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Long-term Survivors

Long-Time HIV Survivor and Famed Author Mark Thompson Dies at 63


He was the author of The Advocate's definitive history and a number of books about LGBT culture.

Mark Thompson, a long-time HIV survivor and journalist as well as former senior editor at The Advocate and the main author of a book chronicling its history, has died. The exact cause of death was unknown, but Pride LA's Karen Ocamb reports that the Riverside County Coroner’s office expects to release autopsy and toxicology reports in six weeks.

The Advocate was fortunate to have Mark Thompson’s innate and studied spiritualism at the magazine while it was transitioning from community chronicler to national news platform,” remembered former editor in chief Jeff Yarbrough. “Thompson gave voice to a part of gay life and culture that no one else could.”

Thompson was raised in California and got started in LGBT causes as a founding member of the Bay Area-wide Gay Students Coalition at San Francisco State University, according to a biography on his website. He started writing for The Advocate in 1975 and would spend two decades at the LGBT magazine, covering the fight for rights as well as the AIDS crisis. He became not only a respected journalist but also an author, remembered for writing The Advocate's definitive history, Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement. The book included rare first-person accounts of Stonewall, Harvey Milk’s election and death, and other major milestones in LGBT history that he helped record as a journalist for The Advocate.

Former Advocate editor in chief Jon Barrett, who first met Thompson in 2008, called The Long Road to Freedom "my constant companion and guide when I became an associate news editor at The Advocate in the 1990s. Twenty-two years after its publication,  I think it’s still the most thorough account of our collective history.” Barrett says Thompson's lasting example became a “perfect guide for how to tell the stories of our time."

"Mark never stopped loving The Advocate," said another former Advocate editor in chief, Anne Stockwell. "His role at the magazine remained central to his definition of himself. The other great influence in his life was his brilliant husband, Rev. Malcolm Boyd. For many years, these two worked and thought as a team, helping to bridge the perceived distance between gay identity and spirituality."

In Thompson's memoir, Advocate Days & Other Stories, he remembered accidentally discovering in 1968 a copy of the newsletter called The Advocate that was an early version of the national magazine. The Advocate was founded just one year earlier, in 1967, and is now heading into its 50th anniversary year.

The first book in Thompson's series on gay culture — 1987’s Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning — was named by the Lambda Book Report to its list of ”100 Lesbian and Gay Books That Changed Our Lives." It was followed by 1994’s Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature and 1997’s Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self.

Rick Castro knew Thompson for 25 years, starting as a freelance photographer for The Advocate, where he took assignments shooting historic moments. Later, Castro hosted Thompson’s own photography at his art gallery, Antebellum Hollywood, for the 30-year anniversary of the radical faeries — a queer spiritual movement of which Thompson was a part. Castro said Thompson was at the first faerie gathering in Arizona in the late '70s.

“Mark Thompson was a groundbreaker for gay rights during a time when it was difficult to do so,” Castro remembered.

Thompson’s partner, Malcom Boyd, died just last year. An Episcopal priest, Boyd authored several books on social issues and religion, and he was considered one of the most important gay figures in religion. These two influential LGBT voices met in 1984 while Boyd was at St. Augustine-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica, Calif., and their relationship was blessed in a church ceremony in 2004. They were legally married in 2013. 

Thompson watched as LGBT people gained more rights, but he insisted that the community not lose hold of what makes it special. He said as much in an interview alongside Boyd that’s posted on his website.

“Going for the promised land of full equality under the law is all fine and well,” said Thompson. “But what is going to happen when the last sodomy law is toppled and homophobia no longer tolerated? Will we then be free? Free to be....what?”

Thompson was an advocate for earning our equal rights from the government, but was concerned with the community’s “inner life.” 

“I mean, I believe there is something intrinsically queer about being gay, no matter how much we try to normalize it,” he said in that interview. “It is that queerness — and what is at the root of it — that presents the big mystery question in our lives. It's not something we can just check off a list and say, OK we're all safely out of the closet and now we are done with it. We simply can't stop being curious about the myths and mysteries of same-sex attraction and love.”

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