Jack Evans and George Harris get the first same-sex marriage license in Dallas County.
(Photo by David Taffet)

Looking back at my life with Dallas Voice

Forty years ago, things were changing for the LGBTQ community in Dallas and around the country. National organizations were forming, and here, at home in Dallas, Resource Center was created; Congregation Beth El Binah was worshipping; Lambda Weekly was broadcasting, and Dallas Voice began publishing.

Of course, AIDS was just hitting the community. In 1984, a mysterious illness was attacking gay men in New York, San Francisco and even Houston, but we were sure it wouldn’t travel up I-45 and hit us here in Dallas. But by the end of the year, we had experienced our first deaths caused by this mysterious illness.

Because AIDS only seemed to be attacking gay men, the response from the mainstream community was an overwhelming “I don’t care.” And met with that attitude, the LGBTQ community in Dallas decided we’d just have to take care of ourselves.

Young gay doctors like Brady Allen stepped forward to provide medical care to the community. The lesbian community loved and nurtured the gay men whose families abandoned them. Resource Center and Oak Lawn Community Services were created to provide counseling to those dying and support for those caring for them.

We quickly learned some of the basics like how to best distribute food to those who could no longer afford it.

New religious organizations like Congregation Beth El Binah, the LGBTQ Jewish congregation in Dallas, formed, and what is now Cathedral of Hope flourished as traditional churches excluded LGBTQ members or at most tolerated us.

Bill Nelson, remembered along with his husband Terry Tebedo for whom the Nelson Tebedo Clinic is named, was broadcasting Lambda Weekly, one of the country’s first LGBTQ radio shows. The show is still broadcast each Sunday at 1 p.m. on KNON-FM.

And Dallas Voice began documenting the LGBTQ community’s triumphs and heartbreaks. While other newspapers’ obituary pages were one of their biggest sources of income, Dallas Voice was printing obits free of charge to document the losses the community was experiencing each week.

The city’s daily newspapers pumped out their obituary columns. We crafted each obituary with love as we remembered our friends who were now gone. The idea of charging for them was abhorrent; we were documenting LGBTQ Dallas.

But we were not only documenting the losses in the community, we were losing our co-workers. I remember being in the office when advertising director Tim Self returned from a doctor’s appointment. He had been diagnosed with AIDS. Within a year, sweet, lovable Tim was dead.

Among the lasting legacies of the community building we did during the 1980s were the AIDS service agencies.

AIDS Interfaith Network organized church groups to make hospital visits and serve meals to people living with AIDS. When hospital workers refused to even enter an AIDS patient’s room and instead left their meals on the floor outside the door, AIN volunteers picked up those trays and fed those patients. AIN was an early bridge between compassionate religious groups and the LGBTQ community.

When people with AIDS lost their jobs and, soon after, their homes, and when nursing homes refused to care for gay men with AIDS, the LGBTQ community again took things into our own hands. AIDS Services Dallas was formed and opened its first residence in an old house on Nash Street in Oak Lawn, the street that’s now the entrance to Cathedral of Hope.

And when people living with AIDS couldn’t afford food, Crossroads Market put up a shelf with a sign that simply said, “Leave a can. Take a can.” And as the need outgrew one shelf, Resource Center stepped in, and the food pantry was created.

And Dallas Voice documented the community building relentlessly.

By the mid-90s, drugs began to hit the market that controlled the HIV virus. Things in the community began to change. Organizations like Resource Center became as known for being the LGBTQ Community Center as it was for disseminating information as the AIDS Resource Center.

AIDS Arms began its pivot to providing full medical care for people living with HIV.

Instead of turning over its full roster of residents several times a year, residents at ASD began living for years rather than for just months after being diagnosed

And on one production day, just before that week’s Dallas Voice was about to go off to the printer, editor Dennis Vercher turned to me and said we forgot the obituaries. I looked through my computer and said I didn’t have any. Dennis called to Tammye Nash. She thought and said she didn’t have any either. And we all began crying. That was the first issue in years that we weren’t reporting any deaths.

That was a turning point in reporting on the LGBTQ community. Along with reports on new medications that were keeping people with HIV living longer, we were making advances in LGBTQ rights.

A case out of Houston in which a couple was arrested in their home for “engaging in homosexual conduct” was working its way through the courts. What became Lawrence v. Texas made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rather than affirming earlier support of state sodomy laws, the June 2003 decision overturned those rulings and legalized our intimate relationships.

More and more companies began offering same-sex partners benefits similar to what they offered married couples. And more and more same-sex couples began having families. States began recognizing our relationships legally, beginning with civil unions in Vermont and then full marriage equality in Massachusetts.

Over the next dozen years, one state after another legalized same-sex marriage. Some states, like Iowa, passed legislation that begin allowing same-sex couples to marry. California passed marriage equality then repealed it on a ballot initiative then repealed the repeal on another initiative. Other states, like Oklahoma began marrying same-sex couple by court order.

And in Texas, residents voted to ban marriage by adding an amendment to the state constitution, which the Supreme Court overturned in the Obergefell case in 2015.

A photo very similar to one taken by a Dallas Voice staff member appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world, showing Dallas legends and longtime partners Jack Evans and George Harris getting married at the county courthouse the same day the Obergefell ruling was issued.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed and LGBTQ people were able to serve in the military. Sexual orientation and gender identity became protected categories in employment nondiscrimination after the Dobbs decision.

And the trans community grew. More and more people were openly transitioning. And just as more and more gay and lesbian youth began coming out at younger and younger ages, trans youth began transitioning, often with the support of their parents.

After Obergefell, conservative pastors and right-wing legislators had more trouble demonizing and passing anti-gay legislation. But trans youth and those who supported them became targets. Each legislative session, lawmakers have piled on record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills. One state copies what has been successful in other states.

And for the last 40 years, Dallas Voice has reported throughout the good times and the bad not just by listing what legislation passed or failed but by telling stories of how laws or court decisions, illnesses and breakthroughs have affected members of the LGBTQ community. And the staff of Dallas Voice plans to continue telling those stories, informing our community and doing our part in the battle for equality — in print, online and however else our evolving technology allows.