Longtime activist David Taffet has spent decades fighting for equality, overseeing change in various organizations throughout the years
He’s here. He’s there. He’s everywhere. At any time, David Taffet has so many balls in the air, they appear to be a blur, and you might wonder where he gets the energy to keep them in orbit. Fortunately for the LGBT community, he seems to have an inexhaustible supply of it.
As the 2013 recipient of the Kuchling Humanitarian Award, Taffet will take an evening off from his many occupations to attend the Black Tie Dinner on Saturday as a community acknowledges his decades of work that can be summed up succinctly: to treat each person with dignity.
“David’s service in the community has been broad and diverse and is always done for the right reason,” Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said. “He doesn’t do anything for the limelight. He just has a heart for service.”
Cox is a past recipient of the Kuchling Award, and she nominated Taffet this year.
“I can’t take all the credit for him getting it,” she said. “I talked to other people about the nomination, and I just pushed the send button.”
So involved has Taffet been in the myriad organizations and movements that have kept LGBT causes unyielding in the face of opposition, his partner, Brian Cross, said he learns more about Taffet each time they attend an event.
“Every time he [Taffet] introduces me to someone, that person starts telling me about things David has done,” Cross said. “He’s done so much and has been involved in so many things in the community that the stories don’t seem to stop. We were in Austin for his birthday, and we went to see a play. It was about a cause that David was involved in — the hate crimes bill.”
Cross is referring to the James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, which Taffet worked on for about eight years with other members of the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby, now known as Equality Texas.
Cross isn’t the only who doesn’t know everything about the multi-faceted Taffet.
“That’s because he’s humble,” Cox said. “He doesn’t talk about himself.”
It’s not that Taffet is taciturn or unwilling to talk about who he is and what he does. He was simply raised in a home where accomplishments were applauded but still given the significance of, say, breathing. In Taffet’s home, populated with achievers, success wasn’t the result of pressure to do well but of the belief that you should just want to do well.
Taffet’s home environment wasn’t polluted with racism, either. As a Jew growing up in Yonkers, N.Y., a New York City suburb, Taffet surprisingly didn’t have a clue about discrimination.
“I remember when Martin Luther King gave his famous speech,” Taffet said. “I was 10 years old, and I had to ask my mother what it was all about. She didn’t completely explain it, but she said people discriminate against others because of the way they look.”
Still, Taffet, uninitiated in the tactics some people use to subjugate others, didn’t understand the ugliness of the civil rights opposition.
“My mother said some people treat others badly because of the way they look, so I was concerned about a boy in my class,” Taffet said. “He was blonde and pale, unlike the rest of us who were much darker because we were Jewish, Italian or black. He was the only one in our class with blonde hair. I never understood discrimination, and even when it was explained to me, it always seemed stupid. I didn’t realize we were the ones who were more likely to face discrimination, not my blonde classmate.”
The energy some people waste treading on other’s rights was, instead, used in the Taffet family to push forward as each generation added a layer of accomplishments upon the preceding one.
Taffet’s maternal grandmother graduated from Hunter College in 1909 and was an early suffragist. His mother was involved in pro-choice work long before Roe v. Wade, and his 90-year-old grandfather planted seeds of activism in Taffet’s soul.
“There was my grandfather in his European accent saying, ‘You should cut school and go to that anti-war rally,’” Taffet said. “And I did. It was incredible. Bryant Park was packed with tens of thousands of people. Dustin Hoffman and Joan Baez were there. The energy was phenomenal.”
Taffet’s mother pursued a career not considered suitable for a woman in those days and became a bacteriologist.
“Jonas Salk was my mother’s lab assistant,” Taffet said, “so she was instrumental in the development of the polio vaccine. She worked on it for 10 years.”
Taffet’s father also put his mark on the research and development of technology that would change the world. During World War II, he worked on perfecting radar, which at that time was a newly emerging science.
Taffet’s home was a petri dish for creating an activist. With that DNA and those genes, set during the turbulent Vietnam and civil rights years, the makings of a man emerged whose work would not only ease the suffering for who knows how many people but would change laws and practices that affect those people.
For years, Taffet volunteered with organizations that fought the AIDS epidemic, and he remembers a poignant turning point.
“One evening, Dennis Vercher, Tammye Nash and I were working on putting together an issue of Dallas Voice,” he said. “It must have been around 1998. Dennis asked me where were the obits. I didn’t have any. So we asked Tammye, and she said she didn’t have any. None of us had any obits. When that realization sunk in, that after years of printing obits, we had reached a point where there were no deaths to report, the three of us just broke down and cried.”
It’s that compassion and years of work that landed Taffet an award that recognizes “individuals who have made extraordinary gifts of their time and talents on behalf of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.” Name an organization or activity, and Taffet has had some involvement in it. He co-hosts an LGBT radio show on KNON-FM along with his position at Dallas Voice. He’s active in his synagogue, Beth El Binah, and he once co-hosted a television show.
His radio show co-host, Lerone Landis, said there’s not a LGBT person who is not affected by some work Taffet has done.
“He’s irreplaceable,” Landis said. “If we didn’t have David, the LGBT community wouldn’t be where it is. We’d be behind.”
So, on Saturday, as Taffet receives the Kuchling Award in honor of his years of work, the applause won’t come just from the 3,000 Black Tie attendees but from a chorus of those who have passed but were once recipients of his kindness.
“David embodies the meaning of this award,” Cox said. “We are a more compassionate community because of him. We are a community because of him.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 1, 2013.