Earnest O. Reaugh was born January 12, 1923, in Iowa. He was a bomber pilot in World War II. He graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and worked in the retail clothing business. He moved to Albany, New York, in the early 1960s.
Reaugh’s obituary described him as a “colorful and at times controversial figure.” In 1970 he gained public attention when as an employee of the New York State Department of Commerce he testified at a hearing on a gay-rights bill. He prefaced his remarks by saying that he feared he would lose his job because of declaring his sexuality. He was hired by State Senate Minority Leader Manfred Ohrenstein in 1975 and worked for him for sixteen years as legislative liaison to the LGBT community.
In 1972 Ernie challenged his congregation, Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany, to accept or decline his resignation from church membership because he was gay. The congregation unanimously rejected his resignation and agreed to support efforts to overturn antigay policies in the church. He attended the 1972 General Conference (official decision-making body) of the United Methodist Church in Atlanta to lobby for homosexual rights and there he met up with Gene Leggett and Rick Huskey, other openly gay United Methodist activists. He was among the group of persons who organized the first meeting of the United Methodist Gay Caucus in Evanston, Illinois in the summer of 1975. He participated in the organization’s meeting the next year in Kansas City. Reaugh also served on the Board of Church and Society in the Troy Annual Conference.
Also that year Ernie helped draft the plank on gay rights for the Democratic National Convention and spoke before the platform committee as an elected national spokesperson from the Gay Liberation Movement.
Reaugh was a founding member of what became the Capital District Lesbian and Gay Community Center around that same time. He was also a founding member of the Mohawk-Hudson Business and Professional Association and founding member and first president of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club in Albany.
Reaugh was proud of his work as campaign manager for Keith St. John who was elected to the Albany Common Council in 1989—believed to be the first election of an openly gay African-American to political office. He played a key role in the adoption of the human rights ordinance in the City of Albany. For several years he also helped organize support for a New York State gay rights bill--which passed after his death.
Ernie was a recovering alcoholic who helped organize 12-step groups for LGBT persons. He died on August 27, 1991. His memorial service was held at Trinity United Methodist Church on October 6th 1991. The bulk of his estate was left to create the Earnest O. Reaugh Trust Fund to advocate for LGBT rights.
(Information for this biographical statement taken from information provided by Trust Fund trustee Carol Reichert, including an obituary in the Albany Times-Union on 8/28/91 and an article in Art & Understanding, May/June 1992.)