By Buddy Mullino
In 1978, there was a fourth grade teacher in Dallas who recognized a need that was not being filled in the gay community and understood the circumstances around it. The man’s name was Howie Daire.
The late seventies and earliest eighties were somewhat of a magical period for gay men and women. The men in Dallas were showing off their moves and their bodies on the dance floor to the tunes of Donna Summer and Sylvester – in their Izod shirts, 501 jeans, and white athletic shoes. The Izods were usually off by the time the dance floor filled up.
There was a growing GLBT community, and public recognition of that community was increasing. Instead of hiding behind dark and hidden entrances, gay bars were opening their doors to the streets. One even had huge glass windows. No one had ever heard the words AIDS, HIV, ARC, GRID, or even SAFE SEX.
But in contrast to the utopia, there was also a lingering dark side of gay life present during this period. There was a great deal of discrimination and non-acceptance still being directed toward gay communities. Being terminated or discriminated against at the workplace just for being gay was not unheard of; neither was being tossed to the curb by one’s landlord or family. Friends were not always understanding or accepting when they found out you were gay. Men were subject to being arrested for the criminal violation of having sex with another man. It was not necessarily ‘OK’ for two people of the same sex to walk down the street – even in Oak Lawn – or to hold hands, sit together in restaurants, or check into the same hotel room. It might be ‘chic’ to have a gay friend, but it wasn’t always safe for that chic gay friend to be “out” at work. All of these things often kept some gay people hiding behind the closet door, at least during the week, and were the cause of a great deal of psychological issues for gay people, who sometimes were struggling to decide if they were ‘OK’ or ‘not OK’.
This often led to lots of medications taken with alcohol and/or drugs, sometimes resulting in substance abuse and addiction, which could lead to all kinds of other life problems. There was a definite need for gay people to be able to seek counseling and psychological help. But more often than not, the psychotherapist with whom they engaged would take the approach that their problems – whatever they might be – could not be tackled until the issue of their homosexuality was worked out. Some therapists even seemed to think that solving the homosexual tendencies issue would solve any other issues the patient was dealing with. This was not fair to the patient, and it was not even very humane. The few psychologists who were around who understood that homosexuality was not necessarily “the problem” were difficult to find and often charged a lot of money – something that the young gay person might not have available, and not something they could always ask their parents for without ‘spilling the beans’ – or coming out to them.
Howie Daire felt that there was a real need in Dallas for affordable mental healthcare for gay people, and he tackled the problem. He decided to put his master’s degree in counseling from NTSU to work and start a counseling center – one that would make it affordable for men and women to come and receive help with their various issues without having their homosexuality diagnosed as their ‘problem’.
Howie was a very handsome, energetic, and friendly man with a great body, a huge dark mustache, muscled arms, piercing eyes, and a rabbit smile that made you want to follow him anywhere. He set about making his dream of creating a counseling center a reality. He sought financial support from fellow Dallasites Joe Fleming and Mike Grossman, among others. He formed a counseling partnership with psychologist Candy Marcum, and he traveled to New York and California to study counseling centers that were operating there. Howie opened the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in a dilapidated old building next to the Esquire Theatre on Oak Lawn in 1981.
The Center clearly answered a huge need in the community. Business soon flourished, and, under Howie’s guidance, the Center quickly gained stature and became a respected facility in the Metroplex. Howie quit his bartending jobs at the Bayou Landing and at Baja’s Supper Club to dedicate his time and energies on OLCS.
Howie was a big player socially – not just in the Dallas area – but also on the east, west, and Gulf coasts. He had an extensive social network and was well connected and popular with many in the circles where he played. Because he often travelled to these places, he had friends there who had become mysteriously ill and quickly died. Even though very little was known about it at the time, it was evident that a killer disease was brewing.
Dallas was, at that time, somewhat of a peripheral city. Things that happened in New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles – and even in Houston – tended to show up in Dallas about a year after they did in the coastal cities. Howie and Candy Marcum traveled to Houston in January of 1982 to attend an all-gay mental health conference. It was here that they first learned about what was then called “GRID” (Gay Related Immune Deficiency syndrome).
