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Ray Hill Recovering from 3rd Heart Surgery at Omega House

Pioneering gay activist, 77, says he isn't done yet.

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Ray Hill is shown at Houston’s Omega House Hospice on Monday, Aug. 20. (Brandon Wolf)

Pioneering gay activist Ray Hill is resting and recovering at Houston’s Omega House Hospice, following his third heart surgery in the last 20 years.

Many in the LGBTQ community are aware of Hill’s diabetes, which resulted in a partial leg amputation. But the 77-year-old firebrand said he has not talked much about his heart condition that was first diagnosed in 1957.

“I was on the Galena Park football team, and before one game, all the players were given a brief heart exam. When the doctor listened to my breathing, he told me I had a heart murmur,” HIll said Monday afternoon, Aug. 20, noting that the diagnosis ended his football career.

“You don’t have to do it all, nor do you have to do as much as I’ve done. But do what you can.”

Ray Hill

In 2000, Hill underwent surgery to have a heart valve replaced. In 2012, he had a mild heart attack, damaging a second valve, which was later repaired in a 2015 surgery.

“I was running between 35 percent and 85 percent heart efficiency after that,” Hill said.  

In July, he went to Ben Taub Hospital to have a foot sore treated. The attending nurse asked why he was breathing so heavily and found his heart efficiency was down to 10 percent. Further testing revealed that his arteries were clogged. On August 9, he underwent surgery to clear the obstructions.

“I’m at 15- 25 percent heart efficiency currently,” Hill said, adding that he now weighs 186 pounds, which was also his high school football weight. He will remain at Omega House until his stamina improves enough so that he can be self-sufficient. But going forward, he’ll have to slow down and avoid stress.

When Hill returns to his apartment complex in the 400 block of Marshall, where he has lived for the last 34 years, he will move into a new unit. “The one I’ve lived in does not allow for walker or wheelchair access,” Hill said. His landlady found him an apartment that will allow him to access the front door, but he still won’t be able to use his walker in the bathroom.

On Tuesday, Hill posted this appeal to Facebook: “I have asked help for over 18 months to find an alternative place to live. Interest has been expressed but that help has not been forthcoming. Now it is critical. The complex where I have been living has offered a partially accessible space for the same $800 I have been paying with a Sect 8 grant of $630. Can anyone help?”

Hill checks his cell phone while recovering at Omega House Hospice on Monday, Aug. 20. (Brandon Wolf)

Meanwhile, Hill is spending time with visitors at Omega House. The guest register shows a long list of recognizable names. Also listed are two young men from Pearland, who had never met Hill. When they read about his surgery on Facebook and learned what he has done for the LGBTQ community, they drove to Houston to see him.

Hill was among Houston’s earliest gay activists, beginning in the 1950s. A number of projects are underway to document his legacy. This Friday,, a team of University of Houston graduate students will retrieve Hill’s archives from his apartment and move them to the UH LGBT Research Collection in the M.D. Anderson Library on the university’s central campus.  

Meanwhile, Hill said he has seen an “unpolished” final cut of The Trouble With Ray, a documentary about his life from Proud Pony Productions. He  is impressed with the film and looking forward to its release.

UH history professor Eric Walther has also started his research for a biography of Hill. Walther became interested while writing a soon-to-be-published biography of Harvey Milk. Walther noticed that Hill’s interactions with the slain San Francisco city supervisor showed up many times in Milk’s papers, including discussion of plans for the 1979 March on Washington.

Hill now wears a heart monitor that records every beat and sends the information to his cardiologist, who can check for irregularities. The monitor is secured by a strap that contains gel. If Hill’s heart were to stop, the device would immediately notify first responders and initiate an electric shock.

In addition to receiving visitors, Hill is staying connected with friends, supporters, and other activists through email, Facebook and his cell phone.

After leaving Omega House, he plans to continue his activism, although perhaps on a smaller scale. In addition to LGBTQ rights, he is frequently sought out for advice on prison issues and drug/alcohol recovery. He will, however, no longer be able to drive.

Even while recovering from surgery, Hill made his voice heard concerning a recent meeting of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

“There was too much agreement in the Caucus Endorsement meeting,” Hill wrote on Facebook on August 15. “It was too short and lacking the usual aggressive debate. Too many recommendations from the screening committee [were] followed. Of course, I am [basing this on] secondhand reports from the meeting as I was busy dying at the time.”

Hill said his message to the community, while he recuperates and beyond, is: “The struggle continues. You don’t have to do it all, nor do you have to do as much as I’ve done. But do what you can.”

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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