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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 3, 2006

Gay activist and journalist John Zeh dies at age 59

 

Cincinnati--John Zeh, longtime activist and journalist, was found dead in his apartment on February 17, three and a half months shy of his 60th birthday. He died of natural causes.

Zeh was active in numerous social justice causes, including anti-racism and homeless advocacy.

He made his name in the community, however, during the formation of the Greater Cincinnati Gay Coalition in 1978, and started the Gaydreams radio show the following year.

It was during the run of Gaydreams that he ran afoul of Simon Leis, then Hamilton County sheriff, whose crusade against �pornography� made him infamous.

In 1990, Leis filed four indictments against the Contemporary Arts Center for an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe�s photography, �The Perfect Moment.�

Nine years before that, though, Leis targeted Zeh for an episode of Gaydreams, during which he read aloud a magazine article on sexual lubricants.

Leis hit him with a quartet of charges of disseminating harmful material to minors, all of which were dismissed when a judge ruled that Gaydreams wasn�t aimed at children.

Leis appealed the dismissal and lost, his first major defeat.

The University of Cincinnati canceled his teaching contract and dropped �Being Gay in Cincinnati,� the class he taught. He sued and both he and the class were reinstated.

He moved to Washington, D.C. for a decade. It was there that, while getting off a bus, he fell. The bus driver pulled away, crushing Zeh�s leg, which was later amputated.

In addition to Gaydreams, Zeh edited the Rainbow News online service, moderated the Rainbow Talk list, and was a contributor to Streetvibes, the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless� newspaper, the Greater Cincinnati GLBT News and the Gay People�s Chronicle, among other media outlets.

Attorney Scott Knox was both puzzled and impressed by Zeh.

�I was surprised when the cops called me and told me I was listed as his emergency contact,� Knox said. �It just showed what a loner he was.�

�All these people in different activist groups had different little pieces of him,� he continued.

�From the time I first reached Cincinnati in the spring of 1978, John Zeh was someone whose activism was well known to me,� said Michael X. Chanak, another longtime activist and the moderator of the Cincinnati Dowagers email group on Yahoo, which connects the �old school� Cincinnati LGBT advocates. �As I began to attend events in the GLBT community, I�d find John there with his tape recorder and his pencil pad.�

�He was tireless in his pursuit of news for the Gaydreams show on WAIF-FM, the predecessor to the current gay show, Alternating Currents,� Chanak continued. �That�s an image that always stuck with me about John, and he continued to report on news on www.gaycincinnati.com until his passing.�

In a posting on Rainbow Cincinnati, Steve Buescher, the other hand behind the website, noted Zeh�s expertise in using public transit in a wheelchair.

�When he�d tell me about the meeting he had just attended or the great band he�d just discovered, the first half of the phone conversation was filled with details of which bus connections he had made and where the good and bad curb-cuts were,� Buescher wrote.

Chanak�s Dowagers group has expressed an interest in putting together a memorial for John Zeh, and Scott Knox is searching for next of kin. Because he was listed as the emergency contact for Zeh, he has become a de facto point man for organizing around his passing. However, Knox wants everyone to feel included in planning.

�The intention isn�t to slight anyone, it�s to include everyone in planning a memorial,� he noted.

Anyone interested in planning and organizing the memorial, or wanting to know when it will be, should call Knox�s office at 513-2413800.

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