Submitted by Mike Anglin, December 2011
In 1979, Bill Nelson, a teacher and coach at W.T. White High School in Dallas, attended a public “gay rights rally” in Lee Park. A photograph of the event was published in the Dallas newspaper, and a student at W.T. White recognized Coach Nelson as one of the people attending the rally. Dallas Independent School District attempted to reprimand Bill for this public display, but he refused to accept the censure, and the school district ultimately backed down. Their action only accelerated Bill’s growth into a principal leadership role in the gay rights movement in Dallas.
Bill’s first concrete step in this process came later in 1979, when he appeared before the executive committee of the Dallas Gay Political Caucus to urge that organization to fully support the upcoming National March on Washington. He and his partner, Terry Tebedo, publicized the event in Dallas and generated a list of Dallas residents who would commit to attend the October 14, 1979, March on Washington.
In early 1980, a group of Dallas Gay Alliance (now Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance) leaders met in Bill and Terry’s dining room to discuss the feasibility of a novel political undertaking by the gay community of Dallas. The concept was to carefully enlist and prepare individuals to attend their Democratic precinct conventions and become elected as delegates to the District Convention. There, as many as possible would be elected as delegates to the State Democratic Convention of 1980 and attempt to have that year’s Democratic Party platform contain a “plank” calling for the repeal of Sec. 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code (which made same-sex relations a crime). The effort took on the name “Project/80” and was a complete success.
In 1981, Bill and Terry pulled together a number of friends and created an organization that would sponsor a city-wide social event for the gay community. The new organization was named “Razzle Dazzle Dallas.” It held its first gala later that year at the Hall of State in Fair Park. That same year they, along with friends William Waybourn and Craig Spaulding, opened a business at the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton in Dallas called “The Crossroads Market,” which became as much of a community meeting place as a commercial book and sundries store.
In June of 1983, Bill and Terry, along with other supporters, created a new umbrella organization for the gay community named the Foundation for Human Understanding (eventually to become the Resource Center Dallas). FHU was designed to be the parent organization for a number of groups, programs, and smaller organizations affiliated with the Dallas Gay Alliance. In 1990, FHU purchased the MCC Church building at Reagan and Brown streets in Dallas (where DGA had conducted its general membership meetings since the late 1970’s).
As president of the then Dallas Gay Alliance in the mid 1980s, Bill helped open the first lesbian and gay community center storefront location (where Union Jack is now located on Cedar Springs), later to become a clinic for an HIV population left underserved by county and government institutions. In fact, the clinic today carries his and his partner Terry Tebedo’s names as the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic. He was also among the first to sound the alarm about AIDS and help educate individuals to avoid the transmission of HIV, turning the Alliance from a purely political organization to an agency delivering real services, including food, clothing and financial assistance. These services continue today under the Resource Center of Dallas, and through other cooperating organizations like AIDS Services of Dallas and the AIDS Arms Network.
From 1984 to 1987, Bill served as president of the Dallas Gay Alliance.
In the fall of 1985 Bill became the third recipient of the Black Tie Dinner’s “Humanitarian of the Year Award” (known today as the Kuchling Award, named for Ray Kuchling), and in 1989 theTexas Senate honored Bill for his many accomplishments as a community leader.
Bill Nelson died February 19, 1990, of complications from AIDS.