Tucson’s LGBTQ community looks to past as Pride weekend arrives

Richard Heakin was 21 years old when he was beaten to death by a group of Tucson teens in June 1976.
Published: Sep. 26, 2019 at 8:48 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As we head into Pride weekend in Tucson, the LGBTQ community is looking back on its history.

It’s not glamorous, but the Tucson Pride volunteers are eager to set up for Saturday.

“Pride is about coming together in a safe place where we can all be authentic,” said Tucson Pride President Samantha Cloud.

Volunteers are here because of events decades ago.

“Here in Tucson, it’s even more special because of our history here,” Cloud said.

Not many know more about that history than Randy Pease. He and a group of others are collecting artifacts and clippings from the LGBTQ community.

They just got started a couple months ago, but the collection is quickly growing.

“We had all these stories and we have all of this information, so we need to start thinking of future generations and how they are going to find our stories and how we felt,” said Pease, who is with Tucson Queerstory.

From the first gay rodeo to educational materials, art and the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s.

The start of this history really begins in the 1970s.

A car dealership now, the Stonewall Tavern at 2921 First Avenue holds as a dubious distinction.

"I could have been there, it just so happens that that particular night I wasn't," said James Uhrig.

Richard Heakin was 21 years old when he was beaten to death. The suspects, a group of teens, allegedly were on the lookout for gays to attack in June 1976.

"You got the occasional 'fag' name calling," Uhrig said. "I had somebody spit on me once."

Heakin was beaten outside of the tavern and died a few days later. The teens got only probation.

"There was a lot of outrage," Uhrig said.

Uhrig was at the University of Arizona at the time. Today, he sits at Heakin's memorial outside the courthouse.

"I was largely the author of all of this," he said.

It's a memorial he wrote for a man he never knew.

"Why did it matter to me, just some stranger," Uhrig asked. "Because it could've been me."

That night in Tucson started a movement.

"We keep (Heakin's) memory alive because it was the beginning of something for us and he shouldn't have had to die," Uhrig said.

Tucson Pride formed and the city passed an anti-discrimination measure, one of the first in the nation.

"This partly was because of the death and murder of Richard Heakin," Pease said.

“We had a mission and we had a revolution, we were all taking risks,” said Lavina Tomer of Southern Arizona Senior Pride.

Today, Tucson is ranked as the third-best place for LGBTQ people to retire.

"There's still a lot of work to do," Cloud said.

Many of the volunteers are excited to see what's next and what they will continue to learn.

"The history that we've made, the history that we continue to make," Tomer said.

And just maybe make noise.

"You gotta make a noise, things won't change if you don't speak up," Uhrig said.

The history that Pease has been collecting will be on display at the Pride event Saturday.

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