Dalton DeHart, Kelly McCann, Julie Eberly, and AIDS Foundation Houston to marshal 2008 GLBT Pride Parade.
By Nancy Ford
Photos by Christopher Bown
When Houston’s first official Gay Pride Parade rolled down Westheimer Road in June 1979, “Disco Grandma” Thelma Hansel led the festivities as the parade’s grand marshal. Every June since, deserv- ing individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of gay duty have been chosen to lead Houston’sannual GLBT Pride Parade, this year on June 28 beginning at 8:45 p.m. Pride Houston distinguishes its parade grand marshals in four categories representing men, women, organizations, and a supportive ally from the straight community. Following a month-long round of community voting, Pride Houston announced this year’s four grand marshals at a reception held March 24 at Café Adobe.
Male Grand Marshal: Dalton DeHart
It’s unlikely there could be a more appropriate year for Dalton DeHart to lead Houston’s GLBT Pride Parade than on its 30th anniversary: 2008 also marks the 30th year since DeHart began taking pictures of Houston’s community events and milestones.
The indefatigable DeHart says he is looking forward to celebrating the power of 30 years of the community’s dedication to pride and visibility.
“Of course, as with all of the events that I photograph, I am looking forward to seeing all of the people and entries in the parade as well as the people on the sideline, since it is people that provide me with the energy to do what I do.”
DeHart is not just the gay community’s “family photographer.” In 2006, he retired from San Jacinto College with not only the school’s 2006 Teacher of the Year award, but also the Minnie Stevens Piper Professorship award—the highest honor that a person in a college or a university can achieve.
“But being elected grand marshal is one of the most significant events in my life, since it is the people who make that happen,” he adds.
A dependable and recognizable mainstay of Houston’s gay community, DeHart recalls an incident from one of his earliest Pride parades.
“I heard someone from the sideline yell, ‘Dr. DeHart.’ Rather shocked, I rushed to the sideline to find one of my students who was so delighted that I was taking photos. He also said, ‘This is my first parade.’
“I encouraged him to attend other parades and events in the Montrose area so that I could take additional photos of him.”
Being one of the Pride Parade’s grand marshals does not mean DeHart intends to take the night off from shooting the event.
“If I could not take photos, I would feel that I was riding without one of my best friends—my camera,” he says.
Ever faithful to that best friend, DeHart says he intends to take photos before the parade begins.
“Then I’ll run back and get on the float, take photos from the float, jump off the float as it turns off Westheimer, go back down the route, taking photos of the remaining entries. I will also have friends taking photos of the parade from the ground level as the parade makes its way down the street.”
DeHart’s collection of photographs of our community has grown over the past three decades to fill dozens of albums, many of which are featured in the GLBT History Tent exhibit, returning to this year’s Pride Festival. Anyone who has interest in the community needs but look at DeHart’s images to come away with a better appreciation of the thousands and thousands of individuals and events that have contributed to our history.
Female Grand Marshal: Kelly McCann
Kelly McCann serves as female grand marshal for Houston’s 2008 GLBT Pride Parade. She says she is particularly excited to be elected the parade’s female grand marshal on its 30th anniversary.
“Being elected grand marshal is a singular honor for me,” McCann says. “It stands out because it is an honor that comes from my community, from my GLBT brothers and sisters. And I’m so proud to represent them in this year’s parade. I can’t wait to round the curve on Westheimer and view the sea of my GLBT brothers and sisters celebrating our culture, our community, and our pride. I know it is going to choke me up.”
McCann witnessed her first Pride parade in Houston in 1980, when she was 19. “I had been out for a little over one year,” she recalls. “While my girlfriend and I were the first members of our social group to come out at Spring Branch High School, four other friends came out shortly after we did. Together, we six kids from the suburbs—Robert, Kevin, Michelle, Jennifer, Brenda, and I—attended the Sunday afternoon parade.
“I remember how the sight of thousands of gay people lining Westheimer made me feel so happy, so proud, so energized, so awestruck, so much a part of something bigger than myself.”
