African Human Rights Coalition is deeply saddened to report the sudden passing of our Advisory Committee member, Sam Deetz, from Pennsylvania. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends, to Sam’s devoted husband Jim Zeigler, who he had shared his life with for the past 42 years. Sam’s loss is profound for all who knew him, and for us here at African HRC he will be so sorely missed. Sam was a man who cared deeply, his generosity a constant, as he gave so much in so many ways to LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers from African countries. He was especially active in our work with The Gambians seeking refuge and resettlement out of Senegal. It was Sam's fund raising and mentorship that served as an imperative impetus toward the African HRC and UNHCR resettlement of a gay man from The Gambia to Canada, in a very challenging situation.
To fully reflect on Sam, and appreciate his enormous contributions to LGBTI America and the globe, we are posting this Obituary in full as written by his husband, James Zeigler:
Sam “Equality” Deetz
Samuel John Deetz
April 21, 1951 – March 27, 2019
If you ever met Sam you know why he chose “Equality” for his middle name on several web sites and Facebook. He was passionate about equality for ALL. Activism was in his blood from the beginning. Born in Quakertown, PA, into a fundamental, religious family he began rebelling as youngster and received many a whipping, by the belt, following his father’s church services. His father was a preacher in the God’s Missionary Synod which caused Sam to move about from town to town and state to state. Sam attended 11 different schools. He was one of seven, four of whom became ministers. So Sam’s “coming out” was not received well which made him even more fervent in love for all and acceptance of all.
I met Sam when his activism was in full gear in 1976; however he had already been an activist during the 1960’s. We became a couple immediately and remained such for 42 years. At that time Sam was on the “Pennsylvania’s Council on Sexual Minorities” under then Governor Shapp’s administration. However, prior to that Sam had already made a reputation for himself in Pennsylvania in the rural gay community along with Joe Burns, Mary Nancarrow, Bari Weaver, Gary Norton, Sam Edminston, Dan Manival, Roger Beatty, Dixie White, Barry Kohn and Mark Segal to name just a few.
He founded the Susquehanna Valley Gays United in Sunbury and served in leading and inspiring a number of Pennsylvania rural gay organizations. He was a pioneer of gay liberation. Several gay young men say they owe a debt of gratitude to Sam for helping them accept themselves and coming out in a rural setting. He was an historian and saved as many gay related papers, articles, etc. that he could gather. His papers were donated to the Central PA LBGT History Project in 2017. He, along with other founding members, were honored at Dickenson College, PA, where the papers are archived and also in an exhibit, “History Comes Out” held at the college in October of 2013. The exhibit included a collection of stories of LGBT history in central PA as told by those who lived them. These stories were videotaped and are currently being viewed throughout PA in a traveling exhibit, “The Long Road to LGBTQ+ Equality in Pennsylvania.”
After living in Pennsylvania for 35+ years we moved to Delaware. Sam continued his activism in DE. He quickly became an active member of the Progressive Democrats of Sussex County (PDSC) which only made sense as he was very active with the Democratic Party in Lancaster, PA. In Delaware he could be heard protesting in the Circle of Georgetown at the “We Will Not Be Silent” rally supporting Coretta Scott King, Elizabeth Warren and all women. He joined AFRAM to register voters and got hundreds of signatures for “Single Payer Health Insurance.” He marched in Delmar at the nursing home to promote the right to unionize nurses’ aides, custodial, housekeeping and dietary workers. (The following day they voted and unionized.)
Sam was found in Dover at Legislative Hall where he was on a first name basis with legislators. He championed the bill on “Right to Work” which was eventually defeated. On the fourth of July he stood along with other PDSC members on Route 1 where they demonstrated against the separation of families at our border.
Probably the project he was most proud of was his work for the Dreamers at Delaware State. He arranged a meeting, which was held at Epworth Church, called “Dine In for Dreamers.” He became friends with Kevin Noriega, Director of the Scholar Opportunity program at Delaware State. Kevin brought several “dreamers” to this event to give testimony to the atrocities they faced leaving their homeland. Over 100 people attended this event (publicized only by word of mouth) and raised over $5,000 to help the dreamers with textbooks and other costs associated with their education.
His last project, African Freedom Project, involved raising funds to support and remove gay refugees from Gambia and Nigeria Africa. In those parts of the world a gay could be beheaded on the spot. He, along with Joe Burns, and a California lawyer, Melanie Nathan, raised enough money to free several refugees and one in particular, Bubacarr, was relocated to Nova Scotia, Canada where he lives to this day.
I write this for my love against his wishes. He did not like being put in the limelight; but, he was “the wind beneath my wings.” He always put me to the forefront; but, he was the dynamic one and this little bit of his life must be shared. Jim.