Five Great Moments In Houston's Gay History

Gays, lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, transsexuals and their friends will be marching in the 2009 Houston Pride parade Saturday night (this year's theme is "Out for Justice").

To add to the festivities, we thought we'd recap some of the highlights of Houston's GLBT history.

1958: Ray Hill came out
Hair Balls could have easily filled our top five list of Houston GLBT moments with Ray Hill achievements alone, but we thought we'd go back to what started it all. In 1958 (which in gay history years is a couple of centuries ago), Hill came out -- at Galena Park High School.

Coming out can be extremely difficult for students today; 50 years ago it was life-threatening. Hill kicked down the closet door decades before it was cool -- or safe -- to do so.

Since then, he's been Houston's resident queer. Besides co-founding most of the city's GLBT organizations, Hill has also been the plaintiff in several landmark court cases, including Houston v Hill 107 S.Ct. 2502. (Hill was arrested for shouting at Houston Police Officers under an ordinance that prohibited anyone from opposing or interrupting a police officer during the execution of their duties. He took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. So next time you shout at a cop and don't get arrested -- thank Hill.)

These days Hill, who hosts The Prison Show on KPFT, is the elder statesman of the Houston GLBT community, a walking encyclopedia of gay history and officiator of all things queer.

1979: Gay Political Caucus endorses its first candidate
Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell remembers: "The then-Gay Political Caucus approached Eleanor Tinsley wanting to endorse her in her race for City Council At-Large Position 2 against 12-year incumbent Frank Mann. Many of the people who worked on her campaign advised her not to take the endorsement, because she would lose a lot of votes. Her response was, 'I believe I will gain more votes than I will lose, and it's the right thing to do. I want to be on the forefront of this civil rights movement.'

"During the campaign," Lovell continues, "her opponent tried to use the endorsement of the Gay Political Caucus against Eleanor by stating that she couldn't be a viable candidate because she had the "Oddwads and Queers" supporting her. T-shirts were promptly printed up with her opponent's phrase, and supporters of Eleanor Tinsley proudly wore them. It turned out to be a great fundraising tool."

Tinsley went on to win her race and made history: She was the first woman ever to win an At-Large Council seat in Houston. Seems those "oddwads and queers" knew how to turn out the vote.

1979: First Pride Parade
Houston City Controller Annise Parker remembers: "I participated in the first Pride Parade in 1979, although I'm not sure many would call it a parade, given the number of people out on the street and that there wasn't a float in sight. The theme was "United We Stand." I honestly did not imagine that it would become one of Houston's largest public events."

Houston's Pride Parade is the largest gay pride event in the Southwest and is the only gay pride parade in the country held at night. (It took a revision of city ordinances in 1997 to allow the parade to be held at night. Parker, then a city council member, was part of that effort.)

But all Parker's memories about the Pride Parade aren't happy. "I remember the murder of Fred Paez on the eve of the 1980 Pride Parade." (A GLBT community activist, Paez was shot and killed by a Houston Police officer.) "We showed our solidarity by wearing black armbands -- a response that was dignified, peaceful, yet also expressed our outrage."

1994: Launch of OutSmart Magazine
While there were GLBT newspapers and magazines in Houston long before OutSmart, most were just vehicles for sexually explicit ads. (Remember TWIT anybody?) OutSmart was Houston's first glossy cover monthly magazine serving the GLBT community that didn't focus on ads of muscular guys suggestively tugging down their bikini underwear or page after page of 'muscle stimulation' massage listings. (Hair Balls notes that the Houston Press proudly has such listings in our print issue.) Under the direction of publisher Greg Jeu, OutSmart does sprinkle in some eye-candy, but it's not the focus of the magazine; instead, it covers local news and politics, social issues and national entertainment. (What a concept!)

2003: Lawrence v Texas 539 U.S. 558
In 1998 Harris County Sheriff's Deputy J. R. Quinn arrested Pasadena resident John Lawrence for having anal sex in his home with an adult consenting male. Quinn was responding to a bogus call about an intruder. After finding Lawrence and his partner committing sodomy, Quinn arrested them for violating Chapter 21, Sec. 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code which prohibits someone from engaging "in deviant sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex." Lawrence took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, where the law was struck down as unconstitutional.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Olivia Flores Alvarez