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David Thorstad

I am sad and shook by the untimely passing of David Thorstad, the controversial, radical, gay liberationist and avid gardener. Our three-plus years of email exchanges were intense—he often acted as if he knew everything and I knew less. One time he sent me an article in German. I replied that I don’t speak German, and he said, “I’m not surprised.” It was special. I learned a lot. In the end, he always supported me. David was the last President of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), which formed as an off-shoot of the 1969 pioneering gay liberation group, the Gay Liberation Front. In 1977, he co-founded the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. He co-wrote The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935). The first of its kind. It documented an unknown era. He consistently fought to limit oppression based on sexual preferences. In 1978, he co-founded the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). NAMBLA attempted to end the "extreme oppression of men and boys in mutually consensual relationships. On January 20, 2019, at 8:02 PM, I emailed him with a request for an interview. After I followed up five times, he replied, “You've written a couple of times with this request. I am not inclined to agree to your request because it comes without the slightest information about who you are, who you represent, what purpose an interview might have. A google search turns up nothing. I find this quite bizarre. Normally, someone who requests an interview identifies themself and provides some background. You have done neither. Therefore, in the absence of such, I say no to your request.” That was just the beginning of our online relationship. Somehow, 745 emails later, I feel connected to a man who polarized an entire community up to the last email newsletter he sent out three days before he died. Among other things, he commented, “The USA follows the pattern of the decline of the Roman Empire.”

I never think the elders in my life are going to die. Two weeks ago, after years of requests, he had finally agreed to give into my “relentless pleas” for an interview. He wrote to me twice to set up a time. I was back home with my family. I thought, what are the optics of a NAMBLA interview around my mother? I knew I was not prepared. He told me that the doctor made an off-hand comment that he “may not get off the operating table.” That aside, I felt assured he was going to be around another week because he ended the email saying that he “harvested all [of his] onions and shallots the other day, but now need[ed] to take in the garlic to cure.” So much I would, should, and could have asked—it would have been a great interview. He never did interviews. Sometimes people found him through my website and would reach out to me to get through him. This upset him. While I don’t agree with some of his politics, our exchanges have impacted how I see the world and myself. I guess we are both underdogs—lost in a time loop of yesterday if that day even existed. He was the last of the dying breed; fighters who never cared and cared even less the older they got. I hold the photos of his gardens dearly and respect his anti-this and anti-that attitude. He tried to take down the machine. Maybe, now, I will learn German.

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