Amy, Tucker, Dick, and Everard Ashworth in the New York City Pride March in the late 1970s. | COURTESY: EVERARD ASHWORTH
When Amy Ashworth died April 6 at age 92 in Ojai, California, her surviving son Everard Ashworth was asked, for purposes of her death certificate, what her profession was.
“Put ‘Gay Rights Activist,’” he proudly said and that is what it reads, reflecting her commitment to the cause since 1972 when she co-founded a group in New York called Parents of Gays (now P-FLAG) with her husband Dick Ashworth, Jeanne and Jules Manford, and Bob and Elaine Benov. (Amy always credited Jeanne Manford as the prime mover behind the group.)
All contributed enormously to the movement, but Amy’s contributions were singular, encompassing LGBTQ rights, the fight against AIDS, and public education on these issues through network and cable TV and countless presentations in classrooms for more than four decades.
“She was a force of nature,” Everard, who works in environmental science, said, “inspired by unconditional love.”
Mother to two gay sons taken by AIDS, lifelong activist was 92
A native of Holland, her experience working as a nurse in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during World War II forged a commitment to social justice that lasted her entire life. She came to New York alone after the war and met Richard Ashworth while working at the Dutch Consulate, marrying him and raising their three sons Tucker, Eric, and Everard in Bronxville in Westchester County. When Tucker came out to them in 1972, they became founding members of Parents of Gays, marched in Pride Parades, lobbied for gay rights at the local and national level, and were instrumental in turning the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG) into a national and international organization with more than 500 chapters.
They also served on the founding board of the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian & Gay Youth in 1979 that became the Hetrick-Martin Institute in 1987. Frances Kunreuther wrote that “Amy and Dick were such huge supports” when she took the helm of Hetrick-Martin in the early 1990s.
Amy Ashworth in a photo for a profile of her in Village Care of New York’s 1999 “Legends of the Village” calendar. | BELA BORSODI
Amy and Dick were frequent guests on the talk shows of the day, including the “Phil Donahue Show” and the late-night “Merv Griffin Show.” In 1983, Amy appeared on WNYC’s gay “Our Time” show hosted by gay pioneer Vito Russo that also featured a young Jay Blotcher. Amy offered advice on coming out to parents: “When you feel sure of yourself, I feel it is very important to go to your parents and say you are happy about who you are. Also give your parents time to digest it. You can’t be impatient. Come prepared with all the questions they may ask.”
She also talked about the transformative power of participating in a P-FLAG support group for parents.
Marching in the 1989 Pride Parade in New York, Amy told the Times about parents who came to their group: “The biggest thing they realize is that people don’t choose to be gay. You choose to hide it, or you choose to be open about it.’’
Amy also hosted a weekly segment on the “Out in the ‘80s” cable television program in Manhattan for several years, interviewing parents, other allies, and lesbian and gay activists — and sounding off on the LGBTQ issues of the day.
In 1973, Amy and Dick joined Tucker in their first Christopher Street Liberation Day March.
“Four years later,” she told me in an interview, “our son Eric joined us and the four of us marched, Dick with his ‘Proud Father of Gay Sons’ sign and me with my ‘We Love Our Gay Children’ sign. We have always been overwhelmed by the response of the crowd, especially when we march into the Village. What is more natural than loving your children?”
The Ashworths moved from the suburbs back to Manhattan in 1987, settling in the West Village. In 2007, Amy moved to Ojai to be close to Everard and his family.
Amy’s activism was not just as a parent, but on the front lines of the LGBTQ and AIDS movements. She frequently testified for the city’s gay rights bill that took 15 years to pass.
When Ronald Reagan, who had neglected the AIDS crisis for six years, finally appointed his President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic in 1987, Amy testified at its first hearing in Washington. She made substantial recommendations on policy and said that she had recently lost her son Tucker to AIDS. Commission chair Dr. Eugene Mayberry of the Mayo Clinic responded by saying, “We are so sorry for your loss.” In an instant, Amy shot back dramatically and with intensity, “I don’t want your sympathy! I want your conscience! I want to you to do something.”
She was incredibly focused — despite or maybe because all she had been through. And she was not going to waste any time with such a powerful panel just dealing with the personal. (I witnessed this and will never forget it.)
The Catholic Archdiocese of New York was the most relentless opponent of gay civil rights from the introduction of the nation’s first gay rights bill in the City Council in 1971 — it did not pass until 1986, and then over the strident objections of Cardinal John O’Connor. Amy and Dick Ashworth met with officials of the Archdiocese in the early 1980s to try to move them on the issue. Amy reported afterwards that the priests ended the meeting by asking them, “Would you like some pastoral counseling to deal with having gay children?” Amy rolled her eyes and realized she was dealing with implacable foes.
