Community hit hard by loss of David Rosenblum

The LGBT community continues to grapple with the sudden death of a local leader last week.

David Rosenblum, the director of Mazzoni Center’s legal-services department, died May 2, two days after suffering a heart attack.

A memorial is expected to be held later this month.

Rosenblum, 47, helmed Mazzoni’s legal unit since August 2011. He was also an adjunct professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law in its sexual orientation and gender-identity law program.

Prior to joining the Mazzoni team, Rosenblum served as the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer in New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. He also served as the state’s deputy attorney general and as a trial attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He was co-founder and co-chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Committee on the Legal Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men. He sat on the board of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia from 1994-2002, chairing the board from 1995-98.

Rosenblum chaired the National LGBT Bar Association’s Lavender Law conference when it was in Philly in 2002 and was a co-founder of its career fair.

Association executive director D’Arcy Kemnitz said Rosenblum’s leadership in launching the career fair “led to countless young LGBT legal professionals finding their calling and their careers in our profession.”

Kemnitz called Rosenblum “a true champion of LGBT equality and opportunity.”

Mike Viola, a member of Mazzoni’s legal advisory board and one of his fellow PBA LGBT committee members, said Rosenblum was the “institutional memory” of a number of community entities due to his longstanding involvement here and in New Jersey, where he lived with his husband, Stephan Stoeckl.

“David’s always been very active and involved, on both sides of the river,” Viola said. “He was such a source of information and always the person people went to when they had a question about the law.”

“David was such an integral part of the LGBT legal community for so long,” added Temple law professor and Mazzoni legal advisory board member Lee Carpenter. Rosenblum was a founding board member of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, which became Equality Pennsylvania, whose legal department was transferred to Mazzoni Center.

“He actually started the entity that became the Mazzoni legal department that he ultimately ran,” Carpenter said.

Mazzoni Center executive director Nurit Shein said she was impressed by Rosenblum’s authenticity, and his experience, when he interviewed for the position.

“I thought, This guy is so at ease in his own skin. He knows Philadelphia, he knows the people in Philadelphia and he knows legal issues. He didn’t try to impress us and just said, ‘This is who I am. You’re going to get the flamboyance with the heart and the knowledge.’ And that was so true,” she said. “You’d think he could just burst into song at any given moment, into song and dance, yet when he talked about legal issues there was a level of professional knowledge and expertise that was totally amazing.”

Shein said his skill for networking made him a natural fit.

“We needed to build the consciousness of the legal community and David was the perfect, perfect person to do that,” she said.

“David’s strength was bringing people together,” said Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney at American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, noting he knew how to communicate effectively. “He was good at sorting out what matters, what doesn’t matter and bringing people together to work on things in a way that changed people’s lives.”

At Mazzoni, Rosenblum oversaw staff attorney Barrett Marshall, as well as a team of interns, fellows and pro-bono attorneys — numbering up to 20 people. “There was very little he wasn’t responsible for. He was the one with the larger vision, and our resident expert,” Marshall said. “I never felt like I was being supervised because I felt supported by him at all times.”

Marshall said Rosenblum was responsible for a number of groundbreaking legal filings, including a recent case with the EEOC on behalf of a transgender woman.

“He was doing the really cutting-edge discrimination work, filing cases that were the first of their kind in the district and the state,” Marshall said.

He also spearheaded Mazzoni Center’s advocacy for a number of ongoing LGBT-rights issues in the state.

In 2012, Rosenblum co-authored a letter to the state secretary on the controversial voter-ID legislation, prompting the state to drop gender markers on its voter ID cards, the first time Pennsylvania issued ID without gender signifiers. Also that year, Rosenblum was involved in submitting a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the eviction of the local Boy Scouts chapter because of its discriminatory policies.

He recently helped organize and lead a training on transgender issues for judicial employees. Another training was scheduled for this week but has been postponed because of Rosenblum’s passing.

Marshall said Rosenblum took every opportunity to raise awareness about LGBT issues, and Mazzoni’s work.

