Don and Bill: Love, Laughs, and LegacyBy Shane Stahl • February 14, 2020 • 10:07 am
“Don’s been in an accident.”
That was the text Bill Moore received.
Before he had the chance to process these five words clearly, the Dallas Police were at his door. They told him his friend and former partner Don Zarda had died in a base-jumping accident in Switzerland. That the Swiss Embassy needed to arrange for Bill to go to Geneva. That he’d need to claim Don’s ashes and belongings. And to himself – that his world would never be the same again.
Earlier that morning, Bill had been busy in the kitchen when one of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the room spontaneously broke — from the inside. After reflecting on it days later, Bill realized this had happened just a few minutes before he’d received the devastating text.
“I’ll always think that that was Don saying one last thing to me – ‘Bye.’”
Bill and Don met in 2000, when Don was on his way back to Missouri after spending a season as a skydiving instructor in Texas. He stopped in Dallas and happened to meet Bill —and the sparks were instantaneous.
“We immediately connected – and he didn’t wind up making it home for a bit,” Bill laughed.
For seven years they lived together in a loving, committed relationship. Even after they broke up, they didn’t stop being part of one another’s lives. Don cheered Bill on as Bill fell in love again, this time with the man who would become Bill’s husband, Clint.
“We stopped living together, but we didn’t stop being partners,” Bill explained. “We were each other’s emergency contact. We still had our health insurance together and our car insurance together. We still called each other partners. My husband Clint and I are kindred spirits, and we have an amazing relationship and an amazing life together. I’m glad that he and Don had met a few times before Don’s death – I’m sure Don knows that I’ve been left in good hands.”
One day in 2010, Bill got a call from Don, who was noticeably upset. Don had been fired from his skydiving job at a company called Altitude Express. When completing a tandem jump, he had attempted to put the woman he was paired with at ease by explaining he was gay, after she’d been teased by a friend also participating in the jump.
A few days later Don’s boss said he’d received a complaint from the woman and her boyfriend, saying Don had shared “inappropriate” information regarding his sexuality and came into too-close physical contact with her, despite close physical contact being required of a tandem skydive jump. Don’s boss suspended him for a week, took money from Don’s paycheck to cover the cost of refunding the customer, and when the suspension was done, terminated Don’s employment altogether.
Don filed a lawsuit alleging employment discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. Sadly, he would not live to see the outcome, nor the impact that he would have on all LGBTQ Americans.
After Don passed away, Bill and Don’s sister Melissa made the decision to continue the case in his honor. In 2018, Don’s case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, was decided in an en banc ruling from the 2nd Circuit; the justices ruled that he had been discriminated against and improperly terminated. The company appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who agreed to hear the case alongside two others — R.G. & G.R. Funeral Homes v. EEOC, where a transgender woman was fired on the basis of her transgender identity; and Bostock v. Clayton County, where another gay man was fired on the basis of his sexual orientation. The Supreme Court heard the cases on October 8, 2019. Kasey Suffredini, Freedom for All Americans’ CEO and National Campaign Director, said at the time:
“The Supreme Court has a chance to affirm that all LGBTQ people should be able to work hard and make a living without fear of humiliation, harassment, or discrimination at work.”
“Don frequently told me that he didn’t think he had a purpose in life beyond flying and helping people to fly,” Bill wrote in the Dallas Morning News the week of the argument in Don’s case. “But now, his story and his case are paving the way for all LGBTQ people to fly. I think he would be really proud.”
Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in the cases, it is incumbent upon Congress to act and finish the job of protecting LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in all areas of life. In May of 2019, the House passed the Equality Act, which would provide such protections. Now, it’s time for the Senate to do their job. Click here to send a message to lawmakers to support the Equality Act and tell them to protect all LGBTQ people from discrimination.