Carolyn Wagner Memorial Page

 

We come here to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Carolyn Wagner, Families United Against Hate's co-founder. Please leave messages here for Carolyn's family, friends, and community including condolences, memories, and statements of how you will remember and honor Carolyn and carry forward in her name.

Sign the Carolyn Wagner Memorial Guestbook

   There are 41 entries in 2 pages  

 

Date: 2/8/2013 7:58:09 PM
Name: Cynthia
Email: cjnewc@igc.org
Comments: Miss you still. Have the painting you made for me on my bedroom wall and look at it everyday. I think a lot of your courage, and how it started at such a young age when you stood up to your father and the KKK. Your courage helped strengthen mine when we went through all that business at PFLAG, which joined us in friendship for always.

Sunny, never doubt how many lives your grandma touched. The people who've signed this book are just a small fraction. She loved you so much, we talked about you a lot in her last year. Keeping you and your grandpa, William, your mom and Dad, Chloe and all the rest of the family in my thoughts.


Date: 2/7/2013 11:01:39 PM
Name: Sunny stein
Email: livelaughlove420@yahoo.com
Comments: I had no idea that so meany people loved and cheerished my grandmother. These comments make me feel better bout her passing. Knowing she didnt leave this world without leaving an effect. I love you. Rest in peace.


Date: 3/10/2012 9:37:08 PM
Name: Kitty
Email: KittySLubenpoker@lovecat.com
Location: Detroit, MI
Comments: My condolences. KittySLubenpoker@lovecat.com


Date: 12/18/2011 8:06:23 PM
Name: David Marsh
Email: davidmarsh1970@hotmail.co.uk
Website: http://www.Tomthumb.info/
Location: Scunthorpe,North Lincolnshire.United Kingdom.
Comments: From a victim of injustices stemming 42 years,our thoughts are with other victims of injustices at http://www.Tomthumb.info/ thank you.


Date: 11/3/2011 12:14:53 PM
Name: Xavier Yager
Email: Xavier@Xilumina.com
Website: www.Xilumina.com
Location: Mexico City D.F., Mexico
Comments: Wow.....I know it's been months, but I only found out about Carolyn's death this morning. I had lost track of Carolyn for several years. She was an amazing friend......we used to talk for hours on the phone. She traveled to Chicago where I was living and her and Bill spent several days with me....She and Bill were such an inspiration to me.....I was the victim of a hate crime in Chicago in the summer of 1998 and from that we connected and had become friends.

Her activism and energy always amazed me.....

My heart is breaking this morning......

Xavier Yager


Date: 4/10/2011 8:22:19 PM
Name: Dennis
Email: d.dasse@yahoo.com
Location: Bella Vista Ar
Comments: Your with God now and I hope to see you again in heaven you will be so missed here on earth.I will pray for Bill and I love you and Bill forever.
your friend Dennis D


Date: 4/7/2011 9:41:43 PM
Name: Nancy Rodriguez
Email: nrodriguez5257@att.net
Location: Georgia
Comments: I never had the opportunity for a face to face meet with Carolyn, but I got to know her through many phone calls. She was an exceptional person and I will miss our talks. When she was so ill that I felt guilty even calling her she always wanted to talk about me, and I would ask her how she was. She always steered the conversation back to me. Carolyn was one of the most courageous people that I have ever had the blessing of knowing. I will miss her very much.


Date: 2/7/2011 11:18:12 PM
Name: Judith
Location: formerly TX now TN
Comments: Once upon a time I thought myself immune from discrimination because my partner and myself lived quietly and not "out" - until I lost my dream job, fired because of my orientation. Like so many I became an advocate when I was hurt. I met Carolyn during this time, the same time she became an advocate. We saw one another at various functions and shared stories, laughter, tears. She made me laugh as much as she inspired me. I loved her smile and her strength, her beauty and her stamina. She and Bill were so amazing.
Tears are flowing as I write this for I have just learned of our loss. Carolyn, you will have the brightest of angel's wings in heaven, for you wore them out while here and will surely need a new pair. Au revoir, my friend. Thank you. You are missed. We love you.


