LGBT

Putting the G in LGBTQ: Meet The 'Mayor Of Montrose'

Houston gets a double dose of pride starting with this weekend's New Faces of Pride festival and parade.
Houston gets a double dose of pride starting with this weekend's New Faces of Pride festival and parade. Photo by Sam Byrd
June is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, often regarded as the tipping point in the modern gay rights movement and earning its recognition as Pride Month. Houston Press met with members of the LGBTQ community to learn more about their experiences belonging to this group. These are their stories.

At 78 years young, openly gay Houstonian Dennis Beedon has been there, seen that and lived to tell the tale. The septuagenarian has been one of the key behind-the-scenes players with some of the most influential movers and shakers in Houston in an effort to benefit the LGBTQ community as well as Houstonians writ large.

While he may not have been born in Texas, Beedon got here as soon as he could (after growing up in Chicago, serving a stint in the U.S. Army, and living in Puerto Rico and Florida), and he picked up the moniker as the "Mayor of Montrose" amongst his inner circle because of his status in the neighborhood - or "gayborhood," as he might call it.

How he earned that title is really where the story begins, and living his truth, especially when it comes to his sexuality, has been a tenet that he has never shied away from.

"I was out to everybody, including my family and friends, since I was relatively young, give or take my military career," he said. "I knew that I was gay during the military because I had a boyfriend when I was in the army, but I never never had any issues with anything LGBTQ during my time. My mind and openness really set in place when I moved to Houston, though, and that is because I lived in Montrose. I was exposed to everything and everybody during that period of time, both positive and negative in the sense of how Montrose was back in 1979 to 1981. I mean, it was pretty decadent."

Montrose -- known nowadays for its eclectic cafes, coffee shops, bars, nightlife, restaurants and the rest -- holds a rich history of being a safe haven for Houston's LGBTQ community when the times were more or less as less pleasant for the queer community. It was also a place where the queer community felt free to live their life proudly, no matter how demure or flashy it might have appeared to outside eyes.

The small in stature but mighty in voice Beedon followed suite. He did not let the fickle finger of popular opinion about the queer community sway him during his new beginnings in Houston. In fact, it's where he found his passion for community involvement.

That was also shortly before the outbreak of what is now known as HIV/AIDS, which galvanized Beedon's determination to make a difference. He left his job in the insurance industry and answered the calling to community service.

"I went to work for what was then still being put together, The Assistance Fund, [which consisted of] five gentlemen who were donating $500 a month each into a general fund," Beedon said. "Because HIV was becoming so widely known as well as the issues created from it, those that were stricken with that illness were being fired from work. These five gentlemen were making $500 donations each month in into a general fund, and then they were paying for the COBRA insurance for those that were fired from their positions because of HIV just to keep their medical insurance covered."

Part of his passion for battling the spread and stigma of HIV/AIDS stemmed from his own personal experience. Beedon had witnessed the public shock of Rock Hudson's death as well as the uproar over the game of musical chairs played by various funeral homes regarding Liberace's body -- both of whom passed away due to complications from the virus.

However, over the course of his years, Beedon has seen healthcare progress to the point that an HIV diagnosis is no longer the death knell it formerly was. Instead, people are now living full and healthy lives thanks to breakthroughs in medication partnered with a healthy lifestyle.

"It's progressively gotten much, much, much better, in fact, to the point I was [in a relationship] with somebody for my first 21 years of living in Houston who was stricken with HIV."

Because of his involvement through various initiatives to promote awareness of and testing for HIV, which largely took place in the Montrose neighborhood, Beedon earned his now unforgettable nickname as the "Mayor of Montrose."

"In the clubs, I would run into people who would visit me at The Assistance Fund. Automatically, the connection was quite obvious of why they were at The Assistance Fund ... it's because they were looking for testing and for dollars to get medication. So they would approach me at the clubs and pull me to the side, and they would say, 'I have a friend. Would you please talk to him or her, because they won't go to a clinic to get tested.'" he said. "So, I would approach whomever they were talking about, counsel them and bring them into The Assistance Fund."

Because of his motherly nature, he earned the additional nickname "Mother of Montrose." To examine the initials, it fittingly spells "mom." But it's also because he was well connected to local dignitaries.

"They called me the Mayor of Montrose, or mom, because I was getting things done for them. I actually could go downtown and see the mayor of Houston, whoever that was at the time, and get some things done rather quickly," he said.

Since then, the name has stuck, as has his involvement in LGBTQ causes. One of his most recent endeavors is volunteering with the New Faces of Pride. The organization's mission is to foster unity, inclusivity and empowerment within the diverse LGBTQ+ community of Houston through year-round events and fundraising initiatives.

It's signature event will be the New Faces of Pride Festival and Parade, with the festival running from noon to 6 p.m., Saturday followed by a parade at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 901 Bagby. Planet Pink!, the official after party, takes place at POST Houston, 401 Franklin until 2 a.m.

The New Faces of Pride's inaugural parade is the first of two pride-related parades this month, which has been a topic of conversation in the LGBTQ community, but Beedon says it is all good.

"The New Faces of Pride has been very well received," he said. "It's a community thing, and that's the focus."

As he slowly approaches 80, Beedon has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

"I've been able to do a few good things in people's lives, and that makes me want to get up every day and keep going. I really am not going to retire, no matter what," he said.

The New Faces of Pride Festival runs from noon to 6 p.m., Saturday followed by a parade at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 901 Bagby. Planet Pink!, the official after party, takes place 9 p.m. - 2 a.m. at POST Houston, 401 Franklin. For information, visit newfacesofpride.org. The festival is free to $250 to attend. The parade is free. Planet Pink! is $25 - $60.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd