David Taffet - 2013 Black Tie Kuchling Humanitarian Award Speech

 I began preparing for tonight by reviewing speeches by other Black Tie speakers and I came across the best. So I decided to begin the way Ann Richards did — with a five minute standing ovation.

In addition to some of the lovely comments in the video, I’d like to thank some friends — like Sandy Horwitz who congratulated me by saying, “Oh, crap, Taffet, how are you gonna embarrass us?” Chad Mantooth works in my office. He gave me a hug and said, “That’s fantastic. It should really help my sales.”  When she sent in the Kuchling application, Cece Cox asked a number of people for letters about me. She was supposed to send in two but she sent them all. “I never did like to follow the rules,” she told me. “Thank you for teaching me that.” You’re welcome and it’s not that I don’t follow the rules. It’s that I never read the directions. I usually don’t listen so I never know what the rules are in the first place. *

Like in 1993, during an incident we usually refer to as Pillows and Blankets:

When the pilot of a plane coming back to Dallas from the 1993 March on Washington requested a complete change in pillows and blankets due to gay rights activists on board, the American Airlines ground controller at DFW didn’t order the pillows and blankets changed. Instead, he forwarded the memo to me. Imagine. He was gay. What were the chances American Airlines had gay employees?

I owned a travel agency at the time so I called my contact at American and asked for an apology. All American wanted to know was where I got the memo. So when I got no apology, I pulled out the DGLA media contact list and got through to a few people — like Rafael McDonnell who was working an evening shift at KRLD. The DFW gay mafia shifted into high gear.  By day 2, American Airlines was still claiming the memo didn’t exist. So I faxed it to every major news organization in the country.  By day 3, it had become national news until 4 p.m. when I got a call from Tom Brokaw asking if we were accepting American’s apology. I said, “Hold on, my fax is ringing now.” Robert Crandall, president of American Airlines, sent a letter apologizing to CNN, Tom Brokaw and me.  “Yeah, I guess that’s all we ever asked for,” I told Tom.

I told you I don’t follow the rules, but I always try to be fair.

But success didn’t come that day. It came over the next six months. John Thomas connected with American Airlines. They began doing crew training and in less than a year American became the safest airline for someone with HIV to fly. And they openly reached out to the LGBT community with a marketing department asking for our business, instead of following us around their planes with disinfectant. *

A few years ago, Fred Phelps posted on his website that he’d be picketing Congregation Beth El Binah and the Dallas Holocaust Museum. Again I didn’t follow the rules.

What usually happens is everyone freaks out. Yes, the Jewish community was horrified. They took precautions. Extra police were posted outside every Jewish organization in the city. The museum warned our local Holocaust survivors to stay away for the day.  I told them the gay community had their backs. We’d take care of the protesters.  So we invited about 300 of our closest friends to the Holocaust Museum. We stood on one side of the street with stupid signs. And about 10 members of Westboro showed up with their stupid signs. My favorite read, “Your rabbi is a whore.” I took a picture, framed it and gave it to our rabbi.  That evening, Westboro picketed at the Resource Center where Beth El Binah conducts Shabbat services.  Our temple had promised to replace the center’s broken $3,500 ice machine. So we turned Fred’s visit into a fundraiser we called “When Hell Freezes Over.” By the time Westboro left, we had collected $11,500.

Not one to leave well enough alone, I wrote Fred a letter thanking him for raising the money to buy the new ice machine with enough left over for a list of other needed kitchen equipment. But there were more things we needed, I told him. So I invited him back and gave him some convenient dates. He didn’t answer, but Westboro Baptist Church, which usually visits Texas three to four times a year, didn’t set foot in this state for another year and a half.

And because of the friendship that developed between us and the Holocaust Museum that day, the next summer they brought in an exhibit from D.C. called “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals,” which drew record attendance.

And none of that would have happened if we played by the rules. *

Early Kuchling Award winners weren’t told they won before the dinner. With no time to prepare, the acceptance speech was short — usually, “Thank you.”  Mike Anglin presented Bill Nelson with his award in 1986. When he handed it to Bill, he quoted George Bernard Shaw. Here’s what he said:

“I believe that the truest joy in life is being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. It is being a force of Nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and that 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.  I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got ahold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn, as brightly as possible, before handing it on to future generations.”

And to close, I want to say Brian, I love you and thank you for your support and I’ll quote Bill Nelson’s speech:

“Thank you.”