Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Courageous Mother & Pioneer Anti-Hate Crime Activist Dies

Carolyn Wagner (1953-2011), Human Rights Champion

Tulsa, Oklahoma – Pioneer activist, Carolyn Wagner, co-founder of Families United Against Hate (FUAH), passed away January 18 after a protracted battle with cancer, liver failure, and hepatitis. Widely admired for her courageous work on behalf of LGBTQ civil rights, Wagner became involved in the human rights struggle in 1996 when her son William, 16,  was brutally harassed and attacked by homophobic students while attending school in northwest Arkansas. Young William survived, but compelled by a need for justice, Carolyn and Bill Wagner waged a successful legal campaign against the Fayetteville, AR school district under Title IX.  The United States Office for Civil Rights ruled against the school district thanks to a complaint lodged by the Wagners on behalf of their son–the first time in U.S. history that Title IX was used to address anti-gay harassment and the bullying of gay and lesbian students, according to the ACLU.  Because of her experience as the parent of a gay-bashed son, Carolyn joined forces with Gabi Clayton to found FUAH so other parents in similar situations could benefit from what she had learned. In 1999, Bill Wagner with Carolyn at his side, became a plaintiff in the history case, Howard v. Child Welfare Agency Review Board, argued by the ACLU to challenge the Arkansas Department of Human Services regulation that foster children could not be housed where adult gays and lesbians reside. Wagner qualified as a plaintiff since their son William, by then an adult, sometimes came home to stay with his parents. After learning about the plight of youth, straight and gay, who were abused because of the perception that they were gay, Carolyn and Bill Wagner took in scores of children through the years as foster parents. In August 2006, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the ban against gay and lesbian foster parents thanks to the litigation initiated by the Wagners and others. But the victory was not without cost for Carolyn, according to a tribute by the ACLU. In the same year as the ruling that struck down discrimination against gay and lesbian foster parents, Carolyn was brutally assaulted on her own property by a man posing as a police officer, who told her he did not like “queer-loving ACLU types.” Though shaken by the beating, she continued working tirelessly for LGBTQ human rights until the end of her life.  FUAH issued this statement: “On January 18, 2011 the world lost a civil rights pioneer and strong voice for equality. Carolyn Wagner fought every day to create a world where equality would become a reality for all, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, race or life circumstances. Her path in life was difficult but she never wavered in her dedication and love for the many communities she advocated so powerfully for until she took her last breath. Nothing could ever stop her from fighting for her family, her friends and her community. Plenty of people tried to stop her, but never with any success. Carolyn’s heart, mind and arms were always open and we will miss her powerful embrace, we know her legacy will never die as long as we carry the spirit of her love within us, and take action with as much courage, humor, and wisdom as she did. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband and children and the hundreds and thousands of people whose lives she touched. She will always be with us.” Carolyn is survived by her husband Bill, a her daughter, and two granddaughters. To hundreds of thousands, she was a champion of their rights, a compassionate, strong, and determined advocate for justice. But it is well to remember that Carolyn Wagner was first and foremost a wife and mother who acted to right a wrong that initially struck her own family, and then opened her eyes to the plight of countless others like her boy. As Bill Wagner said: “Carolyn will be remembered as an activist and civil rights hero to many, but for me she was simply the love of my life, my best friend and an amazing mother to our children. I will miss her beautiful smile, her raucous and infectious laugh and most of all her loving heart.”  Her memorial service was held in Tulsa on January 22 at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center. Rest in Peace, Carolyn. We will miss you.

January 31, 2011 Posted by | ACLU, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bullying in schools, Carolyn Wagner, Condolences, Families United Against Hate (FUAH), funerals, gay and lesbian foster parents, gay bashing, gay men, gay teens, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, Mistaken as LGBT, Oklahoma, Parenting equality, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Courageous Mother & Pioneer Anti-Hate Crime Activist Dies

   

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