Howard Bragman wasn’t just a publicist to the stars. He was an important trailblazer for the LGBT community who fought tirelessly for thoughtful, fair coverage of gay and lesbian people in sports and entertainment. And he was a dear friend.
I first met Howard when he was helping gay former NFL player Esera Tuaolo come out publicly in 2002. It had been a decade since the previous gay NFL player — Roy Simmons — had come out, and Howard was the man for the job, guiding the important news through LGBT and mainstream media.
When former NBA player John Amaechi contacted me in 2006 looking for help coming out publicly, I knew where to turn: Howard.
Through the years he’s helped many athletes come out, including WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes, NFL player Jeff Rohrer and golfer Rosie Jones.
Yet his most well-known was Michael Sam, who was preparing for the NFL Draft and wanting to make sure that the team who drafted him wanted an out gay player on their team. When Howard got the job, he contacted me with a one-line text — “The eagle has landed” — asking me to help guide the process of Sam’s coming out.
It wasn’t just in sports that Howard had an impact, working with gay stars like Meredith Baxter and Chely Wright to share their truths themselves.
The truth is always what you got from Howard. While his job was often crisis management when stars made mistakes, his general approach was to tackle the issue head-on. Howard wasn’t a bullshitter, he’d tell you what he thinks and he had the confidence and fortitude to stick to his guns. As a gay man in Hollywood in the 80s and 90s during the AIDS epidemic, it was that strength that helped him build a career even as stigma built.
Over the years, my husband and I spent countless days with Howard, vacationing in Palm Springs, at his pool parties in the back yard, many holidays and more. Howard’s dinner parties were epic, with a who’s who of Los Angeles — RuPaul, Larry Flint, Monica Lewinsky, Bruce Vilanch, your pick of Real Housewives — often in attendance. The night before Michael Sam came out publicly, Howard held a dinner party for athletes to gather and build community that got national attention.
When Dan and I married on July 4, 2014, it was Howard we asked to be the officiant of our wedding. He led the brief ceremony as we knew he would: with heart and some humor.
Howard was always trying to make light of situations, bringing a laugh or a quip to what sometimes, in his work, seemed like a dire situation.
His generosity of time and resources spanned many communities, working to advance HIV causes, as well as LGBT and Jewish people. A couple years ago he donated a $1 million endowment to found the Howard Bragman Coming Out Fund at his alma mater, the University of Michigan.
Just a few weeks ago, Howard was talking about how he felt like he had a lifetime ahead of him. It makes his sudden leukemia diagnosis two weeks ago, and his abrupt departure from this world, all the more heartbreaking. He had only recently settled into his new home, completely renovated to his liking, and in a new relationship with singer Mike Maimone over the last year that he was just crazy for.
It’s hard to believe Howard’s big personality and kind heart are now in our collective past. There was no one like Howard. Many communities, friends and family lost an important voice and a good man from our lives. Our hearts are broken today.