Richard J. Heakin (1954-1975)

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2006

Our local afternoon paper, the tiny but intrepid Tucson Citizen ran a great article yesterday about Richard J. Heakin, Jr., a gay man who was visiting Tucson from Nebraska. In June 6, 1975, the 21-year-old was attacked and killed by four teenagers while leaving a local bar near downtown.

Outraged that the 15- to 17-year-old killers received only probation for what was termed a hate crime, Tucson pressed for change and introduced anti-discrimination laws, new organizations and pride events celebrating the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.

Then a Tucson committee decided on a memorial and tried to reach the Heakin family. But a dishonest friend supposedly said they wanted nothing to do with it, the family later learned.

The family remained in the dark about the impact Richard’s death had in Tucson. It led to Tucson becoming one of the first communities in the nation to pass anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation a few months after his death. It also led to the establishment of Wingspan, one of the largest LGBT community centers in the country for a city our size. (Tucsonans like to point out that Phoenix doesn’t even have one.) And every year, on June 6, Richard’s death is remembered with a gathering at the Richard Heakin Memorial in Tucson’s Presidio Park.

And now, thanks to the Internet, Richard’s family has learned about the great impact his death has had in our community. His niece tapped his name into a search engine, and a whole world opened up for her and her family.

Heather Ryan typed into an Internet search engine the name of an uncle four teens beat to death in Tucson and discovered a world unknown to the family…

While Lori Ryan, Heakin’s sister, was at bingo, her daughter spent the night at their Missouri home tracking down e-mail addresses that resulted in a phone number exchange, which led to a talk with Rowan Frost, one among the group that tried to reach the family years ago.

“We probably still would not have known if she hadn’t . . . gone on the Net,” Ryan, 49, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Making that phone call made all the difference.”

So came the tender and thrilling moment when Ryan received a mass of newspaper clippings about various events commemorating her brother. She booked a flight to Tucson so she could get to know the city that has spent decades keeping his name alive.

Tucson’s main morning newspaper, The Arizona Daily Star followed up with another story in Ernesto Portillo, Jr.’s column:

She wasn’t emotional as she walked up to the shaded memorial bearing her dead brother’s name Thursday, but Lori Ryan seemed tentative nonetheless.

It was understandable.

It was the first time Ryan or anyone from her Nebraska family had been to Downtown’s Presidio Park to see the 4-year-old plaque bearing the name of her older brother, Richard J. Heakin Jr., a victim of hate and intolerance….

“I never realized his death made such a difference,” said Ryan, 49, several hours after her plane landed at the airport. “It’s incredible to know that people who didn’t know him went through all this.”

Most gay communities celebrate Pride during June to commemorate the Stonewall riots. But Tucson waits until October, when the temperature will more reliably remain below 100. This year’s Pride is this weekend and Richard Heakin’s family will be in attendance. The original grand marshal of the parade even stepped aside so Lori Ryan could have the honor.

Kahlil Gilbran once wrote, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Some of our greatest advancements are born through terrible loss. Richard Heakin’s senseless death more than thirty years ago brought about a great transformation in a small city in the desert. This weekend, we will celebrate our pride in ourselves and in our community’s transformation. And we will remember the suffering.

There are no comments for this post.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required)
(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

 

Latest Posts

Jubal

Another Temporary Hiatus

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1971: Minnesota Couple Stake Claim To First American Same-Sex Marriage

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1954: "Perverts Vanish" From Miami

Born On This Day, 1907: Evelyn Hooker

Born On This Day, 1925: Fr. John J. McNeill

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.