On Saturday a packed church said goodbye to Chloe Dzubilo, the fierce, iconic transgender activist, punk rocker, and former Housing Works client who died in February.
It was a ceremony fit for an individual known widely for kicking convention and embracing glamour. Men dressed as greek gods tended the entrance to the sanctuary at Judson Memorial Church in New York City; a sea of glitter covered the altar; and a pair of winged gold horses flanked the stage.
"Chloe, we are here today to raise you up, so that future generations will learn what you did on their behalf," said long-time friend Viva Ruiz, dressed in flowing white. "It is fitting that we elevate one who refused to be quiet, and who in the darkest places kept all her torches blazing."
For more than two decades, Dzubilo advocated on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS, transgendered individuals and drug users. Diagnosed with HIV in 1987, she spent years conducting transgender HIV prevention outreach in bars, nightclubs and on strolls. She was affiliated with the political action group the Transexual Menace; directed one of the first federally funded HIV programs for transgender sex workers; and founded the Equi-Aid project, a horseback riding program for children infected with or affected by HIV. She was the first transgender person to grace the cover of POZ Magazine. "Her voice transcended the 'shhhh' of everyone else," said Yvonne Ritter.
At the ceremony, friends celebrated a woman who inspired them to work through intense emotional and physical pain to produce art and political change. Rosario Dawson, a long-time friend, rose in front of the group and flung herself dramatically around the church to demonstrate how Dzubilo had taught her to pose for photographs. "Chloe called me Rosie because only family called me Rosie," she said.
Dzubilo, who was disoriented from medication and fell onto a subway track on Feb. 18, was 50 when she died.
In true rebel form, friends banded together after the memorial, marching through the West Village, blocking traffic and shouting as they streamed toward the Hudson River. With the sun setting, they tossed a flurry of yellow daffodils into the water. Jesse Graves, 18, held tight to a friend. "She represented for me a generation of activists that laid the ground for everything that can happen today."
Photos by Julie Turkewitz for Housing Works.