Date: 1/24/2011 6:27:03 PM
Name: Carole Benowitz
Email: pflag@pobox.com
Location: Lake Worth,Florida
Comments: I once told you that if I could choose two Mom's, you would be one and my birth Mom. You have taught me the three G's. To set your GOALS, work with GRASSROOT folks, and NEVER stop fighting for EQUALITY and JUSTICE of all LGBT people, and be GRACIOUS to those who help. I keep the bottle you made for me with the bear on it,on my desk,so you are with me to inspire me...May your memories and legacy always be a Blessing to your lovely family and friends.
My friend, much love to you, rest in peace, we will continue.


Date: 1/24/2011 1:54:04 PM
Name: Brandon Brock
Email: brandon@meny.us
Website: http://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2011/01/21/she-made-it-better
Location: Astoria, Queens NYC
Comments: I can trace so much of my self-confidence and pride as an openly LGBT person directly back to Carolyn. Her involvement with my young life has paid dividends that I probably won't realize for years. At an early age, she met with me in her tiny pickup and we talked. At certain times in one's life, an open ear can be the most precious gift that a person can offer. We all walk down roads and pass each others' paths. I'm glad my life crossed this one. Thank you Carolyn.


Date: 1/23/2011 9:53:33 PM
Name: Courtney Sharp
Email: stressgone@aol.com
Comments: Part 2
The world is truly a better place because of Carolyn. In October, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released comprehensive guidance laying out schools' responsibilities for responding to known acts of harassment or bullying.

I was blessed to have Carolyn as a friend.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Bill, William, and Clara.

Know that Carolyn worked and sacrificed so that the vision of The Great City would one day be a reality. As her fellow lion said so eloquently, for all those whose cares have been her concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
Love goes where love flows.

The Great City
by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
The place where a great city stands is not the place of stretch'd wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of produce merely,
Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new-comers or the anchor-lifters of the departing,
Nor the place of the tallest and costliest buildings or shops selling goods from the rest of the earth,
Nor the place of the best libraries and schools, nor the place where money is plentiest,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.

Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is belov'd by these, and loves them in return and understands them,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,
Where fierce men and women pour forth as the sea to the whistle of death pours its sweeping and unript waves,

Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside authority,
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President, Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay,
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,
Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men,
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands,
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands,
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands,
Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,
There the great city stands.



Date: 1/23/2011 9:44:22 PM
Name: Courtney Sharp
Email: stressgone@aol.com
Comments: Part 1.

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong,
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame
Though its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame, -
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side,
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light.

Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet 'tis Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.

Excerpt From “The Present Crisis
by James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)


Carolyn was a warrior for justice and an ally to the marginalized and the dispossessed. She was truly amazing. She was extremely sensitive to the needs of others and devoted her life to serving others.

I met Carolyn at the PFLAG National Conference in Orlando in 1997. At the time, she was working with David Buckel and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund on the Title IX case and the Human Dignity Resolution in Fayetteville, AR. I was working with the PFLAG TNET group to educate PFLAG about the need to provide support for the families of transgender people. I was working to expand the New Orleans Human Rights Ordinance to include protections for gender identity. We shared common goals and faced similar struggles in the South. It could be said that synchronicity brought us together. We talked for about 4 hours that evening. After that Carolyn would call late at night to see how I was doing, discuss issues, talk about , plan, and laugh. She was “working on the ground” organizing in Arkansas and, being a keen observer of human nature, she always had funny insights to share. I recall the night she called to tell me that a conservative businessperson in Mena, Ark. (pop. 5,637) was flying a rainbow flag because it was pretty. Of course, we had soon developed a plan to ensure that everyone in Mena had pretty flags to display outside of their homes and businesses. When an opportunity presented itself, it was time for action.

