James W. Owles Is Dead at 46; Was Founder of Gay Rights Group

By David W. Dunlap • August 08, 1993

James W. Owles, the founding president of the Gay Activists Alliance and the first openly gay candidate for political office in New York City, died on Friday at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan. He was 46 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was AIDS-related toxoplasmosis, said Ethan Geto, a friend.

Until illness forced him to step down this year, Mr. Owles was a special assistant and liaison to the lesbian and gay community for the State Senate minority leader, Manfred Ohrenstein. He had worked for the Senator, a Manhattan Democrat, since the early 1980's.

Mr. Owles was born in Calumet City, Ill. He attended the University of Illinois and then served in the Air Force.

In December 1969, he helped found the Gay Activists Alliance in New York City with Arthur Bell, Morty Manford, Martin Robinson and others. As president of the alliance from 1970 to 1971, Mr. Owles advocated anti-discrimination bills in Albany and New York City.

"We do not ask for any respectability or sympathy from straight people," he declared in a letter to the State Legislature in February 1971. Others' opinions, he said, "are of no interest to us except to the extent that these private bigotries are allowed to become public policy."

In 1971, on the eve of the second annual gay pride march, Mr. Owles said: "It's a lot more difficult to march out of the closet than to march for peace. It can cost you your job or your career." He envisioned a future in which homosexuals would "show straights and themselves that being gay means something more than the baths and the bars," and he said he expected to work for gay rights "till I die."

During demonstrations, known as "zaps," mounted by the alliance, Mr. Owles was arrested many times. In April 1972, at the annual Inner Circle dinner of City Hall reporters at the New York Hilton, Mr. Owles grabbed the microphone onstage to denounce press coverage, and a melee erupted in which he and Mr. Manford were seriously injured. Ran for City Council

In January 1973, Mr. Owles declared his candidacy for the City Council district encompassing Greenwich Village, which he called the nation's "largest gay ghetto." He described himself as the first openly gay candidate for office in New York City.

He challenged the incumbent, Carol Greitzer, as someone who "voted right" but "failed to organize pressure to get things done." In the Democratic primary in June 1973, he received 3,632 votes, to 16,814 votes for Councilwoman Greitzer.

Mr. Owles went on to be a founder of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats in 1974, the first such political club in the city. In 1985, he was one of the seven founding members of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which monitors the coverage and depiction of lesbians and gay men in the media.

He is survived by three brothers, Kevin and Robert Jr., both of Calumet City, and Michael, of Munster, Ind., and two sisters, Penny Pivourinas of Calumet City and Sharon Homola of Hammond, Ind.



  1. Hon. Eric Adams
  2. Stuart Appelbaum
  3. George Arzt
  4. Lance Bass
  5. Mark Benoit
  6. Hon. Rodneyse Bichotte
  7. Hon. Jonathan Bing
  8. Robin Byrd
  9. Chris Brady
  10. Hon. Gale Brewer
  11. Josh Buscher-West
  12. Bryan Buscher-West
  13. Christian Campbell
  14. Eduardo Castell
  15. David Castleman
  16. Kathleen Chalfant
  17. Louis Cholden-Brown
  18. Michael Colosi
  19. Hon. Marty Connor
  20. Debra Cooper
  21. Hon. Jon Cooper
  22. Hon. Laurie Cumbo
  23. Alan Cumming
  24. Wilson Cruz
  25. Michael Czaczkes
  26. Jim Davis
  27. Hon. Bill de Blasio
  28. Jon Del Giorno
  29. Kyan Douglas
  30. Hon. Daniel Dromm
  31. Sonia Dueno
  32. James Duff
  33. Hon. Ronnie Eldridge
  34. Kathryn Erbe
  35. Hon. Herman Farrell
  36. Hon. Alan Fleishman
  37. Hon. Dan Garodnick
  38. Hon. Michael Gianaris
  39. Ari Gold
  40. Hon. Richard Gottfried
  41. Hon. Mark Green
  42. Arthur Greig
  43. Tony Hoffmann
  44. Hon. Brad Hoylman
  45. Hon. Letitia James
  46. Brian Jenks
  47. Hon. Corey Johnson
  48. Phillip Keane
  49. Yetta Kurland
  50. Greg Lambert
  51. Marc Landis
  52. Dodge Landesman
  53. Michael Mallon
  54. Mike C. Manning
  55. Cathy Marino-Thomas
  56. Hon. Melissa Mark-Viverito
  57. Hon. Carlos Menchaca
  58. Hon. Rosie Mendez
  59. John Cameron Mitchell
  60. Donny Moss
  61. Hon. Paul Newell
  62. Hon. Jose Peralta
  63. Earl Plante
  64. Noah Pfefferbilt
  65. Bob Pontarelli
  66. Billy Porter
  67. Joe Pressley
  68. Hon. Jenifer Rajkumar
  69. Hon. Gustavo Rivera
  70. Hon. Helen Rosenthal
  71. Maer Roshan
  72. Dan Roskoff
  73. Toby Russo
  74. Bill Samuels
  75. James Sansum
  76. Scott Sartiano
  77. Reshma Saujani
  78. Hon. Arthur Schwartz
  79. Lynn Schulman
  80. Cecile Scott
  81. Frank Selvaggi
  82. Rev. Al Sharpton
  83. Hon. Jo Anne Simon
  84. Tom Smith
  85. David Spegal
  86. Anne Strahle
  87. Hon. Scott Stringer
  88. Wayne Sunday
  89. Hon. Bill Thompson
  90. Hon. Matt Titone
  91. Hon. Ritchie Torres
  92. Andrew Velez
  93. Patricia Nell Warren
  94. Wil Weder
  95. Seth Weissman
  96. Emma Wolfe
  97. Hon. Keith Wright
  98. Tim Wu
  99. Mel Wymore
  100. Zephyr Teachout