Cover photo for Kathleen Joan DeBold's Obituary
1955 Kathleen 2022

Kathleen Joan DeBold

November 16, 1955 — October 9, 2022

Kathleen Joan DeBold, celebrated DC LGBT activist, died suddenly on October 9, 2022 in Ocean City, MD. Kathleen was born on November 16, 1955 in Brooklyn, NY, to Francis Charles and Joan Marie DeBold. During childhood, her family moved to Maryland. Kathleen graduated with a degree in agriculture and life sciences from the University of Maryland College Park in 1977. She worked for the Entomological Society of America and was the first female apiary inspector in the state of Maryland. Her international political commitments inspired her to join the Peace Corps in 1982, where she was stationed in the Central African Republic (CAR) for three years to teach beekeeping. She then returned to CAR with Africare as an extension and training specialist for four more years. While living in Africa, she became fluent in Sango (language of CAR) and French, and she edited BARCA: Bulletin Apicole de la Republique CentrAfricaine, a journal for beekeepers.

Returning to the United States in 1989, Kathleen began her work as an LGBT activist. She worked at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization dedicated to electing openly gay and lesbian candidates to political office; Kathleen served as deputy and political director and worked on the campaign for US Senator Tammy Baldwin, among others. While at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Kathleen wrote the book Out for Office: Campaigning in the Gay Nineties.

In 1999, she was named executive director of the Mautner Project, an organization for lesbians with cancer. Her leadership at Mautner was transformative; Kathleen increased the size and influence of the organization, bringing attention to the issues of lesbians with cancer and health care access for lesbians. Through Kathleen's vision, Mautner operated as both a vibrant service organization in Washington, DC and a national and international leader on lesbian health issues. While at Mautner, Kathleen edited, with Victoria Brownworth, the book Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic. Kathleen worked at Mautner through 2007.

Kathleen served as the interim director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, an organization that supported military service members experiencing discrimination and worked to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." She also served as administrator for the Lambda Literary Awards during the 2010s.

In addition to working for lesbian and gay movement organizations, Kathleen was a dedicated volunteer. Starting in 1990 and for the next three decades, Kathleen was a regular book reviewer for Lambda Book Review and other literary publications. She wrote book jacket copy for Naiad Press, which later became Bella Books. She served as a judge for the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund in 2014, awarding $8000 in grants among several authors. In all her work, Kathleen brought passion, humor, and joy.

Kathleen loved puzzles, jokes, and puns. She created Wordgaymes, an LGBT-themed crossword puzzle that appeared in numerous lesbian and gay newspapers across the country. She also created LGBT cartoons that appeared in numerous publications. Kathleen regularly competed in the Style Invitational, sponsored by the Washington Post, earning many mentions, losses, and other accolades.

Kathleen was beloved in LGBT communities and received many honors. The Washington Blade recognized her as "Most Committed Female Activist" in 2001 and a "Local Hero" in 2005. Women's eNews named her as one of 21 Leaders of the 21st Century in 2007. In 2015, the Rainbow History Project celebrated her as a Community Pioneer. In accepting that award, she paid tribute to her partner Barbara: "There is nothing in those 40-plus years that I have accomplished alone. I am terribly shy and introverted, which is not the best foundation on which to construct an activist life. But the work is so important and the need for change so great that I've just had to cowgirl up."

In 2019, to honor her Irish heritage Kathleen became a dual Irish/American citizen. In 2020, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study Irish at Gaeltacht College in Ireland; unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented this study.

Kathleen was an avid gardener. She loved reading (especially Irish history and poetry), cooking, baking, playing guitar, and singing. And her cat, Buffy.

Kathleen is survived by her longtime companion of 48 years (legal wife of 9 years) Barbara Johnson of Burtonsville, MD; her sister Bonnie DeBold (Scott Mann) of York, PA; her brother Daniel DeBold (Aldona) of Olney, MD; sister-in-law and brother-in-law Judith and Abram Peele of Pulaski, VA; sister-in-law Amy Johnson of Pulaski, VA; nieces and nephews Erin, Sean, Blair, Kevin, Matthew, Thomas, Justin, Tommy, and Kristina; and grandnieces and nephews Alyssa, AJ, and Anthony. She will also be remembered with love and affection by a large community of family, friends, and people whose lives were changed by her work.

Per Kathleen's wishes, there will be no viewing or service. Donations in memory of her may be made to Tree-Mendous Maryland or Sinister Wisdom (

dhéis Dé go raibh a hanam. (May her soul be at the right hand of God.)

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