Matt Chisling, A Gay Man for All Seasons

Matt Chisling

(January 02, 1929 – November 03, 2020)

Yesterday afternoon in the middle of election angst I received a call from our friend Garner who told me another friend of ours, Matt Chisling, had passed. Although the call was not unexpected, it was ironic Matt died on election day because at 91 years of age he never lost either his enthusiasm for democracy or his passion for the Democratic Party.

Pretty and I met Matt in the early 1990s at the beginning of his LGBTQ activist life following his retirement from a marketing career with Casual Corner that spanned decades. Matt was in his sixties at the time, but his energy and devotion to the queer community in South Carolina was an inspiration to all.

Matt was one of 21 individuals whose stories appeared in Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2017. As a tribute to Matt’s service in our community, I am including blurbs from his piece in the book.

“I was brought up in Birmingham, Alabama, a city where yes, there was a gay bar; but in order to go down there, I would put on a raincoat and a big-brimmed hat and hide my eyes under the hat. You covered yourself up because you never knew who was watching – whether there was a plainclothesman in a car outside taking pictures or something. You didn’t know, but Ben and I used to go. There was good music and good drinks, and they were cheap in those days. Down the road a piece there was a city called Atlanta which developed far faster and much greater than Birmingham. Once that got developed, I could always go to Atlanta to a bar with Ben, especially if it was a bar that had a musical event or dancers, as we might say. We would go.”

Matt was a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in political science and journalism. After college he entered the US military where he served in the Korean War from 1951 – 1953 as part of the army that exchanged artillery fire on the 38th. Parallel. “I was not an enthusiast of military life,” he recalled.

Matt and Ben’s story was not unusual for gay men in the mid-twentieth century. They never lived together but continued their loving relationship from their late teens until Ben died from cancer when he was sixty-two years old, two years after Matt retired from Casual Corner.

“My activism in the gay community started after I retired because I had the time and was interested in the social aspect of the organizations at first. A lot of the organizing in South Carolina started with basically sociability…I don’t think the groups had some grand idea of developing a fighting army to take on the discrimination in the world. I think they got started as purely a social place to go and talk to people of your own thinking. At least, it was for me, and then I wanted more.”

Two grassroots organizations were happy to offer Matt “more” than he probably had in mind. He served on the board of directors for the AIDS Benefit Foundation for many years and successfully chaired their Annual Dining with Friends fundraiser during his board tenure. He also became active as the chair of the membership committee for the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Business Guild for more than 15 years.

“In those grassroots organizations, you have to find a niche where you can do some good. There were two things I was fairly decent at: one was raising memberships, the other was raising money. For nonprofit organizations like that, those are the two things they cherish.”

Memberships and money were certainly movers of the movement, but nonprofit organizations also cherished the volunteers who worked tirelessly to find the people and resources to keep them viable, vibrant. Matt Chisling was one such volunteer. Pretty and I both admired his dedication and long-term commitment to causes that changed the course of history for LGBTQ people in the state of South Carolina from the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s to marriage equality in 2014.

Matt loved his mother,  his partner Ben, his friends – both gay and straight – his community.  Pretty and I loved Matt. We will miss this Jewish man who had fun at Christmas bringing gifts he wrapped in gorgeous paper with lovely big bows. We will miss our talks with him on the latest movies and his opinions on well, just about everything.

“This business of growing old, sitting around your condominium, even thought it’s a nice place to sit around, gets…I can’t do that…I enjoy being with people. I have to have something that fills my day, that fills my time, and that fills my mind.”

We enjoyed being with you, too, Matt. Rest in peace.


Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Matt Chisling, A Gay Man for All Seasons

  1. Bob Slatten says:

    Carlos and I met Matt many years–what LGBTQ+ person in SC DIDN’T know Matt–and we adored him. Funnyman; sweet man; bawdy man, I remember him best sitting in our sunroom and telling the greatest stories.
    RIP dear sweet friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t realize you and Carlos knew Matt, but then you’re right – what person in our community didn’t know Matt!
      Thank you so much for these words, Bob. Matt was one of a kind.


  2. Bonnie Foster says:

    Matt was part of my family. My grown kids remember meeting him at Casual Corner where he would rate our clothes (I usually received a D+). He was always a part of our holidays and birthdays. When he was in assisted living, I took him (and my mom) to dinner on Sunday, usually horrible places like Waffle House… I saw him about a week before we lost him at the nursing home.
    Your comment was so beautiful.
    Thank you…He will really be missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. M.B. Henry says:

    Sounds like a wonderful person – so sorry for your loss

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Neal Clark says:

    Hey Shelia….. David and I were pleased to read your tribute to our dear dear friend Matt. We met Matt at a party in Atlanta that was given by a mutual friend. He heard someone mention Columbia and he marched into the middle of our conversation which began our long friendship which has lasted 36 years. Shortly after that meeting I was transferred to Columbia and we became 2 nieces of Aunt Matishka. We fondly remember Matt’s 70th birthday bash downtown Columbia at “The Big Apple” where you were part of our musical tribute to him.
    What a great party! We will remember him fondly and will always cherish our loving memories of a very dear friend and loved one. Hope all is well with you!
    Neal Clark and David Foster

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Neal and David, thank you so much for the comments and for reminding me of our musical salute at the Big Apple! That was a great party!
      Your story of the way you met Matt and of your enduring friendship is a reminder of how important our friends have always been to us in the queer community. In many ways our friendships have been the anchors that sustained us when the seas were the roughest.
      Hope you guys are also well – virtual hugs from our home to yours.


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