Gay rights activist Nickie Valdez and her legacy of peace
Gay rights activist Nickie Valdez was well known for her advocacy to fully include LGBT Catholics within the Roman Catholic Church, leaving a legacy of peace for the LGBT community.
Valdez died last year on December 25, Christmas Day, at her San Antonio home after an eight-year battle with multiple myeloma. Her partner for 35 years, Deb Myers, was with her until the last moment.
In 2019, Valdez– who was the co-founder and president of Dignity/San Antonio– was named a peace laureate for the city of San Antonio in Texas for her decades of work for justice.
The community remembers Nickie Valdez
Speaking of her wife, Myers said: “Her whole call was to help people recognize that they were created in the image and likeness of God, and God loved them just as they are created.”
Longtime friend, Patricia S. Castillo, co-founder and executive director of the PEACE Initiative, an advocacy group that works to end domestic violence, said Valdez’s Catholic faith was strong.
“You could not make her stop, no matter what. She found all these little niches all over the community where her faith could be practiced,” Castillo said.
DignityUSA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said, “She was wise, generous, loving, had a wicked sense of humor, loved music, color, dance, and above all, Deb.”
Sister Martha Ann Kirk, a Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word and a San Antonio educator active in human rights and peace movements, said: “Since the 1970s, Nickie has been a petite gentle spiritual giant leading me forward.”
Johnny Zokovitch, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said Valdez “”carried wisdom with her as few others I have known, but offered that wisdom with a healthy dose of humor and laughter that rang true and clear whenever she was amused.”
The struggle of a gay activist
Born in San Antonio on 10 September 1940, Valdez was still young when her mother abandoned her and leaving her to be raised by an aunt.
Graduating from a tech high school in 1961, she attended college but couldn’t afford the education. She went on to become a picture framer for a business before starting her own framing business.
She came out to her family as gay in the early 1960s, a time when LGBT people were still afraid to come out. Myers said: “She was one of the first people to be out and open in San Antonio.”
Because she was a lifelong and steady Catholic, she helped to estabish in 1976 the San Antonio Chapter of DignityUSA, a group that focuses on LGBT rights and the Catholic Church.
It was through Dignity that Valdez met Myers in 1986. The two were married in holy matrimony in 1989 and legally married in 2015 after getting amarriage license from Bexar County, Texas.
However, her 16-year old son, Robert Nicklaus Valdez Minor, died when he was killed by a drunk driver in 1988.
Nickie Valdez’s fight for LGBT rights
Valdez continued her advocacy, working with the National Organization for Women, Pax Christi San Antonio, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and the San Antonio Equal Rights Political Caucus.
She also volunteered for the Switchboard, a peer hotline launched for the gay community by the San Antonio Free Clinic, and she organized the first conference ever held in San Antonio for the gay community in 1976.
But even before the national DignityUSA was formed, she was already reaching out to gay Catholics as early as the mid-1960s.
Valdez would sit at the steps of her local parish church to talk to gay and lesbian people who felt excluded by the church.
She would also speak to leaders of religious communities in the San Antonio area to push them to include LGBT people in their outreach and ministries.
During the 2017 conference of Rolling the Stone Away: A Gathering of LGBTQIA Saints and Prophets, Valdez was honored for her decades of activism on behalf of her community
In 2019, she was named a peace laureate by San Antonio’s peaceCENTER and said shew as a model of “generative discipleship.”