Beloved community activist Ted Faigle dies

Ted Faigle, artist and LGBT and AIDS activist, died suddenly on Aug. 21 at his home in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. He was 66. Faigle had retired from his position as an LGBT grants analyst at Drexel University in 2013.

A long-time fixture in the Philadelphia LGBTQ activist community, Faigle had been involved in the Gay Community Center and had worked at Giovanni’s Room Bookstore for years. He was also a co-host of the gay radio program, “Gay Dreams” on WXPN-FM.

Faigle was credited with reviving the Philadelphia LGBTQ Pride parade after years of dormancy. Ed Hermance, a friend of Faigle’s and former owner of Giovanni’s Room, tells the story of how he and Faigle were representing Giovanni’s Room with a banner at the New York City Pride parade when “Allen Ginsberg trotted over from the crowd to gush about the good things he had heard about the store.” Ginsberg walked and talked with Hermance and Faigle for a while. Hermance said a year or so later “Ted founded the organization that relaunched the Pride parade in Philadelphia, which continues to this day — 30-plus years later.”

A member of ACT-UP Philadelphia, Radical Faeries and other activist organizations, Faigle was well-known among advocates for people with AIDS as a compassionate and caring friend as well as a committed activist. He was also widely known for his sense of humor, which, said one friend, “kept us going in the worst of times.”

Writer and archivist Tommi Avicolli-Mecca told PGN that Faigle was “such a good activist. Fervid, you’d call it. He was always on the front lines.”

Avicolli-Mecca worked with Faigle on Gaydreams in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. He said Faigle “had so much fun doing that and everything else. He had such a great sense of humor. Those were hard years with the AIDS epidemic and losing so many people. He got through that time with humor and helped others to do that, too.”

Faigle, said Avicolli-Mecca, “was one of those people who never lost his sense of fun, his sense of humor. When you were around him you knew you were going to have a good time. He was always the life of the party.”

Arleen Olshan, executive director of Mt. Airy Art Garage and former co-owner of Giovanni’s Room, was saddened by Faigle’s death. She said, “Ted was great. He was fun, he was a hard worker, he was always there to help out. I just always remember him being right there in the middle of everything, ready to do whatever we needed at the bookstore. He set up a lot of programs there. I’m so sorry he’s gone.”

Olshan added, “Ted was a really talented artist and very prolific.” She said Faigle had exhibited his work, which was landscapes of the Jim Thorpe area as well as portraits, including several self-portraits.

Roberta Hacker, who hosted the lesbian radio hour “Amazon Country” on WXPN-FM for over a decade, said Faigle was “funny, charming and a really well-informed activist who brought all of that to his work on ‘Gaydreams’ at a time when it was most needed. Those years were harsh and Ted was a soothing yet committed voice for those times.”

More than 100 of Faigle’s friends and former colleagues posted tributes to him on Facebook, including William Way director Chris Bartlett, historian Marc Stein, politician Sherrie Cohen, artist and curator David Acosta, lesbian activist Dominique Johnson and others.

LGBTQ activist and Executive Director at Hoff-Barthelson Music School and former Executive Director of GALA Choruses Ken Cole, said Faigle was “my closest friend for many years,” He wrote about him extensively, citing Faigle’s broad and inclusive activist work. Cole noted, “I can’t believe he’s gone. Working with Ted back in 1988 and ’89, up on the third floor of Giovanni’s Room to found the Gay and Lesbian Community Council and produce a town hall, concerts and the block party to help build community, was one of the most meaningful and formative experiences of my life.”

Cole credits his work with Faigle to expanding his own career working at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and in the arts. Cole said of Faigle, “I’ve continued to benefit from his commitments to equality and justice, the example of his activism and that mischievous twinkle always in his eye for more than 30 years….I hope you’re up in heaven raising a little hell.”

For over a decade Faigle worked at Drexel University School of Public Health as the LGBT Program Manager and Grant Writer. He’d gotten his masters in Public Health at Drexel and had focused on LGBT health and curriculum development. Faigle’s work included outreach to the community on research and advocacy. He was also tasked with representing the Drexel program and school at national conferences like the APHA, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the National Coalition for LGBT Health. Faigle planned and produced educational workshops, seminars and lectures to promote awareness and education about LGBT Health issues. He also assisted in research, development, implementation and teaching of core MPH courses in LGBT Health.

On Faigle’s Pinterest page, which is mostly a galley of his work, a photo of one of his iconic tank tops epitomizes Faigle’s sense of humor. The inscription reads, “May your mercury be more Freddie and less retrograde.”

A memorial service will be planned. 

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.