Central Florida LGBTQ pioneer Joel Strack passes away at age 59

By : Jeremy Williams
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ABOVE: Joel Strack at his celebration of life at Leu Gardens in Orlando June 23. (Photo by J.D. Casto)

ORLANDO | Joel Strack—an LGBTQ leader, activist and pioneer in Central Florida’s fight for equality— passed away in the early morning hours of July 15. He was 59.

Strack was instrumental in launching what would become known as Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom, helped create Orlando’s first Pride parade and assisted in founding both the Orlando Gay Chorus and the Gay and Lesbian History Museum.

Due to his many years of service to Central Florida’s LGBTQ community, Strack was presented with a city proclamation by Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan during a celebration of life event at Leu Gardens on June 23.

“Joel Strack champions a lasting legacy of love, devotion, friendship and smiling in the face of adversity and never giving up,” the proclamation read.

Many fellow community leaders and activists took to Facebook to honor Strack.

“I have many fond memories of him,” LGBT+ Center Executive Director George Wallace wrote on Facebook. “He was one of the very first people who reached out to me when I took the ED role at The Center. A few months later he stopped in and we were in the middle of construction. We got talking about the museum and both our passions for preserving our rich history, both good and bad. I gave him the hard-hat tour and he went on his way. About three months later I invited him out for a drink so I could chat with him. I asked him if the LGBTQ History Museum would be interested in having a permanent installation at The Center. He gave me a hug and began crying (tears of joy).”

In honor of Strack’s impact on the LGBTQ community, The Center in Orlando flew its flags at half-staff on July 15.

“Joel passed peacefully into the light at 3:45 this morning,” wrote Sheehan on Facebook. “To say he will be missed is an understatement. Treat yourself right.”

Sheehan, as many on social media did, quoted Strack’s famous catchphrase “Treat yourself right” in her tribute.

Community member Rick Grayson, who called Strack a “chosen brother” took to Facebook to say he learned “endless compassion, deep felt humor, and that all we are in this life is Love” from Strack.

“Today and every day please do your best to ‘treat yourself right.’ In his simple catch phrase we have the keys to creating the world he always saw through his eyes,” Grayson wrote. “I love you all and I wish peace and light to all affected by his passing and the loss of such a unicorn on this Earth.”

Local playwright, director and actor Michael Wanzie recalled in his Facebook post how Strack played his love interest in Wanzie’s first original play he wrote, “David’s Time,” and how, for a brief time in the mid-80s, he and Strack were roommates.

“Joel was VERY active in, and supportive of, The Center in its formative months and years and witnessing my grief after the loss of my love, Ron Kimber,” Wanzie wrote. “It was Joel who first made me aware of the inaugural Washington D.C. display of The Names Quilt and suggested it might be cathartic for me if I made a panel to memorialize Ron. At HIS suggestion friends and I made the panel and I took it to D.C. which turned out to be a life-altering, life-affirming and very positive experience for me which resulted in my resolve to become an activist for change once back in Orlando.”

Dozens of community members shared stories, memories and condolences of Strack on Facebook; however, as Wallace noted, Strack’s greatest legacy may be the impact to LGBTQ individuals who didn’t even know him personally.

“He literally put his whole life into making Orlando better,” Wallace ended his post. “Whether you knew him or not, he has impacted your life. Trust us old folks! May you rest in peace, sir. I am sure you are singing with the angels today.”

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