Carolyn had strong, direct connections to the people and families she was helping and, it was out of those connections and the pain of those families that her actions originated. She was with the families who were impacted by hate-motivated bias. She was with the families as they buried their child. She was with the families as they dealt with bullying in schools. She was with the people who experienced discrimination. She carried all of their pain, sorrow, and hope into her advocacy work. The full depth of their pain was converted into the strength of her advocacy. When organizations, would have excluded others, she would take strong stand for including everyone and refuse to participate in their lateral oppression. She rattled more than a few activists. She put herself on the line for everyone and reached out to like-minded activists to build a grass root coalition. She was not going to explain to the mother of a transgender child that it was too difficult to include protections for gender identity and expression in the federal hate crimes bill and she lived to see the day when a fully inclusive hate crimes bill became law in the U.S.

The transgender and intersex communities are truly blessed that Carolyn and her network of friends and allies waged the battle to ensure that they were included in the hate crimes bill that the statesmen and civil rights activists knew would never pass if it included them. “The choice goes by forever, 'twixt that darkness and that light. Though the cause of evil prosper, yet 'tis truth alone is strong.” Love goes where love flows. Too few know the time, effort and the courageous personal sacrifices she made. Where others saw difference, Carolyn saw a common humanity.

While statesmen argued day and night,
To settle whether wrong was right,
Thou hadst no need of subtle art,
Seeing truth with thy honest heart.

The children and teens came first with Carolyn. Creating spaces where the youth could safely receive an education without fear was important. Teens who were rejected by their families and were homeless were another deep concern. The safety of children and teens came first and, as a mother, she was a voice for the defenseless.


Date: 1/23/2011 2:43:19 PM
Name: Cynthia Newcomer
Email: cjnewc@igc.org
Location: Greenbelt MD
Comments: Part 2. I've been thinking about Carolyn as a creative force. She created relationships, community, and movements. When something was wrong in her family, she didn't only tend to her loved ones, she expanded her fight so that no one else would have to experience the same thing. Her own child's illness led her to form Fulfill a Dream (which morphed into Make a Wish). And when one of her children was beaten and harassed for being gay, she didn't just fight for him, she fought for GLBT youth and families across the country, all the way to the federal government. Her shared experience and friendship with Gabi birthed Families United Against Hate. Like many other "forces of nature", Carolyn's creative talents were multiple. When she wasn't raising hell at bigots, politicians (and bigoted politicans), and of course people who should have been allies, she was painting, making fairies (little creations she made out of beads and cloth), and setting up her Sweet Gum Emporium, which sold her arts and crafts and lot of other fun stuff. I never got to ask her if there was some kind of connection between her art and her activism, something about using her hands that gave her the energy and peace to keep up the fight. My last visit with her, we spent a lot of time at the Sweet Gum, and it's my favorite kind of place, little bit of this and a little bit of that. Carolyn was also a force in the kitchen. I have never had better barbeque sauce, wish I had the recipe. Before our visit, Carolyn asked what my partner at the time liked to eat. I told her she ate a lot of salad and vegetables. So Carolyn went out in the yard and got some poke and made "poke salad" which we learned has to be cooked to death so it doesn't kill you. She also made the best peach cobbler I ever had, but unfortunately I only got one serving because while we were out the next day, her Mom Marie (RIP) ate the whole rest of the pan! Her fried pies, from her Native heritage, were also a treat. I think some of her creativity must have been inherited from Marie, who is legendary for knitting a cozy for the family heirloom gun. At one point I wanted to escape the city and Carolyn and I talked about me moving into a little house behind theirs. I dreamed of going back to being a hotel maid (high school & college job), and hanging out with Carolyn and the family, making things....


Date: 1/23/2011 2:01:55 PM
Name: Wanda Stephens
Email: wandasteph@aol.com
Location: Fayetteville, AR
Comments: Carolyn was a smart, passionate, dedicated leader for equality for gays and all LGBTQ people. We appreciate her and wull miss her.


