Celebrating an Extraordinary Life: Mark A. Davis (a/k/a MAD)

Mark A. Davis, M.A., an award-winning mental health, LGBTQ, and human rights advocate who was also known for his warmth, kindness, humor, and his larger-than-life personality, died on September 14, 2020, in Philadelphia. He was 64.

An Ohio native who spent more than half of his life in Philadelphia, Mark was hired in 1985 to work at Project SHARE, the new self-help and mental health advocacy project Joseph Rogers had founded under the auspices of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “Mark helped build the efforts…to be a large part of the national movement for social justice in mental health,” Rogers says.

Mark was the founding president of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (PMHCA). According to his bio on the NARPA website, he inspired over 75 consumer-run groups across the country; and he has been a speaker, consultant, and trainer in 43 states for a variety of consumer, family, community, and professional associations. In 2003, Davis founded the Pink & Blues, an ongoing support group for individuals from sexual and gender minority communities who also have lived experience with a mental health diagnosis.

With Gayle Bluebird, Howie the Harp, and others, Mark was a key organizer of Altered States of the Arts, celebrating the creativity of people with lived experience. “To the arts people, he was our role model,” says Bluebird.

Until recently, Mark often performed at conferences and in parades in what he called “drag with a tag.” In his debut performance in this role, at Alternatives ’92 in Philadelphia, Bluebird recalls, “the audience watched him as he was escorted on stage, where he disrobed from a fur coat, then to a ballroom gown, finally to the pink bathing suit. People in the audience were shocked, and laughed until they nearly fell out of their chairs.”

Miss Altered StatesAs Miss Altered States, Mark won Best Performance in the 2004 Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade.

As Mark’s NARPA bio noted, “As a person who is gay, living with mental illness, in recovery from addiction, dealing with hearing loss and living with an HIV-positive diagnosis (1988), he has consistently used his experiences and skills to combat stigma, inspire others in similar circumstances and [e]ffect change,” particularly in developing culturally competent services for the LGBTQ+ community.


Having attempted suicide and lost his sister to suicide, Mark served on a committee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In his LinkedIn profile, Mark highlighted his interest in “building movements of people seeking personal life enrichment and system change to eliminate stigmas, ignorance, and biases.”

Mark believed that Recovery Happens. He urged those with co-occurring conditions and many identities to “NAME IT, CLAIM IT, TAME IT, FRAME IT, LIVE IT!” He also believed that



Addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, Mark wrote on his Facebook page that “We already have experience from Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, with social and physical distancing, unlike those experiencing this for the first time.”

In 2009, Mark received a prestigious Voice Award, presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for his achievements as a mental health consumer/survivor advocate.

Mark Davis will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues all over the country; many have left loving messages of loss and remembrance on Facebook and the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery e-list. One such memory is from acclaimed human rights activist Hikmah Gardiner, who said, “Mark was my supervisor years ago. His sense of humor was phenomenal: He joked about my being a woman of color and I joked about his being gay.” Dr. Mark Salzer, director of the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion, called Davis “a colossal spirit and force in our mental health, HIV, and LGBTQ+ communities.”

Mark earned a B.A. and M.A. in Speech Education and Higher Education Administration from Bowling Green State University (1974-1981), where he participated in student government and the National Forensic League Team. In his LinkedIn profile, Mark reported that he was a varsity cheerleader, Sigma Nu Housemother (sic), and “the first ‘Male’ (sic) BGSU Homecoming King.” He was also director/producer of Miss Bowling Green State University, and was an “IFC Beer Chugging Champion.”

“The whole world is crazy; I just got caught,” Mark Davis once said. “We know that humor is the best medicine because there is no co-pay.” Memorial donations may be made to the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association and/or the Pennsylvania Peer Support Coalition.

Written by (alphabetically): Bluebird, Susan Rogers, Bonnie Schell, and Dr. Phyllis Solomon.

If you have a memory of Mark, please feel free to share it with the community!

6 thoughts on “Celebrating an Extraordinary Life: Mark A. Davis (a/k/a MAD)

  1. RitaC September 26, 2020 / 2:33 pm


    Susan Rogers, energizer bunny advocate & communications guru extraordinaire-
    Thank you so much for sharing this more complete obit of Mark Davis (Link found in the email, below) and thank you to the others who contributed to it.

