I was sad to learn today that Warren Allen Smith, a veteran US gay rights activist best known for his creation of a 1,237-page tome, Who’s Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists and Non-Theists, died peacefully at the age of 95.
I have been in regular touch with Smith for around five years, discussing possible subjects he might want to write for The Pink Humanist, which I edit on behalf of the the UK gay charity, the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT). During our frequent email exchanges, Smith – who participated in the Stonewall riots in 1969 – animatedly kept me abreast of his many activities in New York and remained remarkably active even after moving reecently into an assisted living facility.
Among the many tributes flowing in since news of his death broke yesterday was one from George Broadhead, a Warwickshire colleague of mine, who told me:
I never met Warren but communicated with him regularly when I was secretary of the UK Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA). For many years he contributed a regular ‘Stateside Gossip’ and ‘Gossip from Across the Pond’ column to Gay & Lesbian Humanist. This magazine was published by the Pink Triangle Trust and issued free to GALHA members. The PTT was founded in 1992 and is still going strong, as is its magazine. I am proud to have been included in Warren’s Who’s Who in Hell.
In an interview 16 years ago, Smith, who started the Variety Recording Studio, a major independent company in New York City in 1961 with his business partner and longtime lover Fernando Rodolfo de Jesus Vargas Zamora who died in 1989 – said he spent decades researching people who, like himself, either don’t believe in God, question God’s existence, or, at very least, are sceptical of all organised religions.
The first 50 years or so of Mr. Smith’s research constituted a labour of love, but after getting a computer around 1990, Smith began to think that maybe he had a book.
Lyle Stuart, longtime non-believer and notoriously anti-establishment owner of Barricade Books, agreed, and on July 10, 2000, his book was published and contained more than 10,000 names ranging from billionaire Warren Buffett to actors Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, and George Clooney.
His own entry describes him as a “roué and a sybarite”.
Smith said in his interview with Frank DiGiacomo:
I do think I’m a happy person. If you’re the member of an organised church group, you really have to have a guilt complex. You have to feel guilty about not loving God enough or not contributing enough money or not contributing enough to society.
Asked by DiGiacomo if he thought that his homosexuality had anything to do with his non-belief, Smith replied:
I’ve really thought about that, and I don’t honestly think so at all. I was in my late 20’s before I really knew I was gay, and by that time, I was already a humanist.
In his summer 2002 column for the Gay and Lesbian Humanist, Smith wrote:
‘And what do you do?’ Sir Ian McKellen asked. ‘I’m an author,’ I replied.
We were at the annual ceremonial of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the 250-member honorary group of notable American artists, writers and composers, which also includes 74 foreign members (e.g., Margaret Drabble, Thom Gunn, David Hockney). Presumably, Sir Ian thought I might be a member or a recipient of one of the Academy’s awards. The ceremonial, which I attend as a journalist, is not open to the general public. When I explained that I have written two books about people who have not been attracted to organized religion, he said with a smile, ‘Is anyone any more?’When I mentioned writing for the present journal, Sir Ian expressed deep interest, asked how to subscribe and exchanged e-mail addresses. Not wanting to monopolize him, I started to leave but he eyed my 36-year-old black companion, Peter Ross, and brought him into the conversation, too.
How much longer can the Catholic Church continue? Sir Ian wondered aloud, commenting upon all the reports about priests sexually abusing children. He then turned to the subject of computers, and my companion and I talked about OS X, gigabytes and digital imaging.
It was only when I returned home that I realized I’d listed this incredibly handsome man in my Who’s Who in Hell (Barricade Books) as well as in my just-published Celebrities in Hell (Barricade Books), documenting that he is an atheist who considers Hell simply a theological invention.