Date: 1/23/2011 12:38:19 AM
Name: Gabi Clayton
Website: www.gabiclayton.com
Location: Olympia, Washington
Comments: This is what I wrote for Carolyn Wagner’s memorial service

I’ve been trying to put together what I want to have spoken here since before Carolyn actually died – when we knew the time was closing in. And instead of sitting down to write this I keep going to the work – back to working with the people who love Carolyn and the work we made solid day by day together. It is our friendship I am touching as I do this.

Carolyn was my friend, and that is huge.

Steve Tesich wrote:

“No birth certificate is issued when friendship is born. There is nothing tangible. There is just a feeling that your life is different and that your capacity to love and care has miraculously been enlarged without any effort on your part. It's like having a tiny apartment and somebody moves in with you. But instead of becoming cramped and crowded, the space expands, and you discover rooms you never knew you had until your friend moved in with you.”

We first connected after our William Michaels were each beaten because of their sexual orientation. When Carolyn moved in and my world expanded into hers, we shared what we each knew – that we did not – could not – accept a world where our children and so many others were so hurt, and that we were stronger together.

Families United Against Hate.

I remember how we struggled to name the thing we were creating. We knew we were talking about families united – and we couldn’t be “families united for love” because the power of the thing starts with naming it. Some people we spoke with were uncomfortable with us naming it as being against something, but hate had to be named. Families United Against Hate. It had to be named this, and it is a shield we wear with honor because of the courage that Carolyn infused in everything. She was the most courageous person I have ever known.

Paul Monette wrote strong and fearlessly in Last Watch of the Night, and his words speak to the connection between Carolyn and me.

"Take your easy tears somewhere else. Tell yourself none of this ever had to happen. And then go make it stop. With whatever breath you have left. Grief is a sword or it is nothing."

When I shared that with Carolyn, she responded with a shout, “YES!”

It will not be “nothing” Carolyn. I will carry you with me forever.


Date: 1/23/2011 12:16:14 AM
Name: Vanessa Edwards Foster
Location: Houston TX
Comments: Carolyn was a lion for battling those who oppress. She was an unwavering and uncompromising voice for PFLAG’s parents and for their LGBT children. Uncommonly outspoken, Carolyn spared no words in heroically supporting Trans inclusion in hate crimes and all other rights legislation, blasting those organizations who worked to undermine and deny the inclusion of gender identity as they simultaneously worked toward “equality”.

I’ll never forget strategizing with her and Gabi Clayton in Columbus and Denver, and having her as a guest on my radio show in Houston, but my first time with Carolyn left an indelible memory. She and her husband Bill had come up to Cortez, Colorado with a camper in tow, staying outside of their host’s home outside of town. Dropping by the morning after the Martinez vigil, even though it wasn’t her home, you could see who was in charge in the kitchen making breakfast for a couple dozen people. Her spirit and her will made her the center of activity.

Speaking at least for the T community, we’ve all lost one of the most powerful allies we’ve ever been blessed with.


Date: 1/22/2011 12:35:46 AM
Name: Ethan St. Pierre
Email: radicalguy@gmail.com
Website: www.fuah.org
Location: Massachusetts
Comments: I never had the honor of meeting Carolyn in person but we spent many a night on the phone.

Carolyn was a very courageous and wildly compassionate woman who taught me to never allow someone else to set the agenda and to never accept the dogma that "now is not the time."

My heart goes out to family, friends and fellow activists for such a great loss.


Date: 1/21/2011 4:46:53 PM
Name: Bryan Manire
Email: bmanire@cox.net
Comments: Carolyn is my hero! Because of Carolyn's courage and her perseverance, our Fayetteville Public Schools became a better institution. As a gay staff member of those schools, I felt safer, and inspired by Carolyn to do what I could to insure that all students were treated fairly. Her shining voice and intelligence will be missed, but again I am inspired by her life to work harder for equal rights for all. Thank-you, Carolyn.


