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Making Things Perfectly Queer

Ray Hill's tattling one-man show is a microcosm of gay rights in Houston

Gay rights activist Ray Hill has been scandalizing Houstonians for decades. To hear him tell it, his sordid reputation started way back in the '50s when he came out to his friends at Galena Park High School. Who ever heard of such a thing back in those innocent soda-shop days? Or maybe his rep was forged after he graduated, when he dressed himself up and strolled the shadowy downtown streets, calling himself a male prostitute. He quickly discovered he wasn't much of a streetwalker: He "lost 40 dollars and 30 cents" before he'd tricked himself any kind of profit. Not to be detoured from his life of crime, Ray Hill, the "outlaw," adopted other forms of misbehavior.

You can hear the whole tall, tattling tale in his stand-up memoir, Outlaw: Queer Like Ray Hill, running at the Ashland St. Theatre. Of course, the man has been telling his own story for decades on KPFT/90.1 FM with his famous -- or, ahem, infamous -- Prison Show, a sort of lonely-hearts-club call-in program for all those folks with loved ones locked up in the big house. Over the years he has also lobbied for gay rights and made a name for himself as an all-around nudge in the side of anyone who dared to step on his freedom.

Hill names names as he tells the bit about the coin-operated toilets in the basement of the long-forgotten Milby Hotel and the story about his stay in the Ramsey Unit back in 1970 after he was sentenced to "160 years" for burglary. He also gives a rousing commentary concerning the 1977 protest march that was staged when homophobic orange-juice pitchwoman Anita Bryant came to speak at the Hyatt Regency.

The outlaw Ray Hill: Don't step on his gay rights, Bubba.
Ashland St. Theatre
The outlaw Ray Hill: Don't step on his gay rights, Bubba.

Told with a reverent nostalgia for his rabble-rousing, Hill's "outlaw" days sound almost quaint by today's standards. But if anyone marching in the Gay Pride Parade on Saturday, June 24, wants someone to thank for hacking a path through a long, tangled history of repression and violence, see Hill. He'll tell the whole juicy story, including the part about the last five men who spent time in a Texas prison on felony counts of sodomy. He does, after all, have his reputation to maintain.

Outlaw: Queer Like Ray Hill runs through Saturday, July 15, at Ashland St. Theatre, (713)426-3019. $12.

 
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