HARRIET HANCOCK: The Woman Who Paved The Way For The LGBT Community

December 4, 2014

By Jeff Ayers Source: Harriet Hancock LGBT Center Website As we reflect over the events of the past several months and celebrate the advancements in the LGBT movement in SC, we must not forget the ones who helped pave the way for us. One of the first names that comes to mind is Harriet Hancock. She has been a LGBT activist for over 30 years and has sacrificed so much for equality here in our state. On November 20th, marriage equality came to South Carolina and once again Harriet was right there fighting for our right to marry by serving on the SC Equality Post DOMA Litigation Task Force. She has been a beacon for all of us to follow and someone the LGBT community owes so much. For almost three decades, Columbia attorney and activist Harriet Hancock has been a force for social and cultural change in our state. She is a tireless advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in South Carolinians and their families. LGBT people in this state have often faced an indifferent if not hostile climate. Harriet is a steadfast advocate and volunteer, working to change that climate. Harriet is a founder or co-founder of four state organizations that have made South Carolina a better place for gays, lesbians, their families, and people living with AIDS. In founding these organizations, she not only worked to make this state a more hospitable community for gays, lesbians, and people living with AIDS, she also helped to build the state’s LGBT communities by helping to create viable and visible public forums for advocacy, education, and support. “In 1982, not long after her son came out to her, Harriet founded the Columbia chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) – the first PFLAG chapter in South Carolina. She soon became a quite visible and active public spokesperson, combating prejudices and stereotypes on Columbia talk radio, writing letter after letter to state news media responding to the homophobic attitudes then commonplace in public conversations about AIDS and LGBT people. She remains one of PFLAG’s strongest figures and still continues to meet with parents of LGBT youth who come out to them.

In 1985, with three other people, Harriet co-founded Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services (PALSS), which has become the primary AIDS service organization of the Midlands. As our state and region continues to rank among the worst for rates of HIV infection, PALSS has become a critical support organization, reaching across diverse sexual, cultural, and racial populations. Harriet continues to work to prevent new HIV infections in the Midlands, serving on the Advisory Board for the Center’s project YEAH! – Youth Empowered Against HIV!

In 1989, after a gay and lesbian community picnic, Harriet and small group of gay and lesbian South Carolinians organized the first South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride March. As the march moved from an annual event to an organization working on LGBT issues, the name changed to the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement (GLPM), now known as the SC Pride Movement. Harriet was also part of the group who facilitated GLPM’s purchase of the building that would become the state’s first Gay and Lesbian Community Center. In 1991, Harriet worked with the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council ad hoc Committee on Civil Rights for Lesbians and Gays. As a result of that committee’s work, the City of Columbia includes sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination employment policy and the work of that committee was the inspiration for the Human Rights Ordinance passed by both the City of Columbia and Richland County councils in recent years. 

In 1997, Harriet received the Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national LGBT organization in the US. During the years 1997-2000, Harriet also served on the board of the South Carolina Progressive Network, a coalition of over 30 state organizations devoted to social, economic, and environmental justice. In 2011, Harriet received a personal invitation from President Barak Obama to attend a reception at the White House in Washington, DC in honor of LGBT Pride Month. Harriet attended the reception with 5 others from South Carolina and several hundred leaders from around the nation. Harriet was one of only 12 national leaders selected to meet the President in a private session before his public speech. 

Harriet remains active with the LGBT Center which bares her name as Vice-President of the Harriet Hancock Center Foundation and was elected to the Board of the SC Pride Movement for 2012. We affectionately call her “Mother of Pride,” or “Mama H”, and she truly is a surrogate mother to many of us who have lost our families and friends because of who we are and who we love.” – Harriet Hancock LGBT Center website.