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'Activist in a dress' fought for LGBT rights

Ted northe died Sunday, March 30 at the age of 76.
ted northe
ted northe was Empress of Canada since 1967.

In a 2011 speech at the Q Hall of Fame ball in Toronto, Vancouver resident ted northe told the crowd, “I watch with awe and pride as I see young men and women expressing themselves with little or no fear. Having space where we as a community can marry and even the simple act of holding hands or kissing in public. We have gained so much in what is truly such a short amount of time.”

Close friend Paul Therien said the world is a better place for northe’s decades-long fight for equality for LGBT communities, not only in Canada, but across the globe. The 76-year-old activist, who preferred his name spelled with lower case letters, died Sunday morning due to complications from lung cancer that returned in 2011.

“It’s staggering to think about what this man achieved in his lifetime,” said Therien. “I might suggest one of the reasons is the support he had from his family as a young man.”

His passing also marks the end of an era. Northe founded the Imperial Court System of Canada in 1964 and became the titular head of the charitable organization in 1967. He remained Empress of Canada until his passing. The organization eventually allowed for provincial chapters and in 1976 the Dogwood Monarchy Society formed in Vancouver. Northe also initiated Vancouver’s first Community Christmas Dinner and first gay community disaster relief fund. He helped develop the first Gay Businessmen’s Guild and worked with the lesbian community to host the first openly gay breast cancer fundraiser.

Northe sponsored and helped create countless events and groups in the city, including the first gay bowling and softball leagues, first Vancouver Pride Parade and the Greater Vancouver Native Culture Society for two-spirited men and women. It’s estimated northe raised more than $10 million for Canadian charities through his work.

For his efforts northe received numerous commendations, including the Canadian Red Cross Humanitarian and Distinguished Citizen Award, BC Cancer Society Citizen’s Award for Fundraising, the Governor General’s Special Service Medal for Distinguished Citizen and Humanitarian and Certificate of Special USA Congressional Recognition.

As a self-described “activist in a dress,” he also fought tirelessly for gay rights in Vancouver and in the early 1970s was dubbed “ted northe and his lavender mob” by local media.

Therien said besides northe’s biological family, he will be deeply mourned by his “chosen family” across Canada.

“He touched so many lives,” said Therien. “Ted had an uncanny ability to touch people really deeply.”

A public celebration of life is being organized for June.

Story courtesy the Vancouver Courier