Slain Gay Hospital Worker Remembered as Hero in Georgia

DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias posted the following story on his blog that I think is worth repeating, told to him by a friend named Joel Kelly.

Harris“On Thursday afternoon in Columbus, Georgia, as reported here, a man entered Doctor’s Hospital, shot and killed two hospital workers and then another man in the parking lot on his way out before he was apprehended. My boyfriend Kevin Perry works at the hospital on the floor where the shootings took place and was at work when this happened. I knew both of the nurses that were killed. They were two of Kevin’s closest friends. A couple of things which I feel are important to say…one of which is that the second person who was shot and killed was gay. Not that this particular fact is noteworthy in and of itself…but I would like to say that Les Harris was shot in the face while he was trying to wrest the gun out of the hands of the shooter. The man was trying to kill a young woman and Les gave his life in order to save her. We don’t often hear about gay heroes . . . too often stories in which our humanity is front and center are lost in the chorus of the Christian Right. We deserve these stories to be told. The second part of this and the reason that I am sending this to you is to let you know that his partner, Keith Cavender, another nurse at the same hospital, was unable to secure his partner’s personal belongings, was kept from seeing him before and immediately following his death, and of course will receive none of the benefits due our heterosexual counterparts. Common human decency is not a privilege accorded us under current law. Please let the powers that be in the Party know that we desperately need to win back the White House and let everyone know that we have heroes among us.”

While Cavender’s version of events is slightly different, and he was of course, there (he says Harris was shot in the heart and describes being with Harris immediately before and after the events), their story is powerful and a gay partner’s rights in hospital situations is still something that needs to be addressed in many places.

Cavender spoke to WTVM about his partner’s last moments: “He gave me a kiss and said I love you and I told him I love you back. And those were the last words we ever had.”

April 1 [andrew tobias]
Partner remembers Doctor’s Hospital shooting victim, Leslie Harris [WTVM]
Co-workers share memories []


  1. says

    That is just awful sad news. I will never comprehend the minds of people who calleously slain a human being! Terrible tragedy! xox

  2. says

    I hope Cavender’s version is correct, but the other still has merit based on how we are treated.
    What a horrible event – my heart goes out to them all.

  3. JerzeeMike says

    This is heartbreaking. I, too, am a nurse in a hospital in NJ where gays have a certain amount of rights to see their “partner” (God, I hate that term). It is an unfortunate reality that gay citizens can and are stumped by the bureaucracy hospitals create when trying to deal with unspecified government policies. In a state like NJ where I have full rights to visitation with my “husband” the hospitals here fall right into line with the state laws. However, if we travel next door to Pennsylvania, no matter how long we’ve been together either of us can and will be banned from the other’s bedside by the hospital if those are the wishes of the family or the policy of the hospital that family only may visit or obtain information.

    This is the reason we must push and push hard for Federal recognition of our relationships. There are too many stories of our loved ones being pushed aside because equality ends at the border from state to state. Nowhere was that story brought more home than the one of the Oregon lesbian couple where one suffered an aneurysm while on vacation in Florida. Their partnership was recognized in Oregon but not in Florida and the surviving partner and their children were denied visitation even after her death. Florida officials wouldn’t even release the body to her “partner.”

  4. peterparker says

    Someone needs to find out what really happened…was Cavender allowed to see his husband before he died…or did the hospital keep him away because he wasn’t, in the eyes of the law, family? It looks bad that the DNC treasurer is reporting that the two men were kept apart while Cavender, who was there, is saying that he was with his husband while he died. Given that they both worked at the same hospital, I find it difficult to believe that Cavender was kept from seeing Harris as Harris lay dying. Of course there is no disputing that Cavender will be unable to secure any of the other benefits that the surviving spouse in a heterosexual couple would enjoy.

  5. Sebastian says

    May he rest in peace and his loved ones find some solace in this senseless crime. And, we have to get these basic human rights that “other” couples have, even the ones who aren’t married have more rights than the average gay couple.

