Cheryl Spector (2009)

Cheryl Spector arrived in Washington in 1976. 
Photo © Patsy Lynch

“I couldn't even enjoy being a lesbian because I was so busy trying to learn what was going on ... Already in 85 I was getting so frustrated with the whole thing: that you never heard about it in the media, that the President wasn't talking about it, that the government wasn't doing anything, that no one was educating anyone, and that my friends were getting sick ... It was starting already, The fury, the pain, the anger was brewing."

Cheryl Spector came to Washington to attend George Washington University in 1976 and lived 31 years as a woman incredibly involved in this city and its gay community.  As some have said, Cheryl seemed to be everywhere.

No one's life, or death, was to be a waste if Cheryl could do anything to preserve the memories.  By the summer of 2007, her collection of slides, photos, and over 1,000 videos covered nearly every event of significance in more than two decades of community history: Pride celebrations, parades, drag shows, pageants, parties, dances, protests, marches, meetings, and speeches.  She covered not only Washington but also Baltimore.  It is a treasure house of people and events.  She saved as well the documents of every group in which she was involved.

From the early 1980s, Cheryl preserved memories of her friends, her community, and the history of that community's struggles and accomplishments.  Almost from the time that she came out as a lesbian in December 1982, six years after arriving in Washington, Cheryl collected images and documents.  She was at the first AIDS candlelight vigil in 1983, photographing slides that she turned into a slideshow with a script read by Dana Terrell and produced by John Szumigala.

She was gentle until her fury was stoked by injustice.  In the early 1980s she was a self described "bar bunny" in love with R & B music, working as a dj at The Phase and the Hung Jury, and hanging out at The Phase .  But her personal experience and the death of her brother and her friends sharpened her awareness of the growing AIDS crisis. Her impatience with indifference to AIDS is nearly legendary. 

In 1987, she contributed her skills in public relations to organizing the 1987 March on Washington.  After the March, Cheryl and friends from the committee desperately wanted to do something so they created OUT!, Oppression Under Target.  Within three years, Cheryl had been a member of OUT, ACT UP-DC, and Queer Nation.  At Tracks, where she was a regular, Cheryl and the other Safer Sex Sirens handed out safe sex kits at women’s night events.  In the early 1990s she joined the first local Lesbian Avenger group and helped organize the first Dyke March in 1993.

For such a public person, performance came naturally.  In the mid-1990s, she organized the first drag kings contest at the Hung Jury.  Late in the 1990s, she herself tried her hand at performing as a drag king.  When she joined DC's oldest social organization, the Academy of Washington, it was as a drag king, taking the name Dick Hurtz.

The memories of Cheryl go on and on and will undoubtedly become legends of a sort: her days at Tracks, her work for Roadwork and at Sisterfire, her advocacy of Arlington’s gays and lesbians, her ardent support of trans people and others she felt needed support and so much more.  The words of Holly Near's song A Gentle Angry People seem to have been written with Cheryl in mind.  Her hugs were large and enveloping.  Her enthusiasms were equally large, for people, for music, and for events.

Among her commitments, Cheryl was on the board of Rainbow History and the Max Robinson Center's Community Advisory Board.

Cheryl Spector has left us a legacy of memories: memories of Cheryl and memories of ourselves.