Press Releases
  Wingspan Supports Richard Heakin Memorial Fund

June 12, 2002

Tucson, Arizona: The Richard Heakin Memorial Fund is raising funds for a memorial in Tucson-a bench and pedestal-to be permanently displayed on public property. This memorial will commemorate Richard Heakin, a visitor to Tucson who was killed in 1976 by a group of teenage boys who were out "cruising to hassle queers."

This monument will serve as a recognition and expression of deepest gratitude to those who risked so much for us all, as well as a monument to the sacrifice made by Richard Heakin.

Early on the morning of Sunday, June 6, 1976, a group of about 13 teenage boys were out "cruising," as one of them later said in court, "to hassle queers." They went to the Stonewall Tavern on North First Avenue, known to be a gathering place for gay men and women. Richard Heakin, 21, of Lincoln, Nebraska, happened to be visiting friends in Tucson that weekend. They had spent the evening out, and had finished up at the Stonewall. As they were leaving the bar, the gang of teens attacked Richard Heakin and beat him to death.

Four of the teens were initially charged with first-degree murder in Richard Heakin's death. They were jailed, but were released into their parents' custody within 24 days. That was all the jail or prison time any of them served. Charges were reduced to involuntary manslaughter. In October, Judge Ben Birdsall found the youths guilty ("delinquent") and sentenced them to probation. Under the terms of their probation, the boys were required to complete high school, then get a full-time job or go to college; they were to be home by 10:00 p.m. unless they had their parents' permission to remain out later; they were not allowed to associate with each other; they were not to drink alcohol until they were 19; and they were not to go cruising.

Tucsonans responded with outrage to what they considered to be an appallingly light sentence. In a letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star, Robert J. Hart said that the sentence wasn't even a slap on the wrist, but more like a pat on the back.

Gays and lesbians in Tucson also reacted. Finding their lives judged worth so little, some retreated further into the closet. Others, however, turned to each other for support in their grief and anger. They began speaking out against the bigotry underlying Richard Heakin's death and the judge's sentence, and they began organizing. In the process, many of them came out publicly for the first time.

With the support of straight allies, their efforts transformed the tragedy of Richard Heakin's killing into positive change for all gay, lesbian, and bisexual Tucsonans. On February 7, 1977, the city council passed Ordinance No. 4616, amending Chapter 17, Article II of the Tucson Code to read, "It is the policy of the city to eliminate prejudice and discrimination due to... sexual orientation... in places of public accommodation, in employment, and in housing."

Because of Richard Heakin, and the hard work of brave individuals, Tucsonans today are still protected from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. In 1999, the city council passed Ordinance No. 9199 to prohibit discrimination because of gender identity.

The events between June, 1976, and February, 1977, changed our collective understanding of what it is to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered, and gave those of us in Tucson our rights.

In addition to the physical memorial, a virtual memorial is being created: a website on which will be posted personal histories, poems, and essays written by people impacted by Richard's death. Anyone who wishes is welcome to submit their story, either to the PO Box below or by email to: rfrost@email.arizona.edu

The fundraising goal is $5,000. The pedestal is intended to be dedicated at OUToberFEST on October 12, 2002: the anniversary of Matt Shepard's death and the day before Richard's 48th birthday. As people share their memories with the committee, it has been learned that Richard's best friend still lives in Lincoln. The Richard Heakin Memorial Fund is hoping to have enough money to fly her out for the dedication (his family is still in great pain, and does not wish to be connected.)

Richard was also an activist: he was coordinator for Lincoln's Gay Action Group the year before his death.

For more information, please call Bruce Cole at 520-575-8369; Bertie Lozano at 520-861-3415; or Rowan Frost at 520-272-0293. Contributions to the Memorial Fund can be made out to "Tucson Pride" (please indicate your donation is for the "Heakin Memorial"), PO Box 40301, Tucson, AZ 85710.