BY KAREN OCAMB | “That’s Big Red over there. The tall one with the red hair,” one of a gaggle of Christian women said almost fondly, spotting Connie Norman among the ACT UP protesters outside Rev. Lou Sheldon’s March 1991 “Heterosexual Symposium” in Anaheim. They had no idea Norman was a transgender Texas run-away and self-described “AIDS Diva” or that her rage often poured out IN ALL CAPS in her column for the gay San Diego newspaper Update.
Diagnosed with HIV in 1987, Norman railed against the Reagan-Bush administrations, the FDA, the California government and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for their persistent failure in helping people with HIV/AIDS as many in the marginalized community fought against the inevitability of an ugly AIDS death.
“She had a mouth on her. Thankfully it was connected to a mind. And she was a she; on many occasions I heard her say, ‘I paid $50,000 to be who I am and I get to pick my pronouns.’ She picked her battles, too,” said David Reid, her producer for the commercial talk radio show “The Connie Norman Show,” that briefly aired daily on XEK-AM on a signal out of Mexico. One of her guests was Orange County homophobe KDOC talk show ranter Wally George – and the two actually got along in their own strange way.
“I often tell people that I am an ex-drag queen, ex-hooker, ex-IV drug user, ex-high risk youth, and current postoperative transsexual woman who is HIV-positive,” Norman once said. “I have everything I ever wanted, including a [gay] husband of 10 years, a home and five adorable longhaired cats. . . . I do, however, regret the presence of this virus.”
The Director of Public Policy at AIDS Service Center in Pasadena, Norman believed PWAs had to “very aggressive, assertive” advocates for their own healthcare, with a sense of ironic humor. “I’m taking 13 pills a day. And I smoke marijuana. But the core of my medical treatment plan, more important than any of the drugs, is what I call ‘Get A Life,’” she wrote in a 1995 essay for POZ Magazine.
Connie Norman died in July 1996 at age 47 after being cared for at the Chris Brownlie Hospice, a facility she helped fight for with the AIDS Hospice Foundation. Her ashes were scattered on the White House lawn during ACT UP’s “Ashes Action” on October 13, 1996.
In 2007, Norman was remembered as part of the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance by the blogger LIBHOM, who argued that society’s failure to prevent AIDS deaths was just as actively violent as a deadly trans-bashing.
“I remember her as ‘Momma Connie.’ She was constantly taking care of young activists at demos, and she always had so much to teach to anyone who wanted to learn,” the blogger wrote. “Most of all, I learned that no matter how righteous an activist’s anger is, that anger is based on love. We can never forget that we are motivated most of all by love for people who aren’t treated fairly or humanely in this world.”