Marriage proposals are rarely this electrifying.
Former Texas Christian University linebacker Vincent Pryor spoke during the Atticus Circle Awards luncheon last week. A blockish man built like — to be clear — a linebacker, albeit with a benevolent smile and polite manner, Pryor told of growing up with a football state of mind.
The San Antonio high school student was offered a flashier running back position, but Pryor told coaches, "I want to hit people."
Recruited by several colleges, he chose TCU because of its small, welcoming campus and, of course, hard-nosed coach Jim Wacker, then in his final season there.
Pryor excelled as a Horned Frog, setting the school's sack record and playing for the 1994 team under Coach Pat Sullivan that reached the Independence Bowl.
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When he arrived on the Fort Worth campus, Pryor had not come out.
"I didn't know anybody who was actually gay," he told Anne S. Wynne, founder of the Atticus Circle, which educates and mobilizes straight allies to advance equal rights, onstage during the awards ceremony.
One coach gathered the TCU players and, red in the face, yelled three times, once directly to Pryor: "Are there any homosexuals in here?"
Pryor thought his coaches knew. He would lose his scholarship and be escorted off campus.
"It was a real dark time for me," he confessed. Then another student, Alan Detlaff, came out in front of some assembled students while asking for help with a gay support group on campus. As soon as he returned to his room, Pryor called Detlaff to volunteer — and to come out.
"That allowed me to be comfortable in my skin," Pryor said. By now, rumors were rampant. The first player Pryor told was, to his surprise, unperturbed. Another coach, a Southern military veteran, then asked Pryor: "Is it true, Vince? Did you really tell him you were a homosexual?"
"No sir," Pryor replied. "I actually told him I'm gay."
Though it was the early '90s, Pryor discovered what many doubters learned after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"Generally, the team supported me, and it felt really, really good," he reported. Pryor then called Detlaff up on the stage at the Four Seasons Hotel.
"If it weren't for you, Allen, I wouldn't be here today," Pryor said to his partner of 13 years. Then he dropped to one knee and opened a little box. "Would you save my life again today and marry me?"
Detlaff, a shy-looking man with short, neat hair, smiled, mumbled, then left the stage to roaring cheers and applause.
"What did he say?" demanded one of the guests at the benefit luncheon, channeling audience's curiosity.
More cheers. And tears.
Earlier during the same lunch, another set of honorees told a much less happy, but no less electrifying story. Amy and David Truong of Cypress lost their son, Asher Brown, 13, to suicide. He had been bullied relentlessly at his middle school, but when the Truongs asked a principal why nothing had been done, an empty file folder was flourished before their faces.
They did not crawl into a hole to mourn their smart, funny son. Instead, they made a difference. They accompanied Wynne — perhaps the most efficient and effective spokeswoman one could ever draft — to the offices of state legislators in support of anti-bullying proposals. Their simple, direct desire to prevent losses like theirs moved virtually everyone they met.
So, one of the most conservative legislatures in memory passed not one, but two anti-bullying bills.
"Tomorrow is his birthday," Amy Truong told the Atticus Circle crowd, holding back tears. "He would have been 15."
You can imagine the reaction.
TV star Jeff Corwin might have made the best high-school science teacher ever. Instead, in the words of the Nature Conservancy of Texas state director Laura Huffman, "He is making conservation cool."
The night before a sold-out lunchtime benefit, Corwin visited the art-bedecked home of lawyer Deborah Green and yoga master Clayton Aynesworth near Mayfield Park. About 50 backers sampled from a Mexican buffet and examined the delirious art, but they were there for Corwin.
Compact and kinetic in a long-sleeved copper T-shirt and jeans, he talked of recent adventures in Costa Rica and Alaska, then looked back on his Texas encounters with his beloved bats, snakes and beetles.
"People underestimate the value of Texas in the natural world, especially its role along the land bridge between the Americas," he said. Other Americans might not appreciate Texas, but "how many have witnessed the incredible unfolding of life that happens each day in Austin?"
Corwin recalled being dropped, blind, into the Davis Mountains, then required to identify his surroundings for a reality show. He picked up a lot of Southwestern signals but nailed the location when he unearthed a Trans-Pecos rat snake.
"Nowhere else in the world can you see this," he said. "I also got a feeling when I saw a car go by with a Texas license plate."
Boston-raised Corwin has been smitten with reptiles since an encounter outside his grandfather's rural home.
"I grabbed on to it. It grabbed on to me," he said. "I had this garter snake hanging off my arm."
Earlier in the day, this champion of calculated land stewardship jogged the hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake.
"I felt this sense of community you find only here in Austin," he said. "Here, with nature right in the middle of town."
Contact Michael Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org