A Tribute to Harry Woosley, Jr.

By Ricky Taylor

I asked with excitement, “Are you sure you wanted me to do this?”  

Harry nodded, “It is very simple thing, all I want you to do is to use this trimmer to cut my hair.  All over my head.  No need to make it complicated.  Just buzz it off, please.”

I smiled, “Sure thing, Auntie Abbe.”  I went on to trim his hair at least 4 times in 2017. 

Auntie Abbe was the affectionate name that only belonged to Harry Woosley, Junior, a well-known and beloved Deaf figure in deaf gay community, especially in Baltimore, Maryland.

Harry has been living in many cities such as Danville (Kentucky), Detroit, Louisville, Rochester, Baltimore and for the last time, Frederick (Maryland).

Between 2010 to 2017, due to his failing eye vision, Harry always asked me if I could pick him up so we can go to the local deaf club events in Westminster, Frederick, Hagerstown or Williamsport. Sure thing, I always told him. He knew he does not have to ask me for a ride but he was polite to do that.

He did not have to ask me because my Mother and I made it a requirement that we take Harry whenever he wanted to. Harry was good friends with my Mother before she passed away as well. The drives with me on my steering wheel while watching my Mother talking to Harry back and forth in my car is something that will always be with me. 

Many times during my stay in Frederick, Harry told me about the struggles that he endured when he kept on pushing on advocacy for Deaf people with HIV/AIDS and created the Deaf AIDS Project in Baltimore, especially in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods filled with people of color. He also was involved with Baltimore Pride festivals for many years, he would flex his muscles and contacts in order to coordinate with the local gay organizations to ensure that accessibility for deaf participants were possible by providing the interpreters on and off the stage during the festivals.

“I wonder if people will remember what I did for Deaf gay community?”  Harry once remarked to me at Frederick Gay Pride Festival in 2016, I quickly turned to look at him.  “That’s absolutely silly question.  You did do so much for us all when many of us were in the closet!  History will prove that you played a crucial role when nobody was willing to be out and confront the issues that plagues deaf gay people at that time.”

Harry was the President of Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf in 1981.  He also founded the Baltimore Leather Association of the Deaf (BLADeaf) and he collaborated with Philadelphia Lambda Contests of the Deaf (PLCD) through Dennis Hart.  

When HIV/AIDS ravaged the gay communities across the planet in 1980s, it also devastated the deaf gay communities. At that time, here was not many Deaf gay men who was willing to come forward to confront this plight.  Harry Woosley was one of these deaf gay men who did do that.  

IN the climate of homophobia, racism and oppression, Harry was never afraid to confront this.  That was in his nature to do such a thing.  

When he was a student at Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville, Kentucky, he always had this drive that he wants to push and reach Deaf people on goodness of humanity.  That led him to study and become a pastor for a short time in Detroit before he comes to accept himself as gay man.  

Then Harry decided to attend the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) which he received the BA degree in Social Work and was the two-time President of NTID Student Congress in 1977 and 1979.  At that time, NTID was new to the country.  The entire time he was never in the closet!

After graduating from NTID, Harry briefly worked as a Resident Counselor at Maryland School for the Deaf, he quickly moved on to Baltimore in order to be the counselor and social worker for Family Services Foundation in Northwest Baltimore and eventually created the Deaf AIDS Project, a brand out of Family Services Foundation.

In 2004, the Unitarian Church of Baltimore commissioned Harry Woosley as affiliate minister. 

All of this was done in late 1970s and much of 1980s during the dark days of HIV/AIDS Scourge.  There was no one like Harry Woosley.  He was the candle that continues to burn brightly when many fizzled.  In 1990s and 2000s, after diagnosed with HIV, he continued to march on with dignity.

“So that is why you will never be forgotten, Auntie Abbe.” I told him as a matter of fact.  He smiled and said, “I was never ashamed that I had HIV, you know that?”

I nodded, “You told me all the time. I know. Because of people like you, Deaf people in Maryland are able to talk about it and do something about it.”

I can sense his concerns on whether if people will remember him and his efforts since the social media has pretty much moved the deaf gay community in different direction.  I don’t blame him for feeling that, it is our job to ensure that we preserve the history of Deaf gay people who contributed to our community in different ways. 

Today, you shall know who Harry Woosley Jr was.  He was a great person who did do so much for Baltimore and beyond.

Ricky Taylor
Pocatello, Idaho

** On March 2, 2018, Harry Woosley has passed away at the age of 76 due to the natural causes associated with HIV-related complications.

Harry’s Obituary

  • Deaf AIDS Awareness