Shawn Lang, Veteran Connecticut LGBTQ+ and HIV Activist, Has Died

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Shawn Lang
Shawn Lang

Connecticut activist Shawn Lang, described as a “fiercely devoted advocate” for LGBTQ+ people and those living with HIV, has died at age 65.

Lang, a lesbian who lived in Hartford, died Sunday, the Hartford Courant reports. No cause of death was disclosed.

She was deputy director of AIDS Connecticut from 1991 until this year, when the organization was restructured and that position eliminated. “In that capacity, she was the organization’s point person with Connecticut lawmakers on matters of public policy,” the Courant notes.

A Massachusetts native, Lang originally worked as a nurse’s aide, then attended the University of Lowell, where she became involved with the campus gay rights group. “I found my people,” she told Hartford Magazine in 2016. “I found a niche around organizing and agitating.”

When she moved to Connecticut after college, she first worked at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence, then joined AIDS Connecticut. “She became a giant” in the world of HIV services and LGBTQ+ advocacy, the Courant reports.

“She was forceful and opinionated. ... In many ways, she would call herself a warrior for what she called her brothers and sisters who had fallen from AIDS or who were battling the disease,” John Merz, CEO of AIDS Connecticut (now reorganized as Advancing CT Together), told the paper.

Lang was usually warm and diplomatic, and often funny, but she showed anger on occasion, Merz recalled. “Very early on when she was here, there was a call for name reporting of people with HIV or AIDS. There was a big outcry against that, the sense that it was violating people’s confidentialities,” he said. “She really went to bat for that and expressed outrage. That was one of the few times I can remember her being antagonistic.”

Lang served on the boards of the National AIDS Housing Coalition and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS at Yale University, was a member of the CT Alcohol and Drug Policy Council, and founded the Statewide Opiate Overdose Prevention Workgroup.

She was also an activist with the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, which successfully fought for inclusion of sexual orientation in Connecticut hate-crimes and antidiscrimination laws. Steve Gavron, a colleague in the coalition, did stand-up comedy with Lang for a time, and she brought “a wicked sense of humor” to her advocacy work as well, he said. “We thought we were funny, and if other people did not, that was not our issue,” he told the Courant.

Several Connecticut public officials paid tribute to Lang. “Shawn was a fiercely devoted advocate for our state’s most vulnerable people. ... She was a force to be reckoned with and her tireless dedication to LGBTQ rights impacted and inspired many people in Connecticut,” Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “Today we grieve the loss of a champion and remember with profound gratitude Shawn’s many efforts to create a more just and equitable society.”

Gov. Ned Lamont added that Lang “made a lasting impact on Connecticut” and “generations to come will benefit from her advocacy.” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called her “a true fighter for LGBTQ+ rights, advocating for those with AIDS and HIV and people impacted by opioid addiction.”

She was honored at the White House in 2017 as a Champion of Change for Advancing Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, having been nominated by then-Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Survivors include her son, Corbett Lang, along with three sisters, a brother, and several nieces and nephews. A celebration of her life will be held this Sunday evening at the Pond House in West Hartford. Her loved ones suggest memorial donations to Advancing CT Together.

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