Amy Ashworth at 90. | PFLAGNJ.ORG
Father Bernárd Lynch wrote, “I got her into Mount St. Vincent’s to speak in Riverdale. This was regarded as a major triumph ‘speaking in a Catholic college’ in about 1980. I was able to use my connection as ‘a Catholic chaplain’ to do this… Her courage was infectious and as perennial as the grass.”
Many in New York’s LGBTQ community have fond memories of Amy.
Out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights said, “There was nothing too small for Amy to do” in the movement, citing her presence at the first Queens Pride Parade in 1993, her assistance to him and Jeanne Manford with the founding of the Queens P-FLAG chapter, and her defense before the Board of Education of the Rainbow Curriculum, an early, controversial, and ultimately unsuccessful effort to integrate LGBTQ issues into school lessons. Amy and Dick also co-founded a Westchester chapter of P-FLAG.
Ginny Apuzzo, director of what was then the National Gay Task Force in the early 1980s, wrote, “Amy was a regular at the then-NGTF office, cheering, urging, volunteering and ever eager to do battle on our behalf.”
Longtime gay activist Frank Jump recalled how Amy was “like an older sister to my mother Willy Jump,” also Dutch and also long active in the leadership of P-FLAG.
Pat Galloway, a longtime ally of the community, wrote. “Back in the dark days of the mid-’80s, she was a staunch supporter of the support group for family and friends of PWAs that I started at Manhattan Plaza… Her relentless pursuit of the truth about the vast spectrum and scope of people’s sexual orientation helped many, many parents of LGBT sons and daughters, and by extension helped heal their families and ease the deaths of many PWAs — a monumental contribution to humanity amidst the horrors of the dark early days of AIDS.”
In addition to her caretaking, advocacy, and support networking, Amy was a constant volunteer at God’s Love We Deliver, preparing meals for PWAs.
Bridget Hughes wrote, “It was about 1991 and a group of youth from The Center’s Y.E.S. program and BiGLTYNY were doing a theater showcase and poetry reading… and there were no parents in the audience to clap for them, [but] Amy came. She came with Willy Jump and they clapped for the kids and hugged them and told them they were precious. And because the Alexander Room had no heat, they went across the street and bought trays of hot chocolates for all the young people and staff and volunteers. She saw all kids as her kids. And held them close.”
Veteran gay activist Wayne Steinman wrote, “She could always be seen at community events as a proud parent of gay sons. But we will most remember a baby shower that she and PFLAG hosted for me and Sal when we adopted our daughter (now 30 years ago!).”
Lesbian activist Miriam Yeung wrote, “Amy Ashworth had such a forceful heart. My fondest memory of her was marching in the anti-Iraq War rally at Washington Square Park after a scholarship meeting. The mounted police were starting to pen the marchers in and surrounded us on Washington Square Park North from University to MacDougal. But she yelled at the cops and waved her cane and they parted for us.”
Amélie Wilhelmine Marie Everard was born August 31, 1934 in Aerdenhout, the Netherlands. Amy and Dick’s son Tucker Ashworth, an early gay activist and director of public affairs for the New York City Planning Department, died of AIDS in 1987 at 32, as did son Eric Ashworth, a literary agent, in 1997 at 39. For all her strength, these unimaginable tragedies plunged Amy into a deep depression, but one that she was able to climb out of with treatment and with the love and support of family and friends. Her husband Dick died in 1998 and Amy established a scholarship for LGBTQ students in his name.
Amy is survived by her son Everard and his wife Brooke and their children Henry and Emma as well as Gordon Stewart, who her family calls her “son-in-spirit,” and legions of loved ones.
In the days before caller-ID, Amy always answered with a cautious, “Hallo?” but lit up speaking with loved ones and always ended a call with the brightest, happiest, “Bye!” I’d ever heard — a grace note that left her callers smiling.
Good-bye, Amy Ashworth. Your pioneering life and work eased the path for literally millions to grow up in a society infinitely more accepting than the way it was when you began showing how to love your gay children — and all children.
Amy Ashworth’s life will be celebrated at a memorial service at a church built by her father in Aerdenhout, Holland on July 22 at 3 p.m. For details, contact Everard Ashworth at [email protected] The family has asked that those who wish to make memorial contributions in Amy Ashworth’s name make them to P-FLAG.