Remembering gay activist and academic Dr. Frank Leib

Photo by Michael Neff

For many Temple University students in the early years post-Stonewall, Dr. Frank B. Leib was the first adult they had met who was openly gay. A long-time member of the Temple University faculty, Leib was an early gay rights activist and one of the founding members of Temple’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF).

Leib was known for his erudition, wit and commitment to students. The sight of large numbers of students crowding into his office or waiting outside was commonplace.

Leib, 75, was found dead in his Center City apartment on March 18 after having missed an appointment and failing to respond to emails.

In 1970, while he was a graduate student at Temple, Leib worked to get GLF chartered as an official student organization. The group held regular meetings at the Student Activities Center on campus.

The following year, Leib joined Philadelphia activists Kiyoshi Kuromiya and Hal Tarr in founding the Gay Coffee Hour at Houston Hall at the University of Pennsylvania, where Penn’s LGBT Center is now.

With fellow out gay academic Dr. Dennis Rubini, Leib created one of the first courses on gay liberation and gay history in the country. They taught the course for years at Temple and also gave free lectures on the issues explored in the course at Penn at Houston Hall.

Former PGN editor and well-known LGBTQ activist, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, knew Leib while an undergraduate at Temple. Avicolli Mecca told PGN, “Frank Leib’s contribution to the early gay liberation movement was immense. At Temple University, where I was a student, he helped set up the GLF chapter and secure us an office.”

Avicolli Mecca added, “He also taught, along with history professor Dennis Rubini, gay studies courses, which I took. That was a huge thing. Back then, we were never mentioned in history classes and were portrayed as deviants in psychology classes. I’m sure he helped a lot of students come to terms with who they were. I know he helped me. Frank was someone I always looked up to.”

Leib’s message was multi-faceted, said Avicolli Mecca, who now lives in San Francisco. “We had a lot of conversations about politics. I was more interested in activism — marching in the streets, and so forth. Frank was more philosophical and analytical about gay liberation and its importance to the sexual liberation movement.”

Leib participated in history projects about gay liberation in Philadelphia, and some of his interviews are archived at the William Way Center.

Leib was part of Temple University’s academic community for over 40 years. Ivy League educated, Leib had a B.A. in English from Dartmouth College and an M.Ed. in English education from Harvard University. Leib received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English from Temple. He then shifted his studies to religion and received an M.A. in comparative religion and a Ph.D. in American religious experience from Temple. Leib was a long-time member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Center City.

Leib had a very long history with Temple’s Intellectual Heritage Program, where he taught full time. 

Cletus Lyman, a life-long friend of Leib’s, said, “Frank was the best-read person I ever met or can imagine. From the time we were kids, he always carried a book, often about a person I never heard of.”

Temple Liberal Arts colleague Dr. Carrie Biermann Cyphers said, “Frank was deeply kind and empathetic — partly due to his excellent manner and practice of openness and intent listening, but partly due to his big heart.”

She said, “He never neglected to encourage me, especially in those early years, and he never failed to let me know that I was valued as both a person and an educator. He took me seriously as a brand new baby to academic instruction and taught me much about being a real person for my students, and that sometimes, that’s what they need from us the most.”

Dr. Aldona Middlesworth said, “He had a verbal flair and tender dramatics that held my attention and moved my heart and many others’, too.”

He was born in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, in 1944, the son of Matthew L. and Ruth C. Leib. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brothers, Matthew L. Leib, Jr., of Drums, PA, and John Leib, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is survived by his niece, Coady Leib Skelley, of Erie, Colorado, his nephews Matthew L. Leib, III, of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, Christopher Leib of Florida, Marc Leib and Joshua Leib, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and by his many friends, colleagues, and students, past and present. His Temple colleague Dr. Richard Libowitz said simply, “May his memory be for a blessing, and may he rest in peace.”

There is no memorial service planned at this time, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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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.