Vernita Gray, a known advocate for LGBT rights, died on Tuesday at her home in Edgewater, Chicago, after succumbing to breast cancer. Gray had been battling cancer since 1996, and had several recurrences through the years. She was 65.
Gray is known for being half of Illinois’ first same-sex couple to exchange marriage vows when she married Patricia Ewert in November last year. A federal judge hastened the couple’s marriage license because of Gray’s condition.
As a result, additional court rulings expedited same-sex marriage in Illinois ahead of the planned June 1, 2014 implementation.
“She changed the world. She made it a better place,” said Ewert. “She was always happy, always positive.”
Gray was also a leading advocate for LGBT rights since the late 60’s. She came out after Woodstock in 1969, after learning of the Stonewall riots. Soon, she organized a gay and lesbian hotline at her home, and support groups for youth who were rejected by their families. The phone rang so much that she would leave her apartment just to get peace of mind.
Gray and Ewert met on an all-women’s cruise during Pride Month in 2009. They were engaged in the same year. The couple wed at their Chicago home on November 27 and had their honeymoon in Ixtapa, Mexico.
The couple received a congratulatory letter from President Obama, saying, “A love like yours is truly something to treasure.”
“Vernita Gray was an inspiration to all who crossed her path, from President Obama who knew her by name to the victims of violence she comforted and the young people for whom she was a fierce advocate,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
A memorial service is being planned. According to family, donations should be made to Affinity Community Services, Broadway Youth Center at Howard Brown, or Center on Halsted.
Vernita Gray Speaks At Illinois Marriage Equality March
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