Thursday, January 26, 2006

Betty Berzon, R.I.P.

Betty Berzon was a powerhouse. She was a long-time lesbian activist who really never stopped working to make the world a better place. I interviewed Betty a couple years ago when I wrote an Advocate cover story about the reality show Boy Meets Boy. Though it was a brief conversation, I found Betty to be thoughtful and eloquent, and I left our phone call feeling as though I'd spoken with a friend; I've interviewed a lot of people, and trust me when I say that's not a common thing.

While I could try to write about Betty's life, I'm not nearly as informed as I should be, so instead I'm printing the article I was sent from the Lambda Literary Foundation. I've also included some pictures of her books, and if you're interested in buying or reading more about them just click on the picture.

Photo from Betty Berzon in the ‘60s with Dr. Lawrence Solomon, her colleague at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute. From Surviving Madness.

Betty Berzon, 1928-2006

Pioneer gay rights activist, psychotherapist, and writer, Betty Berzon died peacefully in her sleep on January 24, 2006. She was 78.

Her tireless activism shaped the launch of numerous significant organizations that continue to impact and promote the well-being of the lesbian and gay community. She was architect and founder of Southern California Women for Understanding, as well as co-founder of California Gay Academic Union. She was a founding board chair of Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services and board member of numerous gay and lesbian advocacy organizations, including the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, where she developed a gay and lesbian peer counselor training program; Whitman-Radclyffe Foundation where she created the personal growth program that resulted in the book, Positively Gay (19; National Gay Rights Advocates, the first public interest law firm to focus on gay rights, and the Community Guild, a groundbreaking effort to assist low-income gay and lesbian seniors. She was also producer of Gaythink, the first national conference to bring together gay and lesbian faculty and student!
In 1971, during a UCLA conference called "The Homosexual in America," Berzon became the first psychotherapist in the country to publicly declare herself as a gay mental health professional. Today, Division 44 of the American Psychological Association has more than 1500 members.
An expert in small group process, Berzon worked with renowned researcher Evelyn Hooker to develop a series of encounter groups for gays and lesbians, called the Quest for Love. Later, she developed a series for Bell and Howell called The Encountertapes, a growth program for leaderless groups, which led to her first edited book, Encounter Groups: First Facts.

Berzon practiced psychotherapy with groups and couples for the last twenty-five years of her life, during which time she also wrote four more books, including the perennial best-selling Permanent Partners: Building Gay and Lesbian Relationships that Last (1988); The Intimacy Dance: A Guide to Long-Term Success in Gay and Lesbian Relationships (1996); Setting Them Straight : You CAN Do Something About Bigotry and Homophobia in Your Life (1996); and Surviving Madness: A Therapist's Own Story, which won the Lambda Literary Award for best autobiography in 2003.

Berzon is survived by her life partner of thirty-three years, Teresa DeCrescenzo. Also survived by her sister, Dr. Stephanie Miller of Lancaster Ohio; stepmother, Trude Berzon of Des Moines Iowa and North Palm Beach, Florida; stepsister Barbara Kaplan of North Palm Beach, Florida; cousins Sidney, Shirley, Jerry, Sandy, Mary, Dan, and Abbe Wool; and eight nieces and nephews.

Funeral services and interment will be held at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park, 1218 Glendon Avenue, on Friday, January 27 at 11:00 a.m.

A Celebration of Life will be held at the Omni Hotel, 251 South Olive Street, on
Sunday, February 26, at 5:00 p.m.

Teresa DeCrescenzo has requested that in lieu of flowers or other tributes, donations be made in Betty's honor to the following organizations:

Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services
650 North Robertson Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA, 90069

Lambda Literary Foundation
P.O. Box 1957
Old Chelsea Station
New York, NY, 10113

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I bought Permanent Partners from a thrift store in the Castro, as a book to read when I had down time at work. I never have down time but I cant put this book down. Betty's book really has changed my outlook on relationships. I finally have hope that I will be married to an amazing man one day.