It was decided at this conference that it would be more appropriate to call this disease ARC (AIDS Related Complex), and so they did. Howie likely put two-and-two together and figured out that this disease was the killer responsible for the deaths he had been aware of in San Francisco, because he commented to Candy on the trip home from that conference that they needed to put some things in place and prepare for this disease to arrive before long in Dallas. When Candy replied that they didn’t know anything about this disease, Howie prophetically answered her, “Yes, I know – but we will – and we will need to be prepared.”
He had the foresight to see that the disease would be coming soon to Dallas, and – once again – instead of waiting for the crisis to explode, Howie set things in motion to deal with the looming storm.
He knew that education would be key to getting ahead of the crisis, so he started getting the word out at fundraisers and wherever he could – warning of the killer disease he had heard about that was stalking gay men – urging them to take precautions and prepare. He transformed the Oak Lawn Counseling Center into Oak Lawn Community Services to try to respond to the disease’s inevitable devastation. He took Candy’s phone and set up a hotline at the center.
AIDS hit fast and it hit hard in the months following. People were getting sick, wasting away, losing their jobs, their homes, sometimes their families, and sometimes even losing relationships with people they thought were their friends. Some men were dying horrible and painful deaths. It was a dark, frantic, and scary time. Friends were disappearing at such rates that people often had to choose which memorial services they would attend and which they would have to miss. Those who fell into the category that Howie called “the worried well” – those who were not ill – were keeping the hotline busy. They could only assume that they would certainly be next. Every cold, every cough, every fever or chill –was cause for panic. Friends didn’t dare ask about someone you hadn’t seen in a few weeks, because they didn’t want to hear any more bad news. The best advice Howie – or anyone else – had to offer at first was to abstain from sex until they knew more about what was going on.
One of the programs that Howie helped found at OLCS was an adult day care center to relieve the caregivers for people living with AIDS during the day, and to provide for socialization for the patients themselves. This was later re-named “The Daire Center,” in honor of Howie.
The program that perhaps Howie was most proud of was the The Buddy Project – which was made up of volunteers who were involved in educational efforts and people who were involved in support of those living with AIDS. These volunteers provided not just financial support, but also emotional support and physical assistance. The volunteers were called “buddies.” They were people who were willing to do anything and everything they could to help people afflicted with this disease. At one time there were over 100 people signed up on the Buddy Project. These people performed untiring service, and the good that came from their work was amazing. They provided transportation, delivered medication, made sure that people with AIDS had the food, clothing, and other basic necessities they needed at all times. Sometimes they cleaned the person’s house or apartment, sometimes they stayed with the person when their lover or full time caretaker had to be away. Sometimes they traveled long distances to perform their duties. This was a very organized and well-run program. It included monthly educational sessions called “The Buddy Training.” People could attend these meetings even if they had no plans to become a buddy, but just wanted to learn more about AIDS and caring for People With AIDS. The Project was not only a tremendously effective vehicle for caring for PWAs and dealing with the crisis; it also became a model that other cities used to build their own programs.
The programs that Howie had the foresight to initiate and the work that he did helped Dallas to deal – and cope - with the onslaught of terror that came with the early days of the AIDS crisis. Because of his wide social circles, he was able to pull in literally armies of people to step up and go to work. He was always cognizant that the work done through the programs of Oak Lawn Community Services was attributable to what the community did for OLCS. He also used his connections on the coasts to keep up with what was going on in those cities, to try to stay ahead of the curve in Dallas.
It is important to preserve the memory of Harold Paul Daire – the founder of the Oak Lawn Counseling Center. The Visionary and The Doer who was:
The Handsome and Popular Gay Leather Man with the huge mustache who started the first educational effort about AIDS in the Metroplex, instituting Play Safe programs for risk reduction through safe sex.
The First Grand Marshall of Dallas’ Freedom Parade in 1985.
The Gay Activist who served as a member of Dallas’ Health and Human Services Commission and testified before a U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations Regarding Public Health seeking critical funding for AIDS projects.
The Director of the Dallas AIDS Action Project and the Inspiration for the OLCS Buddy Project.
A man who received his own diagnosis of being HIV-positive in September of 1985 at the age of 37 – and succumbed some 300 days later in 1986 to the very disease he was helping to fight.
Note: For extensive additional information and photos on the life and death of Howie Daire, see extensive journalistic collections posted by Texas Obituary Project at following link: http://www.texasobituaryproject.org/081983daire.html