(cross posted at NWA Center for Equality)
If you weren’t looking for it, you would have missed it. One year ago today, a special person passed away. A gay person…from Fayetteville…who had an impact on the world. Henry Lee Woods Jr. was once editor of the University of Arkansas yearbook before making a career in politics in Washington, D.C. His impact at the University of Arkansas is most visible through a decade old award in his name for outstanding student leaders. His impact on the LGBTQ movement is far more subtle.
Why am I just now discussing the late Mr. Woods? The occasion of Sen. Blanche Lincoln retiring is why. She is leaving the Senate after her failed reelection bid after having spent 12 years in the Senate and 4 years in the House. Sen. Lincoln was very much in the spotlight this past year because of her potential to be the near-tiebreaking vote on legislation important to the LGBTQ community. She was labeled by different sides as being either a friend or a foe to the cause. Her voting history shows that she (eventually) sided to repeal DADT this year and voted for the Hate Crimes Bill in 2009. HRC has the following score card for her for 3 Congresses (missing 111th Congress, her last):
HRC Score Card
110th: (70%) 109th: (89%) 108th: (63%)
This overview of only the most current years misses what many older LGBTQ Arkansans most remember her for, that being her record on marriage equality. In 1996, as a Representative, she failed to vote at all on the Defense of Marriage Act. In 2004, as a Senator, she voted against sending the Federal Marriage Amendment to the states for ratification, thus keeping the hope for marriage equality alive and discrimination out of the U.S. Constitution. She was notably absent, however, from the group of Arkansans speaking out against Arkansas’ marriage amendment in 2004 and Act 1 in 2008.
So it’s a mixed record of how she acts on the issue of LGBTQ equality. Where does Mr. Woods figure into this?
“he served on the staffs of Congressman Bill Alexander, Senator David Pryor, Senator Dale Bumpers, and Senator Blanche Lincoln, all of Arkansas.”
Sen. Lincoln, along with others that represented Arkansas (in the 1990’s), had regular contact with a gay person. Judging by their action or inaction on equality, I sometimes wonder if Congresspeople even know LGBTQ people. “Everyone knows gay people” is what we often say, and even Senators are included in this.
I don’t know how out Mr. Woods was or whether LGBTQ issues were even something he worked on during his time as a Washington insider. He should be remembered as an active member of his communities and successful political staffer. We should also remember that despite voting records, people like Sen. Lincoln are humans that probably know LGBTQ people. Hopefully those LGBTQ people are willing to advocate in a very personal way and hopefully elected officials are open to listening. Our challenge is to figure out who it is that we personally know whom we have not engaged in the movement for equality. Whom will you tell in 2011 your personal reasons for supporting equality?
Mr. Woods’s obituary:
KEY WEST, Fla. — Henry Lee Woods Jr., 58, of Key West died January 3, 2010, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami as a result of a brain aneurysm that ruptured on Christmas Day.
Born on February 7, 1951, in Malvern, Arkansas, Henry was a 1969 graduate of Hot Springs High, the first class to graduate from the new high school. He was a National Merit Scholar. He also lettered in tennis and was a member of the Thespian Club and acted in productions such as “Harvey,” “Our Town,” “Everyman Today” and “The Mouse That Roared.” In addition to acting, Henry loved movies and sports, especially anything involving the “Razorbacks” . Henry’s high school graduating class of 1969 recently celebrated their 40th reunion, which he helped organize. The “69” HSHS class had over 100 members in attendance and still stay connected today.
Henry was a 1973 graduate of the University of Arkansas, and also received a Master’s Degree in Political Science from American University in Washington, D.C., in 1998. While an undergraduate at Arkansas, he was elected editor of the school’s yearbook, “The Razorback” for two years and was named to “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.” As editor of the “Razorback” , he joined the Razorback football program as the “Paper Pig” , modeled after George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion.” Woods practiced with the team and chronicled “life as a Razorback” during the 1971 football season.
In 1974, Henry moved to Washington, D.C., and spent 25 years on Capitol Hill. There, he served on the staffs of Congressman Bill Alexander, Senator David Pryor, Senator Dale Bumpers, and Senator Blanche Lincoln, all of Arkansas.
“Henry was a joy to be around both personally and professionally,” said Bumpers. “His profession, politics, was very personal to him. He had a tremendous work ethic and a tremendous talent of making a friend of everyone he met. The world will be dimmer place without him in it.”
“He was a total people person and never forgot the constituents that we represented,” said Pryor. “If I have ever known anyone who exemplified what public service is all about, it is Henry Woods. He leaves behind an army of devoted and admiring friends.”
“Henry was a great ambassador for Arkansas and was a special asset to the Congressional delegation,” Lincoln said. “We will miss Henry Woods and I will forever remember him as a great guy who was always positive and supportive for his many friends.”
Henry brought this same work ethic and enthusiasm for helping people to his new home in Key West in 1999 where he taught political science at the Florida Keys Community College, wrote grants for AIDS Help, and consulted on local political and public relations matters.
He was also dedicated to many community organizations, particularly the Waterfront Theater that he helped to revitalize by serving as its President and by performing musicals such as Urinetown and in musical revues such as Broadway with a Twist. His proudest achievement was obtaining funding and directing the $400,000 restoration of the “back of the house” including the new Ross and Anne McKee Lobby. He was also active in political groups such as Lambda Democrats, the Key West and Lower Keys Democratic Club, and the LBTG Caucus of the Florida Democratic Party.
He is survived by his partner Lee Skillington of Key West; his parents Jean and Henry Lee Woods Sr. of Hot Springs; his brother Danny and his wife, Debby, of Hot Springs and his brother William Marshall (Marty ) and his wife, Jana, of Little Rock, and nieces and nephews in the Woods and Skillington families.
In appreciation of his 25 years of public service in Washington and in honor of his undergraduate leadership at the University of Arkansas, friends established the Henry Woods Outstanding Student Leader Award in 1999 which is presented annually to a senior at the University of Arkansas. A scholarship accompanies the award.
Memorials can be made to the Henry Woods Award, Office of Student Affairs, 325 Administration Building, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701.
Memorial services will be conducted in Hot Springs on Saturday, January 23, at 1 p.m. in Room 207-09 of the Hot Springs Convention Center. Another service will be conducted in Key West later in January at a time and place to be announced.