Houston has become a fairly welcoming environment for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, though the struggle for tolerance and acceptance was many decades in the making. In the current Throughout! Houston’s GLBT History exhibit at The Heritage Society, photographs, posters, mementos, costumes, films and lectures serve as important historical reminders of how far we’ve come as a society.
Within the exhibit, view a T-shirt with the phrase, “Louie, Don’t Shoot!” from the famous incident in 1985 when mayoral candidate Louie Welch thought his microphone was off and joked that to “shoot the queers” would be an effective solution to AIDS. While Welch did serve as mayor from 1964-1973, he was unable to dislodge sitting Mayor Kathy Whitmire after this incident. As a fitting counterbalance, the exhibit contains images of a young Annise Parker in her rise through politics and 2009 mayoral win; she was one of the first openly gay mayors of a major U.S. city.
There are serious moments in the exhibit, such as memorabilia from the AIDS memorial quilt, a poster from the 1979 march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights, Anita Bryant’s 1977 drive against gays, and Gary John Van Ooteghem’s discharge from public employment for being a gay rights advocate. A display case of scout uniforms serves to remind us that openly gay adults are still prohibited from the Boy Scouts of America.
For the most part, however, the exhibit is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for anybody who has visited or lived in Montrose and experienced “the Greenwich Village of Houston.” The landmark bar Mary’s, Naturally, which was known for its collection of GLBT history, is well represented with the Gay Street sign, bar tops covered with yellowed photographs of customers, and a collection of black leather vests behind a bar rug from Mary’s.
The exhibit includes a sparkly silver vest and coral shirt worn by Jim Carper, who served as the 19th Grand Marshal of the Houston LGBT Pride Celebration; a poster of Wendy Chicago, our “oldest living drag queen;” a kimono worn by Robert Yale during a Miss Camp America competition in 1985; and a court vest designed and worn by Bill O’Rourke as a member of Houston’s Imperial Court. Leather does abound and, in addition to the grouping of vests, there’s a leather mask from Misfits Ball, which was established in 1999 as a fundraiser for local and primarily GLBT charities.
Evening lectures are planned in association with the exhibit, covering titles such as “Supreme Court Rulings and the Effects on Houston’s GLBT Community,” “A Renaissance of Riches: Houston’s Gay Theater in the 1980s,” “The History of the Houston GLBT Caucus” and more. Lectures are planned for June 10 and 24, July 15 and 29, August 12 and 19, and September 9; they all begin at 7 p.m. and admission is $5.
Throughout! Houston’s GLBT History continues through September 19 at The Heritage Society Museum Gallery, 1100 Bagby, open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 713-655-1912, heritagesociety.org. Free.