Date: 1/21/2011 2:39:57 PM
Name: Sophia Estes
Email: sestes@btvillage.org
Location: Fayetteville, AR
Comments: My partner and I first met Carolyn, the week her son, William was beaten up in 1996. It was at the same time that our daughter, Ryan, was being harassed and hurt for having lesbian parents also within the Fayetteville Public School system in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

In the beginning, Carolyn and I drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and shared stories of our southern roots. She told me of how she met Bill and when she knew she was in love. She talked of looking at her baby daughter the first time, what being blessed with a second child had meant to her and how Bill was always at her side, supporting whatever cause she was involved in.

The love for her daughter, Clara, had once taken her on a journey to try to improve lives of children who were ill. Clara had some health issues as a child and Carolyn met parents of terminally ill children and saw a need to try to help them fulfill dreams and final wishes. She was the founder of one of the first organizations that raised money to sponsor these children's dreams very similar to the Make a Wish foundation we have now...She felt very blessed that her child would get better when so many would not. She told me stories of how much she loved her daughter and how proud she was as a parent that her daughter had become strong willed, loving, and was not afraid to speak her mind. The day Clara was married, Carolyn winked at me with tears in her eyes. I can only imagine how happy she was that day.

Her life was all about the love she had for her children. Young William had no idea when he came home beaten with a broken nose that his mother would fight the rest of her life, trying to make the world a better place for him to grow older in. It became an obsession when she learned of all the injustices that glbt people face every day.

When I saw her last month, for the last time, she was very weak but said..."I just never could keep my mouth shut"...

There are those special people, like Carolyn, that are "movers and shakers" and just can't keep their mouths shut and it is people like her that have made our world a better place because of it.

She was blessed with two beautiful granddaughters that will be able to see the sacrifices their grandmother made to make their world better for them and all of us.

My family has grown now. My partner and I have 3 living children and currently have 6 grandchildren with a seventh on the way. Carolyn Wagner made their world a better place...Of course there is work yet to be done...but Carolyn, my friend, you will always be remembered. Much love and best wishes to Bill, Clara, Oren, Willie and the girls...


Date: 1/21/2011 2:25:44 AM
Name: Casey Willits
Email: casey.willits@gmail.com
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas
Comments: I started at Fayetteville High School in the fall of 1997 and actually never heard about Willy Wagner nor Carolyn until I returned to FHS for my last semester of high school in the spring of 2000. I was young, unaware, and out of town for the entire Human Dignity Resolution struggle.

I can tell you this though...Carolyn’s efforts were felt in Fayetteville far after the loss in 1998. Adults might not have felt it, but I, as a youth, did. The outpouring of support for our nascent GSA came from a community that had been drawn together during the Campaign for Human Dignity. I felt the support of adults in the community that may not have been organized to do so previously. I joined the local LGBT youth group LOYAL. Many of the facilitators and board members had been inspired and drawn together by Carolyn’s devotion to the local community. I felt the support of those adults. I very much owe that to Carolyn.


Date: 1/21/2011 2:07:31 AM
Name: Catherine Dawdy
Email: cmdawdy@comcast.net
Location: Olympia, WA
Comments: I had the great pleasure of meeting Carolyn in Tulsa when Gabi and I flew down to see her for week or so. She was having a very rough time in the hospital, but she didn't miss a beat in welcoming us and entertaining us. On a whim we bought her a pair of sock monkeys and don't you know, she had those sock monkeys entertaining the doctor in - ahem - style. I have heard a lot of Carolyn's story through Gabi over the years and she certainly is an inspiration to me. Had I known her all those years ago when I lived in Arkansas, I might have stayed there. What a fierce and loving Mama Bear. Love to Bill and William and the rest of her family as they find their way without her.


