OutSmart sits down for a brief chat with Mayor and Honorary Community Grand Marshal Annise Parker and OutSmart Pride Achievement Award winner Ray Hill to discuss Pride, the past, and their personal present. Steven Foster talks with the local legends.
by Steven Foster • Photos by Dalton DeHart
OUTSMART: Do you remember your first Pride Parade?
ANNISE PARKER: I have been with the Pride Parade from the very beginning when it was held downtown. In fact, there were a few years that I accompanied Ray Hill in providing the online commentary. Actually, in the early days, it was more of a march than a parade.
RAY HILL: My first Pride “event” was not a parade but a news conference the last week in June 1975, called to announce that this was to be the last quiet Pride Week in Houston. The following year, 1976, we held a march downtown, and in 1977 Anita Bryant came to Houston to our warm welcome.
How have you seen the crowd change in the years since you first participated in Pride?
AP: Of course the parade is not only bigger now, but it has also grown into a much more family-friendly neighborhood event. Its draw goes well beyond the GLBT community, making it more of a city parade. [And moving it] to the evening hours gave it a completely different feel.
RH: In 1976, the only people to come downtown to see us was us. We shouted, “Off the sidewalks, into the street.” The march began with 60 people and ended with about 200. I counted.
Do you think the younger generation has a real grasp of the struggle gays and lesbians have gone through? Or are Stonewall riots, Reagan-era AIDS denial, and the like unfathomable to them in the post-Will & Grace and Ellen era?
RH: I have yet to decide [if this lack of awareness] is a bad thing. If they do not know the fear their ancestors knew, how is that bad?
AP: Unfathomable. Not that it is any easier to be young and different, but it is easier, and there are many more resources.
Ray, you’re known for being, well…outspoken. What’s been making you really angry lately?
RH: I do not do anger. I never did. I get seriously purposeful about addressing injustice or bullying, but anger is not useful.
What gives you hope?
RH: If you had seen the changes [in the LGBT community] in my conscious adulthood, that is the source of a lot of hope.
No other movement in recorded history has moved so far in so short a time. But we had the development of modern media to exploit in our efforts that previous movements did not have.
Speaking of media, The Prison Show has been on the air for 30 years. That’s a lot of talking. How do you keep it fresh?
RH: Little did I know that prisons would grow at the rate they did in the last three decades. My show has become theater-of-the-absurd as a result.
You’re working on a play right now.
RH: A Conversation with Myself is a single-character performance with seven personalities:a kid exploring the woods; a teenage Baptist evangelist; an emerging young gay guy looking for love; a college bum/anti-war activist; a convict; a political organizer; and a radio show host. All in about 30 minutes. It is a challenge.
What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about prison?
RH: Prison life is 98 percent boredom, 1.8 percent amusing, and .2 percent terror. But if you are there, it is just another way to live.
Do you think capital punishment in Texas will ever be a thing of the past?
RH: Executions are the most significant anachronism in American society. Even without an organized reform movement to rid us of it, it will fall “like ripe fruit from the tree.”
Annise, what’s a typical mayoral day like?
AP: Meetings, meetings, meetings, some public events, meetings, meetings, meetings!
How often do you and Rick Perry talk on the phone?
AP: We talk about every other month. He even stopped by my office recently. We would talk a lot more if there were to be a hurricane. Otherwise, there’s not much reason for us to talk.
Did Sarah Palin send you an “atta girl” note after you won the election? You know, woman to woman?
AP: No, I did not hear from Ms. Palin. But Senator Hutchison and other Texas GOP leaders were quite gracious following my win.
Admit it. You’re a rock star now. Do you have any rock star-like riders in your appearance contract? “No brown M&Ms in the candy dish… Hotel rooms must be all-white with white flowers…”
AP: I’m just happy to show up.
What’s one thing you miss about pre-mayoral life?
AP: Going out without security…being able to be anonymous in the city.
You were in the Art Car Parade recently with Dan Aykroyd. Did hanging out with him make you feel more like a Ghostbuster or a Blues Brother?
AP: Blues Brother. Mr. Aykroyd is a very nice, laid-back Canadian, not at all like the wild and crazy guy he has played in movies and comedy acts.
Now you’re a Grand Marshal in the Pride Parade. And, God love ’em, that parade takes forever. It’s a long time to be keeping up the smile and the Miss America wave. What’s your pre-parade workout to avoid carpal tunnel, or worse, some kind of charlie horse of the cheeks?
AP: Since I have to do it every day, it’s not a big deal. By the time I get to the Pride Parade, I will have had such a workout that it will be no problem at all.
Ray, what are your thoughts on being a gay icon?
RH: What I see are the fruits of my lifetime of effort. I am the gay ex-convict who grew up to be what his parents wanted him to be. And my community grew up to be what I had dreamed it would be.
Steven Foster also interviews Andy Cohen in this issue of OutSmart magazine.