What a World: My Souvenir
By Nancy Ford
When I look back upon the many gay memories that light the gay corners of my gay mind, a few select recollections always jump to the frontal lobe.
In the ’70s, I recall breathlessly reading a story in Time magazine about a neighborhood much, much different than my own in Smalltown, Ohio—a neighborhood in Chicago called Boys Town. There, homosexuals, some of them women, worked and played and lived just like—gasp!—normal people. Something stirred inside my adolescent self, and though I had never so much as set foot in Illinois, I knew it was where I eventually wanted to—no, had to—live.
A decade later, I learned what that stirring was. My very first visit to Houston on Valentine’s weekend in 1980 serendipitously landed me at the grand opening of Kindred Spirits, Houston’s legendary lesbian nightclub. One look around the room that night at those 300-or-so like-minded, like-hormoned souls made me realize that if Chicago had a Boys Town, Houston had a Girls Town, and I was about to establish residency. What a memory.
My first experience with our Pride Parade occurred in 1982. The best spot for a young lesbian to view the parade was from the roof of Twins on Westheimer. This lesbian bar was the notorious yin to Kindred Spirits’ respectable yang. Shoulder-to-shoulder, breast-to-breast, we stood on Twins’ noticeably heaving roof, jumping and dancing and waving like one body as the parade entries rolled by. The floats were filled with people jumping and dancing and waving back who were so different from me, but who were just like me. I’ll never forget it.
So many momentous scenes of varying degrees of gaiety have played out over the years. But the grand climax of them all occurred the evening of December 12, 2009, at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
The massive crowd attending Annise Parker’s election night watch party contained some of the same faces I had first seen at Kindred Spirits and Twins. They were perhaps a little—okay, a lot—grayer and weatherworn, but just as ebullient as they were that hot June afternoon on that Montrose rooftop. We stood together, mingling, cocktailing, small-talking, all coolly pretending that our hearts weren’t bursting with anticipation. Hours, possibly days or weeks, passed.
“The Chronicle just called it! We won!” my friend Karen finally said to me, squeezing her Blackberry like she was extracting juice from it.
My God, we won.
At first we said it in whispers as though if we said it too loudly, it might scare the victory away. Then it happened. The news floated through the iPhone-laden crowd in a wave that became a gush that became a surge that became a tsunami. Then Annise appeared, and there was no holding it back.
As the reality of her victory sunk in amid our cheers, Mayor Parker (lord, I just love saying that!) walked into the party like a rock star. No, like a middleweight champ after the title bout. No, like the leader of the United States’ third largest city.
At that moment, all those touchstone, life-defining gay memories came flooding back into my consciousness, like when your whole life flashes before your eyes when you die: That story in Time magazine. That Valentine’s night at Kindred Spirits. That first Pride Parade.
Dancing with Naomi Sims at the Copa. Confronting the KKK in City Hall. Louie shooting the queers. The marches on Austin, DC in ’93, NYC in ’94. Camping festivals in the rain. The candlelight vigil for Paul Broussard. A hundred AIDS funerals. My first kiss from my first girlfriend. My last kiss from my last girlfriend.
A million more memories converged in crescendo, all leading to this mega-burst of pride and power and confirmation that yes, yes, we are good enough and talented enough and righteous enough to do and be and achieve anything we want. Regardless of who we love.
Mayor Annise Parker’s love for her partner and family was obvious that night. But mostly, it was her love for her city and the people in it that shone through in her acceptance speech.
“In this campaign, I met many Houstonians,” she told the crowd, barely glancing at her notes. “I met fathers worried about finding a good job. I met mothers worried about crime. I met young men and women who only want a chance for a good education. Families worried about taxes. Homeowners who just want to protect the neighborhood they love. Hear me: the city is on your side.”
Was this a victory for gay rights? You bet it was. As Mayor Parker herself said in that speech, “The voters of Houston have opened the door to history. . . .
I know what this win means to many who never believed we would see ourselves in high office.”
Oh yes, it was a night to remember. But I admit my reporter’s skills are not well-honed enough to precisely quote Mayor Parker’s acceptance speech entirely from memory, as I have seemingly done in this column.
After our new mayor delivered her inspiring words to the throng of supporters and cameras at the convention center, as the beaming crowd slowly dispersed, I circled the room one final time, saying goodbye to friends. Something on the floor near the podium where Mayor Parker had stood mere moments before caught my eye. There lay her acceptance speech covered in red, white, and blue confetti: Mayor Parker’s victory pledge to Houstonians to transform their lives for the better. It’s the souvenir of a gay lifetime.
Or maybe it wasn’t her actual script. Maybe it was just a copy dropped by a campaign staffer or a reporter. Either way is fine. I don’t care.
Eventually, age and failing brain receptors will take my gay memories. But the memory of this one night, this one victorious, glorious, night of promise will never, ever fade. Never.
It can’t. I’ve got it right here, in black-and-white.