By Kate Kendell, special to the Desert Sun
I was shocked when I heard the news last year of the vicious attack on local LGBTQ legend George Zander and his husband, Chris, as they left a Palm Springs gay bar on Nov. 1. I was rocked again six weeks later when I heard George had died at (for George) the youthful age of 71. His passing stunned the Coachella Valley and, in particular the LGBT community, but George’s wide impact and his legacy will reverberate for years to come.
As I visit Palm Springs this weekend for Pride festivities, George is top of mind. I am honored to have been chosen as the inaugural recipient of the George Zander Social Justice Award by Greater Palm Springs Pride. I will be participating in the Pride parade on Sunday with George in my heart.
I first met George in the early 2000s, but I came to really know him in 2008 during our fight to defeat Proposition 8. We lost, and it felt like an insurmountable setback. But less than seven years later we won the freedom to marry nationwide. I could not have predicted this turn of events, but George could. He knew the arc of the moral universe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so famously imagined was real and that it did bend toward justice.
Over the many times I saw George – on Palm Canyon Drive as I, Geoff Kors and others took in VillageFest and ran into George staffing the Equality California booth, or at Geoff’s campaign headquarters when he was running for Palm Springs City Council, or at Center Stage, the gala for Center in the Desert – he was indefatigable and radiated joy and passion. He was THE person to assure you that no matter what, things would be all right. He believed in the innate goodness in all of us and had faith in our world and humanity.
Losing anyone with this sort of power and verve is a blow. A year later, the grief and sadness linger. George would have none of this. He would comfort us with a bear hug and say, “OK, now let’s get back to work!”
So, that’s what we’ll do. We know we still live in a country where far too many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) kids suffer, rejected by family, bullied, and made to feel wrong or dangerous. As long as this is the case for even one LGBT person, George would remind us our work is not done. The attack on George and Chris, allegedly over their sexual orientation, is the grimmest reminder of how much more we must do.
We honor George by continuing to work and fight for full justice, security and support for every LGBTQ person, especially those most under attack: our trans brothers and sisters, LGBT folks of color and those who are poor or live in rural parts of the country. But we also honor George by bringing to this work his joy, sparkle and passion. It wasn’t just about winning battles for George, it was about creating space for others to be their best selves, for opening hearts, changing minds and bending that arc.
Trust us George, we will never forget you and your legacy is secure.
Kate Kendell is executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Email her at KKendell@NCLRights.org.