By Ellyn Ruthstrom
I first met ABilly Jones-Hennin at a meeting on the Hill in Washington where LGBTQ+ leaders from around the country were being briefed on various policy initiatives during the early days of the Obama Administration. I didn’t know who he was and just assumed he was a DC-based bi person who was staying aware of the issues, maybe since he retired. Little did I know that he had been doing this for decades and I was the relative newbie. ABilly was an esteemed elder and long-time activist within both the bi+ world and within the greater LGBTQ+ movement, as well as specifically within the BIPOC queer community.
Luckily, I got to meet ABilly at other important meetings at the White House and during the early organizing of the Bi+ Leadership Roundtable. I got to know a wonderful man who had experienced over many decades with the politics of the national LGBTQ+ scene and he was still eager to be a part of the discussions and organizing. In a Metro Weekly interview he was quoted as saying, “I am activist till death do I part. Once it gets in your blood, you may step back but you can’t take it away.” That is the spirit he always conveyed.
ABilly reached out to other bi+ leaders during COVID when we weren’t gathering for our usual convenings. He sent sweet messages to some of us, and I’ve got Cecily Tyson’s memoir on my reading list due to his recommendation. I was shocked to hear of his death and sad that I hadn’t reached out in the new year. The news of his passing in late January reverberated through the various bi+ channels and it was gratifying to see some LGBTQ+ community newspapers and even The Washington Post include obituaries to acknowledge his life and work. Instead of repeating his many accomplishments here, you can find out more about his life’s journey in Them’s obituary to ABilly.
Organizations such as the BRC and others around the country have greatly benefited from the work of ABilly and many other of our bi+ elders as they blazed the path before us. We can all be thankful for that work and honor ABilly for his tremendous contribution to our community.
Ellyn Ruthstrom was the president of the Bisexual Resource Center for ten years and has been involved with bi+ organizing for 30 years. She is the Executive Director of SpeakOUT Boston, an LGBTQ+ speakers bureau that raises awareness about the community and helps to build safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people.