A Brief History of Houston Pride

RAINBOW ROAD: Bridges over Houston’s Southwest Freeway are shown lit in rainbow colors for Pride Month in a drone photograph. (Photo by ev1pro.com)

Parade began in 1979, but foundation was laid in years before. 

By Brandon Wolf

When people look back on the gay-rights movement of the 1970s, they tend to think in terms of New York City and San Francisco. But Houston was just as active in the last half of that turbulent decade.

Houston’s first official Pride parade rolled down Lower Westheimer in 1979, but it was preceded by important events in 1976, 1977, and 1978 that all set the stage.

In 1976, the University of Houston’s Gay Activist Alliance organized a Pride event to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City. Although it is sometimes dismissed as “just a march,” fliers and other promotional pieces clearly identified it as a parade. There were no marching bands, floats, or banners, and most of the participants had been recruited during the previous year by pioneering Houston activist Ray Hill.

On Sunday, June 26, 1976, a crowd of about 60 gathered in the parking lot of the Exile, a gay bar at 1011 Bell Street. At 1 p.m., the group walked a half-block west on Bell before rounding the corner at Simpson’s Diner and proceeding on to Main Street. One of the participants was Annise Parker, a young lesbian activist who would one day become mayor.

As the marchers progressed, onlookers who joined in from the sidewalks began to swell their ranks to as many as 400. The march was brief and the numbers were few by today’s standards, but with each step taken, participants left their footprints on the history, culture, and politics of Houston.

Although a Pride parade planned for 1977 was cancelled due to a lack of funds, fate had an ace up her sleeve: Anita Bryant, fresh from her anti-gay “Save Our Children” campaign in Dade County, Florida, was coming to Houston to perform downtown at the State Bar of Texas banquet. Hill and others quickly organized a candlelight protest. Participants wearing black armbands with inverted pink triangles gathered for a rally in the parking lot of the Depository II bar on McGowen, and then headed downtown. The Houston Police Department had prepared for 300 people, but more than 4,000 joined the protest. They marched around the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the site of the banquet, and then to a rally in the plaza of the Houston Library.

As each wave of protesters arrived at the Hyatt, the volume swelled with such intensity that it was audible in the hotel’s banquet room. Houston’s gay community had made its voice heard. A few weeks later, with a newfound sense of purpose and solidarity, the community staged its first Gay Pride Rally in Cherryhurst Park.

One year later, the Houston Gay Political Caucus hosted its first Houston Gay Pride Week, with a full schedule of political and social events. The main event was Town Meeting I on June 25 in the Astro Arena, a vast exhibit hall adjacent to the Astrodome.

The keynote speaker was former Texas state representative Frances Tarlton “Sissy” Farenthold, who declared: “We are none of us free unless we all are free. We cannot open the door to some minorities while denying access to others.” More than 4,500 people attended Town Meeting I, which, according to the Houston Chronicle, was “the first such politically oriented homosexual meeting in the United States.” The stated purpose was to address the concerns of Houston’s gay community as outlined in 13 propositions. The resolutions resulted in the creation of many organizations, including the Montrose Counseling Center, the Montrose Activity Center, the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, the Hispanic Caucus, and the Montrose Sports Association.

Also that year, two legendary bars opened—the Brazos River Bottom and the Montrose Mining Company. And on Easter Sunday, a small pool party was hosted by friends at a local apartment complex—a festive social event that would eventually become Bunnies on the Bayou.

By 1979, Houston had a cohesive LGBTQ community with a public face and a political agenda, so an annual June celebration during Pride Month was both needed and desired.

Since then, Houston’s Pride parade has grown to become the fourth-largest in the country (and the 15th-largest in the world) with an estimated attendance of 700,000 in 2017. Below is a year-by-year recap of Houston’s Pride celebrations, including the theme for each one.

1979: United We Stand

Houston’s first official Pride parade was held on Sunday, July 1, 1979. Its theme of “United We Stand” reflected the solidarity of Houston’s emerging gay community.

The Parade Committee chose Thelma Hansel, aka “Disco Grandma,” as grand marshal. Hansel was known in the community for her love of drag shows at The Old Plantation bar, which she often attended with her gay son.

