It was nearly 40 years ago that anti-gay crusader and orange juice lady Anita Bryant helped mobilize the local LGBT community. With Bryant scheduled to perform at the Texas State Bar Association’s gathering at the Hyatt Regency, thousands of gay rights activists, wearing black armbands with pink triangles, marched through downtown Houston on June 16, 1977. Some have since called the march Houston’s own Stonewall moment.
Seeing how many people the community could turn out for a protest, the following year LGBT rights activists decided to throw a party in Montrose instead. Houston’s Pride parade was born.
This Saturday, Houston’s LGBT community will again March downtown. Pride Houston, the local nonprofit that has thrown the city’s Pride celebration for over 30 years, announced in October that Pride would leave its decades-long home in Montrose. The decision riled many in the LGBT community who said the move was abrupt, unexpected and done with little to no community input.
Thus began a series of tense meetings at the Montrose Center as Pride Houston committee members struggled to defend the move downtown. First, there was the obvious scheduling conflict to address: Pride Committee members had rescheduled Pride festivities for Juneteenth weekend. After a number of cringe-worthy exchanges with black members of the gay community, Pride committee members effectively admitted they didn’t know what Juneteenth was and acquiesced, re-rescheduling the parade for the last weekend in June.
Still, for some folks the decision to move Pride downtown has tainted this year’s celebration. “I find myself floundering somewhat because it is that time of the year and my community should be buzzing with excitement and anticipation, but it’s not,” says Judy Reeves, who chairs and curates the Gulf Coast Archive & Museum of GLBT History and has opposed moving Pride downtown. Reeves says she plans to stay in Montrose Saturday to shop at some local store, see a play at Upstage Theater and then hang out at KPFT after hours. She won’t be going downtown.
Reeves and others who opposed putting Pride downtown argue the move ignores the local LGBT community’s history in Montrose, and the neighborhood’s deep, lasting connection to all things Pride.
Jack Valinski, who hosts the weekly Queer Voices radio show on KPFT, worries that taking Pride out of Montrose adversely impacts the neighborhood that was essential to the formation of a strong LGBT community here in the first place. “I think some people, even if they don’t live here (Montrose), were upset that it’s gone because Pride was part of the Montrose community,” Valinski says.
One of Valinski’s main gripes is how the Pride Committee came to its decision. Many years ago, Valinski says he was involved with Pride when organizers considered whether to hold a night parade. “When we decided to make it a night parade, we took a whole year to talk to the community, to get people’s opinions, to make sure it would work,” he says. “And then we took another whole year to sell it to the community.”
Most Montrose bar owners, for instance, didn’t know Pride was moving downtown until an hour or so before Pride Houston made its official announcement back in October. Valinski says he couldn’t even get Pride Committee members to come on his radio show to explain and defend the move downtown. So eventually Valinski started working with a number of Montrose bar owners to set up a second, “alternative” Pride parade centered in the neighborhood this year. The plans stalled when they couldn’t get a needed city permit.
“Depending on how things go this year, we might still try that again next year,” Valinski says.
Pride Houston president and CEO Frankie Quijano insists that logistics alone were enough reason to move Pride downtown this year. Quijano says that 10 years ago, when he first became involved with Pride, festival attendance was about 75,000. Last year, nearly half a million people overwhelmed Montrose streets during Pride.
“The added space alone gives us many opportunities to expand the event,” Quijano says. This year, for instance, Pride will have two main stages for performers instead of one. The festival’s “family fun zone,” which in the past, Quijano says, “was, in reality, very small…just a few tents,” is being expanded to offer more space and activities specifically for kids. Quijano also says this year’s festival will have misting stations.
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And Quijano says entries for the parade have actually gone up this year. At this point last year, there were some 110 groups signed up to participate in the parade. Quijano says Pride had to close registration this week now that they’re maxed out with more than 130 groups signed up to walk or drive floats down the parade route.
But it’s not just about size. Since announcing the move downtown, Quijano has said that Pride needs to move past being a “segregated community” or event. Quijano hopes that each year, as Pride grows, it becomes a more inclusive, “mainstream” celebration that draws people from all over.
“Change is never easy, no matter what form it takes, and Montrose will always be Montrose and will always be at the center of our hearts,” Quijano tells the Press. “But we also have to look and notice that with time we’re changing and we’re evolving as a community. We’re becoming a little bit more mainstream. …We are a community that lives across Greater Houston. We take all that into consideration, not just one neighborhood.”