Date: 1/20/2011 6:12:13 PM
Name: David Buckel
Comments: Carolyn, you scared the heck out of me. Those late night phone calls, from this town or that, where you'd swept in sometimes overnight in response to a desperate call from a parent whose child was under siege from bigotry. Or dead. David, you said, the blood's still there. Or, David, honest to god this sheriff sat back in his chair and pulled his gun out like he was going take a pee with it. Other times you called from home, after just putting down the phone, with another horror to spill out. We picked through the spill slowly until a plan of action took shape. And you acted. You saved lives. Good lord, you saved lives.

That first call, the horror belonged to you, and you called long after my office had closed, but I did something I never did: I picked up. We talked about your son's living nightmare, and the ride began through Title IX land.

Awhile back someone asked me about the ideal civil rights plaintiff, and I said that it's the wacky folks to look for, because they actually believe in right and wrong, refuse to adapt or let go, hate it when they're told to slow down or stop, no no no DO NOT talk to them about what everybody else does to get by. And they are willing to go through hell a second time - with lawyers no less - to prove what's right. In over twenty years of my lawyering, you, so so dear, were the wackiest client of all.

You soaked up the Truth in front of you and then you let it fly as the Truth, unfiltered. You were not made for organizations, because you were not made for marketing, branding, and that disease having to do with how to get one’s name in the news and then in the history books. You put what was right first. I fear you may not be in those history books, but I've got enough gray hair now to know that it's people like you, taken together, who really make history. History made but claimed by others. Next time I bump into Hilary Clinton I plan to let her know that you two once planted a tree together in Fayetteville and you went on to become a civil rights heroine.

And risk did not get in your way. I thought I made sacrifices, but then you humbled me to dirt. You got stopped in your car by a cop who gave the message that your work would get you hurt. The FBI opened a file for you. You told of things you said your family should not know, because you felt you put them through enough. But you, and your beloved Bill, and William, stood up for Truth many many times over the years.

That terrible night, when somehow you didn't think twice about running out the door to stop the dog barking, hate was waiting. They broke your body. Your broken body pulled at your spirit. For the first time, I had the presumption to tell you what to do. Carolyn, just get safe. You've given too much already. Get safe.

Here's my last word, Carolyn. I apologize for contradicting folks, but there is no way you'll be at peace now. Let's just take me, for instance, and how I'll mess up your peace. Every day in my work to help people, I have you present with me, reminding me of risk and sacrifice, of speaking Truth from the heart, of supporting others from the heart, and trying to make sure there's at least one rip-roaring laugh. And I am just one of the people bringing you along every day to social justice work - one of thousands you have touched, all over the country. You are going to be a busy woman, not a woman at peace.

Fortunately, you loved to travel. I wish all the joy in the world to you on those travels, as you help each of us carry your mission forward.


Date: 1/20/2011 6:04:02 PM
Name: Christy Lindsay
Comments: My mom loved Carolyn like almost no other friend. They were quite a pair, laughing it up, putting in the work and getting stuff done. And nobody messed with their babies. Of course we knew this was coming for a while but I've long since decided having time to get ready just doesn't help in the end. It's still like part of your soul won't move. We could always count on Carolyn to bring a laugh into the house (usually a few hundred) and make every story entertaining. When mom knew she was coming over, it was like the whole house became a little brighter. I was in school or working a lot when those two were at their peak trying to make the world better for me so I didn't get to hit the roads or watch them be the Activists in all their glory. But I'm awfully glad I had my time with the people behind the drive.


Date: 1/20/2011 2:51:59 PM
Name: Rev. Bob Lawrence
Email: pastor@cohope.com
Website: www.cohope.com
Location: Tulsa, OK
Comments: I met Carolyn only recently and was immediately impressed with her deep commitments to creating a safe space in which all of our young people can become fully who they are, especially our queer youth. There are many who knew her better and longer than I, but, as an openly gay minister who had to fight for my right to say that about myself, there are none who appreciate her gifts and her tireless example of love more than I do. This world is, without a doubt, a better place because of the life of Carolyn Wagner.


