Remembering Don Belton (1956-2009)

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Early in the day yesterday, I got news of Don Belton’s brutal murder, and ever since then, I have been struggling to integrate this knowledge into my heart and mind. While we were not close friends, he is someone who touched my heart in a very deep way over the course of many years. I decided tonight to write a remembrance of him to counter all of the horrible comments on news stories I have been reading, to try to reconcile the fact that someone as kind and gentle as he was could die in such a terrible, tragic way. Of course, I know that these horrible things could happen to any of us, but it seems that gentle, unapologetic gay men have a much harder way in this life, and I hope that this will change. It has to change. We cannot allow our friends to be killed without speaking their names as often as is necessary to remind people that homophobia and hatred are alive and well in this country. We all need to step up and speak up. No matter how much visibility we have as queer people, no matter how much “acceptance” it seems we are offered, we still have a lot of work to do. We still have to remind people that brutality has not ceased, and our brothers and sisters deserve to be remembered every day. Here is my remembrance of Don.

It is hard to know whether I met Don at Temple or at the William Way Community Center…it was many years ago now, but I had many deep, powerful conversations with him at the Community Center library, where he came to check out books. I volunteered at the archives, and was there frequently. I chatted with Don about books, writing, and, more often, life and struggles we both faced. Our conversations made a great impact on me, and Don was always able to make me laugh no matter what I was feeling–and at that time, there was a lot of heaviness for us both. He was able to remind me how to lighten up in ways that are somewhat intangible. Maybe it was his easy smile and playful laugh, or perhaps it was that he helped me to feel less alone in the world. We would run into each other a lot on the street, and talk about what was going on in our lives. We would genuinely connect in a frenetic world in which we each seemed to get caught up.

Looking back at these connections, they seem so fleeting and insubstantial, yet they were truly meaningful and deep. It is difficult to write about a feeling like momentary joy when you are looking back and remembering the dappled sunlight hitting someone’s face when you were talking at 9th and Chestnut Streets–probably the last place I saw Don. It has been two years since I had any contact with Don since he hasn’t been here to run into on the street, or meet in a library, but it is difficult to know that I will never run into him again, that I will never see his face in the spring sunlight. It is heartbreaking to know that he met his death in such a painful and frightening way. I wish his spirit peace.

You were loved, Don.

See another, more formal, remembrance of Don and his many accomplishments at Noctuary: a record of what passes in the night.

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