Heather MacAllister (activist)
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February 25, 1968|
February 13, 2007 (aged 38)|
|Occupation||Political activist, performer|
Heather MacAllister (February 25, 1968 – February 13, 2007) was an American performer and activist for social justice in a number of areas Including anti-racism and LGBT rights but was particularly active in the fat acceptance movement. MacAllister was best known for her burlesque work, performing on stage as Reva Lucian, a play on 'revolution', and Ms. Demeanor.
Suffering from ovarian cancer, Heather MacAllister moved from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon in June 2006. Her partner, author and stand-up comedian Kelli Dunham, moved from the East Coast to care for her until her death by assisted suicide in February 2007.
Tina Palivos described her friend:
The spirit of Heather was really about three things: loving yourself and taking care of self and others; social justice in whatever form; and she was a performer and artist. She was glamorous, an extraordinary performer and stunningly beautiful.
Heather MacAllister was born in Michigan on the February 25, 1968, and grew up in Dearborn and Ann Arbor, Michigan. She also lived in Tucson, Arizona. MacAllister moved from Detroit to San Francisco in 2002 and to Portland, Oregon, in 2006.
Heather MacAllister died on February 13, 2007, at age 38 as a result of an assisted suicide. Her death came after a three-year battle with terminal ovarian cancer. Memorial services were held in Portland, Detroit, New York and San Francisco.
Career and activism
During a lifetime of art and activism Heather MacAllister was involved in a range of social justice issues, particularly LGBT rights, anti-racism and addressing anti-fat bias. Her tours as a fat burlesque performer challenged both those within and outside the fat acceptance movement on the notion of The Thin Ideal as a pre-requisquite for sexual attractiveness. Six years after her death, friend Stacy Bias recalls MacAllister's approach to activism:
"Heather had an ability to perceive others in a powerful way - such that she could spend an hour chatting with someone and then deliver a simple sentence that had the ability to transform their lives in a small but memorable way. In the case of many, that transforming power was much larger... She had a passion for community and activism that, in some ways, transcended the individual (in ways that the individual sometimes found uncomfortable) in favor of the vision."
Whilst she was living in Michigan, Heather MacAllister's fat activism included the 1992 founding of the Venus Group, a social and support network for large women. She also contributed to Fat Girl zine in the early 1990s and lobbied for the weight discrimination act that was passed in San Francisco in 2000. MacAllister was on the board of NoLose, an organization for fat lesbians.
MacAllister founded Big Burlesque and the Fat-Bottom Revue, the world's first all-fat burlesque performance group of which she was also the artistic director. She argued that erotic performance allowed fat women to express a sexuality "which has been underaffirmed and made negative in the popular culture." Her stage names were Ms. Demeanor and Reva Lucian (a play on the word "revolution"). MacAllister toured both size acceptance workshops and burlesque performances nationwide. Venues at which she appeared or conducted workshops included the True Spirit Conference in Washington, D.C., the National Women's Music Festival in Indiana, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the Abundia Retreat in Illinois, the NoLose Conference in New Jersey, Fat Girl Speaks in Oregon, the Tease-o-Rama burlesque convention, and Burning Man in Nevada. Heather MacAllister described her belief in burlesque as activism: "Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality and you have a revolutionary act." 
In 2006 Heather MacAllister received the Queer Cultural Activist Award from the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.
MacAllister appeared posthumously in the art photography book The Full Body Project by photographer and actor Leonard Nimoy (of Star Trek fame). The book is a compilation of photographs including those taken of MacAllister and her troupe for a 2005 New York City art photography show called "Maximum Beauty" which opened at the Bonni Benrubi gallery on 57th street in New York City. The book was released in 2007 and dedicated to Heather MacAllister. Before her death she had requested that mourners made donations to her Fat Fashion Scholarship Fund. MacAllister also contributed a chapter to The Fat Studies Reader entitled 'Embodying Fat Liberation' that was posthumously published in 2009.
From 2000 to 2002, MacAllister worked as a field organizer for the Triangle Foundation, a gay rights group in Michigan. The organization, now known as Equality Michigan, gives an award in Heather's honor to a community activist each year.
MacAllister worked to protect Muslim and Arab-American civil rights after 9-11 and served on the board of Al-Fatiha, America's national organization for sexual minority Muslims. She also served on the board of Transgender Michigan, a group dedicated to protecting transgender individuals from harassment and discrimination.
Let me end by showing by example. I want to publicly thank my own body, my body that has suffered so much hatred and pain from inside and out, even before the cancer. My body that is fat enough to withstand TWO YEARS of unremitting chemotherapy—that's right folks, if I had started out this journey as a skinny girl I'd likely be dead by now. My body that has brought me at least my fair share of pleasure and joy and is still allowing me to have the fantastic experience of life in a carnal body.— Heather MacAllister
- Buchanan, Wyatt (February 24, 2007). "Heather MacAllister -- burlesque performer, activist". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- Bias, Stacy. "Remembering Heather MacAllister". Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- Baldwin, Michelle (2004). Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind. Speck Books. p. 55. ISBN 0972577629.
- Stinson, Susan. "Heather MacAllister". Archived from the original on 5 November 2016.
- "Heather MacAllister aka Reva Lucian". Profile engine.com.[dead link]
- Bernstein, Elizabeth (2010). Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity and the Commerce of Sex. University of Chicago Press. p. 100. ISBN 0226044629.
- "The Full Body by Leonard Nimmoy". R. Michelson Galleries. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- MacAllister, Heather (2009). Embodying Fat Liberation in The Fat Studies Reader. NYU Press.
- Higbee, Mark. "Heather MacAllister, EMU grad, dies at 38". EMUtalk. Archived from the original on 15 August 2011. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- Michael, Jason (10 April 2007). "Triangle dinner a tribute to departing Montgomery". Between the Lines. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
- "Heather MacAllister: Keynote Address". nolose.org. Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- Heather MacAllister funeral and memorials
- Heather MacAllister: Keynote Address, NoLose 2006
- RIP Heather MacAllister - obituary notices
- Dedication to Heather MacAllister at Al-Fatiha
- The Wide Angle: Goodbye Heather MacAllister
- Partner Kelli Dunham's Grief Sucks blog
- Pudding Day site re Kelli and Heather's relationship
- Fat Bottom Mama's Benefat