Date: 1/20/2011 1:51:50 PM
Name: Jason Hungerford
Email: jason@youth-guard.org
Comments: The last few days I have struggled to put into words how I'm feeling about the loss of our friend Carolyn Wagner.

Simply put, Carolyn is an amazing woman. She is an inspiration to so many. Her heart, her compassion, her love, and her strength, can be compared to few others.

I first met Carolyn in person at the national PFLAG conference in Washington, D.C. in 1996. Even then, her reputation preceded her. I knew of her, and to my surprise, she too knew of me. I met her and her husband Bill and her son William. I was just 19 at the time and had just recently fully come out. I was just starting my life as an "activist" and she was certainly someone I looked up to. With her thick southern accent, she was gracious and FUNNY. Though to me, it was like meeting a celebrity, she was, truthfully, down to earth and humble, with a "tell it like it is" attitude about her.

About a year later, I began the non-profit organization Youth Guardian Services. In 2001 YGS had a tumultuous experience - partly due to growing pains of a new organization, partly due to conflicting personalities and egos - but it left me hurt, and to a point, scarred. I was the leader of this organization, and somehow had lost control. I remember Carolyn called me about an unrelated matter, but still managed to offer me confidential advice and private counsel over the situation I was dealing with. She was a leader in her own right, having just been elected as Vice President of the PFLAG national Board of Directors. She knew a thing or two about dealing with non-profit boards and conflicting personalities of its members. She helped to calm my fears, and she restored my briefly shaken confidence on my ability to continue to lead this great organization I created. I will be forever grateful for that. I don't think she even ever knew what that phone call did for me.

I later had the honor of joining the Board of Families United Against Hate, which Carolyn co-founded along with Gabi Clayton. Carolyn and Gabi literally have spent their lives fighting for the protections of their own children, and children of families all across the country. They would pick up the phone or shoot off an email, providing support and understanding to families affected by violence motivated by hatred and bigotry of all kinds, but especially homophobia and transphobia.

Carolyn was instrumental in something that very few people know about, but in my opinion, is likely to be her largest contribution to the LGBT community. In 1997, after her son had been the victim of multiple gay bashings at school, and after repeated failed attempts to get the school to intervene and protect her son, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. In 1998 the OCR ruled that Title IX covers gay and lesbian students against harrassment and discrimination. This was the first time that LGBT youth had recognized protections at the federal level. Because of this, regulations and guidelines were published to help schools formulate policies and programs to ensure that their LGBT students were protected from harrassment and discrimination in the schools. While obviously incidents still happen and more work needs to be done in this area, LGBT students have federal statue that they can point to in the event schools do fail to protect them from harrassment and discrimination. This was because of Carolyn and her instinct as a mother to protect her child. As a result, all children in public schools are protected under Title IX.

Carolyn had been ill for some time, and quite a few times, literally close to death. But each time she somehow managed to pull through, and would get better. It was her fighting spirit, and the love of her family that surely prolonged her life. I do regret not being able to talk to her one last time before she died. I had the opportunity. I just needed to pick up the phone and dial. But I didn't. I couldn't. I hope Carolyn understands, and I know she forgives me. She'd probably laugh off the fact that I am even mentioning this at all. I guess I couldn't handle the reality that THIS TIME, it WAS the end. She fought back and got better all those other times. But Gabi revealed to me that even Carolyn knew, this time, she wasn't going to get better. I think in many ways Carolyn was more prepared for her death than the rest of us were.

Her family that she loved so much is hurting right now. Her friends, myself included, who adored her and looked up to her and was inspired by her, now have a void. We knew this day was coming, but that fact did not make her death any easier to deal with. My hope is that her family will find peace and comfort during this very difficult time.

Carolyn's work will live on. Her legacy will not be forgotten. Her contributions and the impact that she had on the lives of so many, will always be cherished.

Goodbye Carolyn. May you always be at peace. May we all continue to be inspired by you. You are a hero.


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