Remembering a proud father, combat veteran, and defender of LGBTQ+ rights

The ACLU of South Carolina recently presented its first ever Advocate of the Year Award to the family of the late Eric Childs, who died in a car crash on May 31. ACLU-SC Advocacy Director Josh Malkin wrote the following reflection on Eric’s relentless spirit and open-hearted love for his fellow South Carolinians. 

I don’t remember the first time I met Eric Childs because I can’t imagine my life in South Carolina without knowing him. While I only got to spend a few years with him, I was privileged to watch him develop in his advocacy journey.

Eric started in a supporting role — cheering on his relentlessly fierce wife Jessicka as she travelled the state advocating for the issues that were important to their family.

In time, Eric realized that his voice was absent and needed. Eric was a combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He realized that his voice, the voice of someone who had risked his life for his country, could be powerful in advocacy spaces where the rights and freedoms of marginalized groups were under attack.

Eric standing beside a pickup truck preparing for a Pride parade. The truck has a rainbow flag and a PFLAG Anderson banner on the front with the slogan "Leading with love."

It was entertaining to watch lawmakers respond to Eric. When most saw this bearded mountain of a man wearing flannel and a skullcap approach the podium to testify, they didn’t expect that he was there to defend his transgender son’s right to exist and be seen. The shock was palpable. That whiplash, coupled with his background, always made Eric’s message powerful and impactful. You could see lawmakers listen in a different way.  

To watch Eric advocate was a privilege. To know him personally was a gift. His support and love were unwavering and always present when you needed them the most. On tough days, even days that Eric had no reason to know were difficult, I would get a text saying, “I’m proud of you,” or “You’ve got this.” It was like he had a sixth sense for when I was in need. His ability to always be there led me to place such value on our friendship.  

Imagine my surprise when speaker after speaker at his funeral ceremony described a similar relationship! Impulsively, there was a sense of jealousy, of confusion. How could so many people know about our friendship? By the time the fourth or fifth speaker described their relationship with Eric, my befuddlement was replaced by awe. Eric worked two jobs. He was in school. He was an incredible father and husband. That he found time to be such an amazing friend to so many was inspirational.  

Photo of Eric in a University of Georgia T-shirt with his arm around Josh Malkin's shoulder

In everything he did, Eric embodied passion and love. We at the ACLU of South Carolina were privileged to know him as an advocate and friend.  

Eric, your spirit will always be with us. Anytime someone receives a giant hug when it’s needed most, you’ll be there. Anytime someone puts their arm around a crying stranger, you’ll be there. Anytime someone steps up to a podium to passionately defend the rights of others, you’ll be there.  

On behalf of those of us who believe in defending the civil rights of all South Carolinians, thank you for everything you did and everything you leave behind.  

We love you. We’ll miss you. 

Eric and his family, backs toward the camera, walking toward the South Carolina State House. In the distance, a giant trans pride flag can be seen draped on the State House steps.

Photos courtesy of Jessicka Spearman