Faculty and students at ECU mourn loss of LGBTQ leader Dr. Jesse Peel

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – Students and staff at East Carolina University say they are mourning the loss of the heart of their community.

Dr. Jesse Peel, the namesake of the LGBTQ center on campus, passed away Thursday in Atlanta at the age of 83.

Program Coordinator Rose Bogue says one word comes to mind when they think of the North Carolina native and how he made a difference.

“To me and many others, Jesse is a hero. He completely changed the face of Eastern Carolina University and, in my opinion, all of Eastern North Carolina,” Bogue said. “When I was a student and first started here back in 2017, there was very little LGBTQ visibility.

The Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ center opened in 2019 and is the largest center of its kind in the 16-campus UNC system.

Director Mark Rasdorf says it serves as a resource, referral, educational and social center for the entire campus community.

“I’ve talked to many parents who say the presence of this center at such a prominent location and so large and with active programming and a lot of support helps to put their minds to ease that hopefully their student will both be safe and happy and successful here as a student at ECU,” said Rasdorf.

Peel was at the forefront of the grassroots organizing to develop community-based HIV/AIDS resources.

Bogue says they will continue to honor his wishes and help keep his legacy alive.

“We’ll make sure that everyone knows what he was trying to do here. But what he’d really want to hear is that we are going to have a huge party,” said Bogue.

The university says Peel’s funeral will be in Atlanta and plans are still to be finalized for a celebration of life on ECU’s campus.

Dr. Peel moved his psychiatric practice to Atlanta just before the start of the AIDS epidemic, serving gay men; many of whom had to cope with the newly-discovered disease.