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HIV and Gay Rights Activist Don Maison Has Died


The trailblazing Dallas attorney and advocate passed away Monday — and will forever be a part of HIV and LGBTQ+ history.

After a battle with esophageal cancer, longtime HIV advocate and civil rights attorney Don Maison passed on February 21, according to Dallas News. He was 74.

Maison, who was also the longest-serving former president and CEO of AIDS Services of Dallas, was a civil rights lawyer in the 1970s and ’80s who represented LGBTQ+ Texans fighting for fair treatment.

Originally from Michigan, Maison moved to Dallas after dropping out of a seminary school in Illinois. After realizing civil rights and social justice was his true calling, Maison obtained his law degree at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio and moved back to Dallas in the mid-1970s.

Once in Dallas, he joined the growing LGBTQ+ rights movement and represented those, much like himself, who were targeted by police because of their sexuality. In 1980, Maison was the top legal defender of gay men arrested for "public lewdness" in a police sting the previous year at Village Station. 

While at the helm of AIDS Services of Dallas, Maison took a rundown property and transformed it into viable housing for hundreds of men, women, and children living with HIV. Locals say during his off time, Maison he could often be found at JR’s Bar & Grill, the local queer hangout that he affectionately referred to as his “church.”

Maison himself said that both his best and worst quality was “not letting go.” Never one to take backseat, especially in terms of speaking out for civil rights, Maison bravely took on the police, big business, and the fight against HIV and its stigma in order to improve the quality of life for thousands of Dallas residents.

“Don was remarkable for his sense of social justice. It was what he lived and breathed,” said longtime friend Ellen Sweets shortly after his passing. “There’s an old spiritual that Mahalia Jackson sings that goes, ‘I’m gonna live the life I sign about in my song.’ That’s what he did. He lived the life that he talked about.”

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