BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A Brooklyn writer and artist well known in the transgender community will be honored by family and friends in an upcoming memorial service.
Bryn Kelly, 35, died of an apparent suicide in her Bedford-Stuyvesant home on Jan. 13, according to friends.
Kelly, a writer who publicly shared her experiences of living as an HIV-positive transgender woman, penned several short stories and works published in anthologies and journals, along with online blogs and columns detailing her personal life, friends said.
“She was incredibly wise, resilient, kind and intimidatingly smart in the least pretentious way, making reference to operas or totally obscure historical facts,” said friend Katie Liederman.
“She was one of the most provocative, creative, frustrating, beautiful and brilliant people I have ever met.”
Kelly was many things to many people, working as a hairdresser, musician and actress. In addition to her writing, she was a great tarot card reader, friends said, and served up southern dishes during her dinner parties.
Her Atlantic Avenue apartment, dubbed “Trans Central Station,” also doubled as an event and rehearsal space for the creative community.
Friends launched an online fundraiser for Kelly’s Feb. 6 memorial, which had raised more than $17,000 as of Thursday.
Proceeds from the campaign will also go toward a scholarship fund in her name at Lambda Literary, an organization that works to promote LGBTQ literature.
Kelly, who lived in Ohio and on the west coast before moving to Brooklyn, participated in Lambda Literary’s 2013 Writer’s Retreat program as a nonfiction fellow and had a “unique perspective,” according to teacher and friend Sarah Schulman.
She was intellectual, humorous and was an “excellent” colleague to other students, Schulman added.
At the same time, Kelly made efforts to navigate through hospitalizations and her illness, along with struggling through personal issues, friends said.
“She was constantly trying to find a solution for her conflicts,” Schulman said. “She was very, very smart and she needed really sophisticated and immersive treatment.”
Kelly’s passing is the latest to bring awareness to the issue of suicide in the LGBTQ community, with Schulman adding that further actions and conversations need to be spurred to put a stop to the deaths.
“Clearly, our institutions are not responding to people’s needs when people are in trouble, when queer, trans women are in trouble,” she said.
“And on the interior, we simply have to talk openly as a community about how to end this fantasy of idealized suicide. The idea that this is an option or in fact inevitable has taken hold and it’s distorted thinking in a group consciousness… We’re all heartbroken.”
Public figures in the transgender community commented on Kelly’s death, including Caitlyn Jenner and “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox, who said that she “wept for the loss of another one of our trans sisters” and encouraged people to ask for help and donate to Kelly’s memorial service.
Kelly volunteered at SAGE, which provides services and advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender elders, friends said.
She and Liederman helped create a karaoke night for the seniors, where Kelly would belt out renditions of “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Purple Rain” and “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’” according to Liederman.
Friends described her as a “lady” and “southern belle” who recently started facilitating a support group for older transgender women at SAGE.
“Because of how much she struggled, she had a tremendous capacity for empathy, more so than anyone I ever met,” Liederman said.
“She helped people so much and she was such an incredible resource because she lived it.”
Kelly was cremated and an earlier memorial service was held for her in West Virginia, according to friends.
The New York memorial will be held on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 1047 Amsterdam Ave.
“It is open to absolutely anyone and everyone who knew Bryn in any capacity, if you met her once or just liked reading her Tumblr, everyone is welcome,” organizer and friend Elizabeth Koke said.
A reception will be held on Feb. 7, Kelly’s birthday, at the SAGE space at 305 7th Ave., 15th floor from 3 to 6 p.m. for those who knew Kelly personally to come together and pay their respects.