Civil Rights HI Politics

For Bill Woods

As we approach the final passage of SB232 HD1, the Civil Unions bill, which will be signed by the Governor next week, I’ve been thinking a lot about Bill Woods.

To be honest, I can’t quite remember when or where I first met him, but I used to work with his husband, Lance Bateman, who was my boss for a number of years after I arrived in Hawaii. I have fond memories of Bill, though he and I often disagreed, mostly on how to approach a certain issue. He was passionate and hot tempered and some might describe him as hard to deal with. That was never my sense of him. He was a dedicated and tireless advocate for social justice; not just for the GLBT community. He was a active member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii and the Party is better for it.

Before I met Lance and Bill, I’d never previously given a lot of thought to the status of gays in society if only because I had never been even remotely political. And having not known anyone gay before, the issue had never been raised to me before. Bill and Lance were the first gay couple I’d met in my life and when a civil unions bill came before the House Judiciary Committee in 2007, I attended. I had never been to the Capitol before and had certainly never been to a committee hearing prior to that one.

Even in 2007, there were so many people there who were supportive and so much of the testimony was supportive that I was stunned and amazed that the bill didn’t easily move forward. In fact, the committee decided to defer decision making on the bill, essentially killing its prospects going forward. It wasn’t too long after that Bill came to me for help as he worked with others in the community to build a new organization to try and move the issue and a civil unions bill forward in the future.

Initially, I was simply helping in a technical capacity: acquiring various domain names for him and building a basic website for the pending organization. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to get involved. It seemed like such a common-sense thing to me that I wanted to learn more about the issue, the history of the movement in Hawaii, and how to help move the issue forward.

In early to mid-2007, Family Equality Coalition was born and I started attending meetings, mostly as an interested citizen. I hadn’t at that point committed myself to doing any real work for the organization and had only been politically active for about a year and a half. It was around that same time, if my memory serves me, that Bill started to get sick and his absence at meetings became conspicuous.

In September of that year, the structure of the organization changed, as some key people left and as others became involved. At that time, I reluctantly took the role of Secretary for the organization, if only because no one else wanted to do it. I’ve been with the organization, now called Equality Hawaii, ever since. Almost exactly a year later, on September 28, 2008, Bill finally succumbed to his illness and departed this world.

More than two years later, civil unions is on the verge of becoming law in Hawaii. When the House passed the bill out on the last day of the session last year, I cried. I shed tears of joy for what the House did, but also because Bill wasn’t there to witness our success. I cried again, when the SB232 HD1 finally left the legislature for the the Governor’s desk. Again they were tears of joy and tears for my absent friend.

I wish he were here to witness our success, a huge step toward full equality for those in the GLBT community. For three years, the passage of this piece of legislation has been my top priority. Now that work is finished and I’m thrilled. I wish we could celebrate together. I wish Bill and Lance could take advantage of all the things Civil Unions will do for same-sex couples.

I dedicate all the work I’ve done, all the I’ve experience during the process, all the friendships I’d built over the last few years, to him. Bill you are missed.

One reply on “For Bill Woods”

Mahalo nui loa for those comments. I believe Bill lives on in all of us who he connected with and the work he started that we continue to do. Nobody will ever convince me that Bill is not still with us. Sure, his ashes were placed in critical areas he chose around the island. I still can’t look at Olomana, Queens surf beach or the hillside along the Likelike without thinking of what Bill would like to see accomplished.

Bill worked tirelessly within the Democratic Party to create a system of issue oriented caucuses. He helped charter the first recognized caucus; the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Caucus. He knew my personal commitment to environmental issues and we spent time together figuring out what it would take to make it a reality. Lance Bateman was a critical advisor to the discussion toward creating our bylaws. Bill was a big admirer of Gary Hooser who now Chairs the Environmental Caucus. So not only was the Civil Unions a Bill Woods victory, but also the State Central Committee of the DPH recent official recognition of the Environmental Caucus was another development toward the legacy left for us by Bill Woods.

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