Photo by Danny Fulgencio.
The 1979 police raid on the Village Station nightclub was just one of many along Cedar Springs Road during that time. But it was a turning point in uniting the gay community against police harassment and unfair charges.
Don Maison’s involvement was accidental. The former civil rights attorney hadn’t heard of the bust — in which the police department’s vice squad arrested 12 men doing a bunny hop on charges of public lewdness. But when an old law school classmate asked him to represent a client, he couldn’t refuse.
In the past, most gay people charged with public lewdness had pleaded guilty. They feared publicly fighting the charges would alienate their family or cause them to lose their jobs. When the group of arrested men decided to stand up to the police, it marked a significant step in the city’s movement for equal rights.
“That event was really the first time the Dallas gay community stood on its feet and said, ‘This is enough,’” says Maison, who has lived in East Dallas for 37 years.
Maison knew the layout of Village Station well, and he knew the testifying officer was lying when he claimed to have seen lewd behavior from where he was standing. Maison called the nightclub’s owner and told him to bring the bar’s floor plan to the courtroom. It was enough evidence that the judge acquitted Maison’s client.
But Maison’s role in this tale wasn’t over. At the trial of another defendant, he asked people to dance in the courtroom to the song “Enough is Enough,” which was playing at Village Station when police made the arrests. Groups of gay supporters and opposing evangelicals added to the circus. The Dallas Morning News reported the case with the front-page headline, “Bible totters watch a parade of perverts.”
The judge found the defendant guilty, but an appeals court later reversed the ruling.
“It isn’t the job of a prosecutor to get convictions. It’s to get justice,” Maison says. “They take advantage of vulnerable situations, which I don’t think is right. I feel like things have changed a great deal.”
After the trials, Maison served on a committee of several gay lawyers that met with police personnel to create better understanding between the communities. As a result, the police department appointed a liaison to the gay community, and the LGBTQ nonprofit, the Resource Center, began training officers to treat gay people with respect.
As proud as Maison is of his legal work, he’s most pleased with his advocacy as CEO of AIDS Services of Dallas. The Oak Cliff nonprofit provides affordable housing and support services to low-income individuals and families living with HIV and AIDS.
When Maison first started in 1989, he faced hostility from demonstrators who protested the nonprofit’s entry into the neighborhood with placards that read, “No gays/AIDS colonies.” The post office wouldn’t deliver mail to its address.
Despite no previous nonprofit experience, Maison grew a staff of four into more than 70 people. He increased a budget of $25,000 to $4.8 million. When no one else wanted to care for AIDS patients, his staff developed services that today include access to home-health aides, home-delivered meals and transportation to medical appointments.
Maison served at the position for more than 30 years. He retired in 2018.
“I made a difference in many people’s lives,” he says. “To read the comments on Facebook and the emails when people found out I was leaving, it made me extremely proud. It made me realize how many people were affected.”