There have long been LGBT allies. And there was Rita.
My friend Rita Mezzaroba passed away two weeks ago. But her passing is not what this column will dwell on. It’s about friendship and our straight allies — and if there ever was a straight ally, it was Rita.
Good friends encourage and support us, and they are also there in times of sorrow. And of course they can always be counted on. In that respect, Rita was the truest of friends.
We met decades ago, before it was chic for non-LGBT people to support LGBT equality. But, like a true friend, Rita was unconditional with her encouragement and support; she was way in front of the crowd. In fact, she was doing work for LGBT and HIV/AIDS causes in the dark days of those battles. And she wasn’t afraid to show her support publicly.
Rita was a proud South Philadelphia Italian mother and grandmother who had no problem going to the owner of the most blue-collar of South Philly businesses and asking them for support for an LGBT or AIDS organization.
The best way to memorialize someone is not to grieve them but to celebrate them, and in that regard we’ll be smiling with Rita’s stories for years. While fund-raising for The Elton John AIDS Awareness Concert, held on the Parkway in 2005, Rita told us that she was going to get a meeting with the chief of the Mashantucket Pequot Native American tribe to see if they’d support the event. No one thought anything would come of it, but somewhere in the middle of the press conference in City Hall to announce the concert, I see Rita in the back waving at me and I allowed the mayor to speak as I went over to find out what Rita needed. When I reached her, she said, “Don’t forget to introduce our new sponsor here, the chief of the Mashantucket Pequot Indians,” who was standing next to her with a large check in hand.
Before I met Jason, she was concerned that I wasn’t eating, so she cooked and brought me what I termed “care packages.” I will miss her meatballs and sauce. I’d be remiss if I don’t mention the love she gave her family. Watching that love made me, after the break-up of a long-term relationship, believe that love was still possible. And when she and her daughter met Jason for the first time 10 years ago, and I wasn’t sure if I should pursue a relationship, they simply said, “He’s a keeper.” I’m so happy I listened to you!
At parties or fundraisers at my home, she’d take over the catering if it wasn’t up to her standards. The point is, that is what a friend is, an integral part of your life. And I’m sure at times of decision in the future, I’ll think, "How would Rita suggest we do this?" And I will smile, since working and being with Rita was always heartfelt.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.