Shawn Lang, who was a constant voice for LGBTQ rights in Connecticut and a longtime AIDS activist, died unexpectedly Sunday after decades of defending the vulnerable.
Described by her friends as both a tireless and relentless advocate, Lang also fought for people suffering from homelessness, domestic violence, and those struggling with opioid addiction. From 1991 until recently, she worked for AIDS Connecticut, including years as the organization’s deputy director when she interacted frequently with state policymakers.
Lang was 65 and lived in Hartford. She is survived by her 24-year-old son, Corbett Lang. No cause of death has reportedly been determined and as yet no memorial services have been scheduled.
Shawn Lang’s was a unique and familiar face at the state Capitol and in Connecticut’s political arenas. She kept her hair cropped in a gray crew cut, her arms were marked with scattered tattoos, and at press conferences and speaking events, she often stood a head shorter than other speakers.
“I know it’s cliche – but she was small but mighty,” said state Rep. Jeff Currey, an East Hartford Democrat who said he first met Lang near the end of his first term. “It became very clear very quickly that, in looking to do any LGBTQ protections and rights – especially within the health field – that Shawn Lang was one your go-to people.”
Currey said Lang, who grew up in Massachusetts, was unafraid to be a forceful voice for the causes she championed.
“You knew when you heard that kind of Boston-Irish accent come out, she’s either really happy or you were about to get it,” he said. Currey said he was in awe of the work Lang had accomplished. “It’s a huge loss, not only to our community but to the state of Connecticut and the region.”
Lobbyist Kate Robinson, of Gallo & Robinson, recalled Lang as a powerful person with an ability to view everyone as a friend.
“That transcended all of the labels that we assign to people in the Capitol environment and society at large,” Robinson said. “She was comfortable in any and every room with any and every person. She just had a light within her that people were attracted to. She made everybody feel special. She made everybody feel heard.”
Lang was honored as a Champion of Change for Advancing Prevention, Treatment and Recovery by former President Barack Obama after she was nominated by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. She also earned the Reverend Richard Schuster Supportive Housing Advocacy Award for her advocacy and organizing work around housing.
In a press release, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called Lang an advocate for fundamental human rights.
“She stood up and spoke out unstintingly and ceaselessly for so many who are demeaned or disregarded, inspiring others to do the same,” Blumenthal said. “She was a true fighter for LGBTQ+ rights, advocating for those with AIDS and HIV, and people impacted by opioid addiction. I am proud to have called her my friend, and like so many other public officials, I valued her sage advice.”
As the news spread Monday, state officials reacted on social media. In a post on Twitter, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Lang had been a mentor to him at the General Assembly early in his career.
“I was a 29-year-old new Chairman of the legislature’s Health Committee, and Shawn Lang took me under her wing to show me what true compassion for the state’s most vulnerable patients looks like,” Murphy wrote.
Attorney General William Tong said Lang had been a devoted advocate for Connecticut’s most vulnerable.
“Today we grieve the loss of a champion and remember with profound gratitude Shawn’s many efforts to create a more just and equitable society,” Tong wrote.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin wrote that Lang’s death was a “huge and heartbreaking loss.”
Bronin wrote that “Shawn was a giant in her advocacy and activism – with a giant heart. She was a friend, and I will miss her.”
Lang also wrote several op-eds for CTNewsJunkie over the years. They are available here.