The parade was led by a group of male and female motorcyclists, gunning their unmuffled engines. Mary’s Bar had a jaw-dropping professional float with huge tropical-flower blooms, and baton-twirling men delighted the crowd with their skills. Harry Britt, the San Francisco supervisor who replaced Harvey Milk following his assassination, waved from a Gay Political Caucus convertible, and a large bus advertised the upcoming National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Houston’s 1979 parade, which was covered by Houston newspapers and TV stations, traveled a 30-block route along Westheimer from Shepherd to Bagby. According to the Houston Voice, an estimated 10 to 12 thousand people lined Westheimer, and a rally followed at Spotts Park with 5,000 people enjoying music, speeches, dancing, and fireworks. Among the speakers was Houston city controller Kathy Whitmire, whom the LGBTQ community had helped elect.

1980: Proud to Be

With the establishment of Pride parades came another tradition—police raids on gay bars in the weeks leading up to the June events. A 1980 raid at Mary’s resulted in 61 arrests. Days later, many of those who had been arrested were proudly sporting “Mary’s Fairies Out of Jail” T-shirts.

Several Houston city officials rode in convertibles in the 1980 parade, with an estimated 20,000 people lining the streets. The Mary’s grand-prize float depicted an HPD officer beating a helpless gay person, and many wore black armbands in memory of Fred Paez, who had been killed the night before the parade by an off-duty officer. Several billboard ads were purchased to advertise Pride Week; vandals pulled one sign to the ground and scrawled “Die Fags! Eat Me!” on another.   The 1980 Pride events cost $24,000, which was paid for with donations and the sale of ads in the Pride Guide.

On August 12, thanks to the efforts of transgender pioneer Phyllis Randolph Frye, the Houston City Council repealed a long-standing City ordinance that criminalized cross-dressing.

1981: We the People

With AIDS just beginning to appear in the community, the Montrose Clinic’s parade entries advised people to “Clean Up Your Act.” Meanwhile, Mary’s Bar rented a festooned elephant, and the Gay and Lesbian Atheists rode in a vintage fire engine proclaiming “No Hellfire for Us!” The Different Drum bar had the winning entry with a breathtakingly long float featuring men in military uniforms and the message, “We Too Died for America.” It was preceded by a large contingent of men carrying flags.

The Spotts Park rally became a post-parade staple that drew an increasing number of public officials. The rally also included an annual Fred Paez Memorial Concert.

1982: A Part of . . . Not Apart From

Pride Week continued to grow, with a larger budget, more parade entries, and bigger crowds. But Houston’s brutal summer sun continued to beat down on the events, even with a delayed 5:30 p.m. start time that did little to alleviate the heat. Mayor Kathy Whitmire brought the crowd to its feet when she appeared at the Pride Week Rally. Thousands chanted, “Two, four, six, eight, being gay is really great! Three, five, seven, nine, lesbianism’s mighty fine!” The festive mood, however, was offset by a sense of dread as AIDS continued to spread through the community. AIDS Foundation Houston was formed, and the nation’s first safe-sex guide was published in Houston. JR’s opened at 808 Pacific, as well as the Ripcord at 715 Fairview.

1983: Unity through Diversity

The Montrose Mining Company outdid its construction-vehicle float entries of the previous two years with a huge cherry-picker that hoisted flag-waving men high over the parade crowd, with dry-ice clouds enveloping them at regular intervals. The parade had 52 units and lasted 90 minutes. The organizing committee moved the post-parade rally to the Summit basketball arena and hired Tina Turner to entertain. The event cost $56,000 and broke even with $37,000 in ticket proceeds and the remainder from other sources.

1984: Unity and More in ’84

Just prior to the 1984 parade, 58 Ku Klux Klan members from Pasadena held a 16-minute march through Montrose. HPD outnumbered them with 600 riot-equipped officers. The KKK march cost taxpayers $80,000 and drew only 2,000 spectators.  In early June, City Council member Anthony Hall introduced a City Charter amendment to prohibit discrimination against gay and lesbian city employees. The amendment passed 10 days later amid vocal protests from opponents, who then obtained enough signatures to force a referendum that defeated the amendment in January 1985. Mayor Kathy Whitmire delivered the first City Proclamation declaring Gay Pride Week, and the June 24 parade was the largest and most lavish yet with 54 entries.

1985: Alive with Pride

The parade reversed course in 1985, running east to west along Westheimer from Bagby to Waughcrest, where it turned north toward Memorial Drive and  the Spotts Park rally site.