  6. says

    Yes, this is a sad event for anyone to go through; it truly is. My partner died unexpectedly and tragically, however we made wills that detailed each and everything (hospital visits, funeral home etc) that we wanted to happen between us. Each and every one of his “wishes” was followed via his will. I have all of his personal effects from clothes to art work. There is no challenging these matters once they have been made known legally. Also it is important that you share these things with the bank and a law agency.

    Far too many gay men whether single or straight do not have a will that outlines each and every detail which includes belongings, hospital visits, charge of the body etc. Many of us have considerable assets and it is important to take time and decide “where and who” these items are going upon our deaths.

    You can wait for the laws in the United States to “catch up” or family members to be understanding and accepting or you can utilize the laws that are present to make the BEST of a horrible situation.

    Now before anyone says that this “cannot” be done; you are wrong. My sister left me in charge of her personal wishes (her husband was aware of this and they devised these together) when she died and while I was not cruel or distant to her husband no decision was made without my consent. She knew that he would not be able to handle certain aspects of her death. Sadly she was proven right.

    Also it is important to update your will as needed. I update my will every 2 years have it notarized and placed with the agency.

    A will is the mature and responsible thing to do to honor and cherish your partner and the life you have made together.

    Remember: do not ask the wrong person to do the right thing.

  7. peterparker says

    I don’t know how many people clicked through to read the report about this incident in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, but the report was stunning in the short shrift it gave to reporting the life Leslie Harris and Keith Cavender made together.

    After describing the scenario in which two nurses, Leslie Harris and a heterosexual man named Pete Wright, were shot and killed in the hospital, the article goes into detail about Pete Wright’s life: accolades from co-workers, description of his military duty, story about how he was severely burned on a job site and subsequent recuperation at Doctor’s Hospital which led to an interest in nursing, reaction statement from his wife, a tidbit about what he, his wife and their daughter did on Easter Sunday (they went hiking), a mention of some of Wright’s hobbies (the outdoors, motorcycles), a statement that Wright’s parents and siblings were with Wright’s wife the day after the shooting, and a comment that “…the Wright home in Harris County is still reeling from the news”.

    Meanwhile, there are 4 statements from hospital staff about their relationships with Harris. There is a statement that Harris was ‘one of the most popular people on the fourth floor’. And there was ONE statement about Harris and Cavender’s life together! It reads as follows: “Harris and his partner, Keith Cavender, commuted to Columbus every day from LaGrange.”

    On one hand, I’m not surprised at the coverage. I grew up near Columbus, Georgia. The entire area is a redneck backwater. And yet, at the same time, I’m amazed that they were so blatant in the disparity between the way in which they reported the life of the heterosexual nurse and the way they reported the life of the homosexual nurse. At least they didn’t describe Cavender as Harris’ “roommate”.

  8. Zeke says

    Sorry CHARLES but it categorically INCORRECT that a will (even one put together by an attorney and well known to everyone) can’t be challenged and overturned. They can be and they all too ofter are challenged by family members. I have personal friends who went through such a challenge even though they spent THOUSANDS of dollars trying to protect themselves. You gave an example of a how tight these documents are by citing a will that was unchallenged. The fact of the marer is an immediate family member who has had NOTHING to do with a person for years can swoop in a challenge every single aspect of a will and even if they don’t “win” the case they can cost the survivor more money in trying to have it executed than the estate was worth in the first place.

    I agree that we should take every precaution that we can until we afforded legal relationship rights but it is unacceptable and dangerous for you to spread such misinformation about how air tight these precautions are.

  9. Roy says

    I am from Columbus, Georgia and I can tell you that the city is probably one of the most backward thinking cities in the USA. Rev Phelps would be happy to call that home… I knew Mr. Harris and he and his partner were the nicest people you would ever want to meet. I know that the two stories differ, but I can tell you that Mr. Harris died trying to save the lives of others. He was just that kind of person… I will miss him deeply.

  10. Roy says

    I am from Columbus, Georgia and I can tell you that the city is probably one of the most backward thinking cities in the USA. Rev Phelps would be happy to call that home… I knew Mr. Harris and he and his partner were the nicest people you would ever want to meet. I know that the two stories differ, but I can tell you that Mr. Harris died trying to save the lives of others. He was just that kind of person… I will miss him deeply.