Bettie Naylor remembered as ‘creator of the equal rights movement in Texas’

Posted on 19 Apr 2012 at 6:33pm

Bettie Naylor

Founding member of Equality Texas, HRC, Annie’s List dies at 84

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Legendary Texas activist Bettie Naylor died Wednesday night in her sleep. She was 84.

Naylor’s partner, Libby Sykora, found her Thursday morning, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

A founding member of Equality Texas, the Human Rights Campaign and Annie’s List, Naylor began lobbying for women’s rights in the ‘60s and began fighting for LGBT rights in the ‘70s, said Chuck Smith, Equality Texas deputy executive director.

While she was married to a man for 30 years, she later came out and embraced her sexuality, Smith said.

The original lobbyist for Equality Texas, Smith said that Naylor helped “change the face of women’s rights and gay rights in Texas.”

“In most respects, she was the creator of the equal rights movement in Texas,” he said.

While Naylor was fierce in her political fights, Smith said she was also funny and sweet.

“It was still easy to like Bettie because she was just so downright charming and fun to be around,” he said.

Although Naylor stopped lobbying in 2009, Smith said she and her partner remained activists in the LGBT community and in Austin.

“The two of them were quite the power couple,” he said.

Dianne Hardy Garcia, former Equality Texas executive director, worked with Naylor for many years in the ‘90s.

“We lost a great leader last night. Bettie was a loyal friend, a wise teacher and a generous soul,” she said. “She was also damn fun! I will forever be grateful to have learned from her and to have loved Bettie Naylor!”

Naylor was honored with Travis County Democratic Party’s Trio of Stars award in 2011. During an interview with the party, she was asked to describe the changes she’s witnessed during her activist and lobbying career.

Her response: “I’m amazed at the changes, although I would like to see things change more rapidly. But I think we’re far more acceptable to people now than we ever were,” Naylor said. “I think some of that has to do with the young gay people who don’t keep their sexuality a secret any more. They’re comfortable being who they are, and they’re not ashamed. You know, I was married for 30 years to a military pilot, and I was ‘outed’ by the San Antonio News-Express — on the front page and with a picture! Because of that, I have never hidden my sexuality, and now I’m very proud of it.”

Amid the sadness of her loss, Smith said Naylor will forever remain in the hearts of activists and the communities she changed for the better.

“She will be hugely missed, but I think that the work she’s done has made us better off,” Smith said. “She’ll always be a part of the LGBT movement in Texas.”

Equality Texas and HRC released statements addressing Naylor’s loss.

Equality Texas and HRC released statements addressing Naylor’s loss.

“Bettie Naylor was a force to be reckoned with, and played a central role in bettering the lives of LGBT people at both the national level and in Texas,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.

“As a founding board member of the Human Rights Campaign, and a leader in starting our Austin Steering Committee, Bettie was a tireless advocate and never stopped working to ensure that members of our community received the rights, dignity, and respect that all people deserve. Bettie was driven by a desire to create a future where kids never had to be ashamed of who they were, but could instead live openly and without fear. Today, we live in a country where many loving, committed same-sex couples can marry and start families, where many students can thrive in their communities without fear of violence, and where a growing number of businesses are recognizing the importance of protecting their LGBT employees — these are all part of Bettie’s lasting legacy.”

 This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2012.

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