The months leading up to the City Charter referendum in January 1985 saw unprecedented public homophobia. The opposition was led by former mayor Louie Welch, the Moral Majority, the Committee for Public Awareness, Steven Hotze’s Campaign for Houston, the Ku Klux Klan, the Harris County Republican Party, and prominent members of Houston’s African-American religious community. Goodner said his Committee for Public Awareness was prepared to spend up to $400,000.

oth Gay Political Caucus and City of Houston officials received death threats, and police guards were posted at the homes of the pro-amendment council members. The amendments were repealed in the January 19 referendum by a whopping 82 percent of voters. Welch entered the mayoral race with a “Straight Slate” of candidates for City Council, who sought to unseat council members who had voted for the amendments. While anti-gay comments were common in the Welch campaign, it was a gaffe on October 24 that doomed his mayoral bid. Thinking that his microphone was off, Welch said that one solution to AIDS would be to “shoot the queers.” By the next morning, people in Montrose were wearing T-shirts showing a target and the words “Louie, Don’t Shoot!” Welch and his “Straight Slate” were defeated in the November election.

1986: Liberty in Our Grasp

The 1986 Parade Committee faced internal disagreement over Pride merchandise. One group wanted “Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade” on shirts, caps, and other items, while another group did not. A rainbow was also used for the first time in a Pride logo. When the decision was made to put the words on Pride merchandise, resignations followed.

The parade was one of the briefest in history, lasting only 40 minutes, and the crowd was among the smallest. In August, activist Eleanor Munger opened Omega House at 616 Branard, giving destitute gay men in the last stages of AIDS a home-like atmosphere in which to die.

1987: Come Out and Celebrate Pride

The 1987 parade was dampened by the frightening statistic that Houston had 1,200 cases of AIDS—the fourth-highest number in the nation. Pride Week began as usual with police raids on gay bars. On three consecutive nights, officers raided Michael’s, Chutes, and the JOE Club, arresting patrons, staff, and male dancers. Gay Political Caucus leadership held a press conference, announcing their intention to meet with Mayor Whitmire and the police chief, and declaring that Houston’s gay community would not be silenced by intimidation.

The parade became the Houston Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade, adding “lesbian” for the first time. A resolution passed to alternate “gay” and “lesbian” as the lead word each  year, but a resolution to move the parade to cooler evening hours was defeated. Arguments against a nighttime parade included security issues, as well as members of the Pride Band being unable to read their music. Parade organizers banned all motorized units, asking businesses and organizations to give the money to AIDS service organizations instead.

1988: Rightfully Proud

For the first time, “Houston Lesbian and Gay Pride” was used, with “lesbian” as the lead word.

The committee discussed limiting drag participation in the parade, due to media attention on a roller-skating “pink fairy” the year before. After heated discussion, the resolution failed. The honorary grand marshals were slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk (represented at the parade by San Francisco supervisor Harry Britt), and Sharon Kowalski (represented by an empty wheelchair), the young lesbian whose family separated her from her lover, Karen Thompson, after she was profoundly disabled in a 1983 auto accident.

Also in 1988, Pokey Anderson and Annise Parker opened Inklings Bookstore, specializing in lesbian books and resources. And the massive NAMES Project AIDS Memorial quilt was displayed in Houston for the first time.

1989: Stonewall 20: A Generation of Pride

The 1989 parade, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, was Houston’s largest parade yet, with 60 entries. There were 14 major floats, two dozen marching units, two dozen vehicle entries, and walking contingents. The Lone Star Band of Houston and the Oak Lawn Band of Dallas combined as one marching unit. The one-hour parade was broadcast live on KPFT-FM. An airplane sponsored by Mother’s Bar flew overhead trailing a streamer that read “Gay & Proud.”

1990: Look to the Future

The Pride Committee encouraged the community to look back on the gains that had been made, and look forward to the challenges ahead. For the first time, corporate sponsors such as Budweiser were among the 75 parade entries. The honorary grand marshals, congressman Craig Washington and Texas state representative Debra Danburg, were evidence of the growing political strength of Houston’s gay community.

For a second time, the parade course was reversed, moving east to west up Westheimer from Whitney to Dunlavy, then heading north on Dunlavy to West Gray, where a rally was held on the grounds of the West Gray multi-service center. The goal was to increase attendance at the rally.  Quentin Crisp was flown to Houston from his native London to appear at the Pride awards banquet. A Star Nite Concert featured singer Thelma Houston, Whitney’s mother.

