Friday, April 30, 2010

LP gay rights activist killed by cab in NY city

From the NY Post:

A colorful dwarf activist for gay rights and issues affecting the disabled as well as a transportation advocate was hit and killed by a taxi late last night as he left a community board meeting on the Lower East Side, authorities said.

Harry Wieder (pictured), 57, walked with crutches and was leaving a meeting of Community Board 3 around 9:45 p.m. at P.S. 20 when he crossed Essex Street in the middle of the block and was hit by a yellow cab, said a fellow board member.

"We had all just left the meeting and his car was parked across the street. It was as laborious for him to walk. For him to walk to the corner and cross the street would have been extremely difficult. He was crossing the street in the middle of the block," said district manager Susan Stetzer. "The cab driver was very distraught."

Wieder was rushed to Bellevue Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The diminutive crusader got his start as an activist in the early 1980s when he came out as gay and got involved in the rights group Act-Up. "He came out of the closet like a cannon-ball," said author Betty Adelsen, who profiled Wieder in her 2005 book, "The Lives of Dwarves: Their Journey From Public Curiosity Toward Social Libertaion."

In the following years. Wieder became a fixture at community board meetings, rallies and all sorts of political events, where he became well known to the city’s political players.

"He was everywhere and involved in so many different things," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "He was undaunted by his physical challenges. I never heard Harry say, ‘I can’t do that, that march is too long.’"

"Harry was a small person but he was a very big personality. He had a big voice and a very colorful character," said Anne Emmerman, the former commissioner of the department of the aging during the Dinkins Administration.

Wieder, the child of Holocaust survivors, was born in 1953 with achondraplasia – a kind of dwarfism — and was raised in Forest Hills. In the early 1980s he underwent surgery on his spine that left him walking with crutches or using a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He also suffered significant hearing loss and lived in a home for the deaf on the Lower East Side.

But he never let his troubles stop him from being involved.

"Harry was so dedicated and he showed up to a lot of the meetings even if he wasn’t on the committee," said Community Board 3 chairman Dominck Pisciotta. "He was the ultimate activist. He cared a lot about the community and many different issues as well."