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What A World: You Can Go Home Again

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Why friends and family flock to the annual reunion for Kindred Spirits, the late, great nightclub.

NancyFord at desk
Nancy Ford

By Nancy Ford

Kindred Spirits was the first gay women’s bar I ever set foot in. Ever hear of it? No? Really ? Then I’m flattered that you—a very, very young person—should choose to read this column.

Serendipitously, I was escaping Ohio and visiting Houston that fateful February 1980 weekend of Kindred Spirits’ grand opening. Never before had this naïve neophyte to the gay community seen so many lesbians in a natural habitat, roaming free. Look at them all! Hundreds and hundreds of them! Amazing! Shhh, don’t startle them—they’ll scatter!

Though I returned briefly to Ohio after that first visit, I never really looked back. It seems like only moments later I had packed my buckeye bags and moved to Texas. Hey, that’s where all the women were. I had seen their herd with my own eyes!

Not long after my great migration, I found myself strapping on my guitar and entering a talent competition at Kindred Spirits (or “KS” as we called it then, before those letters stood for something far less entertaining). As it happened, it was a rainy Sunday afternoon—not exactly prime time—but I won the contest, the grand prize being a paid gig entertaining the KS Friday happy-hour crowd.

That prize was my first professional gig in a gay club. Since I can’t recall exactly how the judging was set up, I assume the decision must have fallen to the Boss Lady. You can bless/blame Marion Coleman for launching my gay showbiz career.

Another prize I won at Kindred Spirits: a girlfriend. A really good one, too—not the kind you wish you’d never met after your credit card invoices and tests results come back.

D and I met one of those magical nights at Kindred Spirits II, the Galleria-area redux of the outgrown KS I on Buffalo Speedway, when anything could happen…and often did. We locked eyes over the video trivia game and went home together that very same night (yes, girls do that sometimes too, guys).

And that, as they say, was that for nearly five years, and we’re still together.

No no no, we’re not together together now. Silly. But D and I, as well D’s now-wife of 16-plus years, are all the very best of friends.

It’s a rare thing when you can walk into an establishment looking for a friend and walk out with a family.

KS was also special in that it was the first club for gay women in Houston—make that in the Southwest—that looked more like a Bennigan’s than a garage. Live plants adorned the walls rather than peeling paint and cinder blocks. We sat shoulder to shoulder, rocking in the clean, green director’s chairs in the sunken lounge area subtly lit by the artful neon cactus. We draped over the upper railing, gazing down into the chick sea that undulated in waves beneath us. We stayed out of the fire lane, by god.

But KS was more than cold beer and cheap thrills. Way more.

In the ’80s, Houston had no gay community center, no gay coffee shops. Houston had one—one!—little gay bookstore that wasn’t a porn shop. The very few gay organizations that existed had even fewer places to meet. On any given night, a thirsty customer might walk into KS to find a politically motivated meeting going on in one corner, a softball team setting batting lineup in another, auditions for an upstart gay theater company in yet another. Without question, KS was a precursor to, if not the birthplace of, many current community organizations that thrive today.

It’s been more than 26 years since Kindred Spirits first opened its doors and almost two decades since those doors closed. Later, the gargantuan, multi-clubbed, also now-closed Ranch became the hub for local lesbians, further expanding the idea that a women’s bar needn’t look like a bomb shelter. Now it’s the Chances/G Spot/New Barn triplex in the heart of Montrose that carries the torch that Marion Coleman lit. Another of KS’s more enduring legends, Miss Vicci, can be found at the newly renovated G Spot, still serving drinks without attitude. Drop in sometime and ask her to share a war story or two.

Marion Coleman, long a mainstay of Houston’s gay community, tells me that over the years hundreds of women have asked her when she’s going to open another Kindred Spirits. In 2002, she and a handful of friends began producing a reunion of sorts for those hundreds of former customers, employees, and supporters, all of whom continue the KS tradition each spring. Thousands of women and their friends attend those fund-raising parties, so far collecting in excess of $30,000 for charities.

Now in its sixth year, the celebration is set for April 28, 8 p.m., at the Edwin Hornberger Center. Still advocating for her community, Marion says the $25 ticket benefits AssistHers, Bering Support Network, Houston Buyer’s Club, and Lesbian Health Initiative-Houston. Full details are available at www.kindredspiritshouston.org.

Perhaps eventually Marion can be persuaded to open yet another Kindred Spirits. Or maybe she should open a pair of clubs: Kindred Spirits III for her new customers—the naïve neophytes who are visiting from Ohio and setting foot in a gay bar for the first time in their lives—and Kindred Spirits Rehab/Retirement Center/RV Park for her former ones.

I’d happily play the Friday happy-hour gig at either.

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