Houston 101: The Lesbian Bar That Shut Up HPD

The 1960s weren't a very pleasant time to be gay or lesbian for most people, but especially in Houston. Somehow the Bayou City wasn't as accepting of alternative lifestyles as it is today (and we're not saying it's Nirvana today.)

Police raids of gay bars were common. Common but bizarre, in the case of lesbians.

City ordinance Number 28.42-4 prohibited cross-dressing, and HPD and the courts interpreted that to mean -- believe it or not -- that a woman wearing pants with a zipper or a fly front was cross-dressing and could be arrested.

"Police would come into a bar and all the women would dash to the bathroom and come out with their pants turned around," longtime gay activist Ray Hill tells Hair Balls. "They'd waddle out with their Levi's with the zipper in the back, and it wasn't a pretty sight."

One of the most well-known lesbian bars at the time was the Roaring Sixties, on Shepherd north of Fairview.

The place featured "checkered tablecloths, crimson drapes, and ruby walls," according to Rebels, Rubyfruit & Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South, a study of long-ago gay life by James T. Sears.

It was owned by Rita Wanstrom and opened in 1967. Shortly after it was raided.

Instead of meekly going along, bar patrons decided to fight. In court. They held fundraisers and hired the legendary Percy Foreman as their attorney.

First, Hill says, a bunch of women wearing zippered pants (Quelle scandale!!!) went to the washateria at the other end of the strip mall that included the Roaring Sixties. Someone called them in to HPD.

"Well, if they go back to the bar, give us a call," the dispatcher responded, showing the law was being enforced arbitrarily.

Knowing they faced a stiff legal challenge, the department punted. None of the cops involved in the arrest showed up for the trial, and the charges were dismissed.

It wasn't until 1980, though, that the ordinance was repealed, and even then it took some political sleight-of-hand to get the change without riling conservatives, as well-known activist Phyllis Frye related here.

The Roaring Sixties didn't survive long, except in people's minds. Today the site is home to a bland office building and parking garage.

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