Palm Springs and LGBT Loses a Good Man and Dear Friend

By Heidi Simmons

George Zander was a vivacious man committed to serving not only the LGBT community, but also his beloved Palm Springs and the human race.   He was always ready to help others and from a young age wanted to make a difference.

Zander, 71, died December 10.  The cause is unknown.

However, George and his husband Chris were attacked November 1st, but it has yet to be determined if his death is related to that incident.   After dinner and watching a football game, the couple left Hunters on Arenas in Palm Springs.  They were walking home –- a trek they did often — when they were harassed and assaulted.

George was beaten to the ground and suffered multiple hip fractures requiring surgery.  Chris was hit over the head with a tire iron and needed stitches.  After being home a few weeks, George was progressing nicely with physical therapy.   He suddenly lapsed and was taken to Desert Regional hospital where he died last Thursday.

Two men, Christopher Carr, 30, and Keith Terranova, 35, have been arrested on multiple charges for the November attack that include hate crime and elder abuse.  The investigation is still on-going.

The loss is devastating.  Those who knew Zander are outraged at the crime, but their love and admiration for Zander is their focus now.  As the shock of his death wanes, and the reality of his absence sets in, the life Zander exemplified has become a necessary celebration to those who knew him and the community he served.

Deborah Sutton-Weiss met Zander 10 years ago when she started CAFA – Court Appointed Friend and Advocate – which is now a national program that reaches out to minors in the justice system.  The program trains judges and social workers on LGTBQ advocacy for children in foster care.  Sutton-Weiss is not gay and needed guidance on how to best reach and serve the community.

“He was my mentor,” said Sutton-Weiss.  “He got the idea right away and without hesitation was on board.  He helped me develop the curriculum, understand the language and showed me how to navigate the system.”  Zander is the reason Sutton-Weiss moved to Palm Springs.  She joined many of the same advocacy groups as Zander.

“George was a cheerful and humble man who loved his job,” said Sutton-Weiss.  “He never wanted awards or attention.   He and Chris didn’t have money.  Working in nonprofit is never about that.  It was the joy of helping and the satisfaction of making a difference.”

Zander worked as a field organizer at the Palm Springs Equality California office on Palm Canyon Drive.   Equality California is a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization focused on creating a fair and just society.

Newly elected City Council member, Geoff Kors and former Equality California executive director released a statement saying: “I am stunned and deeply saddened by the sudden death of my dear friend, colleague and legendary activist George Zander.  When George came to work for Equality California in 2009 he brought such talent and energy to his work to help advance marriage equality, ensure healthcare and provide a safer environment for LGBT students.  George was an incredible person, passionate activist and political leader.  His work to advance social justice will long be remembered.”  Kors also expressed his condolences to husband Chris Zander.

Zander lived in Palm Springs for nearly 20 years.  Zander came to the desert from Seattle, Washington.  There he led the King County Democratic Party.  Zander chaired the local Desert Stonewall Democrats for years.

King County Executive, Dow Constantine posted: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of George Zander.  I knew and worked with him right here in Seattle, where he got his start as a Democratic Party leader.”

Constantine commented on the attack as a “cowardly act” against a man who has done so much good in this world.  “George was a civil rights leader, a champion for progressive values, and as fine a person as one could hope to meet.  I offer my sincere condolences to his husband, Chris, his family and friends, and the many people whose lives he touched through his activism and his humanity.”

As early as high school, Zander became an activist forming a Community Relations Committee.  He and his classmates worked to enhance the relationships between high school kids and the surrounding neighborhood.

Zander graduated from the University of Washington in 1966.  During the Vietnam War, Zander served in the Peace Corp, teaching in Micronesia.  He was an original board member of the Dorian Group, Seattle’s first gay and lesbian lobby.  He served on the Palm Springs Police Advisory Board, the Palm Springs Police Departments LGBT Outreach Committee and was Vice Chair of the Warm Sands Neighborhood Organization.  He also had worked as a travel agent for the Automobile club.

As an activist and organizer, Zander worked and volunteered on local campaigns, representing Senator Barbara Boxer for two years.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by Ray Chance to raise money for a Palm Springs “Walk of Fame” star honoring Zander as an activist.   At the writing of this story $4,200 has been committed.  A total of $10,000 is required to place the star.

“Justice for George” is a GoFundMe page where people can help Chris Zander.  So far $6,600 has been raised.  Another GoFundMe page is asking for money to defend one of the alleged attackers.

“George was healthy and energetic.  He walked everywhere and looked great,” said Sutton-Weiss.  “When I saw him in the hospital he never complained or said anything negative.  The community is upside-down right now.   George made such an impact it’s hard to believe he’s gone.”  Regarding the attack, Zander only said that there was still more work to do.

Husband Chris Zander said on a Facebook post regarding his beloved, “His passion and strength has paved the road for many of us to follow and build from.  His legacy will live on forever.  I love this man more than I love life itself.  I can only assume that is what true love is.”

Nicholas Snow at the top of his blog on the Gay Desert Guide posted a quote from George Zander:  “We as a community ignite and follow a spirituality that learns, directs and assists in positive ways every day.”

“George spent his life working to help others, especially the most vulnerable members of our community,” said City Council member Kors.  “He was so tremendously successful because everything he did came from the heart.  George believed that love could overcome fear and hate.  As we remember and honor him that is a lesson we must all strive to live by.”

George Zander inspired and made a difference in the lives of many.  May his memory and work continue to change our world for good.