Thaddeus Campbell, the LGBTQ icon credited with bringing back the Silicon Valley Pride parade, died on Sunday, the organization announced Tuesday.
Campbell served as Silicon Valley Pride’s CEO and board president for the past six years.
“The Silicon Valley Pride board is heavy-hearted on the news of the recent passing of our beloved Board President, Thaddeus Campbell,” the organization posted on its Facebook page. “He was a valued leader of our team and will be dearly missed. Please keep Thad’s family, loved ones, and his husband in your thoughts as they go through this difficult time.”
Officials declined further comment on Campbell’s death.
Campbell’s friends and colleagues told San José Spotlight that he led the organization with heart, soul and passion. In 2015, he helped bring back the annual pride parade which had stopped for nearly a decade, and fought to ensure the South Bay’s LGBTQ community found its place in the heart of Silicon Valley — a place to be respected, included and embraced.
“What I admired the most about Thaddeus and what has helped me is that he always kept an eye on the vision and didn’t get thrown off course,” said Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center. “He was very much a visionary. He had the stamina to stay on that vision and I loved that. It has often given me strength when I wanted to give up.”
Campbell, who also worked at Twitter, wanted to transform Silicon Valley Pride’s parade into the most high-tech festival in the country, even helping to create an app for the festival.
According to his biography, Campbell was born and raised in Atlanta and graduated from Harvard University. He met his husband 37 years ago and moved to San Jose in 1984.
“Five years ago, I was sitting in a bar complaining about Pride and grousing about many things Pride related,” Campbell wrote in his biography. “The bartender leaned over and said, ‘Stop complaining and join the Board and do something about it.’ Well, here I sit, working in collaboration with a fantastic team.”
Saldy Suriben, Silicon Valley Pride’s chief marketing officer, says Campbell recruited him to work for the organization in 2014 but quickly became a close mentor and friend.
“He taught me how to stand up for myself and don’t let anybody put me down,” said Suriben, who, as a gay man, has faced oppression because of his sexual orientation. “He made sure I knew how to stand my ground and make sure my ideas are heard.”
So sad to hear of the passing of a wonderful man and important leader in the LGTBQ+ community. You will be dearly missed Thaddeus Campbell. ❤️ @svpride
Many other Silicon Valley leaders, including former Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager and San Jose Assemblymember Ash Kalra, mourned the loss this week.
“So sad to hear of the passing of a wonderful man and important leader in the LGTBQ+ community. You will be dearly missed,” Kalra posted on Facebook.
Yeager said San Jose owes Campbell “a great amount of gratitude” for transforming Silicon Valley Pride into one of the best festivals in the South Bay.
“He was always very organized and assembled a good team, which I know will try to keep up his high standards,” added Yeager, now the executive director of the BAYMEC Community Foundation, who conducted the marriage ceremony for Campbell and his husband, Kevin — something he called an honor.
Antolovich said she admired Campbell’s grace and flexibility as a leader. He had an idea to move the Silicon Valley Pride festival to different parts of San Jose, but got pushback from people who wanted to keep it at Cesar Chavez Plaza. Instead, he created numerous events all over Silicon Valley to help boost the organization’s visibility.
“What I liked about him is he could talk to anyone – a regular person who was at pride and he could talk to the mayor in the same way. He was the same person,” Antolovich said. “He wasn’t threatened by powerful people, in fact, he embraced powerful people because he was powerful himself.”
Nicole Altamirano, who serves as Silicon Valley Pride’s chief operating officer, remembers the first time she met Campbell four years ago — he was hard to miss, wearing a long leather overcoat and black top hat. His style and jolly personality was infectious, Altamirano said.
“He was just so welcoming and had lots of ideas for how to bring together the LGBTQ community and he was very supportive,” Altamirano said. “He was just a really great man. His legacy is going to live on.”
While Sera Fernando, the organization’s chief diversity officer, describes herself as the “new girl” who didn’t know Campbell as long as her colleagues, his presence “soothed her soul.”
“Thad, I’m gonna miss you,” Fernando said. “I’m gonna miss how you challenged me to take on more diversity engagements. I’m gonna miss your smile, your laugh, your sass. I’m gonna miss your hello and goodbye hugs, something I always sought out, because you always made me feel included.”
Suriben said he is going to miss Campbell’s laughter and generosity.
“I would say he was the life of the party and he wouldn’t want the community and his friends to be sad,” Suriben added. “He would want us to celebrate life.”
Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.