HOUSTON – Ray Hill never shied away from a fight. He was willing to spar with critics and allies alike when he felt an injustice needed righting. A staunch defender of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights as well as a prison reform activist, Hill said his life has been guided by one simple principle.
"Get up every morning and do what's right," Hill said.
Suffering from heart failure, Hill spoke with KPRC2 in his room at the Omega House Hospice. While Hill's voice might be a little softer now, the passion behind his words remains fierce. Hill, one of the founders of what was then called the Houston Gay Political Caucus, fought for equality and free speech.
In recent years, Hill fought to win parole for convicted killer Jon Buice, a reversal from the early '90s when Hill pushed for the maximum punishment. Buice was one of several who pleaded guilty to killing Paul Broussard outside a Montrose nightclub. Police determined Broussard's murder was a gay-bashing incident and Buice got the harshest sentence because he delivered the fatal stab wound.
"I got it wrong, pure and simple," Hill said.
Years later, Hill said he came to believe Broussard's murder had nothing to do with his sexual orientation and that Buice, who was a teen, was genuinely remorseful for what happened that night. This put him at odds with victim rights advocates, but Hill remained undeterred and advocated for Buice's parole.
"You can make mistakes, but you've got to clean up after yourself," Hill said.
Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Hill's fight for equality has made him an icon in the LBGTQ community.
"Ray's always had a really clear sense of right and wrong," she said.
Parker said his sense of right and wrong made Hill unafraid to remain true to his convictions, even when they clashed with colleagues.
"For a long time, he gave out a business card that said 'pesky, contemptuous, troublemaker' and 'afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted,'" Parker said.
Hill also disproved the adage, "You can't fight City Hall." Hill went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to see an old city ordinance struck down. That ordinance made it illegal to even argue with a police officer while they were doing their job. That fight stemmed from Hill intervening on behalf of a friend he felt was being unfairly questioned by police.
"There are very few people who can say they had a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and fundamentally changed how people interact with the police department," Parker said.
With his health failing, Hill said he takes comfort in knowing he always stayed true to his convictions.
"I tried to always do what was right," he said.
Hill has said he would like his funeral to be held on the steps of City Hall, the same spot where he fought so many battles over decades.