United Way Executive Director Raising Matching Funds for Casper Pride to Honor Her Brother
Anna Wilcox, the Executive Director of United Way of Natrona County, is raising funds for Casper Pride in a dollar-for-dollar match, to honor her late brother Josh, whom she lost 20 years ago.
"20 years ago today the world lost one of the greatest human beings, my brother and best friend, Josh Wilcox," Wilcox wrote on her social media page. "I felt like I needed to do something this year, something that would both serve to remember him, as well as something that I know he would do if he were still with us."
So, Anna created the Facebook fundraiser. Her goal was $500. In just twenty hours, with more than 40 donations, the amount raised quadrupled that initial goal.
"January 13th marks the 20th anniversary of his passing and, like every year, I feel like I should do something to remember him, to celebrate him," Wilcox stated. "A few years back, I was invited to join the Board of Directors for Casper Pride. I've definitely shared that I am a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, but I don't know that I've mentioned my brother. However, he was the reason I jumped at the chance to serve."
Wilcox said that when she moved to Caper, she wanted to use her skills and resources to serve her newly chosen community because, when she and her brother were growing up in the 90s, in a small town in Iowa, they didn't have the types of resources that Casper has now.
"I wanted to be a part of creating a space for people like my brother, a space that he did not have the pleasure of enjoying in his lifetime. I've been brought to tears many times when attending Casper Pride events, just wondering how different his life would have been if he had those types of events, or the resources, or the community that has been built here. That's really what drove me to set up the Facebook fundraiser."
WIlcox said that her brother came out shortly after leaving high school. She was living in New York at the time and, during one of their conversations, he opened up to her about who he was. She wasn't surprised.
"Midway through the conversation, he said 'I have to tell you something,'" she remembered. "I already knew. But only because other people had asked me and/or suggested the possibility that he was gay. I waited, though, for him to say it. I told him that I was understanding, but maybe I didn't necessarily understand everything [that went into it]. Within a few months, he flew out to visit and we spent a very long night in the back of an all-night New York City pizza-by-the-slice joint and, with hushed voices, I asked him everything about 'Gay.' And I mean everything! And he answered everything. That was just my way to process and accept, and he knew that."
Coming out as a gay person in the 90s, especially in Wyoming, was not an easy decision for many people. Depending on whom you choose to listen to, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student was killed in 1998, presumably because he was gay. Whether that was the actual reason or not is still hotly debated, but it does not negate the fact that being gay in Wyoming is a struggle. Being gay anywhere is a struggle, really. Not just because of potential hate crimes, either. Coming out as gay immediately opens a person up to a plethora of potential consequences, including being disowned from one's family. Anna said that Josh never had to worry about that. His friends and family supported him, no matter what. But there was still collateral damage that followed him throughout his life.
A couple of years after opening up to his sister at a pizza parlor in New York City, Josh died from an accidental drug overdose.
"My brother did not die 'because he was gay,'" Wilcox shared. "It was not a hate crime. It was not suicide. My brother was very lucky; he had 100% support from me and my parents. He had a solid group of friends who accepted him, and he had his own little LGBTQ+ community. And yet, he still struggled and he still had to navigate a world that did not necessarily accept him as willingly as we did."
Wilcox said that her brother died because, just once, he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person.
"I can't help but think, what if he had been given more 'right places?' More safe places," she said. "What if he had an ART 321 open mic night to attend, or what if he could have gathered with his friends at a downtown public venue to celebrate Pride month? How would his life have been different? What paths could have, or would have, opened up? Would he still be here today, about to turn 41?"
It's hard to tell. Hypotheticals always are. But Wilcox said that organizations like Casper Pride exist for people like her brother; people who may not have anybody else to hold them, to comfort them, to tell them 'You are safe here.' Casper Pride does that. It gives a home to the displaced, a voice to the voiceless. It gives hope and encouragement and empowerment and kindness and compassion and love to people who may not necessarily find that in other aspects of their lives. It's for this reason, Wilcox wanted to raise money. She wanted to do it to honor her brother, but also to honor the organization that best represents his character, his heart.
"Casper Pride and their many partners throughout the community are working hard, year-round, to create those 'right places,' those safe places," Wilcox said. "The fundraiser met and surpassed my initial goal within a few hours and it's still going. So many of those donations are from friends hundreds of miles away from Casper, who know nothing of Casper, but they knew my brother and he meant enough to them to donate in his honor."
Anna misses her brother, every single day. She misses his smile, his laugh, his sense of humor. They say that time heals all wounds, but that's not necessarily true, is it? Some wounds never heal. Some wounds are simply scars, reminding us of love lost, of missed opportunities, of dreams that never had the chance to come true. But even though Josh his gone, his dreams are still being fulfilled. Anna is making sure of that.
"If my brother were here now…I know he would be using his ability to befriend literally anyone as a leader in the LGBTQ community, connecting, influencing and creating much needed space for him and his peers."