Friends celebrate the life and memory of LGBTQ activist Ceci Gratias

Cecilia “Ceci” Gratias was most at home in coffee shops — late-night meetings over food and drinks brainstorming about the future and how to make the world a better place, Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said.

For 20 years, she devoted herself to public service.

Her most precious cause: enhancing the lives of LGBTQ people in Austin and around the world.

She worked until the day she died, friend Debbie Love said, on Nov. 5 from cancer. She was 53.

“She is the best person I have ever known — her warmth, her love, her openness,” Flannigan, a longtime friend, said Sunday afternoon at a memorial service for Gratias outside City Hall. “She was able to build bridges across communities that no one else could build. She walked into a room and everybody instantly loved her. People who themselves never could agree could at least agree how great Ceci was, as a person and a community leader.”

READ: The very model of a role model: Ceci Gratias

Dozens huddled under cloudy skies dressed in purple, Gratias’ favorite color, wiping tears from their eyes. In the background, the sound of car horns blared, which Flannigan called “fitting.” “There’s something appropriate (about) celebrating her life in the middle of a community that doesn’t know they have benefited by her.”

For two decades, Gratias brought visibility to LGBTQ rights in the city, working with the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce by first organizing Pride parades and festivals and then serving as the chamber’s president and CEO. She set up a scholarship foundation that was responsible for sending many people to college.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, Gratias left the chamber but continued to work for the community, joining Flannigan, who was elected to the City Council in 2016, in his District 6 office as constituent relations director.

“She was a behind-the-scenes, get-things-done kind of person,” Flannigan said. “One of the hardest things for me is knowing how many other things we talked about that were going to come next. … It feels like the moment we reached the mountaintop, it was the end of the road.”

GONE TOO SOON: Read Gratias’ obituary and share your memories and condolences

At the ceremony, Austin Mayor Steve Adler read a proclamation in Gratias’ honor, remarking on her rich life “dedicated to kindness, social justice, peace, humility, public service and the rights of individuals to live and love in truth.”

After the ceremony, attendees marched amid the sound of horns up Congress Avenue and along Fourth Street, honoring the activism and social justice that had typified her life. The procession ended in a reception at Oilcan Harry’s, a well-known LGBTQ nightspot downtown, where those closest to her danced and shared memories.

Gratias, who was born in the Philippines, found her home in Austin. She volunteered with numerous organizations, including OutYouth, Human Rights Campaign Austin and LifeWorks’ homeless youth program. Her friends described her as a no-nonsense person who could warm anyone with her infectious giggle.

She was a devoted Catholic and died with a rosary in hand.

Gratias will be honored later this month by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Washington for her legacy.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

What a difference a year makes for 2016 Season for Caring recipients
What a difference a year makes for 2016 Season for Caring recipients

Liliana De La Paz Carrillo says nowadays she feels much more at ease. Last year, the mother of two young sons worried about being able to provide a stable place to live for them. De La Paz Carrillo and her husband, Juan Martínez Domínguez, purchased a mobile home in 2007 and made payments for years before they found out they didn&rsquo...
State trooper who took photo with Snoop Dogg sues DPS officials again
State trooper who took photo with Snoop Dogg sues DPS officials again

A state trooper is suing 18 different Department of Public Safety officials a second time, alleging that they retaliated against him after he sued them the first time and that documents about him were tampered with. Trooper Billy Spears was reprimanded in the spring of 2015 for taking a photo with rapper Snoop Dogg. Spears was...
Police detain two after East Austin burglary reported 
Police detain two after East Austin burglary reported 

Officers have detained two people after a burglary was reported in East Austin, police said. The incident was reported in the 4700 block of Ribbecke Avenue. Officers formed a perimeter around the area before ultimately detaining two people, police said. The investigation is still ongoing, police said.
Man accused of abandoning 6-year-old son in Georgetown hotel room
Man accused of abandoning 6-year-old son in Georgetown hotel room

A man is accused of leaving his 6-year-old son alone in a Georgetown hotel room and not returning, an arrest affidavit said. Gregory Flores, 45, of Georgetown was charged with abandoning or endangering a child, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in jail. An employee of the Days Inn at 333 North Interstate 35 in Georgetown told police...
H-E-B’s annual Feast of Sharing serves food, fun for free
H-E-B’s annual Feast of Sharing serves food, fun for free

People — some to serve, some to be served — poured into the Palmer Events Center on Tuesday afternoon for H-E-B’s annual Feast of Sharing. Diners were greeted by smiling volunteers and the smells of a Thanksgiving meal, as well as H-E-B’s mascot, H‑E‑Buddy, a giant grocery bag that gave high-fives and hugs to families...
More Stories