Parade of Heroes

Pride Houston honors past grand marshals to mark 40th anniversary.

Pride Houston honors past grand marshals to mark 40th anniversary.

Photos via JD Doyle/HoustonLGBTHistory.org

To mark its 40th anniversary, Pride Houston will honor all previous parade grand marshals at this year’s parade, rather than having the community elect new ones.

“The first grand marshal was Thelma Hansel (Disco Grandma), and I was the person who chose her because the community needed an accepting parent symbol leading the parade,” says Ray Hill, a member of the first Pride organizing committee in 1979. “The next year, it was Jim ‘Fannie’ Farmer of [the former] Mary’s bar, who on his own asked Ruth Ravis to join him. I was grand marshal in 1981, but after being chosen, we discussed adding Rita Wanstrom to the grand-marshal convertible.”

By the fourth year, it had become an accepted practice for Houston’s Pride parade to have one male and one female grand marshal. Each year, members of the Pride organizing committee made nominations and selected the marshals. In the early 1990s, community members were encouraged to cast ballots only after attending a required number of monthly Pride meetings.

In 2000, the selection process was opened up more widely, with in-person voting days and mail-in ballots. A few years later, Internet voting was added. Eventually, the voting moved entirely online and is now open to everyone.

In addition to the male and female marshals, honorary marshals have often been selected or elected to pay tribute to non-LGBTQ people who are important to the community. That “honorary” title evolved into the current “ally” grand marshal category. From 1992 through 2011, an “organization marshal” was also elected, then discontinued.

For several years beginning in 2010, a “celebrity marshal” from the entertainment world was selected by Pride’s executive director as a marketing draw, but that practice was also discontinued.

In 2017, three “honorary” marshals were chosen by a panel of former marshals to pay tribute to deserving but generally unrecognized individuals. That category will continue this year, in addition to the recognition of all previous grand marshals.

Twice in the last 40 years, a group of people was chosen to serve as grand marshals. In 1986, all people living with AIDS were the grand marshals, and in 2003, all marshals from the first 25 years of the parade were honored.

Also in 2003, Pride Houston introduced the marshal “medals” that were presented to previous marshals at a special kickoff ceremony. Today, the medals continue to represent one of the Houston LGBTQ community’s highest honors.

Pride Houston has a perfect record of gender parity over the last 40 years, and has honored two transgender women and one trans man as grand marshals.

However, racial parity has been surprisingly absent for a city that prides itself on being the nation’s most diverse metropolitan area. With the exception of four Hispanics, two African-Americans, and two Asians, all of Houston’s grand marshals have been white.

Lo Roberts, who recently became the first black female executive director of Pride Houston, says she has taken note of the disparity.

“This year is a bit different as we celebrate 40 years and honor our past, but [moving forward] we must continue to be proactive in our effort of inclusion,” Roberts says. “Every year in October, we open it up to the public to nominate [people who] have shaped our community as a whole. A wise man once said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ I urge our community to do just that. If you see someone making strides within our community, bring it to the forefront. Let the world know, because we can’t move forward without making a little noise.”

Below is a list of all past grand marshals, along with a slideshow featuring photos of many of those list. The list and photos were compiled with the help of JD Doyle of HoustonLGBTHistory.org.  

Grand Marshal: Thelma Hansel

Male Grand Marshal: Jim Farmer
Female Grand Marshal: Ruth Ravis

Male Grand Marshal: Ray Hill
Female Grand Marshal: Rita Wanstrom

Male Grand Marshal: Andy Mills
Female Grand Marshal: Marion Coleman

Male Grand Marshal: Walter Strickler
Female Grand Marshal: Marion Pantzer

Male Grand Marshal: Rick Grossman
Female Grand Marshal: Pokey Anderson

Male Grand Marshal: Terry Clark
Female Grand Marshal:  Freda Jerrell

Male Grand Marshal: Tony Bicocchi
Female Grand Marshal: Dee Lamb

Grand Marshals:  Persons Living with AIDS

Male Grand Marshal: Bruce Cook
Female Grand Marshal: Eleanor Munger
Honorary Grand Marshal: Sharon Kowalski
Honorary Grand Marshal: Harvey Milk

Male Grand Marshal: Charles Armstrong
Female Grand Marshal: Bettie Naylor

Male Grand Marshal: Walter Carter
Female Grand Marshal: Annise Parker
Honorary Grand Marshal: Craig Washington
Honorary Grand Marshal: Debra Danburg

Male Grand Marshal: Gene Harrington
Male Grand Marshal: Jack Jackson
Female Grand Marshal: Linda Morales
Honorary Grand Marshal: Lady Victoria Lust (Marvin Davis)
Honorary Grand Marshal: Katy Caldwell

Male Grand Marshal: Brian Keever
Female Grand Marshal: Sheri Cohen Darbonne
Organization Grand Marshal: Gay & Lesbian Switchboard

Male Grand Marshal: Brian Bradley
Female Grand Marshal: Rev. Carolyn J. Mobley
Organization Grand Marshal: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Honorary Grand Marshal: Adan Rios

