing editor in 1995. She wrote two nonfiction books, Transgender Warriors: Making History and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, as well as a second novel, Drag King Dreams. From 2004-2008, her 120-part WWP series, Lavender & Red, explored the links between socialism and LGBTQ history. The book, Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba, was excerpted from that series.

Leslie was my comrade and my role model in being an up-front communist. From some obituaries I’ve read, it’s obvious that she educated, inspired and dared many progressive people to see commonalities among oppressions, and to be bold in fighting for social justice and economic equality. Pratt said that Feinberg’s last words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

Leslie Feinberg, live like her!

Susan E. Davis, an NWU member since 1987, is the author of four nonfiction books and a self-published novel; she’s NWU’s National Contract Advisor and co-chair of the Book Division.

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