A FRIEND died yesterday.
Ann Chapman, whom I first got to know in the early 1990s after she wrote me a letter in response to something I had written in my Houston Post column, died early yesterday, at her Corpus Christi home.
I still have that letter, somewhere, but unfortunately, I can’t find it. I don’t remember what she wrote but I’m pretty sure they were words of encouragement after my very public attempt to come out in my column as a gay man, which led to my being fired (only to be rehired a week later).
I wrote her back and invited her to join me for a meal. She did that, even though she lived in Victoria, two hours away.
Somehow, I missed one of her last Facebook postings, a status update: “April 2021. Anne Chapman has terminal cancer. Won’t be around much longer to enjoy your friendship. PLEASE VOTE.”
Her last post was a Washington Post story: “Climate Change has gotten deadly. It’ll get worse.”
That was Ann, believing until the very end that civic activism matters. That educating ourselves matters. That caring matters.
The only surprise is that among her last postings there is nothing about LGBTQ rights. Ann was passionate about many things, but nothing compared with her utter determination to be an agent for change so that young people struggling with their sexuality would not be subjected to the pain and suffering many have gone through.
IT ALL STARTED when she befriended Clay, a young man at the high school where she worked as a principal’s assistant. Clay is a successful businessman now, living in New York, happily married and the father of a beautiful young daughter. Back then, though, he was struggling, and Ann took him under her wing, becoming, in effect his second mother.
Because of Clay, Ann became a member of PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, first in Victoria and later in Houston, even if that meant driving all the way to Houston to attend meetings.
That first letter from Ann was a letter of support, and over the years I was to receive other such letters. But I also got some very angry letters from her, taking me to task for what she saw as my sins when I didn’t exactly share her views regarding tactics to achieve movement goals.
I tend to be a very laid back and tolerant fellow and I don’t get insulted easily, but Ann was capable of pushing some very sensitive buttons to the point that several times during our friendship we quit communicating. Those times of estrangement would inevitably be followed by letters of apology and/or explanation, which led to long periods of detente and mutual support.
The last such estrangement was in the late 1990s, shortly before I moved to Washington. We didn’t communicate for a couple of years until one day, while walking on the Mall, I thought of her and called her. It was as if nothing had ever happened between us.
THE LAST time I saw Ann was several years ago when she visited her brother here and he invited me over for dinner. A few months earlier, I had made a detour on one of my trips to my hometown and visited her in Corpus.
As I said, I don’t remember the contents of her first letter to me, but I did manage to save some of her subsequent letters, in which she praised and/or criticized me. I want to share some of what she said:
- I’M A PEST. I know that. But I haven’t always been. My teachers, both in high school and college, knew I existed only because of what I was assigned to write. I never spoke in class unless I was called on. Even as an adult, few knew what I thought because I didn’t want to bother people with my opinions. Then I met Clay…then I joined PFLAF, and now no one can shut me up!
- I SAW THE pink triangle [decal on your car]. I thought, what an act of courage. Then I thought, what’s wrong with my country that I should have to think such a thought. Our young ones need us. Let’s change the world before we get too old.
- I GIVE MY time, my money, my energy, my passion, to this cause. My friends and family think I’m obsessed. My husband resents it. “Why do you have to do this?” If I don’t do it, who will? Someone has to. I want my Dear Ones to have both rights and acceptance. I want their parents to know that people can be normal and gay.
- I FEEL BETRAYED by Juan Palomo. You have so much more power than I do, to change things. But I know I accomplish a little bit. It’s just that it’s 3 a.m. now, and I’m asking myself why I bother. Yesterday, a lesbian told me with great passion that she wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at Bruce Brawer [conservative gay Republican]. To what purpose? Purpose. I guess that’s why I bother… So, I’ll keep working beside you. I’ll keep trying to understand. I hope you will too. I really believe we need each other to make it happen.
THANK YOU, Ann Chapman, for doing it. For bothering. For not shutting up. For not giving up, even after many of us let complacency or inertia or hopelessness rule our lives.