Tribute to Rodney Gilbert

The Queer Newark Oral History Project mourns the loss of Rodney Gilbert, the founder and CEO of Yendor Productions. Rodney was part of the QNOHP from the very beginning. As an artist, a long-time community leader, and a dedicated champion of Newark youth in general -- and Newark’s LGBT youth in particular -- you would find Rodney in pretty much any forum where Newark, the arts, and LGBT issues were being discussed.

It’s no surprise that Rodney was present at the meeting held in the spring of 2011 that first launched the QNOHP. The meeting had been called by activist and writer Darnell L. Moore. It brought together about two dozen Newark LGBT activists to talk about holding a new kind of event in Newark, one that would celebrate the strength, brilliance and beauty of Newark’s LGBT community, its old guard as well as its youth. Rodney was prominent among the group of passionate, committed activists that gathered that day. Handsome and dapper, clad in a white suit, white shoes, and bow tie, Rodney made an indelible impression. He insisted that any event we held must put LGBT youth at its center. In part because of Rodney’s input, our first program, “Queer Newark: Our Voices, Our Histories,” showcased three generations of LGBT Newark residents, and was created in order to facilitate communication among generations and the nurturing of LGBT youth.

In 2014 Rodney Gilbert and Yendor Productions, again partnered with the Queer Newark Oral History Project. This time Rodney helped the QNOHP create an even more ambitious program, a multi-week series of events that we called “Sanctuary: A History of Queer Club Spaces in Newark.” Rodney drew on his years of connections with the Newark art community to help us get a beautiful pop-up space comprising the entire seventh floor of a high rise in downtown Newark. He found a curator who filled the space with art by local LGBT artists. He helped organize the opening reception and party, which was, like most events organized by Rodney, a smashing success. He also helped the QNOHP organize a series of events at the space, including literary readings, a film screening, and tea party dance. The Sanctuary series culminated with “Fire and Ice,” a revival of Newark’s famous Fireball, held at the Robert Treat Hotel. A photo taken at that historic night of Sanctuary’s three organizers - -- Rodney Gilbert, Christina Strasburger and Beryl Satter – captures the joy and satisfaction we felt at having facilitated a true celebration of Queer Newark’s culture and history.

In the years after the autumn 2014 Sanctuary celebrations, Rodney Gilbert remained an inspiration to the QNOHP. The work he did with Yendor Productions, which was dedicated to the dual goals of bringing art to the people and to using art to empower underserved populations, was a model of caring and dedication, and its accomplishments – including the My Brother’s Keeper murals and the numerous theater pieces he directed – are too numerous to list here. We join many, many others in this city and in the larger LGBT and arts community in mourning the loss of this unique and wonderful man.