That experience lit an activist’s fire in McCann. “It made me want to be a crusader for gay rights, so the seed of my political advocacy was planted there on that day in late June,” she says. “I remember feeling grateful for being at the parade, for sharing that experience with the friends I loved the most in world, and for the even deeper bonds between us brought about by our coming out of the closet.
“Oh, we were all so proud!” she continues. “I even remember Robert and I talking about how we would choose to be gay if we hadn’t been lucky enough to have been born gay. I still feel that way today, and if Robert was still alive, I know he would, too.”
McCann says that first parade instilled within her a belief she still holds today—“that visibility is the key to greater acceptance.”
Organization Grand Marshal: AIDS Foundation Houston
AIDS Foundation Houston, one of the nation’s first organizations founded to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic in its earliest years, serves as this year’s grand marshal representing Houston’s prideful organizations.
AFH was founded in 1982 by a group of
medical professionals and gay community activists. As AFH’s chief executive officer since 2005, Kelly McCann says she is also looking forward to the significant AFH presence in this year’s parade.
“We are, as an organization, so proud to serve and be a part of the gay community. Over the years, we have served thousands of GLBT persons, and we continue to do so today,” McCann says. “AFH is committed to serving members of the gay community, and we have developed and operated special prevention and care programs to address the needs of GLBT clients, and have maintained a constant presence within the gay groups, organizations, bars, and other gay gathering places around Houston.
“Our organizational culture is one that respects and values each person,” McCann continues, “and we have created an atmosphere within which everyone can feel comfortable and accepted, whether they are a client, a volunteer, or a staff member. Our board of directors is certainly supportive of the GLBT community, and they are comfortable with homosexuals being in leadership positions—they hired a big, ol’ lesbian to be the chief executive officer, after all!”
While she doesn’t presume to know the sexual orientation or gender identity of each of its 106 employees, McCann estimates that 30 to 40 per cent of AFH staff persons are members of the GLBT community.
“And the heterosexual AFH employees are definitely straight but not narrow,” she adds.
Honorary Grand Marshal: Julie Eberly
One of those straight-but-not-narrow employees was Julie Eberly, who helps lead Houston’s 2008 GLBT Pride Parade as honorary grand marshal.
Before accepting the position earlier this year of vice president of development for Prepared 4 Life, an advocacy group for middle school-aged children, Eberly served in the same capacity for AFH for four years, raising much-needed funds for those living with and affected by HIV.
Eberly’s beneficent handiwork has been evident in AFH’s Art for Life annual art exhibition, Mukuru Arts for AIDS concert series, the annual World AIDS Day luncheon, Houston’s mammoth AIDS Walk, Dining for Life, Cabaret for a Cure, and a zillion other fundraising events.
“It’s an honor to stand alongside the GLBT community in solidarity and friendship,” Eberly says, adding that the chance to impassion her friends and associates from outside the community about gay equality may be even more significant.
Eberly’s passion for the gay community began in 2001. “I was working at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston at the time and learned about a group of gay Muslims,” she says. “I think it was then that I began to understand such a price that some people have to pay for just being who they are! At that time, I decided I would always advocate on behalf of the GLBT community.”
Eberly, whose husband Wayne is pastor of Pines Presbyterian Church in Houston, adds that the honor has “opened up so many doors to good and honest conversation with folks that I’ve told.”
Recalling a story from the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Eberly says she hopes the church’s membership responds similarly to her participation in the Pride Parade.
The story tells of a college that held “a wild party” each year, prompting a group of Christians to set up a confession booth there. People were somewhat intrigued and wandered in throughout the evening, but what they found surprised them.
Instead of listening to the “sins” of students, the Christians in that booth confessed to those who entered that they were sorry they had chosen to respond to the partygoers with judgment and disdain instead of love.
“I love that story!” Eberly says. “I hope my friends are alongside me in the parade, and I hope that it would begin to heal the wounds of those that have felt wounded by the church.”