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Thomas Stoddard, gay rights advocate, dies

February 14, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Thomas Stoddard, a civil rights lawyer who helped lead the fight for homosexuals to serve openly in the military, has died at age 48.

Stoddard died Wednesday of AIDS, according to his companion, Walter Rieman.

As executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1986 to 1992, Stoddard fought for equal rights for gay men, lesbians and people with AIDS.

He maintained his public role after leaving the organization and after becoming ill, most recently leading the unsuccessful lobbying to end the ban against gays serving openly in the military.

More militant activists considered his approach too conciliatory.

Former Mayor Ed Koch praised Stoddard’s authorship of a 1986 New York City law that protects gays against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

``He was an extraordinary lawyer. Even though he never retreated, he would find a way to explain, to placate and convince opponents that his approach was reasonable, rational and one they could accept. That’s a gift,″ said Koch.

An early proponent of gay marriage, Stoddard and colleagues debated the issue in a road show to build support within the gay community, said Peg Byron, Lambda’s public education director.

Stoddard and Rieman, also a lawyer, exchanged wedding vows and gold bands in 1993.

After being diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer, in 1989, Stoddard gradually wove his illness into his activism, attending U.S. and international conferences on AIDS and joining the board of the American Foundation for AIDS research.