Male Grand Marshal: Jay Allen
Female Grand Marshal: Cicely Wynne
Organization Grand Marshal: Q-Patrol
Honorary Grand Marshal: Clair Koepsel

Male Grand Marshal: Don Gill
Female Grand Marshal: Suzanne Anderson
Organization Grand Marshal: HATCH youth program
Honorary Grand Marshal: Annella Harrison

Male Grand Marshal: Bill Havard
Female Grand Marshal: Jeanette Vaughn
Honorary Grand Marshal: Jack Abercia

Male Grand Marshal: Jimmy Carper
Female Grand Marshal: Deborah Bell
Organization Grand Marshal: Krewe of Olympus

Male Grand Marshal: Bob Bouton
Female Grand Marshal: Jackie Doval
Organization Grand Marshal: Texas Gay Rodeo Association
Honorary Grand Marshal: Barbara Winston

Male Grand Marshal: Sean Carter
Female Grand Marshal: Nancy Ford
Organization Grand Marshal: Colt 45’s

Male Grand Marshal: Richard Wiederholt
Female Grand Marshal: Tori Williams
Organization Grand Marshal: People with AIDS Coalition
Honorary Grand Marshal: Rev. Don Sinclair

Male Grand Marshal: Mitchell Katine
Female Grand Marshal: Dalia Stokes
Organization Grand Marshal: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Honorary Grand Marshals: Blake and Gordon Weisser  

Male Grand Marshal: Rusty Mueller (Crystal Rae Lee Love)
Female Grand Marshal: Mela Contreras
Organization Grand Marshal: Gay & Lesbian Switchboard
Honorary Grand Marshals: Jane and Irv Smith  

25th-anniversary grand marshals: all previous grand marshals

Male Grand Marshal: Jerry Simoneaux
Female Grand Marshal: Sonna Alton
Organization Grand Marshal: Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby
Honorary Grand Marshals: Sue and Jim Null   

Male Grand Marshal: Weldon Hickey
Female Grand Marshal: Deb Murphy
Organization Grand Marshal: Bayou City Boys Club
Honorary Grand Marshal: Dennis and Evelyn Shave

Male Grand Marshal: Ray Ramirez
Female Grand Marshal: Phyllis Frye
Organization Grand Marshal: Bunnies on the Bayou
Honorary Grand Marshal: Marilyn Meeker-Williams

Male Grand Marshal: Jack Valinski
Female Grand Marshal: Maria Gonzalez
Organization Grand Marshal: Imperial Court of Houston
Honorary Grand Marshal: Garnet Coleman

Male Grand Marshal: Dalton DeHart
Female Grand Marshal: Kelly McCann
Organization Grand Marshal: AIDS Foundation Houston
Honorary Grand Marshal: Julie Eberly

Male Grand Marshal: James Knapp
Female Grand Marshal: Fiona Dawson
Honorary Grand Marshals: Linda and Mike Bratsen  

Male Grand Marshal: Gary Wood
Female Grand Marshal: Carol Wyatt
Honorary Grand Marshal:  Ann Robison
Honorary Grand Marshal: Mayor Annise Parker
Celebrity Grand Marshal: Andy Cohen

Male Grand Marshal: Bryan Hlavinka
Female Grand Marshal: Tammi Wallace
Organization Grand Marshal: GLBT Community Center
Honorary Grand Marshals: Duane and Judy Roland
Celebrity Grand Marshal: Jonathan Lovitz

Male Grand Marshal: Nicolas Brines
Female Grand Marshal: Jenifer Pool
Ally Grand Marshal: Ellen Cohen
Celebrity Grand Marshal: Madison Hildebrand

Male Grand Marshal: John Nechman
Female Grand Marshal: Robin Brown
Ally Grand Marshal: Januari Leo
Honorary Grand Marshal: Frank Billingsley
Celebrity Grand Marshals: Jaymes Vaughan and James Davis

Male Grand Marshal: JD Doyle
Female Grand Marshal: Cynthia Gorczynski
Ally Grand Marshals: Sara Walters and Fernando Aramburo
Celebrity Grand Marshal: Mondo Guerra

Male Grand Marshal: Ryan Levy
Female Grand Marshal: Britt Kornmann
Ally Grand Marshal: Anna Eastman
Honorary Grand Marshal: Deborah Duncan

Male Grand Marshal: Brad Odom-Harris
Female Grand Marshal: Fran Watson
Ally Grand Marshal: Dena Gray
Honorary Grand Marshal: Imran Yousuf

Male Grand Marshal: Lou Weaver
Female Grand Marshal: Sallie Wyatt-Woodell
Ally Grand Marshal: Aimee Broadhurst
Honorary Grand Marshals: Tony Carroll, Arden Eversmeyer, and Marion Coleman

40th-Anniversary Grand Marshals: All previous grand marshals.
Honorary Grand Marshals: Bob Briddick, Julie Mabry, and Josephine Tittsworth


Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
Back to top button