On October 20, 2008, Phil Johnson 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 3,000 guests.
I have been called the grandfather of the gay movement in Texas, because I started collecting gay memorabilia when I was in the Army in World War II. I joined the first gay organization, the Mattachine Society, in 1953. For 12 years I waited for a leader – someone to start a gay organization in Texas. Finally, I said, "Lord, here I am."
When Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade was asked what he would do if he learned of a gay group in Dallas, he replied, "Well, I'd go out and arrest every damn one of them." When asked what he would charge the gay men and women with, he replied, "Oh, I’d find something." So, is it any wonder that the Circle of Friends was so deeply hidden in the closet that those who might have joined us didn't know how to find us?
Yet, in 1972 Rob Shivers, a wonderful lesbian, organized Texas's first gay pride parade to march down Main Street, and she chose me to lead it in case the crowd should attack. So, when we stepped off the curb at the Kennedy Memorial Plaza, we were scared to death.
I helped found the Metropolitan Community Church in Texas, the first one, and sang in the choir for its premier performance. I published the first gay newspaper in Dallas. It wasn't very good, but I did my best. Liz Cheret, another wonderful lesbian, and I were the Grand Marshals of the first Gay Pride Parade down Cedar Springs in 1980.
Now I'm not trying to blow my own horn. What I'm trying to say is that in the early days of the movement there were so few of us who were up front that we had to do everything that needed to be done. Who else could volunteer for the Hug-A-Homosexual booth at the National Library Association convention? And who else would dance in Frank Kameny’s arms, inviting arrest, at the convention of the National Psychological Association?
At Tom Waddell’s request, I organized the first Team Dallas for Gay Games II in San Francisco in 1986. And I brought home five gold medals for swimming … not because I was a great swimmer, but because I was the only one still swimming in my age bracket.
I have marched in every national March on Washington except one, and, yes, I risked being arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court Building.
So I've done everything I could, but what I don't do well is give a speech, so I'll spare your ears any more anguish by simply saying thank you for this honor, and then I'm going to sit down.
Ah … but one more thing I must mention. I'm 83 years old. How many years have I left? One? Five? Maybe 10? So I have donated my entire estate to the Phil Johnson Gay and Lesbian Historic Archives and Research Library. I did so because when I was a child in the 1930s, I didn't know we even had a gay history. I don't want another child to grow up thinking, as I did, "I'm the only one in the whole world."
And one more note. When I am gone, anyone needing a kidney, a spleen or a bone, all free of sexually transmitted disease, are welcome to mine. Then kindly cremate what's left, dump the ashes in a hole, and drop in a pecan and some dirt – so I can continue to benefit the world for many years thereafter.
If those of us who have gone before have helped pave the way for you, then I ask you to do something – anything – for those who will follow, because there's so much yet to be done.
Again, thank you.