1991: Take Pride

Pride Week’s official poster featured the faces of the community—individuals, couples, single parents, seniors, and the diversity of the rainbow. The parade drew a large crowd, despite being held under storm-threatening skies. The final float made its way to the end of the route before the rain began to fall, giving rise to the notion that “it never rains on our parade.” Just days after Pride, tragedy struck the community when 27-year-old gay banker Paul Broussard was stabbed to death in Montrose by 10 youths from The Woodlands. In response, the community-watch group Q-Patrol was formed to patrol the area and report suspicious activity to police. Under increasing pressure from the gay community, HPD launched “Operation Vice Versa,” in which officers, posing as homosexuals, found themselves the target of homophobic violence. Five undercover officers were attacked by being sprayed with mace and bludgeoned with a baseball bat and a tree branch. Jack Valinski, Carol Clark, and Brian Keever co-founded the Pride Committee of Houston so that Pride could become a year-round project, separate from the Caucus. Thirty entries were submitted in the annual Pride logo competition. Lesbians in Business was formed, and the Krewe of Olympus, founded in New Orleans in 1970, moved to Houston.

1992: Pride = Power

The newly formed Pride Committee, year-round working to manage Gay and Lesbian Pride Week, incorporated as a nonprofit. As one of its first acts, the board established the Founder’s Award, which it presented to Larry Bagneris, “father of the Houston Pride parade.” The parade featured more than 80 units, including a group of Texas A&M University students. Glittery pink triangles with ribbon streamers adorned poles along the route. The first Houston Transgender Unity Banquet was held, and the Lesbian Health Initiative was formed.

1993: Out & Proud

Five City officials attended either the parade or other Pride events, but mayor Bob Lanier did not accept an invitation to join them. Among the 100 units in the parade, taking part for the first time were the Houston NAMES Project and Houston’s ACT-UP chapter. The Houston chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) was honored as the first organization to be named grand marshal.

The Spotts Park rally featured fireworks, but suffered from low turnout. Because of rain the day before, the City canceled the rally’s permit for a sound stage.

1994: HouStonewall 25

This parade celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. The date was moved to June 12 to allow Houstonians to attend the Gay Games IV and the NYC Stonewall 25 celebrations on successive weekends later in the month. Parade attendance included large numbers of non-LGBTQ participants and spectators. The parade had become a neighborhood event in Montrose, as well as a Pride event for the entire city. OutSmart magazine published its first issue, with the Hollyfield Foundation and the Houston Area Bears also being formed.

1995: Silence to Celebration

The Houston City Council approved the hanging of pink-triangle banners along both sides of Westheimer throughout Montrose. A resolution was once again presented to the committee to move the parade to the evening starting in 1996. The resolution failed, but a task force was formed to investigate the possibility, headed by activist Lee Harrington.

1996: Pride Knows No Borders

Candace Gingrich, the outspoken lesbian half-sister of then-House speaker Newt Gingrich, was featured at the head of the parade and given a Founder’s Award. The appearance thrust a national spotlight on Houston’s parade and added the city’s voice to growing national demands for an end to civilly sanctioned discrimination.

Transgender Houstonians made their presence known with a huge banner that read “Transgender and Proud—and We Vote.” Rain fell up until 20 minutes before the parade, but once again stopped in time for the entries to move down Westheimer.

Meanwhile, the Pride Committee approved Harrington’s proposal for moving the parade to the evening in 1997.

1997: Glowing with Pride

At last, Houston’s summer heat was foiled and the parade lit up the night. A jubilant crowd of 70,000 took in 100 entries—with over half of the floats illuminated.

Leana Colmenares won the logo contest with a beautiful androgynous figure with a red heart, floating in a starry sky. Colmenares said she created the logo in memory of Bill Whiting, the gay man who raised her and the late partner of her former stepfather. The Pride Committee fell in love with Colmenares’ design, nicknamed “Pat,” which continues to be used and is featured in this year’s 40th-anniversary logo. Over at Mary’s Bar, resident window-artist Scott Swoveland created another icon—the now-famous “Mary’s Mural” that graced the exterior east wall of the bar for years. He completed it in time for Pride Week. In November, Annise Parker won her first term on the Houston City Council.

1998: Unified, Diversified, Electrified

Grace Lutheran Church’s float fell victim to arson the night before the parade, which in 1998 took two hours to wend its way down Westheimer. Also in 1998, mayor Lee Brown made good on his promise to reverse the results of the 1985 anti-gay referendum through an executive order. In national news, Matthew Shepard was murdered near Laramie, Wyoming, in a notorious anti-gay hate crime.

