cocktails on a bar
Credit: Spenser Harrison

Houston's LGBT History

Pride isn't just about the fabulous parties and parade that roll around each June, it is also about boosting the voices of LGBT people and celebrating the community all year long. Many may not be aware, but Houston has a rich history that should be learned and celebrated.

The LGBT community is still under fire with pointless bathroom bills, legislation potentially barring couples from adopting and much more. While those issues can be discouraging, it is important to look back and honor those who led the fight to get us to where we are today and learn from them how to move forward as one.

We worked with local historian and activist JD Doyle who has spent many years chronicling the history of the local community. His website, HoustonLGBTHistory.org, is a treasure trove of information, documents, images and more. Here are some important events from Houston's LGBT past that have shaped the city we love into the place it is today.

March 25, 1954

The first Diana Awards, a nonprofit focused on assisting and supporting the needs of the gay community, is formed. Originally a social group getting together to watch the first televised Academy Awards, The Diana Foundation is the oldest continuously running gay organization in the country and has donated more than $1.6 million to LGBT community charities. 

August 1965

The Albatross, Houston’s first gay publication, begins production and runs until 1968.

June 1967

Rita “Pappa Bear” Wanstrom opens the Houston lesbian club The Roaring Sixties and founds a group called The Tumblebugs who raise money to hire an attorney to defend those who were arrested in a bar raid. The offense… cross dressing because fly front pants was illegal dress for females. The case was dismissed and was the first organized opposition to Houston’s cross dressing law.

1970 

KPFT went on the air and still features programs like After Hours and Queer Voices.

Crowd at Mary's Naturally gay bar in 1971 Houston
Photo courtesy JD Doyle

1971

Mary’s…Naturally, one of the longest continuously open gay bars, opens. It stayed open until 2009 and a tribute to the iconic mural can now be seen upstairs at The Eagle.

October 5, 1972

In what was described as the first marriage between two members of the same sex, Billie Ert (a female impersonator) and Antonio Molina got married in Houston. The marriage, however, was not legal.

1975

The Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus was founded. It is the oldest LGBT civil rights organization in the south and helped organize the first Houston Pride Parade in 1976.

June 16, 1977 

Houston’s gay and lesbian community rallied together to protest an appearance by former Miss America and anti-gay Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant. Thousands gathered for this event and it is considered one of, if not the first, examples of Houston activism.

1978

Town Meeting I was Houston’s first formal celebration of Gay Pride Week. Due to the Anita Bryant protest, the Houston LGBT community started to band together and find their voice as a community. Thousands gathered to create a dialogue and motivate gay people to work toward a common goal. It was the first politically oriented homosexual meeting in the United States. Town Meeting I resulted in the creation of: the Montrose Counseling Center, the Montrose Activity Center, the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, the Hispanic Caucus, the Montrose Sports Association.

1981

The Montrose Clinic, now known as Legacy Community Health Services, opens its doors to the LGBT community to combat the threat of HIV/AIDS.

1982 

Both JR's and Ripcord open and are still going strong today.

October 24, 1985 

Following an overturned non-discrimination ordinance passed by then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire, a politician and former Houston Mayor Louie Welch threw his hat in the race and ran against her. Polls showed Whitmire leading but her Achilles heel was the support for the failed ordinance which Welch capitalized on. At a press event on October 24, Welch thought his microphone was off and joked that one solution to AIDS would be the “shoot the queers.” The comment was caught on the local news and though he apologized, he lost the race. The next morning, former Gay Political Caucus President Don Hrachovy and John Buschlen sold shirts that said, “Louie, Don’t Shoot!” After the election, shirts saying, “You Missed, Louie!” were produced to mock Welch.

July 4, 1991 

Paul Broussard, a 27-year-old gay man, was murdered by a gang of youths in the Montrose neighborhood. The brutality of the murder and the leadership of Queer Nation brought many LGBT Houstonians to activism. After the murder, the gay community organized a “Take Back the Streets” rally in Montrose to demand the persecution of those responsible for the murder and against anti-gay hate crimes in general. As a result, the Houston City Council passed a resolution calling for a gay-inclusive state-level hate crimes bills and the Houston Police Department added sexual orientation to the list of biases motivating a hate crime.

September 1992 

First Annual Houston Transgender Unity Banquet began as a way for the different trans groups to find a safe place to unify and to rid the community of divisiveness.

February 15, 1994 

Publisher Greg Jeu started OutSmart Magazine, a monthly publication covering news, culture and social aspects of the community.

January 2, 1998 

Annise Parker was sworn in on the City Council as the first openly gay or lesbian elected official in Houston.

June 26, 2003

After five years, the Supreme Court heard the case of Lawrence v. Texas and declared all sodomy statutes throughout the United States unconstitutional. Previously homosexual conduct in Texas was a crime and resulted in the arrest of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner in 1998. This landmark case opened the door for the marriage equality movement and the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

December 12, 2009

Annise Parker is elected as the first openly lesbian mayor of a major city. She made history and served three terms until January 2016.

November 17, 2010

Mayor Annise Parker appoints Phyllis Frye as the first out, transgender judge in the nation.

June 2015

The Pride Parade is moved from the Montrose district to downtown for the first time since it began. The event however had record attendance, mainly due to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

Information and photos provided by The Banner Project and JD Doyle, the founder of houstonlgbthistory.org.

By Ryan Bellinghausen

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