Courageous Love: Fred Richter
This “story” was included in the nomination of Dr. Fred Richter, who received our first Standing on the Side of Love Award on Saturday, February 12, 2011. He was nominated by Laura Milner and Dixie Aubrey.
Fred Richter has been standing on the side of love in the Statesboro community for almost 40 years. As an English professor at Georgia Southern University, he chose to live “out of the closet” as a “gay Christian” in a committed relationship with his partner, Bob, decades before it was safe or socially acceptable to do so. He mentored countless GLBTQ students in and out of crisis, and he advised the first gay student organization, originally the Triangle Club and now the Gay-Straight Alliance, for many years when no one else was willing or able to come forward.
Fred was instrumental in convincing the Georgia Southern administration to add sexual orientation to the University’s non-discrimination policy, a move which led to more GLBTQ faculty and staff coming to work here without fear of being fired because of who they love. He wrote a regular column about gay issues for the campus newspaper and was the first person appointed to direct the GLBTQ Office, which later morphed into Multicultural Programs. In the 1990s, he organized GLOBE—Gay Lesbian Or Bisexual Employees—for adults on campus, which evolved into a campus-and-community group. He and Bob hosted several potluck suppers at their home, sometimes attended by 40 or 50 guests.
Through the 1980s, ‘90s, and early 2000s, faculty in psychology, sociology, nursing, health, education, and English relied on Dr. Richter to speak to their students about homophobia, gender identity, and other issues related to sexual orientation—-service work that required enormous time, energy, and courage, and work for which he received no academic kudos or credit. He did it for love.
Off campus, Fred served as a founding board member for Amethyst, Statesboro’s first nonprofit agency for people with HIV/AIDS. In addition to serving on the board, he drove clients to doctors’ appointments, repaired broken windows and vans, and raised funds for the organization via walkathons and other efforts. For decades he has worked through his church, Trinity Episcopal, and with other congregations across the region to create a more caring community for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. He has long been active in Integrity, a national advocacy group for GLBTQ Episcopalians, as well as a board member for Stand Out Youth, a Savannah-based nonprofit that provides education and support for gay teens.
Fred’s mission work does not stop with the GLBTQ community. He has joined other area Episcopalians on multiple mission trips to Jarabacoa, a village in the Dominican Republic where he has formed long-term relationships with children and adults as they labor together to build a church and school. He has done similar work in Belize and twice in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, offering his gifts as a carpenter, electrician, and plumber to help build or re-build after disasters. A few weeks from now, he will return to the Dominican Republic for another scouting trip to see where the need is greatest and to help identify the site of his group’s next mission.
For all these years, Fred has provided a calm, intelligent voice at campus and community events, especially in the 1980s and ‘90s when it was risky to be openly gay or lesbian in southeast Georgia. On many occasions, he stood alone on a stage or in a classroom and quietly deflected hostile people and rude comments. Many young people and newcomers to Statesboro may not know Fred, but they, and all of us, owe him a huge debt of gratitude for the freedom we now have to live openly in our community with whomever we love. With grace and courage, he has made it his life’s work to stand firmly on the side of love, no matter the cost. We would not be standing here now if he had not stood there then. We can think of no one more deserving of this first annual Standing on the Side of Love Award than our beloved friend, brother, and yogi, Fred Richter.
Lifted up by: Jane Page