1999: Pride, Power and Pizzazz

A crowd of 100,000 watched the intersection of Westheimer and Montrose Blvd. glow with light reflected off a disco ball measuring eight-and-a-half feet across. The suspended mirror ball was made possible with funding from Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, who rode in the parade on a float with diva Martha Wash. Houston Stonewall Young Democrats formed, the Gulf Coast Archives and Museum of GLBT History, Inc. (GCAM) was founded, and the first Houston Transgender Day of Remembrance was held on the steps of City Hall.

2000: Take Pride, Take Joy, Take Action

Voting for parade grand marshals was opened to the community through in-person voting days and mail-in ballots. The parade route was extended from Woodhead to Whitney, as the event had grown significantly.

Lee Brown became the first Houston mayor to appear in the parade, and his wife (who rarely made public appearances) rode next to him in a convertible. The crowd was estimated at 100,000. S.T.A.G. (Some Transgenders Are Guys) formed, and Vermont became the first state to legalize civil unions for same-gender couples.

2001: Embrace Diversity

A contingent of openly gay and lesbian HPD officers marched for the first time, and a record 520 people participated in the selection of grand marshals. Houstonians for Family Values (led by anti-gay activist Dave Wilson) launched a campaign to amend the City Charter to prohibit Houston from adopting any pro-LGBTQ statutes, policies, or amendments. In November, voters repealed Brown’s pro-LGBTQ executive order by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

2002: Pride Worldwide

Houston’s openly LGBTQ firefighters appeared for the first time in the parade. ICOH-The Space City Empire was founded, and Pride spread to Austin, which held its first parade.

2003: Silver Celebration

On June 26, two days before the Pride parade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down anti-gay sodomy laws nationwide.  Houston-area plaintiffs John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were honored with the Pride Committee President’s Award and placed near the front of the 25th-anniversary parade, which featured 125 entries. Spectators were wild with excitement as the men passed by. Sprinkled through the crowd were people wearing T-shirts that read “Legally Gay.”  The Pride Committee also decided to hang what they believed to be the world’s largest chandelier at the intersection of Montrose and Westheimer. Weighing 1,000 pounds and measuring 20 feet across, the chandelier was originally part of the State of Texas Sesquicentennial celebration in Austin prior to being redesigned with rainbow-colored lights.  In November, Annise Parker won the first of what would be three terms as City controller. In an interview, she predicted the parade would eventually have to move downtown if it continued to expand.

2004: Pride as Big as Texas

Houston mayor Bill White surprised the parade crowd by walking the route rather than riding in a convertible. Meanwhile, legendary lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon became the first same-sex couple legally married in the U.S., thanks to San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The legality of their marriage would be challenged over the next few years, culminating in California’s Proposition 8 battle. Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

2005: Equal Rights! No More! No Less!

The Pride Committee legally changed its branding to Pride Houston. Houston Comets basketball star Sheryl Swoopes came out as gay. In November, Texans passed Proposition 2, a State constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

2006: Say It Out Loud!

Parade attendance was estimated at 200,000, signalling that the event had become a Houston summertime favorite. Nationally, Brokeback Mountain earned three Oscars and set box-office records. Transamerica was also nominated for an Oscar.

2007: Lone Star Pride

Longtime Pride Houston organizer Jack Valinski resigned as the organization’s executive director amid internal conflict, but was overwhelmingly elected male grand marshal. Members of Asians and Friends dressed as Chinese-food take-out containers, complete with chopsticks, delighting parade-goers with their marching contingent.

A proposal was presented to the community to move the parade downtown in September 2008, for security reasons as well as the additional shade provided by the tall buildings. Many in the community reacted negatively, and an organization called POMPOM (People Opposed to Moving the Parade Out of Montrose) was formed.

2008: 30 Years: We Are Family

Following the unsuccessful push to move Pride downtown and hold it in September, the parade stayed in Montrose in June for its 30th anniversary. Pride Houston waived the afternoon festival’s entrance fee, and attendance jumped from 5,000 to over 50,000.

Proposition 8, an amendment banning same-sex marriage, was passed into law in California, inspiring the NOH8 campaign, a social project featuring celebrities who support marriage equality.