“He moved through the world educating people — and not just the students we work with or our volunteers, but other professionals he came into contact with,” Marshall said. “It meant a lot to him that he got [EEOC commissioner] Chai Feldblum to speak [at Mazzoni’s recent Justice in Action fundraiser]. He made this place visible to attorneys and to so many people who were impressed with his work. Some of that recognition was something he was accustomed to because he was so accomplished, but he brought Mazzoni’s legal department into his own glow.”

Rosenblum was a panelist at a community forum the day after last summer’s seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. Viola attended the oral arguments in the Windsor case with Rosenblum.

“It was something where we knew we were witnessing history,” Viola said.

Rosenblum himself got married last year in New York to Stoeckl. The pair, residents of Collingswood, N.J., were joined in a civil union in the Garden State in 2005.

“We had a big event in Collingswood and rented out the Collingswood Ballroom. We had over 100 people,” Stoeckl said. “We had the rings and the flower girls and the four-string quartet playing and the big wedding cake. It was important to him to say, ‘This is the new normal. This is what we want to portray. We’re a couple like any couple.’”

They were joined on the ballroom’s stage, a tribute to their first meeting in 2000 as members of theater troupe The Savoy Company.

Rosenblum was a choir member at the time and Stoeckl worked on set construction; they struck up a friendship as board members and began dating a year later.

Theater was one of his primary passions.

“He was such a theater queen,” Stoeckl said. “He could quote practically any Sondheim musical from front to finish and back again. He had this huge repertoire of lyrics and would passionately read all about Broadway and read biographies of Gilbert and Sullivan. It was just a large part of how he wanted to interact with people and what he found interesting.”

Rosenblum, who was adopted and grew up in King of Prussia, discovered musical theater as a child. He was in Upper Merion High School’s production of “Oliver!” and went on to serve as musical director for productions at Brandeis University and with Villanova University School of Law’s Court Jesters.

Stoeckl said what drew Rosenblum to the theater also inspired his professional work.

“He was kind of an outsider as a kid and that’s in part why theater was important to him; it gave him a safe haven in high school. So he had a really deep compassion for outsiders and people who were excluded from mainstream or not respected. The respect thing was huge for him,” Stoeckl said. “What drove his work was he wanted people to be respected, to have a seat at the table, and to help get folks their due, regardless of where they came from or who they are.”

That passion for connecting with people permeated his work, Marshall said.

“I’ve never known someone who could make others at ease with so much grace,” Marshall said. “He really was able to make people feel comfortable. He was so, so smart but he never felt inaccessible to people.”

Viola agreed, noting Rosenblum’s rich sense of humor was always present.

“He was never pretentious, always quick with a joke,” Viola said. “He was both knowledgeable and funny. He made people feel comfortable being who they are because he was comfortable with himself.”

“He did everything with a joy that you don’t experience in many people, certainly not in every lawyer,” Carpenter added.

That joy followed him home from the office, Stoeckl said.

While on a weight-loss regimen, Rosenblum’s preferred exercise was playing “Dance, Dance Revolution.”

He unwound playing video games on their computer and liked to follow a Sunday morning routine of watching news shows and yelling loudly at the television, Stoeckl laughed.

And he found pleasure in simple things.

“He took a lot of pride in things like paying bills. He just liked to get things done,” Stoeckl said. “He tried to make sure we would make time for friends and have a rich social life with a lot of people around us. He just really enjoyed life.”

In addition to Stoeckl, Rosenblum is survived by his parents, Ruth and Howard; brother Darren and sister-in-law Dana; sister Dawn and brother-in-law Pierre; nieces Rachael, Rebecca and Lauren; and nephews Kyle and Ryan.

The family is asking for memorial donations to Mazzoni’s legal-services department in his honor.

Shein said Rosenblum’s absence is already being felt.

“The movement, the LGBT community, lost a great advocate, a wonderful teacher and larger-than-life person,” she said.

Marshall noted the Mazzoni family has banded together in the past few days.

“He was such a big, visible presence and leader in our organization. But,we are an organization of helpers so when something like this happens, there’s not much better of a place to be but in a building of folks who want to better the community and support people. It’s a horrible, horrible tragedy but this organization is committed to supporting everyone through this,” Marshall said. “The saddest thing is we won’t know all of what he would’ve accomplished. He was very, very young for something like this to happen. It’s a shame we won’t all get the benefit of what he would’ve gone on to accomplish.”

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