Toronto
2 min

Johnny Abush

April 7, 1952 - November 26, 2000

FINDING HIMSELF. Johnny Abush created the Jewish GLBT Archives, after hiding his Jewish roots for many years. Credit: Xtra files

The international community has lost one of its most amazing members. Johnny Abush was born in Toronto, lived here all his life and for the most part was a quiet and very private gay man.



Ironically, it was only after he went on long term disability because of AIDS-related illness, that he figured out what he was supposed to be doing with his life. In 1990, he began the incredible work of creating the International Jewish GBLT Archives, which would become the major focus of the last 10 years of his life.



Johnny was the son of a Holocaust survivor. For the first 38 years of his life, most people did not know that. In fact, most people did not even know he was Jewish because he took great pains to keep his Jewish background a secret. By his own admission, he was proud of being gay but he was ashamed of being Jewish.



In 1989, he began a personal quest to discover a sense of pride in being Jewish. He started to search for information about other gay Jews’ experiences. He found virtually nothing. And thus began Johnny’s long, arduous and ultimately award-winning work to collect, catalogue and make available everything that is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and Jewish.



The first book Johnny ever purchased for the archives was Twice Blessed (edited by Christie Balka and Andy Rose). Many years later, Twice Blessed would become the name for the website that he created to help make the archives available internationally. At the time of his death in November, the archives included more than 10,000 artifacts – print, film, video, audio, events and ceremonies, music, performances, ephemera, etc. In addition to the countless hours he devoted to building the collection, Johnny spent well over $30,000 of his own money.



In 1995, the Toronto Centre For Lesbian And Gay Studies recognized Johnny’s contribution with an Achievement Award. Already beginning to suffer from the painful neuropathy that would cause him great agony until his death, he gratefully accepted his award at a ceremony at Toronto’s Inside Out Lesbians And Gay Film And Video Festival.



But Johnny will be remembered in Toronto for more than his archival work. Over the years, he did volunteer work at Keshet Shalom, the Jewish Queerculture Events Committee, the AIDS Committee Of Toronto, Holy Blossom Temple, and the Thyroid Foundation, as well as serving on care teams for friends who were dying of AIDS.



He was a caring and loyal friend to many and a devoted son to his mom, Gertrude. Johnny will be greatly missed by those of us who knew and loved him, as well as by thousands of people who knew him through the ground-breaking work he did creating and maintaining the Jewish GLBT Archives. Johnny did his last update to the website on Nov 24, two days before he died. To honour him with a visit to the Jewish GLBT Archives on-line, go to www.usc.edu/isd/archives/oneigla/tb.