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In Memoriam

Erdman

E. George Erdman, III

By: Dov Treiman, Secretary of BARA

We at SYOL/BARA, the Binghamton Area Rainbow Association, the umbrella organization that seeks to incorporate the concerns of the entire Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Community in and around Binghamton, mourn the loss of E. George Erdman, III, who once served as our President.

George fought a long battle with AIDS, not only in his bloodstream, but also in our community, as he sought to increase awareness of the disease and how to prevent its spread.

One cannot help noting that George’s Memorial Service at First Presbyterian Church in Binghamton took place just a few footsteps from Squiggy’s, the only GLBT Bar currently open in that Community. Squiggy’s is where George, as Dominique Goodhead, earned his crown as Miss Gay Triple Cities less than a year ago. This was the last of many crowns George wore, but it was awarded purely on George’s merit, without thought to what his history is or had been.

Many members of the community who celebrated George’s life drew inspiration from him and chose to follow the examples he set for them.

George was a winner

George was also a symbol. That’s what crown holders are. They are the representatives of an entire population, an entire community. George bore that responsibility with pride, with honor, with whimsy, with joy in his own outrageousness, and with a distinct sense that he was not merely George for himself, but George for us all.

My own first meeting of George was some five years ago, in my artist’s studio, a few weeks after I came out of the closet. I drew him wearing a leather jacket and holding a teddy bear. The composition was my own, but as the years passed, I realized that the composition was in fact George – proud, hard edged, and embracing his softer side as well.

Embracing his softer side as well

That was a critical aspect of George. He knew who and what he was and to put it in George’s words, “Honey, if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem. I don’t care.”

George embraced who he was, made no apology for who he was and made the most of who he was. He demanded our respect for who he was, and in the process taught many of us to embrace ourselves as well – to follow his example. To see that funny man, wearing that funny dress, wearing that funny crown, and bowing his head to no power on earth, not even the disease that ripped at his being.

George was strong and in his strength gave us greater strength of our own. George was a man who had no understanding of half measures. What he did, he did fully, with his whole heart. With regard to his drag costumes, one of our local performers told me that George learned in design school that the inside and outside of an outfit had to be equally beautiful. As a result I was told, “I can honestly tell you anything he made for the most part could have been worn inside out because of the love and detail he put into it.” I never saw the insides of these outfits, but the exteriors were certainly breathtaking.

That love, that detail informed everything George did, whether it was as gardener, or as friend to his beloved cats, whether it was as scenic and costume designer, or as President of SYOL or an employee of the Southern Tier AIDS Program. All was done to the full, or not done at all. And in the process he racked up many honors, honorary memberships in gay organizations such as the BC Bears, and practically every drag title available, including Miss Binghamton, Miss Risky Business, Miss Squiggy’s, Miss Prism, and finally, Miss Triple Cities.

But if George had held not a single office, nor a single crown, George would still have been a leader in the gay community, a man to whom that community is indebted. Because in the final analysis, George was George.

He held his head high and proclaimed it with pride.

If you ever wondered why he always made it clear that he was not merely George Erdman, but rather George Erdman III, it was that George would never let go of the least shred of his dignity, not when he seduced us with his vamping, not when he made us laugh, not when he made us smile, and not even now as he makes us cry.


Erdman was entertainer with serious message

Sarah D'Esti Miller - Night Spots

Today I will be going to a memorial service for E. George Erdman III.

I first met George when he volunteered to be the costumier for the Summer Savoyards production of Iolanthe in 1992.

Imagine my surprise nearly 10 years later when I interviewed the statuesque Dominique Goodhead for a column about the female impersonator (i.e. "drag") show Love & Lashes. I stood there sputtering ... "You're ... you're George Erdman? Wow! I know you! You did the costumes for Iolanthe, right?"

Well, George did a whole lot more than that.

George was openly gay, which can't have been easy, especially in the days before homosexuality became more mainstream.

George also had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and he lived with it for a long time -- at least for the 12 years that I knew him. He was open about that, too. And while he managed his HIV, he served as outreach coordinator for the Southern Tier AIDS Program and founded Save Your Own Lives, a group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people dealing with HIV.

George and I were never close, but I have always admired people who can make the best of a bad situation, and that is exactly what George did.

At a time when ignorance concerning HIV was even more prevalent than it is now, and even though he had a good support network, George's openness about his HIV status put him at risk. It also helped him to inspire others who were infected with the virus, showing them that it doesn't have to be an automatic death sentence and that they have a lot to keep living for.

But to say he helped the gay community is only part of the picture. As most educated people now know, HIV is not a "gay disease."

Consider the children of the working single mother who is able to keep her sanity and consequently her job when she finds out her brother has HIV. Or the family and friends of the third-shift nurse who, before current safety precautions, was accidentaly stuck by an infected needle. Or the grandparents of the little boy who received an infected transfusion. Or the parents of the gay man or the IV drug user who love their child unconditionally.

HIV touches them all in different ways, and George was a part of the healing process.

And he made me laugh. Decked out in sparkling gowns as Dominique Goodhead, George used his talents to raise thousands of dollars for charities such as Toys for Tots and STAP. He seemed to have an endless supply of bons mots. How ironic that someone personally engaged in the very serious business of staying alive was able to help so many to not take life -- or themselves -- too seriously. Life is good, and more importantly, it's precious. George helped people to see that, even when they were blinded by his sequins.

From the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulleten, Saturday October 23, 2004


Man Who Helped Gay Community Mourned

By Scott Rockefeller

Family and friends will gather Saturday to celebrate the life of George Erdman III.

And although many people in the Southern Tier knew him from his female impersonation shows, those close to him knew him as more than "Dominique Goodhead." They knew him as a loyal friends loving son and a man passionate about helping others.

Mr. Erdman, 42. died Monday at his parent's Town of Union home following a long battle with AIDS. He is survived by his parents. George and Karen, and a brother, Christian.

Mr. Erdman performed in numerous drag shows at Binghamton bars, including Squiggy's, Risky Business and Prism, as well as spots in Elmira and Ithaca, his mother said. Through the shows, Erdman was able to raise thousands of dollars for organizations such as the Southern Tier Aids Program and Toys for Tots.

"Even the tips he received would go to. the different groups he was raising money for." said Karen Erdman, president of the Binghamton chapter of the Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Persons.

But even though entertainment was a big part of his life, education was just as, if not more, important. Whether he was working to spread information about AIDS, appearing in local safe-sex advertisements or running a support group, he had a sense of purpose larger than himself.

Mr. Erdman, who previously did outreach work with STAP and was president of Save Your Own Lives, a community support group, would spread his message of AIDS awareness in schools, bars and wherever someone was who would listen, friends said. And his efforts weren't just talk, his mother said; he would provide people with the tools to fight the disease.

"He was the condom king," she said. "He would go around to the bars and try to make sure people were protected."

And although he devoted much of his energy to helping his community, he always had time to lend a hand to his close friends, Cheryl Racine, of Binghamton, met Mr Erdman close to 15 years ago and the two remained close until his death.

"He was the kind of friend that always wanted to be there for you - in the good times and bad times," said Racine, the former owner of Risky Business, which later became Prism. "He was a guy you can't replace. You're lucky to have one friend like him in your entire life."

From the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulleten, Sunday October 17, 2004

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