Clark U.'s William Koelsch, Pioneering LGBTQ Historian, Dies at 89Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, LGBTQ history
William "Bill" Koelsch, a former professor at Clark University and trailblazing LGBTQ rights activist, died Nov. 5. He was 89.
Koelsch, sometimes known by his pseudonym, A. Nolder Gay, is survived by his partner of 50 years, Joseph Dennison, who said he hoped the educator, writer and activist was not only remembered for his work, but for being a mild and kind person.
"He could be stubborn, but he was never stubborn to me," Dennison, 74, said. "He always did for me the things he could do."
The pair met in the 1970s in Boston and had been together since. They had built many memories over that time, but the trips they took to Rome and Assisi in Italy and Oxford in England were particular favorites for Dennison.
In 1975, he became one of the first educators to teach a course on the gay liberation movement. In 1982, after seeing the impact of the AIDS epidemic, Koelsch would, again, be among the first to incorporate lessons about AIDS into his course at Clark, Health and Disease in the American Habitat.
Clark professor Rinku Roy Chowdhury, who took a course with Koelsch when she was pursuing her Ph.D., said it proved intimidating for her, since she studied computer science in her undergraduate education and ecology for her graduate education.
But Koelsch was "incredibly welcoming" to her and her cohort of Ph.D. candidates and was able to put them all at ease by making them all feel like they belonged in the program, she said.
In an interview with Clark University, Koelsch said “the beginning of my search for a positive gay life" came after hearing a fellow military officer mention a magazine for the community called ONE.
“That, and a couple of other magazines ... were the first positive writings by and for gay men that I’d ever seen," he said.
In 1973, Koelsch took a sabbatical and moved to Boston, where he met Dennison and became involved with the gay rights movement. It was during this time that he began writing a column under the pseudonym A. Nolder Gay for Gay Community News (GCN) newspaper.