by Darla Shelden
Update Sunday, October 23, 2016: Bob Lemon passed away on October 22, 2016. We all appreciated him so much and he will be greatly missed.
Born in Shattuck, Oklahoma in 1929, Oklahoma City resident and gay rights activist Bob Lemon says “I grew up in West Texas during the dustbowl and the depression, and I’m straight, but I’m not narrow.”
A graduate of Oklahoma State University, Lemon received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Texas and practiced oil and gas law in both Texas and Oklahoma. He is a pilot and a 32nd degree mason.
Bob married Mary Lou Smith in 1950. They lived in the small town of Perryton, Texas and were very active in their church.
Bob describes Mary Lou and himself as “unabashed liberal Democrats” who believe all people are entitled to both equal protections under the law and universal respect as children of God particularly regarding sexual orientation. They had five children, Del, Jim, Chrys, Robyn and Eli.
Lemon recalled, “My wife and I visited a church in Kansas City, MO in 1977, where we heard a woman read a letter from a gay son and she told a sad story. She and her husband were forced to leave a church that they were members of for sometime.”
“In 1993, Mary Lou and I really focused on the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) situation when we learned, to our total amazement, that we were the parents of a gay son. At that point we decided we needed to get acquainted with some gay and lesbian people,” said Lemon.
Former Oklahoma Governor David Walters said, “Bob is a gentleman who is deeply committed to his beliefs, which he acts on at every opportunity. His life reflects his beliefs. Not all of us have the courage, the generosity, the willingness to sacrifice in order to live our lives in a similar manner.”
Jim Roth, former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner and attorney at Philips Murrah said, “I first met Bob Lemon at church where he and his lovely wife Mary Lou sat on the front row. From that first meeting to now I have always known Bob to be an extraordinary gentleman, a man of infinite empathy and a moral compass that cares for everyone around him. He is perhaps the finest man I’ve ever known in my life.”
In 2005, Bob saw the film ‘Inlaws & Outlaws’ during a screening at the Mayflower Congregational, UCC Church, where he is a member.
“When I came to Oklahoma for the deadCENTER Film Festival, Bob and I became friends. Bob was really taken with the film’s message that love is neither straight nor gay and decided to get involved in helping us release the film,” said Drew Emery, director of Inlaws & Outlaws.
“He soon signed on as our Executive Producer, thus allowing us to launch our campaign of community screenings of Inlaws & Outlaws. We’re just about to have our 500th screening — over half have been in churches — and I can honestly say that none of that would have been possible without Bob’s unflagging support,” said Emery.
Inlaws & Outlaws is a documentary that tells the true stories of couples and singles, both gay and straight, creating a portrayal of love, relationships and marriage. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City.
“This movie is the best shot that I’ve seen that can really influence the minds of some people that, for heaven’s sakes, need to be influenced. They need to be changed, and they need to rethink what they believe about the LGBT community,” said Lemon.
The film is dedicated to the memory of Mary Lou Lemon, who lost her life to cancer in December 2002.
“I believe it’s a genuine concern for his fellow human beings that keeps Bob going. That and a wicked sharp wit,” said Emery.
In 2005, Lemon and Gov. Walters had their photograph taken with Mikhail Gorbachev, during his lecture tour “Perestroika: 20 Years Later”, at East Central University in Ada, OK.
Gov. Walters recalled, “Bob got a big laugh out of the fact that I signed the photo…”from one comrade to another” alluding to his rather progressive views on most public policy issues. After nearly grabbing Gorbachev for the picture…he began to intently speak to both Bob and I and we listened furtively for whatever pearls of international insight he was sharing with us. We were somewhat disappointed to hear the interpreter translate his words into, “Please get out of my way as I wish to leave”. Bob always has a great sense of humor.”
Director of the OKC Peace House, Nathaniel Batchelder said, “Bob Lemon is simply a grand gentleman gifted with an uncommon humility and reverence for each individual’s life journey. An opponent of America’s wars in the Middle East, Bob drove with me three times to visit “Camp Casey” in Crawford, TX, to join activists in the peace encampment. While there, he met Joan Baez, and they have become quite good friends.”
Native Oklahoman, Amy Wheeler, field producer for “Inlaws and Outlaws,” is now the executive director of Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers, in Washington. She said, “Bob has a magnetic charisma that people are drawn to. I’ll never forget meeting Joan Baez with Bob, backstage at the Broadway Center in Tacoma. We’d talked our way through the stage door and were waiting with clusters of people, when she emerged from her dressing room. Bob went over to her, arms wide open. He took her hands, and with that unmistakable Bob Lemon twinkle in his eyes, proceeded to charm the heck out of her.”
Amy’s father, retired Methodist minister Jim Wheeler said, “Bob is comfortable with both the famous and the unknown for he knows the difference most often lies in their circumstances rather than in their true worth.”
In 2008, Oklahoma House Representative Sally Kern made the statement that “gays are worse that terrorists.” Bob placed a full-page ad in The Oklahoman titled “Father of gay son speaks out” that stated, “There is no doubt that such speech leads to hate crime and creates an environment of fear in the LGBT community. These officials do not set good examples.” ”The Christian faith, as I understand it, teaches that we should love, honor, and respect one another. It also teaches kindness and tolerance, and teaches against prejudice, haired, bigotry and violence.”
Dr. Robin Meyers, Senior Minister, Mayflower UCC Church, said, “Bob Lemon is one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever met, having succeeded at everything–the law, being a husband and father, and now one of the nation’s most generous gay rights activists. But by far his most amazing and inspirational accomplishment is simply this: he is a human being fully alive.”
Lemon has received numerous awards including the Angie Debo Civil Libertarian of the Year Award from the ACLU-OK, the Margaret Sanger Legacy Award from Planned Parenthood of Central OK, the Hero of Hope Award from the Cathedral of Hope and the Carl Albert Award presented by the Oklahoma Democratic Party. In 2010, Lemon received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Phillips Theological Seminary In Oklahoma.
Scott Hamilton, Executive Director of Oklahoma City’s Cimarron Alliance said, “Working for social justice in Oklahoma can sometimes seem like climbing a mountain. Even on the most challenging days, Mr. Lemon remains a steadfast supporter of gay rights.”
“Mr. Lemon is the role model of a concerned citizen who knows the incalculable value of America’s Bill of Rights. There can never be enough people like Bob,”said James Nimmo, board secretary of the ACLU of Oklahoma.
Last month, the Oklahoma City Council considered a resolution to include “sexual orientation” in the city’s employment non-discrimination policies. “I was so incredibly thankful to have Mr. Lemon with us that day. He provided a clear voice of reason, of concern, and compassion for all people,” said Hamilton.
In his statement to the council Lemon said, “As I stand here today, I am totally convinced that there is nothing wrong with homosexual people, they’re not broken and they don’t need fixing. But what does need fixing is the attitude of a lot of straight people with respect to gays. I pray to God the day will come when people will respect all of God’s children, not just some of them, but all of them.”
Robert Dell Lemon – 1929-2016