    If Mark Davis was in your life it’s something you never forgot. I have a number of memories but the one that comes to mind right now was – we were at a two day SAMHSA inter-generational dialogue. About 25 of us sat around a table for two days in generative, open hearted conversation. we had folks across the lifespan from 20 something year olds 20 to Jacki McKinney. David Oaks and I were somewhere in the middle age range. Leah Harris was there and a number of other national leaders looking at how we can bring together the generations over mental health recovery. Anyway, a 23-year-Young dialogue participant mentioned to me that she was spending her birthday at this dialogue. I thought that was worthy of celebration and recognition so I told SAMHSA staff who were in the room with us as silent observer’s/ not-takers and suggested that it be it was worthy of a cake or a piece of cake for her. When this was mentioned to the group – that it was her birthday and we would have a piece of cake for her – Mark Davis announced ”it’s my birthday too!”.

    As you can tell if you’ve read the obit, Mark was always making us laugh. In that moment I didn’t know if it was his birthday or not but he deserved a piece of cake and he got it from SAMHSA without my needing to say anything!!

    To this day I don’t know if it was his birthday or not and it doesn’t even matter because Mark was an expert at speaking up. He knew as I was reminded that all of us are equally valuable, cherished and loved. He modeled that extraordinarily well throughout his lifetime.
    May you rest in peace my creative, strong, advocate and brother.


  2. RitaC September 27, 2020 / 2:16 pm


    Thank you for sharing this Susan. And thank you Bluebird, Bonnie, Phyllis & Susan for writing about Mark.

    He was a truly remarkable human being…Whether I saw him in person at a conference or getting an e-mail from him, he always got me to laugh…even when discussing our respective advocacy endeavors. His caring for others will always be etched in my psyche.

    Take care, Michael Skinner


  3. Oryx Cohen September 28, 2020 / 6:01 pm

    Thank you for this fitting memorial. I take some comfort in that I’m feeling Mark’s spirit with us right now. He was there for me in 2013 when I was going through some things and ever since then we have often emailed and occasionally talked. He had such a wonderful sense of humor which he used as he made very tough and poignant arguments. I think people could hear it better because of his personality. I remember many times getting emails from him and laughing out loud. He was a champion of gay rights and all oppressed peoples and taught me so much. Rest in peace MISS ALTERED STATES!


  4. JOAN ERNEY October 4, 2020 / 3:18 pm

    Mark made such an impact on me and so many of us in the early days of the movement to recognize
    Individuals with lived experience – who needed to guide efforts to improve services and supports every step of the way! On a personal level Mark was kind, caring and always used his personal challenges to give me and others hope! And often a chuckle- I have many great memories!! I was privileged to know him peace Mark will miss you


  5. Edie Mannion October 5, 2020 / 12:08 am

    When I think of Mark, the words that come to my mind are “gifted”…”hilarious”…”brave”… “making people feel cared about while also creating change.” He got messages across with humor, props, costumes and self-disclosure. I was privileged to work with such a pioneer and hero at the Mental Health Association of Southeastern PA in the early years of the consumer movement. I will miss knowing he’s around, stirring up change in the many special ways he had to get our attention and make us think. And I wish I had spent more time with him! Most of all, I hope he can somehow know and see that he was successful in changing people AND changing systems, and that many people loved him and had better lives because of him.


  6. bonniebelle1221 October 5, 2020 / 5:25 pm

    When I saw Mark strutting on stage at the 1992 Alternatives Conference during the talent show, the vision shook up and then enriched my mind forever. First of all, I had never seen a gay man. Second, I had never seen a man cross-dressing all for fun. ( That year a group of women I was part of danced and sang as the “Haldol Sisters.”
    When the year came that Mark announced on stage that he was HIV positive, tears came down my face.

    Mark created the “Fruit and Nut Bar” at Alternatives so gay and lesbian people could meet, snack, and have a place for support.

    While the board members of The Altered States little journal of individual’s drawings, non fiction and poetry, worried about how we were going to afford printing and mailing, Mark Davis assured us that the funding would appear. And it always did.,


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