Dedication to Heather MacAllister - A Diva, An Ally, A Dear Friend
In the name of the Divine, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
February 14, 2007
Dear friends and loved ones,
Today I found out that a dear and beloved friend succumbed to her 3 year-long battle with ovarian cancer. Some of you may remember Heather MacAllister, a former board member and a wonderful ally of Al-Fatiha. Friends tell us that Heather passed away surrounded by loved ones yesterday, February 13, 2007 in Portland, OR. She would've celebrated another birthday on February 25, 2007. Memorial services are planned across the country for her on that day.
I can't begin to tell you how sad I am today. Heather embodied the persona of a diva, yet she was humble enough to recognize her place as an ally within communities she wanted to learn more about and to support. Heather was first introduced to Al-Fatiha in 2001 when she attended a conference held in San Francisco, CA. She came to represent the Triangle Foundation, the state-wide Michigan LGBT organization, based in Detroit. Heather was the state-wide organizer for Triangle Foundation at the time and was eager to engage the Muslim and Arab communities in Dearborn, home to the largest Arab community outside the Middle East.
I can still remember the day that I met Heather. She was full of passion and energy and ready to engage Muslims and Arabs in her state on LGBT issues. Heather knew that she needed to learn more about the sensitive culture in which she wanted to work within; that is what brought her to Al-Fatiha and the conference in San Francisco.
Recognizing Heather's enthusiasm and eagerness, I asked her to join the board of Al-Fatiha. Heather was humbled that I'd even ask. But knowing that she had much to offer to the queer Muslim community as an ally, she said yes. Heather became the first non-Muslim ally to join the board of directors of the only national organization dedicated to LGBTIQ Muslims. Many of her colleagues didn't understand why and some within Al-Fatiha also questioned her role within the organization. Nontheless she overcame the obstacles and became one of the best board members Al-Fatiha has ever had.
Heather knew what it meant to be an ally to an organization working with disenfranchised people. She understood that she needed to learn as much as she could as quickly as she could. Heather absorbed so much information, cultural nuances and knowledge in such a short amount of time. She became Al-Fatiha's best ally advocating for the organization and for the queer Muslim and Arab communities wherever she traveled to - asking people to learn more about Islam, the diverse Muslim communities in the United States, and to examine US foreign policy and its impact on LGBT people in other countries.
Heather will be remembered for so many things. Her passion for burlesque; her unabashed sexual desires; her advocacy on behalf of overweight and fat people (she was proud to call herself fat); her proud collection of tatoos on her body; and her belief in social justice for all oppressed and marginalized people.
I last saw Heather about three years ago, when she was first diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. She had gone through many sessions of chemo-therapy and was very exhausted - physically and emotionally. Heather recounted her days with Al-Fatiha to me, wondering how long she would have in this world. She was a fighter for sure and she fought her cancer with all her energy. She spoke to me about how lucky she was living in San Francisco and being able to access healthcare, even though she didn't have a job and was staying with friends at the time. Even in her condition Heather was well-aware and concious of her privelege living in this country. That is the kind of person Heather was - always thinking about others before herself, but recognizing her important role in this world as well.
Heather and I had tea together. I brought her flowers which she put into a vase in her small room which she shared with her friends. I didn't know what to tell her. She didn't want sympathy. She wanted her friends and loved ones to recognize how difficult it is to live with cancer and to survive on a daily basis, relying on others for everything - cooking food, cleaning the apartment and taking her for chemo-therapy and her doctor's appointments. I told Heather it'd be ok. Deep down inside I didn't know if it would be. I also felt helpless, myself without a job.
Al-Fatiha supported Heather as much as we could. This is what our zakaat fund was for and we made sure she got a check to cover one month's worth of expenses. I wish we could've done more. I always did.
Heather - I'm sorry I didn't see you again. You were in my thoughts and prayers. Your soul and your light will continue to guide so many people that had the honor of being part of your life. Your life will be celebrated and remembered for years to come. Your many outfits, your many boa feather scarfs, your many wigs and all your make up will be showcased at burlesque shows held in your honor.
Wherever you are Heather - I know you are at peace now. I wish I could've said good-bye in person; but I know that you will be in my heart and near my soul forever.
To Heather MacAllister - a life filled with extraordinary experiences, sassiness, divaness, queerness and most of all love!
I miss you Heather - Keep a chair warm for me, ok? And don't forget to save a dance or two for me.
More information about Heather and dates for memorial services across the country can be found at http://spinsterdesign.com/bigfatlove/