Re-posted with permission from The Seattle Times. View original article here.
“He was the epitome of a father,” Ingram said. “If you’re stuck on heteronormativity you think of people’s blood children, but ask someone, ‘Was Stephaun your father?’ And hear the response from the people that he loved.”
For decades, Wallace led efforts to expand health access to LGBTQ+ people of color while also serving as a mentor to many people in ballroom by providing support and guidance. Wallace’s chosen son Ricardo Wynn, 35, of Milwaukee, Wis., recalls his father as a visionary for communities of color.
“He used to tell me, ‘We have to change the lens in how we see things and how we encourage people to see things,’” Wynn said. “He opened doors for people like myself and other Black same-gender-loving men to do this work unapologetically.”
Much of Wallace’s passion for social justice stemmed from his upbringing as a Black bisexual teen in Los Angeles during the L.A. riots, a series of protests condemning police brutality in the 1990s, according to Wynn.
“There wasn’t a blueprint for him,” Wynn said. “The level of success that he achieved was important to share so that people who look like us didn’t have to suffer.”
Witnessing the outsized effect of health and racial disparities on Black LGBTQ+ people pushed Wallace to take action. While in Atlanta at 23 years old, Wallace co-founded My Brothaz Keeper, a nonprofit organization focused on STI, HIV and AIDS prevention among Black LGBTQ+ men. He later worked as the deputy director of programs at The MOCHA Center, a health and wellness nonprofit for communities of color, in Rochester, N.Y., New York, in 2008.
In 2013, Wallace moved to Seattle, where he joined the staff of the Legacy Project, a program in the Office of HIV/AIDS Network Coordination at Fred Hutch. Dr. Larry Corey, the organization’s former president and director, recalled Wallace’s infectious laugh and commitment to closing gaps in medicine.
He said Fred Hutch must carry on Wallace’s legacy through its work, “not only in developing safe and effective vaccines against HIV and COVID, but in seeing the equitable distribution and accessibility of these vaccines globally. He would expect no less of us.”
Outside of ballroom and vaccine research, Wallace enjoyed eating seafood, traveling and listening to music at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley and Benaroya Hall, Wakefield and Wynn told The Seattle Times.
"Fred Hutch must carry on Wallace’s legacy through its work... not only in developing safe and effective vaccines against HIV and COVID, but in seeing the equitable distribution and accessibility of these vaccines globally. He would expect no less of us.”
Dr. Larry Corey
Wallace is survived by his brother, Jeremiah; his sister, Krystal; and extended and chosen family members. As a father, Wallace took pride in providing his chosen kids with abundant love, cheering for them at balls or keeping mementos like service booklets from graduation ceremonies.
Wynn, who is the mother of a ballroom chapter in Milwaukee known as The Iconic International House of Mizrahi, said Wallace traveled to the city to celebrate the anniversary of his chapter last year. For Wynn, this marked another moment Wallace poured into his chosen family.
“He said, ‘You’re a true blessing and an example of leadership and family bond,’ ” Wynn said. “I told him, ‘Thank you Dad. I’ve learned … this from the best. Now, I need to pay it forward.’”