Arthur “Art” Martin-Chester, beloved husband of Stevie Martin-Chester, has died after a year-long battle with lung cancer. He died Nov. 30, just a month after his 74th birthday.
An iconic figure in the Philadelphia LGBTQ community, Art Martin-Chester had been a long-time leader at Men of All Colors Together Philadelphia (MACT) as well as the National Association of Black and White Men Together (NABWMT). With his husband, Art had been a voice and force against racial discrimination in the LGBTQ community for more than 25 years.
MACT-Philadelphia was established in 1981 as one of 10 national chapters of the San Francisco-based NABWMT, which advocates for diversity, equality and justice in LGBTQ communities. NABWMT also was developed as a support group for gay men in interracial relationships.
According to the LGBTQmunity Center of Montgomery County, at which he had been a board member, Arthur Chester met Stevie Martin at Metropolitan Community Church of New Haven, Conn., in 1992. Their love affair and romantic partnership became the pivot for their activism. As an interracial couple, they fought discrimination within the gay community.
In 1993, the couple moved to Norristown, Pa., and on May 14, 1994, had a spectacular wedding on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The wedding was officiated by Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church. At that time Art and Stevie changed their last names to the hyphenated Martin-Chester.
Gary Hines, MACT’s membership development chair, who had known Art for years, spoke of him with sadness at his passing and expressed respect for his activist life. Hines said he had known Art “over many, many years” and that Art had done an immense amount of work with and for MACT among other groups and causes.
“Art was one of the faces of the 90s and 2000s,” Hines said, referencing the long fight to fully integrate Philadelphia’s gay bars, adding that Art and Stevie were the long-time faces of interracial gay activism in Philadelphia.
“He was everywhere,” Hines said, noting that Art was always deeply engaged in social and activist work in some part of the community, including MACT, Metropolitan Community Church and the William Way LGBT Community Center. “He was a leader in so many different initiatives. He was just always there, always part of the current [political] action.”
Hines said it was only over the past year of his illness that Art had been forced to scale back his activist work, just as MACT was becoming more political as a reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency.
In 2013, Art and Stevie were part of an activist action in Montgomery County, getting a marriage license when D. Bruce Hanes, Montgomery County Register of Wills, was providing them to same-sex couples and then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to fight it.
The couple were married at the Montgomery County Courthouse on August 11, 2013, two years before same-sex marriage was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the 2017 Outfest, Art and Stevie were dressed in matched hot pink hats and T-shirts when WHYY reporter Shai Ben-Yaacov spoke to them. They spoke about their transgressive marriage. “We were No. 15 to get married,” Stevie remembered. “When we first got together 25 years ago, we always said we would marry. As you see, we dress alike. We hold hands everywhere, we hug and kiss everywhere, and people ask us, ‘Why do you do that?’ I said, ‘We’re Americans. It’s our right to do that.’”
Art told Ben-Yaacov that the couple had never tried to hide their sexual orientation and “People see that we are who we are and they feel a positivity,” he said.
In addition to his husband, Art is survived by his three children and their spouses: Eric Chester (Jennifer), Greg Chester (Jessica), and Jennifer Hatcher (Council) and his grandchildren Talia, Miles, Joseph, Bishop, Maison, and Adelaide. He is also survived by his siblings and their spouses, Richard Chester (Janet), David Chester (Cathy), Claudia Freeman (Dana), Timothy Chester (Sharon), and Karen Sova (John) and by his nieces and nephews.
Relatives and friends are invited to his Memorial Service 2 PM Saturday, December 15, 2018 at Whosoever Metropolitan Community Church, 3637 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Interment was private.