Gay Activist and Writer Jeffrey Escoffier Dead at 79

·2 min read
Jeffrey Escoffier
Jeffrey Escoffier

Jeffrey Escoffier, a longtime activist, author of works on gay identity, and creator of public health campaigns, has died at age 79.

Escoffier died May 20 in Brooklyn, N.Y., but his death was just reported Saturday by The New York Times. The cause was complications from a fall, his family told the paper.

Escoffier, who grew up in New York City, first made his mark as an activist in Philadelphia, where he moved in 1970 to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. He became president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance, and in 1972 he founded The Gay Alternative, published by the organization. Eleven years later, in San Francisco, he started another publication, Out/Look: National Lesbian and Gay Quarterly. He and his staff at Out/Look organized the OutWrite conference for LGBTQ+ writers.

He wrote numerous essays on gay identity and the factors that shape it. They were collected in volumes including American Homo: Community and Perversity and Sex, Society, and the Making of Pornography: The Pornographic Object of Knowledge.

“Jeffrey Escoffier embodied the radical queer public intellectual,” author and professor Whitney Strub told the Times.

Returning to New York in the 1990s, Escoffier became deputy director of the Office of Gay and Lesbian Health in the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 1995. His duties included overseeing AIDS education campaigns. In 1999, he was named director of health media and marketing for the entire department. In that position he ran campaigns on a variety of public health concerns, such as HIV, asthma, rat infestation, smoking, and West Nile virus. He also helped publicize the Affordable Care Act to New Yorkers.

Escoffier was “always able to see a new side to a challenging issue or situation — and often to bring out the humor in it,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former city health commissioner, told the Times. A former associate health commissioner, Sandra Mullin, called him “our Renaissance man” and said his work “helped save lives.” “He was a queer man who lifted people up on his team,” she noted in an email to the paper.

Esoffier’s survivors include three sisters.