William H. “Bill” Nelson, prominent LGBT rights leader in Dallas, was born in Galveston, Texas, on March 7, 1949, to William H. and Jean Nelson. His family moved to Florida when he was a child but eventually settled in Dallas. Nelson graduated from W. T. White High School and Southern Methodist University, where he majored in English and French and earned a masters of liberal studies degree. In 1977 he returned to W. T. White as a teacher.
In 1979 he attended a gay rights rally at a park in Dallas and later appeared in a photograph of the event in the newspaper. A W. T. White student recognized him in the paper, and subsequently the Dallas Independent School District attempted to reprimand him for attending the demonstration. Nelson fought the action, and no letter was placed in his personnel file. However, the incident helped push Nelson to assume a greater leadership role in the gay rights movement, and he left the teaching profession to focus on an antiques business that he had established with his domestic partner Terry Tebedo. That same year he appeared before the Dallas Gay Caucus (renamed the Dallas Gay Alliance in 1981) and urged the group to organize a Dallas contingent to attend the National March on Washington for Gay Rights in October.
Nelson’s antique business soon evolved into the Crossroads Market, located at what was becoming known as “The Crossroads,” the intersection of Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street, then (and still in the 2020s) the heart of the LGBT community in Dallas. Opened in 1981, the Crossroads Market soon became a gathering spot for LGBT political activists. During the 1985 holiday season, after learning of persons with AIDS going without food, Nelson and Tebedo began a food collection drive, which evolved into the Dallas Food Pantry.
In 1980 Nelson and leaders of the Dallas Gay Caucus formulated “Project/80,” a plan to elect delegates to the state Democratic convention in order to insert a plank in the party’s platform calling for the repeal of Sec. 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code that made same-sex relations a crime. The state party adopted the plank in the summer of 1980.
In 1983 Nelson and Tebedo created a new organization named the Foundation for Human Understanding, designed to be a parent organization for a number of smaller programs and organizations affiliated with the Dallas Gay Alliance. With the onslaught of HIV/AIDS, the foundation established the AIDS Resource Center, a source for AIDS prevention education, legal resources, a food pantry, and emergency funding. Three years later, the center opened a clinic (later re-named the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic), which provided HIV testing, treatment, and clinical drug trials. The Resource Center, as it is known in the 2020s, is one of the largest centers of its kind in the United States.
Nelson served as president of the Dallas Gay Alliance from 1984 to 1987. He became the second openly gay candidate for Dallas City Council in 1985 and 1987 and amassed 23,000 votes in his second unsuccessful run. After his term as head of the Dallas Gay Alliance ended, he was elected president of the Texas Human Rights Foundation. The Black Tie Dinner honored him with the “Humanitarian of the Year Award” in 1985, and in 1989 the Texas Senate passed a resolution recognizing his many accomplishments as a community leader.
Nelson died of complications from AIDS in Dallas on February 20, 1990, two years after Tebedo’s AIDS-related death.