Forest Hills activist Wieder dies at 57

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Harry Wieder, a community activist from Forest Hills who never stopped fighting for gay and disabled rights, died last week after he was hit by a taxi on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. He was 57.

Wieder, who described himself on his Facebook page as a “disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle-aged dwarf who ambulates with crutches,” was fatally struck as he crossed Essex Street around 9:45 p.m. April 27, police said. He had just left a meeting of Manhattan’s Community Board 3, one of the nearly countless number of groups to which he belonged.

A funeral for Wieder was held Friday at Schwartz Brothers-Jeffer Memorial Chapels in Forest Hills, where his mother, Charlotte Wieder, a Holocaust survivor, still lives.

“Harry was a strong proponent of both gay and disability rights,” said Marvin Wasserman, who knew Wieder for more than 25 years. “He often was a bridge between the two communities. He felt very strongly about progressive issues, about human rights. He was a strong advocate for access to transportation for people with disabiliti­es.”

Wasserman, a former president of the 504 Democratic Club, which works for disabled rights, said he knew Wieder as a fiery activist who never gave up on the issues in which he believed so strongly. Wieder was on the executive board of the 504 Democratic Club.

“Harry had very definite opinions,” Wasserman said. “He was someone who was very persistent in making his positions known, but he did in a way that was somehow very endearing. As [Council Speaker] Christine Quinn said at his funeral, the argument didn’t end until Harry said it ended.”

Wieder became well-known in the city’s political spheres and often campaigned for a number of candidates, including Quinn and state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), both of whom he chauffeured to different campaign events when they were running for City Council. Numerous elected officials attended his funeral, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

“I was extremely saddened to learn about the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Harry Wieder, a longtime advocate and member of Community Board 3,” Stringer said. “My thoughts go out to his family and friends. He leaves behind a huge void in the communities he served. How terrible that someone who worked to improve transportation for all was struck by a taxi. We can honor his life by continuing to fight for safer roads and furthering his legacy of equality and access for all.”

Wieder grew up in Forest Hills with his parents, both Holocaust survivors, in the same apartment building as another well-known activist for disabled rights, Diane Lipton. Lipton went on to work for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. He left Forest Hills for Manhattan more than a decade ago, Wasserman said.

He was profiled in Betty Adelson’s book “The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation,” in 2005 and was profiled by Newsday reporter Jimmy Breslin, who Adelson writes captured his “combative, roguish nature and his penchant for truth.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:48 pm, October 10, 2011
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