Randal Forrester, a leading gay rights and human rights activist in the Pittsburgh area for more than 35 years, has died. Mr. Forrester died yesterday of cancer at age 60. Betty Hill, the executive director of the Persad Center, said that Mr. Forrester was "a legend...arguably the most influential gay rights figure in the Pittsburgh region." At age 24 in 1972, Mr. Forrester co-founded the Persad Center, a counseling center serving the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. Ms. Hill said at that time, most people still considered homosexuality "a mental illness." She said starting a center that was "gay affirming" that was a safe place to go "that didn't try to change" gays and lesbians ...a center where "they were not told they were bad or sick" was visionary.
Ms. Hill says in the early 1980's when the AIDS crisis hit most of the victims were gay men, unlike today, and Mr. Forrester and Persad were were at the forefront providing education and services. Ms. Hill said Mr. Forrester believed that gay rights, civil rights and human rights were all the same and that he made the whole Pittsburgh community "more sensitive and less discriminating" and he had an extraordinary impact. Mr. Hill said Mr. Forrester had an extraordinary sense of humor and personality and Pittsburgh "needs more leaders like him."