Paul Thompson, a social activist for 40 years in the metro area, died March 4 after what is described by friends as a “brief and unexpected illness.” Thompson was admitted to Mercy Hospital following a stroke, and passed away days later from a heart attack. Memorial services were held on Sunday, March 14.
Thompson, 70, became a social activist after he was arrested leaving a gay bar 40 years ago. Georgie Rasco, a longtime friend and co-worker, said the arrest was the impetus to Thompson’s decades-long fight for justice for all people.
“He was arrested leaving a gay bar with some friends, and they were all charged with lewd and lascivious behavior,” Rasco said. “Paul fought the charge and won. He realized that injustice was happening all around him, and he wanted to help.”
Thompson was one of the organizers for the original Gay Pride Parade, and he served as co-chair until 2009. Friends remember his courage in the face of opposition as he put together the first Gay Pride event in the metro.
“Before the first parade, the Ku Klux Klan vowed that they would not allow a ‘queer parade’ in Oklahoma City as long as they could do something about it,” said Jim Nimmo, a friend of Thompson’s. “The Klan positioned themselves at the bottom of the hill at N.W. 39th and Penn. When they saw how many participants were marching, they tucked their tails and left.”
Thompson’s activities were not limited to the LGBT community. Nathaniel Batchelder, director of Peace House in Oklahoma City, knew Thompson for 25 years, and he spoke of his friend’s commitment to all minority groups.
“Paul served as a board member of the NAACP for more than 15 years, and he served on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade coalition for 15 years,” Batchelder said. “Here’s a white, gay guy stepping up in a big way for civil rights, and he made a huge impact on thousands of African-Americans, helping them fight their battle. He saw himself as working for the mutual benefit of many minorities in the civil rights struggle.”
Thompson also helped form the Oklahoma City Human Rights Commission. Rasco said it was another accomplishment in the life of a man who refused to stop fighting.
“He didn’t just fight for gay rights,” she said. “He worked with many organizations, and he fought for the rights of everyone.”
Thompson was born in Oklahoma City on Nov. 19, 1939. He graduated from Central High School and worked several jobs before starting his own design firm, PRT Designs. According to Nimmo, people were his real passion.
“He never did the whole Twitter, Facebook thing. He preferred to meet people face-to-face. He wanted to get the message out that all minorities are important, and all deserve the equality they are born to as citizens of the United States.”