Family, friends remember LGBTQ pioneer Debbie Hunt.
By Rich Arenschieldt
“I hope to get out of the hospital tomorrow and will certainly make time for a visit with you. I’ll be home.”
That was the text message I received from Debbie Hunt, a longtime Houston attorney and a pillar of Houston’s LGBTQ community, hours before she died. On July 12, a brilliant, caring woman (and prodigious traveler) was propelled to her next destination when Hunt passed away at 56, following a battle with ovarian cancer.
I had been scheduled to interview Hunt, an early member of the Houston Pride Band, about the national Lesbian and Gay Band Association’s upcoming annual conference in Houston.
Two years ago, I’d had the privilege of interviewing Hunt’s partner in life and law, Connie Moore, just prior to her death—also from ovarian cancer.
Hunt and Moore, who met as law students at the University of Houston in the mid-1980s, went on to start one of the city’s first firms specializing in LGBTQ issues.
“Debbie was tremendously respected in her profession,” says Arabia Vargas, the couple’s longtime friend and colleague.
Vargas, who became Hunt’s life partner following Moore’s death, noted that the Stonewall Law Association of Greater Houston established a scholarship in Hunt’s name earlier this year.
“Her skill set was perfectly matched to the work she had chosen,” Vargas says. “She was able to calmly and carefully listen as clients shared concerns about caring for those they loved. The counsel Debbie provided alleviated worry for thousands of individuals and their families.”
In addition to her legal practice and her volunteer work in the LGBTQ community, Hunt was heavily involved in the Houston Pride Band. She followed Moore into the group by teaching herself percussion so she could become an official member, and she eventually became the section’s leader.
Russell Ben Williams, a former Houston Pride Band board member, says he first met Hunt and Moore in 1989. He had just moved from a small town and didn’t know anyone in Houston.
“I called the Pride Band phone number, and it rang directly to their legal offices, and I spoke with Connie,” Williams says. “I didn’t have an instrument to play or a car to get to rehearsal. Within days, they found me a euphonium to play, gave me rides to rehearsal, and introduced me to new friends. To do all this for someone they didn’t even know—I was amazed at their generosity.
“In those days, we were a relatively small group,” Williams says. “Debbie took us camping, and those trips bound us together. She nurtured all of us and never wanted to toot her own horn. Unlike some couples where each partner focuses solely on the other, Debbie and Connie always possessed an abundance of kindness—enough for each person they knew. They empowered everyone around them. Our entire musical community is stunned by this loss—we have been inundated with calls offering condolences to the band.”
Hunt’s younger sister, Tracy Mitchell, laughs as she recalls Hunt’s passion for camping.
“Debbie adored being a Campfire Girl. Each summer we were sent to camp. Debbie loved it. I hated it,” says Mitchell, who is four years Hunt’s junior. “Throughout our lives, she was always the logical, rational, and deliberative sibling. In the midst of any crisis, she would say, ‘This is what we are going to do; everything will be fine.’ She would then solve the problem and accomplish what had to be done.
“Even when she came out to me, it was very matter-of-fact,” Mitchell recalls. “She simply said, ‘I have something to tell you.’ From that point forward, Connie was completely integrated into our family. Years ago, my youngest daughter and her best friend went to visit Debbie and Connie. Upon arriving home, my daughter proclaimed that they ‘wanted to be just like Debbie and Connie,’ which made us all laugh. My children were so close to Debbie—this has been a loss for all of them.
“After Connie died, Debbie again (in the same straightforward manner) told me that she and Arabia were now partners,” Mitchell says. “The family was overjoyed and relieved. We had known Arabia for years and were thrilled that she was now going to be brought into our lives. After losing Connie, I don’t know what we would have done if Debbie had brought home a stranger.”
Vargas was practicing law in San Antonio when she met Hunt and Moore in 1995. She received a call from Moore, who was seeking help with a same-sex adoption case.
“From the outset, it was clear that we shared an intense commitment to family formation and protecting the rights of parents and their children,” Vargas says. “Shortly thereafter, I became friends with Debbie as well. We worked, socialized, and traveled together. Soon, the three of us were like sisters.”
When Moore became ill, Vargas began traveling to Houston every weekend, providing care for Moore and respite for Hunt.
“Connie would say, ‘Debbie, take Arabia out. You two need to go on a date.’ And so we did,” Vargas recalls.
After Moore died, Vargas moved to Galveston to be with Hunt.
“Being Debbie’s partner was easy,” Vargas says. “Since we knew each other so well, we had no secrets. Connie taught us that life is short. Even while facing a terminal diagnosis, Debbie was determined that we would live the best and longest life possible. As it turns out, we were together for the rest of our lives.”
A memorial service for Hunt will be at 4 p.m. on August 19 at Carnes Brothers Funeral Home at 1201 Tremont Street in Galveston. Hunt’s family requests that donations be made in her memory to the Stonewall Association of Greater Houston Debra E. Hunt Scholarship Fund, the American Cancer Society, or the Houston Pride Band.