As community mourns death of Fairness Fort Worth’s Tom Anable, fellow activists vow to continue his legacy of fighting for LGBT equality
FORT WORTH — The North Texas LGBT community only had a few years to witness vivacious and persistent Fort Worth activist Thomas Anable, but the changes he helped bring about in that short time have left a legacy.
An accountant for most of his life, the 58-year-old became involved in activism after witnessing the raid on the Rainbow Lounge in June 2009.
He was one of the founding members of Fairness Fort Worth, the city’s only LGBT advocacy group. After becoming the president of Fairness Fort Worth in 2010, he sold his accounting practice to devote himself full time to activism.
The Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church and vice president of Fairness Fort Worth, said Anable took charge of the organization and helped it flourish after it was originally created to help raid witnesses give their statements safely and provide legal counsel.
“In the short time that he had here he made a big difference,” West said. “In some ways he came forward as a reluctant activist and he went into it wholeheartedly and he went into it with his whole being, and it became who he was and he loved it. And his joy of it was contagious and enveloped all of us.”
In fact, Anable described himself as an accidental activist. In his last Facebook post on Aug. 15, he wrote that the “last two years have been an incredible journey for me. I never expected nor wanted to be an activist. But the experience has been beyond rewarding and I’m so grateful ‘fate’ picked me.”
Benbrook police found Anable’s body in Dutch Branch Park Saturday, Aug. 18. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a suicide with the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the head.
The Anable family released an initial statement about Tom’s death. A second statement was released Thursday, Aug. 23, in reference to a note he left, which the family hoped would bring closure.
“Tom did not want us to think of this as a tragedy. He was extremely satisfied that his life mattered, that he was part of tremendous change, and that he had absolutely no regrets with how his life turned out,” the statement reads. “He stated [in the note] the last 19 months made his entire life worthwhile, but he had lost any interest working further. The events of June 28, 2009 at the Rainbow
Lounge changed his life forever, and it was far more traumatic than he could deal with. He found peace, and was satisfied with what he accomplished for our equality, and was content with the decisions he made willingly.”
Todd Camp, co-founder of Q Cinema, was a good friend of Anable’s, having known him when he joined the Q Cinema Board of Directors a few years ago. The two also bonded after experiencing the raid together.
“That night we all changed, we as people who witnessed it,” Camp said. “Watching him transform from this kind of not all that involved and not all that passionate necessarily about issues and to watch him just develop into this incredible advocate was just amazing to behold.” An alumnus of the University of Texas at Arlington, Anable planned a conference at the university last year for local law enforcement to be briefed on the implementation of the Matthew Shepard and
James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
And later he would recommend more conferences to a U.S. Department of Justice official, which became the launching pad for the White House LGBT Conference series that took place from February to June this year. He served as the chair of the local steering committee for the White House Conference on Safe Schools and Communities held at UTA in March.
“Tom was the one that did all the work. He went to a hundred meetings,” Camp said of his passion. “He gave up his job for a number of years to devote his life to activism. Tom was a natural at it.”
Camp said that while he knew Anable struggled with depression, his suicide caught his friends off guard, especially when he’d recently began to live such a publicly purposeful life.
“I think he finally was living for the first time in his life,” Camp said. “It was really after the Rainbow Lounge raid that he kind of came to life in a lot of ways and he said as much. His last Facebook message kind of reads that way.”
Anable is the second suicide by an activist in North Texas this year after Fort Worth’s Dave Guy-Gainer, 63, took his own life in February.
Candy Marcum, founder of Dallas LGBT counseling center Stonewall Behavioral Health, said people who commit suicide are often so depressed that they feel hopeless and cannot seek help or think that any help would make their lives better.
“Suicide is about depression. Suicide is about feeling hopeless,” she said.
Marcum said many younger LGBT people commit suicide because of the stress of coming out and not being accepted. She said stress later in life related to money, friend or health issues can add to someone’s suicidal feelings.
As for activism being more stressful, Marcum said that is a job that can take a toll on someone emotionally, but she said what Anable and Gainer had in common likely were issues unrelated to being gay activists that led them to suicide.
Anger and sadness are often heightened emotions after suicide, as well as wondering if there were signs and if it could have been prevented, but Marcum said people need to not blame themselves and carry on the work Anable loved doing.
“People need to understand that he had more going on than we knew about. His work for the movement is not a reflection of the pain he had,” she said. “His work is still good. He took himself as far as he could.”
Jon Nelson with Fairness Fort Worth said Anable’s legacy will be continued. The group’s board will select a new president in the near future and continue his work.
For someone involved in civic groups for more than three decades. Nelson said he’d “never seen anyone with very little clout to begin with accomplish what (Anable) did.”
“It was like he saw a need, he saw an individual that needed help and it never occurred to him that it might not work out,” Nelson said. “If was how to get it done, never if.”
But while Anable had accomplished many of his goals, most recently with helping Fort Worth Independent School District pass an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy, he still had big plans. He envisioned the creation of a North Texas LGBT coalition formed by several LGBT organizations in the Metroplex coming together to discuss and share work.
Robert Camina, the documentary filmmaker of Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, said he “never would have gotten so involved with activism without (Anable’s) relentless pushing and inspiration.” Anable was an associate producer and was featured in the film.
“He championed this film from day one, believing that Fort Worth’s story could inspire and educate people around the world,” Camina said. “He wanted to build relationships and hold leaders accountable for the fair and equal treatment of all citizens. With his unfortunate passing, he has put us all to task to make sure that happens.”
Camina said Anable’s death leaves a void in the local LGBT community, as well as the communities he touched and educated on a national level. He said his presence and life will forever be remembered on-screen in the film and also with the work he did in North Texas.
But as the LGBT community and all those who knew and loved Anable professionally and personally grieve him, they are united in the mission to uphold his legacy.
“Let there be no doubt, that as we move forward, his words and passion will continue to create change,” Camina said. “Tom will never be truly gone.”
A memorial service for Anable will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at Celebration Community Church, at 908 Pennsylvania Avenue in Fort Worth.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 24, 2012.