Gay man aims to win back guardianship of partner after sister-in-law tore apart couple of 34 years
Months after going public with his story of being forcibly separated from his partner of 34 years, Lon Watts is raising money and working with an attorney to help them reunite.
In a case highlighting the consequences of marriage inequality in Texas, Watts and Jim Heath were separated after Heath developed Alzheimer’s and his sister managed to obtain legal guardianship in court. She placed Heath in a nursing home in East Texas and got a court order evicting Watts from their house and banning him from the nursing home.
This week, Watts was able to talk to Heath for the first time in 18 months, thanks to a Facebook friend who snuck in to the nursing home and handed him her phone.
“We chatted like it was yesterday,” Watts said. “He told me he loved me.”
Watts said Heath asked a lot of questions and realized for the first time what his sister had done to them.
“She stole our house,” Watts said Heath told him, understanding the situation better than he had before the call.
After they hung up, Watts’ Facebook friend said Heath began to cry.
After articles appeared in Dallas Voice and other media outlets in May, Watts began a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for legal costs. That effort netted more than $17,500.
Watts, who now lives in Oklahoma, contacted Austin attorney Dax Garvin, who is representing him pro bono. Garvin also represents Mark “Major” Jiminez and Beau Chandler, who have tried to obtain a marriage license from Dallas County four times, and Cd Kirven, who was arrested in Austin during a GetEQUAL TX protest supporting a statewide employment nondiscrimination bill.
“We expect to be taking appropriate steps,” Garvin said.
He said he’s exploring several unconventional angles he’s not ready to discuss but asked for help in finding a doctor.
“We’re looking for a doctor interested in doing an evaluation,” he said.
Garvin said he would prefer someone from the Dallas or Shreveport area, outside of East Texas, who is interested in the case and who would do the evaluation free or for a reduced rate. He asked any doctor interested to contact him at his Austin office.
Watts and Heath met in Houston in 1979. They moved to Pittsburg in 2000 to be near Heath’s family, and his sister helped them buy a house in town.
Although only in his late 50s, Heath began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease in 2006 and Watts retired to take care of his partner full time. Although they had paperwork in place, Heath’s sister Carolyn obtained guardianship and placed him in a nursing home. She got a court order evicting Watts from their house and banning him from the nursing home.
When Watts’ Facebook friend snuck a phone to Heath this week, it marked the second time this month someone had gone to the nursing home to see Heath on his behalf.
Watts said he’d become more anxious about seeing his partner since a gay couple visited Heath a few weeks ago.
After the first stories about Watts and Heath appeared, the couple contacted Watts on Facebook and asked if there was anything they could do to help.
“If you could go to the nursing home and get a picture of Jim,” Watts told them.
The couple, who asked that their names be withheld, drove to Pittsburg. To avoid suspicion, one waited in the car while the other went into the nursing home. He had the room number, so a nurse at the front desk escorted him in.
He introduced himself to Heath as a friend of Watts’.
Heath asked how they met and he said on Facebook.
Heath wanted to know why they were there and he told them Watts wanted a picture of him. He said Heath asked for a picture of Watts.
“He said he wanted out of there,” he said. “He was very with it.”
Heath said he was tired of being in the nursing home and wanted to know when he was going to get out. The men told him an attorney was working on it, but Heath was not convinced they’d succeed.
“What Carolyn wants, Carolyn gets,” Heath said.
They talked for just a short time before someone from the nursing home, who had contacted Carolyn, threatened to call the police and have them arrested.
Before leaving, they got a picture for Watts.
“He told me if he met him in a diner, he would never have known he had any problems,” Watts said. “He was Chatty Cathy with these guys.”
Among the things Heath remembered was that Carolyn’s husband had died recently. He also talked about the upcoming East Texas Yamboree festival. That’s unusual because Heath was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which affects short-term memory. Yet he remembered a recent and an upcoming event clearly.
That’s why Garvin would like Heath re-evaluated by a doctor with no ties to the local community.
“It could be a misdiagnosis,” Garvin said.
Watts said he’s waiting for his day in court, although he’s not sure that will ever happen.
He’s called the office of elder abuse in Texas and reported his partner’s maltreatment. He said the last time he saw Heath, he had a flatscreen TV. The couple who visited him said there was no TV in the room and no TV viewing room in the nursing home.
Watts noted in the picture the couple sent, there’s not even a pillowcase on the pillow.
“They shaved his mustache off and that just killed me,” he said. “They’re not taking care of him.”
Watts has been banned from the nursing home, the church and even the local newspaper, he said.
“My character has been slammed,” he said. “But I don’t have any more anger or nightmares. I dream of getting Jim home.”
To contribute to Watts’ legal expenses, visit GoFundMe.com/3p2ep0.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 26, 2013.