Galveston Mardi Gras to feature trio of gay island leaders.
By Marene Gustin
Galveston’s Mardi Gras celebration, the third-largest in the nation, is always a gay old time. This year, that will be true in another sense—with three openly gay participants playing prominent roles.
Frank Billingsley, chief meteorologist at KPRC-TV in Houston, will serve as grand marshal for the Krewe of Gambrinus’ annual nighttime parade that kicks off two weeks of festivities on Saturday, February 3. The parade typically draws about 300,000 people.
Billingsley previously served as grand marshal of the Krewe of Aquarius’ daytime parade in 2012, and rides on a float in the Momus Parade every year. “Parades are definitely my favorite part [of Mardi Gras], whether watching them and begging for beads or tossing them to everyone watching,” says Billingsley, who also served as grand marshal of the Houston Pride parade in 2013. “Kevin Gilliard, my husband, and I have a house in the historical district. We’ve been island weekenders since 2003 and love the food, the parties, the celebrations, and, mostly, the people.”
Meanwhile, island Realtor J. Roy Hall was recently crowned king for the Krewe of Gambrinus, and fellow Realtor Eric Gage was appointed public-relations director for the Krewe. “Having Frank as the grand marshal will be wonderful,” says Hall, who has lived in Galveston since 2003. “I’ve known Frank and Kevin since before they were married. And Eric is also a float captain this year. I believe I’m the first openly gay person to be named king, and I’m very proud of that fact.”
The Krewe, a nonprofit with more than 300 members, has been hosting family-friendly Mardi Gras parades on Seawall Boulevard since 1989. Throughout the year, the Krewe supports tourism, underprivileged children, and the elderly with events like Mardi Gras parties at area nursing homes, and the Sheriff’s Office Brown Santa program.
“The Krewe of Gambrinus is celebrating its 29th Mardi Gras this year, and we would like to invite all to join us as we light up the night with this year’s theme, ‘Toys on Parade,’” Gage says.
Hall has been with the Krewe since 2006, and on the royal court for the last four years. Last year, he found the baby Jesus in his piece of king cake, thus making him King Gambrinus XXIX. His queen is Dee Stanforth Labuzan, a Galveston native. But the court has several other functions in addition to waving at the crowd from the parade float.
“As king, I lead the Krewe through all of the functions leading up to the parade,” Hall says. They include the Jester Circle dinner and dance, the Den Party sneak-preview of the floats, the Coronation Ball (January 27 and 28), and the Yaga Pre-Parade Party. And Hall says it’s not always easy work.
“The royal train weighs 79 pounds,” he says. “It’s pretty heavy.”
Hall, a past-president of the Galveston Association of Realtors, was named the island’s Realtor of the Year in 2009, and has sat on the boards of several professional groups. In addition to the Krewe of Gambrinus, he is active in the Elks Lodge #126, the Galveston County Chamber of Commerce, Galveston Historical Foundation, and Mariner House Council. He married his partner of 14 years, Jesse Parra, last July in Galveston. They honeymooned in Hawaii and now enjoy the island life when they aren’t traveling.
This year will be Galveston’s 107th Mardi Gras celebration. The first was in 1867, and they continued until World War II, when the festivities became private events for four decades before being revived island-wide by George P. Mitchell in 1985.
This year, Galveston Mardi Gras is expected to draw more than 350,000 people from across the state and beyond. There will be more than 30 concerts, parades, balcony parties, and balls, and an estimated three million beads will be thrown from parade floats.
So if you want to celebrate one last time before giving up partying for Lent, head to the island in early February and laissez les bon temps rouler!
For a complete list of Galveston Mardi Gras events, visit mardigrasgalveston.com.