People like Bill Nelson, John Thomas, Bill Hunt and others are no longer with us now, and although we have a long way to go to gain full equality, it was their courage and daring that won the freedoms we already have today
Like many of our holidays, Halloween bears scant resemblance to the holy day from which it evolved. Oct. 31 is the eve of the day the church historically has celebrated as All Saints Day. Like many church holidays, this one was deliberately set to co-opt the pagan celebration of harvest called Samhain.
Neither of those days have much relevance to how our community now observes Oct. 31, though. Still, perhaps this is a good time for us to remember some of our “saints” of the past who at times terrorized the general population with their outrageous demands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
Our movement was begun officially with the Stonewall “Riots.” That story often gets told without noting that those who first resisted police oppression and brutality were mostly poor, people of color, drag queens and transsexuals.
They were our heroes. I’ll call them saints, since most of them are now dead.
The summer of 1969 was a long time ago, and it was on the far side of an epidemic that made saints out of too many of our heroes.
When I first came to Dallas in 1987, we often took to the streets. It seemed that every time I turned around William Waybourn, then president of the Dallas Gay Alliance, would call me and say, “Get your collar [clergy shirt] on and meet us at ______. We need you to speak about ______.”
I usually would follow Bill Nelson or John Thomas or Bill Hunt or some of the other heroes who spoke up for us. They are all saints now, and, somehow, I think each of them would appreciate being remembered on Halloween/All Hallows (saints) Eve.
Dallas is a very different city today. We have had openly gay city council members, school board trustees, county commissioners and an out, lesbian Latina sheriff.
Although it was 10 years ago, it seems like only yesterday that some heroes and saints were at City Hall until 2 in the morning fighting the Dallas Policy Academy’s dismissal of Mica England because she was a lesbian.
Many of those faces from that night are gone, but so is the city’s policy of discrimination.
Some of them were the same faces who went to the courthouse to protest against Judge Jack Hampton who gave a lighter sentence to Richard Lee Bednarski because the men he murdered were gay. On more than one occasion, we went to Parkland hospital because people who were dying of AIDS were forced to wait as long as 18 hours to receive care.
Folks like Howie Daire and Daryl Moore and so many others knew that they weren’t fighting for themselves, but for those who would survive them.
Recently, one of my best friends turned 50. He is one of the longest-term survivors of HIV/AIDS in the country. I give thanks for him and his health every day, and I also try to give thanks for those who now survive in our hearts and memories.
If we fail to appreciate those who went before us and made such great sacrifices for us all, then we are arrogant and cynical souls.
When the AIDS crisis was at its worst and it seemed we were holding funerals every other day, I began to think I was losing my mind.
I’d drive through the crossroads and raise my hand to wave at a friend, only to recall that it couldn’t be them because they had died.
I wonder though … .
Maybe I am crazy, but when I walk those streets today, I’d swear that some of those folks are still there. Maybe I’m the only one they haunt, but I hope not. I hope we all hold their memories so dear that it is almost like they are still with us.
So, dress up and join the parade this Halloween. It will be audacious and fun to take to the streets and party like free women and men.
Just remember that your freedom was won by heroes, many of whom are now saints. And don’t forget to wonder for whom you should be a hero and, eventually, a saint.
The Rev. Michael Piazza is president of Hope for Peace & Justice, a nonprofit organization that is equipping progressive people of faith to be champions for peace and justice. He also serves as co-executive director of the Center for Progressive Renewal, which is renewing progressive Christianity by training new entrepreneurial leaders, supporting the birth of new liberal/progressive congregations, and by renewing and strengthening existing progressive churches. He served the Cathedral of Hope for 22 years, first as senior pastor and later as dean.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010