Chuck Williams, founder of Williams Institute, dies

Chuck Williams, the founder and namesake of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, died on Wednesday, the LGBTQ+ think tank said Tuesday. Williams was 88.

Brad Sears, the Williams Institute’s founding executive director, announced Williams’ death at a gala awards reception honoring champions in LGBTQ+ advocacy, including Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, Friday night at the 2023 Williams Institute Annual Update Conference.

Chuck Williams’ passing

“All of us are here at the Williams Institute event because 23 years ago, Chuck Williams had the vision and the generosity and the drive and cornered many of you over lunch or dinner to create the Williams Institute, which has had such an incredible impact on all of us in our world,” Sears said as he welcomed guests to UCLA’s Faculty Club, the Advocate reported. 

“I’m really sorry to have to start tonight by telling you that Chuck passed away on (Wednesday) night,” Sears added as a groan washed over the crowd.

“Chuck loved the Institute. You know that. You’ve seen him at every single event that we’ve ever had except this one. This is the first one that he and (his husband Stu Walter) will miss,” Sears said.

Sears joked that Williams “liked to count crowds, so he would be so thrilled that this is our largest event ever, and he would want nothing more than for all of us to carry on.”

On Tuesday, Sears and the Williams Institute released a statement announcing Williams’ passing.

“He was at home and at peace with his partner Stu Walter by his side,” Sears said.

51 years ago Lee Glaze fought police harassment & made gay history

Chuck and Stu witnessed history

Sears also celebrated Williams and Walter’s relationship. The couple met in 1967 on Lake Nacimiento in northern San Luis Obispo County.

“Few today have had relationships that last 56 years. Even fewer relationships have been tested as theirs has been,” Sears said.

Williams and Walters met at a time when gay people were regularly persecuted, though protests at The Black Cat in Silver Lake and The Patch in Wilmington were milestones for the community.

“Every state except Illinois had sodomy laws, and gay men were regularly entrapped by the LAPD and sent for conversion therapy in state hospitals,” Sears said.

“Chuck and Stu risked being arrested, fired, and confined if they were out. But they maintained their relationship through those years, the AIDS epidemic, and through the challenges that eventually come with being survivors and living a long full life.

“I am particularly honored to have witnessed Stu’s incredible strength during the past several months,” Sears said. “He remained Chuck’s principal caregiver until the end, rarely left his side, and kept him comfortable at home.”

Williams died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, Sears told Q Voice News.

Williams Institute origins

In 2001, Williams, Bill Rubenstein, Sears, and UCLA law scholars were the creative minds that helped create The Williams Project. Williams’ $2.5 million donation to the UCLA Law School established the organization.

At the time, no college or university had ever received such a gift to support a gay or lesbian academic program.

In 2006, the Williams Project merged with the Institute of Gay & Lesbian Strategic Studies to become the Williams Institute.

The Williams Institute conducts rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy. Their mission was to counter the pervasive bias of law, policy, and culture against LGBTQ+ people.

Williams gave more than $20 million to support the institute. His vision was to create an organization to level the playing field for LGBTQ+ people under the law.

The impact

Interdisciplinary research has been a critical component of the group’s mission from the beginning. For example, the institute’s studies evaluated the impact of marriage equality, filed amicus briefs in seminal cases like Lawrence v. Texas, and examined the demographic characteristics of same-sex couples.

The Williams Institute published one of the first data-backed estimates of LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. in 2011. The report shed light on the potential impact of policies and laws on LGBT people nationwide.

For more than 20 years, the Williams Institute has provided expertise to policymakers, legislators, advocates, and the courts. Government agencies have benefited from the advice of Williams Institute scholars in improving LGBTQ+ data collection.

Many of the group’s experts have testified before Congress in hearings about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

Also, the Williams Institute’s reports on the number of same-sex couples raising children were emphasized by Justice Anthony Kennedy during the landmark court case Obergefell v. Hodges, in which marriage equality was granted in the U.S.

Its staff of 25 experts includes economics, public health, demographics, public policy, psychology, and law specialists. The organization has a budget of more than $4.5 million annually, according to its website.

Sears said a memorial service is being planned for June, and details will be announced in the coming weeks.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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