Senior, community advocate Jazzie Collins dies
by Cynthia Laird
Jazzie Collins, a transgender woman who served as vice chair of the San Francisco LGBT Aging Policy Task Force, died Thursday, July 11 at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in the city. She was 54.
Ms. Collins had been in the hospital for about a week; her cause of death was not released.
"We are devastated and heartbroken," Bill Ambrunn, chair of the aging panel, told the Bay Area Reporter.
Ms. Collins, who was open about her HIV-positive status, was active on the aging task force from its inception. The panel is an advisory committee under the Human Rights Commission and will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.
"Jazzie was unanimously elected vice chair of the LGBT Aging Policy Task Force because she brought a wealth of experience as an advocate, an educator, and a self-described policy wonk," Ambrunn said. "She earned the respect of everyone she worked with by being herself with grace and dignity, and never making apologies for who she was. The task force will miss her terribly."
Last month, the LGBT Legislative Caucus in Sacramento honored Ms. Collins at the state Capitol for LGBT Pride Month.
"Jazzie was absolutely glowing last month when the LGBT caucus honored her in the Capitol," gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. "Of course, we were the ones honored to have her with us, gracing us with her stature as a community leader and a human being. Her work for justice and equality in San Francisco will have long-lasting impact, as will her advocacy for communities that needed her voice, and she is missed."
Assemblyman and caucus Chair Rich Gordon (D-San Mateo) also praised Ms. Collins.
"Today we lost an advocate and a leader," Gordon said in the July 11 statement. "Jazzie Collins worked tirelessly on behalf of all communities, serving as an untiring advocate for the poor, for the transgender community, and truly, for all San Francisco residents. While we celebrate Ms. Collins and her life's work, her spirit will continue to live on through the many lives she has touched."
Gabriel Haaland, a longtime transgender activist and close friend of Ms. Collins, said, "I am honored to have been her friend, and to have borne witness to her beautiful transition. She was a fierce fighter for justice with a tender heart. We will miss her dearly."
Born to a teen mother in Memphis, Tennessee on September 24, 1958, Ms. Collins moved to San Francisco in 1988. She began her transition in her late 40s.
In 2002, Ms. Collins began her political activism as a tenant at the Plaza Hotel when the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was trying to demolish the building. She began to organize tenants and fought for their rights to keep the space as affordable housing.
During 2002-2004, Ms. Collins also worked at the Mission Agenda, a San Francisco-based organization focused on fighting for the rights of residential hotel tenants. With her newly acquired knowledge of organizing SRO tenants, Ms. Collins soon began to help with the local food pantry program and advocating at City Hall for housing and land use issues.
In 2004, Ms. Collins was an organizer for the South of Market Community Action Network, a multi-racial community organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes immigrant and low-income SOMA residents.
She served on the board of the Western SOMA Plan from 2005-2009. That was a citizen-based planning committee created to oversee proposed redevelopment in the area.
Ms. Collins also served as chair of the SOMA Stabilization Fund Committee in 2006. That panel advised the Mayor's Office of Community Development and the Board of Supervisors on recommended expenditures from the fund.
Three years ago, Ms. Collins became an organizer for Senior Action Network, a member-led organization that empowers and organizes seniors and people with disabilities. The organization is now known as Senior and Disability Action.
"Jazzie was a motivator, mentor, and a non-stop activist in the areas of LGBT rights, housing, and issues affecting seniors and people with disabilities," Tony Robles with SDA. "She was a fighter and a friend whose life experience helped SDA immensely."
In addition to her circle of San Francisco friends and colleagues, Ms. Collins is survived by her mother, Mary Mackey; brothers Arthur Cahill Jr., Roosevelt Bufort, Antonio Washington, and Michael Cahill; and sisters Latasha Cahill, Betty Cahill, Katherine Cahill, and Jennette Cahill.
Memorial plans were pending at press time. However, donations are being sought to help cover memorial and cremation expenses. Meals on Wheels of San Francisco is serving as the fiscal agent, according to Executive Director Ashley McCumber. People can go to http://www.mowsf.org/ways-to-give/donate-now and in the "Special Comment" section indicate that the donation is for the "Jazzie Collins Memorial." Donors can also mail their gifts payable to MOWSF and note in the memo line that the donation is for "Jazzie Collins Memorial." Checks can be mailed to Meals on Wheels of San Francisco, Attn: Ashley McCumber, 1375 Fairfax Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94124.
[Updated 7/18/13: Ms. Collins also was a member of the Trans March board and that organization has also been assisting in raising funds to cover her end-of-life expenses. A recent benefit at El Rio raised about $1,300, according to Tracy Garza. The Trans March also has an active Indiegogo campaign that to date has brought in about $2,500. To donate via that effort, which continues for another nine days, visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jazzie-collins-legacy/x/3661670.
Garza said that Ms. Collins's colleagues at the Trans March are "incredibly saddened" by her passing.]