The Death of Richard Heakin

The Death of Richard Heakin

By Jack Ryan Wampler

On June 6th, 45 years ago, Richard “Dickie” Heakin, a 21 year old openly gay man from Lincoln, Nebraska, was here in Tucson visiting friends. Around midnight, when Heakin and his friends were leaving the Stonewall Tavern near Speedway, they were harassed by a group of thirteen high school boys aged 15-17. Four of the teenagers delivered blows to Heakin, with one to the neck that a medical examiner said “caused extensive hemorrhaging.” Heakin was rushed to the hospital, but later died from injuries to his brain.

The four attackers, Charles Shemwell, Herman Overpeck, Scott McDonald, and Russell Van Cleve, were arrested later that night. On June 29th of the same year, court hearings for first degree murder charges began. Judge Ben Birdsall reduced the charges to involuntary manslaughter, and decided the defendants would stand trial as juveniles. After over 3 months of hearings, Birdsall found them delinquent in the manslaughter charge, and on October 21 they were sentenced with probation until they turned 21.

The LGBT+ and local communities were outraged, calling the sentencing a slap on the wrist for an obvious hate crime. They were spurred to action, and founded Tucson Pride the following year, the first organization of its kind in Arizona. Tucson also became one of the first cities to pass anti-discrimination legislation based on sexual orientation, and held a Gay Pride & Heakin Memorial in Himmel Park.

While Pride Month began as a way to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, Pride Month in Tucson has an even deeper meaning.

Richard Heakin’s death changed our community forever, but hate crimes and injustice have not yet disappeared. While celebrating this June, we hope that you remember the tragedy of Richard Heakin, the community organizers that came together to transform our city, and the work that still needs to be done here and all across our country

Jack is one of our Summer 2021 Interns

The Death of Richard Heakin

Pride Month In Tucson

By Jack Ryan Wampler

The LGBT+ community has always faced harassment in the United States because of societal gender and relationship norms. The gay rights movement reached a pivotal moment during the Stonewall Riots in New York City in June of 1969. Since then, the month of June has been designated Pride Month to celebrate the milestones achieved by the LGBTQ+ community and to reflect on the hard work accomplished by those before us.

In honor of Pride Month 2021, we will be making regular posts throughout June about LGBTQ+ history in the city of Tucson. We will start by recounting the tragic death of Richard J. Heakin, a young gay man beaten to death in Tucson in 1976 . However, we follow with the stories of a community rising together, in protest of such a horrific hate crime. Finally, we end with a collection of LGBTQ+ resources for our readers.

According to Gallup and the Williams Institute, approximately 14.65 million US adults identified with the LGBTQ+ community in 2017. Today, the acronym represents a diverse range of sexualities and gender-identities.

42% of people who are LGBT report living in an unwelcoming environment, but in 2013, 92% of adults who are LGBT said they believe society had become more accepting of them than in the past 10 years.

Our LGBTQ+ community in Tucson has a vibrant history, and we hope to shine some light on those who struggled to bring us where we are today.

Some Facts

If you remember important events in Tucson’s LGBTQ+ history we encourage you to share them with us!

Happy Pride!

Jack is one of our 2021 Summer Interns

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