On October 20, 2001, just one month after the World Trade Center attack, Larry Pease received the Kuchling Humanitarian Award from the Dallas Black Tie Dinner, annually the largest annual fundraising event in the City of Dallas. The following is the written text of his acceptance speech that evening before an audience of 2,000 guests.
This recognition is the most memorable and the most gratifying of my life. I will always treasure this evening and this entire experience, because, as profoundly grateful as I am for this award, I realize that this evening is not about me. This evening is about all of us.
This event holds special meaning for me because of the enormous esteem in which I hold the members, past and present, of the Black Tie Dinner Committee. These individuals have always been among the most committed, the most focused and most selfless persons in our community. For twenty years they have produced an evening of joy, love and pride. An evening of empowerment and freedom that renders us more joyful, more loving, more self-confident and more accepting of others and of ourselves.
That's what this evening is about.
This event – this night – has become so enriching, so empowering, that it assumes an almost sacred trust: to stand as an example to our community, to our city, indeed to our state and nation, to climb ever higher in our quest for human dignity, equality and mutual respect. This committee’s year-round efforts in fulfillment of that mission have made this night an inspiration to us all.
These individuals are my personal heroes: Ray Kuchling, Dick Weaver, John Thomas, William Waybourn, Mike Anglin, Carl Parker, Sue Wyll, Cheryl Berman, Steve Atkinson, Cathy Hewitt, Steve Habgood, Buddy Mullino, Scott Dinsmore, Carol Williams, Steve Cox, Stella Hess, Gary Cox and so many more.
Two relatives of mine are here this evening, which makes me very happy. My brother Ron is here, and, although he lives in the Dallas area, he has made a long journey to be here, and I want him to know that I am proud and pleased that he chose to be present. The other is my first cousin Greg Kennedy from Warrensburg, Missouri. He is my first cousin, not just because our mothers were sisters; he is the first relative to whom I came out, and he has been a continuous source of unconditional love and affirmation.
It is with a deep sense of humility that I accept the Kuchling Humanitarian Award. I am most grateful to the members of the DFW Human Rights Campaign steering committee for their love and support. This is the third time they nominated me for this prestigious award – I am so very honored. These are the men and women who have built upon a rich and storied Dallas prominence within HRC nationally and are responsible for elevating Dallas to become the biggest and brightest star in the HRC crown. These colleagues and friends are also my heroes. I speak of Randolph Terrell, Lori Masters, Andy Krauss, Worth Ross, Rob Mosley, Kay Van Wey, Bruce Chemel, Rebecca Covell, Carolyn Hall, Jay Oppenheimer, Nancy Caldwell, Dennis Coleman, Enrique MacGregor, Julie Johnson, Louise Young, Leo Bacher, Stephen Gilhooly and Anne Fay, to name a few. Another of my heroes is the woman who has served as co-chair of HRC's National Board of Directors these past four years so ably and with great distinction – Dallas’s own Miss Candy Marcum.
Any mention of heroes would, for me, began and in and with the man who was my closest friend for twenty years. He was my partner in crime, my mentor and teacher, my rock, my port in any storm. He loved HRC passionately and, more than any other individual should be credited with establishing Dallas as a city with enormous national influence and from whence so many more national HRC leaders would follow. He was a recipient of this award, and was serving as co-chair of HRC's national Board of Directors at the time of his death in 1995. I still miss him and will always be grateful for the time he was here with us. I would like to dedicate this award to my friend and brother, Don McCleary.
People like Don and Candy and cousin Greg and Dennis Coleman and Elizabeth Birch, and international leaders like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt and all of my other personal heroes are voices for raising our collective conscience of the value of humankind. Our true heroes usually are not the ones who display courage without weakness, but rather, are the ones who display courage despite it. Tonight should challenge each of us to identify our heroes and to emulate the qualities in them that we admire – because we all need heroes. We need their dreams and aspirations. We need them to teach and inspire us – to lift us out of ourselves and reveal unseen possibilities.
That is what this evening is about.
Much like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this period in history is truly "our time." As we continue to gain and preserve our equal civil rights, we are winning the fight against ignorance, hate and prejudice. These victories are occurring everywhere: in courtrooms; in voting booths; and corporate board rooms; in city council chambers. They well up in the governing bodies of mainline Protestant churches and synagogues and, perhaps even more importantly, they are happening around the dinner table of our parents and children and siblings. Some of this progress can be attributed to television or legislation or court decisions. But mostly it is happening because more and more of us are coming out, to our families and friends and coworkers who, perhaps for the first time, are able to put a familiar face on what previously had been an abstract or even hostile issue.
And that's what this evening is about.
So – to those of you who are here for your first Black Tie Dinner, permit me to congratulate you for participating in the highlight event on the gay and lesbian calendar. I hope you will return again and again. And to all of you who have not yet chosen an organization to actively support, I urge you to take a look at the list of beneficiaries of this magnificent event. All of them are filled with talented and dedicated individuals who are devoting their time and financial resources to further the cause of equality, healthcare, healing or education, and they need and want your time, energy and passion in these noble efforts.
Our community is powerful, beautiful, peaceful and loving. Our quest for equality and enlightenment is a sacred mission which is divinely inspired. This quest is, at its core, a quest for the freedom to love. We long for the unfettered, unencumbered joy to love whom we choose. There is no more compelling or sacred calling than this. When I consider the challenges we meet, the risks we in this room, indeed, we gay and lesbian citizens and our straight allies from every corner of the world, take in order to express love and affection openly for our partners and for our friends, I am awestruck by our courage.
At this critical and painful time in our nation's history, we in the gay and lesbian community are all too familiar with acts of violence and terror born of hatred and prejudice. My wish is that we here, and everyone around the world, may know and inner peace and serenity, and feel the divine power of love. Tonight, and always, let us endeavor to stretch our hearts and expand our love so that it touches those whose behaviors or differences would ordinarily incline us to turn away.
George Bernard Shaw said this: "I'm of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
May all of us aspire to carry that splendid torch of life, to fan its flames of commitment to a world more compassionate, more tolerant and more loving.
That's what tonight is all about for me, and I wish it for you as well.
Thank you and God bless you.