2009: Out 4 Justice

The 2009 parade theme played off the growing popularity of superhero movies, inspiring creative parade floats and marching units.  Annise Parker became mayor of Houston, the first openly LGBTQ person elected to lead a major U.S. city. And the University of Houston became the first college in Texas to offer a program in LGBTQ studies.

Nationally, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Obama also posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk.

2010: Pride Not Prejudice

Annise Parker rode down Westheimer in the parade for the first time as mayor, with first lady Kathy Hubbard seated next to her and security agents surrounding their convertible. The roar from the crowd was deafening as they traveled past the reviewing stand. According to estimates, the Pride parade had officially become Houston’s second-largest, behind the annual Rodeo parade. In November, Phyllis Frye was appointed by Parker as the first openly transgender judge in the nation. In December, President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s longstanding ban on open service.

2011: Live, Love, Be

Cody Ledvina, a member of the Joana Art Collective, led a volunteer staff that reproduced Mary’s Mural on the east wall of what is now Blacksmith Coffee Shop, just in time for the Pride Parade. The mural was vandalized and repaired before finally being painted over within a few months.

In July, the Montrose Remembrance Garden was dedicated with a public ceremony, honoring all LGBTQ Houstonians who have died from violence.

2012: Live Out Proud

Houston City Hall was lit with rainbow colors for the first time, during Pride Week. JD Doyle launched HoustonLGBTHistory.org, the most comprehensive digitized collection of the city’s LGBTQ history. Nationally, President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage: “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

2013: Pride Unleashed

The Pride parade took place three days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, ruling that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits. The high court also overturns California’s Proposition 8, making marriage equality a reality in that state.

In November, a memorial marker for transgender victims of violence was placed in the Montrose Remembrance Garden, to emphasize that transgender women are murder victims more often than any other LGBTQ group. In December, Mayor Parker extended benefits to the same-sex spouses
of City employees, citing the high court’s United States v. Windsor ruling.

2014: Carnivale

The community was largely unaware that this would be the last Pride parade in Montrose. Pride Houston had begun negotiations with the City to move the event downtown in  2015, without seeking community input. The Botts Archive of LGBT History, a local treasure-trove of Pride memorabilia, is acquired by The University of Houston’s Special Collections archive. A new LGBT History Research Collection would be created at the university the following year.  In May, the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), protecting LGBTQ people and other minorities from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

2015: HEROES!

The parade was held downtown for the first time. Although the move from Montrose was controversial, the event drew a record crowd of more than 200,000. The route followed parts of the same streets that protesters used during the 1977 Anita Bryant protest march.

The 2015 parade was perhaps the most jubilant in the history of the event. One day before, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, in Obergefell v. Hodges. Despite initial pushback by county clerk Stan Stanart, Harris County was soon issuing same-gender marriage licenses and couples were getting married downtown at the county courthouse.

The theme for the parade played on the HERO non-discrimination ordinance passed in 2014. However, by November 2015, anti-LGBTQ forces forced a referendum on HERO, and voters overturned it by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent.

2016: Houston Proud

In June, President Obama announced the designation of the first national monument to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in New York City. The Stonewall National Monument encompasses Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn, and the surrounding streets and sidewalks where the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion occurred. .

Also in June, secretary of defense Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon was lifting a ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military.

The Mary’s Mural was recreated by the original artist, digitized, and hung like wallpaper in the new Phoenix Room of the Houston Eagle bar. The room is dedicated to Houston’s LGBTQ history and contains many memories of Houston’s Pride celebrations.

2017: Wonderland

Although the event’s festive theme was widely criticized in light of the recent election of president Donald Trump, the downtown parade continued to grow, drawing an estimated 700,000 people. The afternoon festival was again held in front of City Hall, with the reflecting pool serving as a wading area for attendees seeking relief from the heat.

Pride Houston spent $15,000 to install rainbow-colored crosswalks at the intersection of Westheimer and Taft, and HPD’s parade entry featured an SUV adorned with Pride stickers.

In October, Pride Houston filed a lawsuit against former president Frankie Quijano, alleging he had refused to turn over the organization’s business assets. The parties agreed to a settlement in December, and Lo Roberts officially became the first black female president of the organization.•

OutSmart thanks David Fagan, Skip Teauxmelou and Nancy Ford for their previous research on the history of Houston Pride. Special appreciation is extended to Houston LGBT historian JD Doyle and his website houstonlgbthistory.org, which was critical to the creation of this story.

This article appears in the June 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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