In 1983, Craig Holcomb was elected to the Dallas City Council. He started his term married to a woman. When he left the Council in 1989, Craig Holcomb had freed himself from the closet, and was living with his partner Hector.
In every coming out story I have ever been told by a gay man married to a woman, he remembers coming out as the most difficult thing he has ever done. He uses words like “shattered” and “drowning.” He talks about guilt for what he is putting his wife and children through. There is always a struggle between relief and pain. Sometimes that struggle endures for years.
But given time for the raw wounds to scar over and for acceptance to replace denial within his family, the gay spouse inevitably says it was not only the hardest thing he has ever done, it was the best. Though I have met straight ex-wives who still want their gay husbands back, I have not met a single gay ex-husband who wishes to return to his “straight” life. Most say they wish they had come out sooner.
Given that commonality, I think it’s safe to say the late 1980s were not easy years in the life of Craig Holcomb. Although it was an “open secret” that Craig was gay, in fact his fellow councilmen referred to him as their “honorary gay member,” even after he divorced, he never publicly came out. Craig chose instead to slip quietly into his new life with Hector, and reinvented himself.
Most term limited politicians retire from public office and use their contacts and their influence to enrich themselves when they return to private life. Craig Holcomb decided instead to follow his passion: community spaces. Parks. In 1990, Craig became Executive Director of Friends of Fair Park, an organization that was founded in 1986 to prepare for Texas’ Centennial Celebration, and grew into a conservation group with a mission to preserve and expand the attractions in Fair Park, a 277 acre entertainment center in the heart of Dallas, and home of the Texas State Fair. Spurred on by his successes in Fair Park, Craig also founded The Trinity Commons Foundation, which is dedicated to developing the Trinity River basin into community parkland.
Over the last dozen years, Craig Holcomb has put together over $2oo million in funding for community projects. Because of Craig, Fair Park now has an African-American Museum, a Woman’s Museum, and an IMAX theater. He restored 17 frescoes that had been painted over. He brought a DART station to the entrance of Fair Park, and is working on skating rink and an outdoor concert arena.
Craig’s plans for the Trinity River Project, which will open up the river bottom for recreational use, is even more ambitious than the improvements he has brought to Fair Park. The city took the first step this month, beginning construction on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that will span the Trinity River. Craig has put together funding for a riding/biking/hiking trail through Trinity Forest, and construction will start soon on the first of 3 man-made lakes he has planned. His whitewater kayaking venue will open this summer; one of those cool Olympic-style courses where kayakers paddle through rushing water but never really go anywhere.
Craig went to watch this week as construction workers set the first span of the new bridge into place. “This audaciously exuberant project we’ve planned for Dallas is going to happen,” he remarked in that “pinch me” moment. It is going to happen, and it’s going to happen because of the efforts of one dedicated gay man with a vision.
Oh, did I mention in his downtime, Craig Holcomb battles fire breathing dragons?
The dragon in this case is metaphorical. His name is Richard Sheridan, and the fire he breathes is hate speech. Richard Sheridan hates gays. He sees gay conspiracies everywhere, recently ranting on his Facebook page, “It is important to know that we are going into a transition, where yesterdays closet gays, are today’s closet pedophiles.” He reminds me of Fred Phelps from the Westboro Baptist Church without the funeral fetish.
Sheridan is also a most ungracious loser.
Rich Sheridan ran for Dallas City Council last week, one of four candidates from Dallas’ 13th District, a wealthy, conservative area where, incidentally, George and Laura Bush reside. Jennifer Staubach Gates, daughter of football great Roger Staubach ran away with the election, but her candidacy never seemed to register with Sheridan. Instead his campaign obsessed over openly gay candidate, Leland Burk, who came in second.
Like a fire breathing dragon that incinerates his own nest, Richard Sheridan spent his campaign relentlessly attacking Leland Burk in particular, and gays in general. When, the day after the election, a voter turned in a gay-bashing election flyer he had discovered in a neighborhood newspaper box, Sheridan was immediately the most likely suspect. The flier was a reprint of the front page of a recent issue of the Dallas Voice, with pictures of Vernon Franko, Leland Burk and Herschel Weisfeld, the three gay candidates who were running in last week’s election, with Xs drawn over their photos and the number “6” scrawled on their foreheads, so that it appears to read “666” – the mark of the devil.
Voters, who last election gave Sheridan 1000 votes, turned away from his blatant bigotry, giving him only 28 votes this time, out of more than 10,000 cast. The fourth candidate in the race, a 17-year-old high school student, beat Sheridan’s vote total 3 to 1. But Richard Sheridan is so fixated on gays, even when the race was over, he felt compelled to leave the following voicemail for Dan Koller of People Newpapers. He quite illogically blames Dan for his loss, because Dan didn’t report often enough or with enough venom that Leland Burk was gay. Someone should really clue Sheridan in that it was the woman who won, not the gay guy.
Although he was generally suspected to be behind the gay bashing flyers (Jennifer Staubach Gates ran a positive race, and said from the beginning she did not think sexual orientation should be an issue.) it wasn’t long before Sheridan himself confirmed it. At a City Council meeting last Tuesday, Sheridan was proudly passing his out his artwork, putting a flyer into the hands of none other than Craig Holcomb, who was attending as an interested citizen.
Craig, the same man who a decade ago never found the courage to come out, decided he would not go away quietly this time. He used his influence with the council and asked to be added to the “Open Microphone” speakers, where citizens are allowed to address the council. He told the council members of being handed the flyer saying, “If I were quiet that would be wrong. It allows that kind of thought to flourish. It allows the person to think that is acceptable thought, and it is not acceptable.”
The Council’s reaction to Craig Holcomb’s words was immediate. Council Member Dwaine Caraway, who, though straight, is on the extensive Sheridan hate list, (That’s Caraway’s face Sheridan photo-shopped onto the image on the right) suggested the council consider limiting addressing the council to once a month. Councilman Caraway observed that there is a fine line between accommodating free speech and providing a forum for hate speech. Councilwoman Angela Hunt seconded his motion. There was no support for Richard Sheridan’s homophobia, not a word, not a nod, not a wink.
In the last 12 years, gay Craig Holcomb gave to Dallas museums and theaters, green spaces and sporting lakes. He followed his heart, and found his true self. In that same span of years, gay-hater Richard Sheridan gave Dallas gay bashing screeds, insulting photos, and nasty politics. He too followed his dark heart, but in spite of himself, this week, Richard Sheridan publicly gave Craig Holcomb, the man who was once so insecure he couldn’t come out, something he earned long ago – redemption.
Feature Image (Top) is from Craig Holcomb’s Facebook Page.
Images are from Richard Sheridan’s Facebook Page.
Flyer image thanks to The Dallas Voice.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.