Remembering LGBT Health Advocate Andrew Cray

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"Remembering LGBT Health Advocate Andrew Cray"

Over the past week, the Center for American Progress has been mourning the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Andrew Cray. Kellan Baker shares this remembrance.

Andrew Cray

Last Thursday, August 28, the LGBT movement suffered a terrible loss with the passing of Andrew Cray.

Andy had been struggling with cancer since October 2013. But before his diagnosis, and even during his treatment and the period of remission that was all too brief, Andy was a pivotal figure in the struggle for LGBT rights. Despite the too few years we had with him, he was a champion of LGBT rights and justice who achieved more by the age of 28 than most of us can manage in an entire lifetime.

I first met Andy five years ago in DC, when, after a stint as a law fellow at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, he joined me on the staff of the National Coalition for LGBT Health to share the work he had been doing in law school on transgender coverage under Medicaid. At first, I was suspicious — would I get along with this Andy person? Wouldn’t we have to fight for the position of the resident obsessive about transgender health?

But as soon as he arrived, I fell hard for Andy. He was impossible not to like — a charming, friendly guy who just happened to be brilliant and to love nothing more than reading the full text of the Affordable Care Act and researching the labyrinths of insurance and public accommodations law.

Over the next several years, Andy and I developed the kind of wonderful, wide-ranging relationship that’s only possible among us LGBT movement types who have no work/life boundaries. As we worked together at the Coalition and then at the Center for American Progress, we spent hours on conference calls plotting the future of various LGBT health projects, before taking a shopping break at H&M, or as Andy called it, the Ham. We traveled together all around the country, preaching the gospel of LGBT health and the Affordable Care Act from Maine to Texas to his beloved home state of Wisconsin.

Within a few years of arriving in DC, Andy had played a central role in efforts such as securing new nationwide LGBT nondiscrimination protections as part of health reform, partnering with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to create the Out2Enroll initiative that connects LGBT people with their new coverage options under the Affordable Care Act, assisting with the passage of the HOPE Act to make organ donation and transplantation more accessible to people with HIV, and helping draft new provisions addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.

One of the causes closest to Andy’s heart was the national struggle to eliminate insurance plan exclusions that discriminate against transgender people by denying them coverage for the health care services they need for gender transition. In just the last two years, Andy led or was a key participant in successful efforts to secure bulletins prohibiting these exclusions from insurance commissioners in DC and nine other states to date. Together with other recent victories such as the lifting of the Medicare ban on sex reassignment surgeries, these bulletins are paving the way for a growing nationwide consensus that transgender people deserve the right to get the health insurance coverage and health care they need to live authentic lives.

It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the LGBT health movement will be built on the foundation that Andy helped to lay. The full scope of everything he did in his work on behalf of all of us is hard to pin down, however — both because it was so huge and because he was so modest about himself and his contributions. Andy was never flashy, and throughout his career he toiled away behind the scenes every day to make things better and to create more change than any of us will ever be able to fully comprehend.

A couple of years ago, for example, Andy was asked to work with Cyndi Lauper to put together an op-ed about one of the driest, if most hotly contested, topics in DC — sequestration and the debt-ceiling negotiations. The rock-goddess-turned-LGBTQ-youth-advocate wanted to publish a piece that called out the politicians whose slashing of federal funds supporting social service programs around the country would have disastrous consequences for the staggering percentage of America’s out-of-home youth who are LGBTQ.

The first draft that Andy came up with was, well, wonky. All of the facts were right and the logic of the argument was impeccable, but it was missing the human element — Andy was so modest that he had even managed to put his celebrity author in the background. His boss at the time, Jeff Krehely, told Andy to go do every 20-something’s dream: watch a few hours of YouTube videos on company time and come back talking like Cyndi Lauper.

The piece he came up with was a masterpiece — an impassioned, outraged call to action, in Cyndi’s voice proclaiming, “We all need to make sure Washington hears us on this one – for ourselves and for youth who are struggling and lack a voice of their own. There’s too much at stake to simply tune this out. We need to make some noise of our own.”

No one but a handful us ever knew, of course, that those words in the pages of Rolling Stone were Andy’s. And that’s how he worked — he had not only the talent so evident in the elegance of the writing, and the ability to code-switch between policy wonk and rock star to get his point across, but the humility to work behind the scenes, to put his best work out there without needing to be recognized or applauded for it.

So I’m going to suggest that each of us take a moment now to applaud Andy — for his exceptional passion, for his creativity, brilliance, and the incredible work that he accomplished. Thank you, Andy, for your life, your love, and your work. We will all miss you more than you will ever know.

The related posts below, Andy’s guest contributions to ThinkProgress, offer a glimpse into his work and accomplishments.

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