Local activist Gale McGovern dies

Gale McGovern, 1938-2011  Gale McGovern, 1938-2011Prominent activist Gale McGovern, who played a leading role in dozens of Hudson Valley causes and campaigns, died suddenly on Tuesday, December 27 at her home in Olivebridge. She was 73.

An obituary published recently by the Mid-Hudson News recounts her early activism in the 1960s:

The sixties were just beginning, and McGovern embraced them with zest and a fierce intellect, working on Bella Abzug's first congressional campaign, protesting Vietnam, and becoming a driving force in both the Gay Activists Alliance and the Daughters of Bilitis.

“We specialized in 'zaps',” recounts McGovern in a resume she wrote several years ago, “fun and imaginative political actions...We occupied the offices of Harper's Magazine for a full day.

After moving from New York City to Ulster County in the early 1980s, McGovern founded and led W.E.B (Women Escaping Batterers) the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Youth, the Coalition for an Ulster County Human Rights Law, Friends of Comadres, People Against Racism, the Ulster County Global Warming Project and People for Medical Secularity. Her organizations, and others she supported, played roles in the Kingston Hospital merger, the New Paltz gay weddings of 2004, the preservation of the Rosendale Theatre and dozens of issues, local and national. Her winning lawsuit against the Town of New Paltz sought no money, but resulted in the town court being made handicapped accessible.

But it may have been her unclassifiable activities that made her so memorable: teaching phobic people to drive, helping families cope with legal troubles, refusing to take overtime pay in her home health aide cases when families needed her.

“She tackled big broad political, social and environmental issues and also helped her neighbors get to the store to shop for groceries,” said New Paltz businesswoman Ann Rodman.

McGovern was arrested on several occasions, notably for drawing a prison cell in sidewalk chalk outside the Ulster County courthouse (she appeared six times with her pro bono attorney before then-District Attorney Michael Kavanagh dropped the case) and on another occasion for letting the air out of an SUV tire (“nonviolently and very publicly,” she noted) in an environmental protest. That time McGovern performed fifty hours of community service.

Her friends say community service was what McGovern's life was all about.

“Gale was not "political," in the sense that something was Democratic or Republican, left or right, gay or straight,” said New Paltz town justice Judith Reichler. “She did not care about these labels. If she felt someone's actions supported human dignity, she did everything possible to support them.”

McGovern's writing frequently appeared in the Hudson Valley Black Press and other local publications and a play of hers, Voices from the Closet, was produced at Ulster County BOCES, and her life is chronicled in the National Women's Hall of Fame Book of Lives and Legacies.

A memorial page has been established at the Simpson-Gaus Funeral Home's website where friends and colleagues are invited to reminisce.