David Mack Henderson, a gay activist who helped found Fairness Fort Worth and who was president of the group since 2013, has died, the Rev. Carol West said Monday.
Henderson, who had esophageal cancer, died Saturday, West said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Henderson “started out as a newcomer to Fort Worth’s gay community and quickly emerged as one of the most outspoken, passionate, caring, hard-working and genuinely empathetic community leaders this city has ever known,” Fort Worth gay activist Todd Camp posted on Facebook Tuesday.
West, of the Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth, said Henderson began working as an activist in 1970s when, as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Arlington he was the school mascot. He was asked to resign, but he refused and instead founded the campus’ first LGBT student group.
“He had a tremendous impact on the LGBT community in Fort Worth and he was responsible for that community having a voice,” West said.
Henderson, who helped found Fairness Fort Worth in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid, was a voice for many in that community on June 26, 2015.
That day, he stood in the Tarrant County Clerk's office, watching as same sex couples for the first time were legally able to get marriage licenses after the Supreme Court swept away bans on same-sex marriages.
That night, barely able to wipe the smile off his face, he joined a standing-room only crowd at Celebration Community Church and watched the first same-sex couple — Michael Zeigler and Victor Lopez — exchange wedding vows in Tarrant County.
In October, he announced on Facebook that he had stage 4 esophageal cancer.
He said at the time that he was retiring from Fairness Fort Worth, expecting “a smooth transition to folks eager to carry the torch forward &, I expect, even improve upon things I’ve worked to accomplish,” he posted at the time.
While he was receiving chemotherapy, Henderson said he knew this was the beginning of the end.
“Let’s be candid a sec; this is not a curable cancer & my time is definitely on a clock,” he posted on Facebook. “But for the foreseeable future, as my grandmother used to say, ‘I'm too mean to die.’
“Now, go have some PRIDE fun and think of me.”
Henderson was active most recently in the controversy involving transgender guidelines at the Fort Worth school district.
“The whole point here is that we don’t all fit into a binary box, and we have to open and perhaps expand that box to make room for all children to learn, “ he said at the time.
Henderson’s Facebook page was swamped Tuesday with tributes to the man who fearlessly fought for gay rights in Tarrant County and beyond.
“I’m a better man because David Mack Henderson was my friend,” wrote John David Allen.
Many wrote about the impressive legacy Henderson will leave behind.
Nyssa M. Cruz was among those to note that he was the kind of man who could be depended upon to give advice and provide a shoulder to lean on.
“He certainly was taller at life, but his activism in the glbt community was ever so mesmerizing,” Cruz wrote, noting that Henderson hoped Texas would someday turn blue or purple politically. “Those who knew of him know those are big shoes to fill.
“David, you are legendary and let’s hope that one day that the Texas skies are purple and bright as your soul.”
Jennifer Campisi praised Henderson for everything he did.
“What a huge loss for DFW and all of Texas,” she said. “I hate cancer. This man was amazing and selfless, and I hope I can do a fraction of what he did for people.
“He worked tirelessly for others. Rest in peace, David Mack Henderson.”
‘Better than all of us’
The Voice reported that Henderson is survived by his mother, Dr. Janet Henderson, and four young gay men for whom he was a mentor. A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Celebration Community Church, 908 Pennsylvania St., Fort Worth, according to the Voice.
Camp wrote: “It’s fitting that the last time we talked was when I was reaching out to him to find out how to help a pair of homeless gay teens who had been kicked out of their homes when their parents caught them together.
“He, of course, put me in touch with the right people. He never stopped working, ever,” Camp wrote. “He was better than all of us. I don’t know what we’re going to do without him.”
Staff writer Domingo Ramirez Jr. contributed to this report.