Unless you’ve been completely off the bunny trail for the last forty years, you’ve likely heard about Bunnies on the Bayou, which actually refers to both the nonprofit organization and their fabulously famous party held on Buffalo Bayou every Easter Sunday. This year is a big one for the organization as they hop into their 40th year.
Bunnies was founded on Easter Sunday in 1979 when a small group of friends gathered for a birthday celebration. Word of the event soon spread, and the following year they sent out invitations and added a sound system.
Bunnies president David Goldberg explains, “In the mid-’80s, a bag of food for local charities was required to enter the event. During the ’90s, the location changed to the new downtown Wortham Center. And instead of food, Bunnies began to raise money for local LGBTQ charities.”
While Bunnies on the Bayou’s annual Easter Sunday bash is now the largest outdoor cocktail party in Texas, the organization raises money throughout the year with a series of social events. Since 2011, Bunnies has donated over $670,000 to more than twenty nonprofit organizations.
Goldberg says attending the event should be a no-brainer. “It’s an amazing party that raises a ton of money for local LGBT charities. We have no paid staff, and all of the money stays in Houston.
At Bunnies on Easter Sunday, attendees can expect to see everyone’s creative spin on Easter attire—bonnets and bunny ears. Beneficiary Committee co-chair and former vice president Ana Sanchez says, “It makes for some great people-watching.” Bunnies host Chad Cornwall adds, “You can expect plenty of eye candy.” To up the ante even more, they now bring in top-notch DJs, and the benefiting agencies serve as bartenders. “Plus,” Sanchez adds, “we have sponsors in the VIP areas mixing special drinks and offering tastings of their products.” There is also a pre-party on Saturday night, and the main event is followed by an after-party on Sunday night.
Aside from amazing music and fabulous outfits, Bunnies secretary Luis Morales Lopez says Bunnies is a great chance to see old friends and make new ones. “One of the best things about Bunnies is that it is such a casual event, and everyone is so friendly. I have met some of my favorite people either at the main event on Easter Sunday or at our auxiliary events throughout the year. There is simply nothing else like us out there.”
If this will be your first time at Bunnies, Sanchez has a few tips. First off, buy your tickets online so you won’t have to battle the ticket line when you arrive. And be sure to ride-share—best to avoid messing with parking, and there’s no excuse for drinking and driving. Sanchez also reminds newcomers that everyone is there to have fun, so don’t be scared or shy. “When I work the ticket line, I see lots of people who come alone and look shy, but by the end they are laughing and smiling with new friends.”
Lopez adds, “Pace yourself and have fun. Between the main event and the after-party there is so much to do that you will need to remember it is a marathon and not a race.” Keep in mind that Bunnies hosts do their best to provide shaded areas to cool off, although they can’t control the weather. “Dress appropriately, stay hydrated, and don’t forget to use sunscreen!” Bunnies host Chad Cornwall adds.
As for what’s on the horizon for Bunnies, Sanchez would love to see more women join Bunnies, both as volunteers and as participants. “The organization should represent the community it supports. The Houston LGBTQ community is incredibly diverse, so both Bunnies membership and event attendance should reflect that,” Sanchez explains. “The entire membership votes on our beneficiaries each year. If there aren’t women to speak up for their needs, they could be overlooked in funding selection. There are times that a woman’s perspective needs to be heard.”
Lopez recalls the year that Bunnies started to fund scholarships to LGBTQI+ youth. “That’s something I am so proud of as a Bunny. I remember being one of those kids a long time ago, and now it’s nice to know that something I am a part of is making such a huge impact in someone’s life.”
Sanchez adds, “This past Thanksgiving, I volunteered with Thomas Street Clinic for their holiday meal for clients. Seeing the faces of people who end up directly benefiting from our work really hit me. Last year, we surprised PFLAG with a grant larger than they requested because we thought the work they do is so valuable. The look on their representative’s face, going from utter shock to sheer joy, was priceless.”
Cornwall also cites the desire to meet new people and give back to the community as reasons for joining Bunnies on the Bayou. “You can expect to become fast friends with a beautifully diverse group of fun individuals.”
Lopez adds, “It is so rewarding to see how much the beneficiaries appreciate the money we give back. In some cases, our grants make up a big part of their budgets.” Cornwall explains that a year’s worth of hard work culminates with an annual check-presentation event, when each beneficiary receives a check that can fund dozens of meaningful projects throughout the community.
Sanchez also reflects on what the organization’s founders would think about the group’s upcoming 40th-anniversary event. “I’m sure they never imagined in their wildest dreams that they were creating a legacy that would touch so many Houstonians. [This anniversary is a time] to honor their lives and the contributions that so many Bunnies members have made over the years.”
And, Lopez adds, “With all the bad that is out there socially and politically, it is nice to come together and celebrate in a safe space. We are working very hard this year to make sure everyone in our community feels included.
“People like to think of us as a big party, but first and foremost we are a fundraiser that makes a huge impact in Houston’s LGBTQI+ community. I would like to see us get even bigger and become a national LGBTQ Easter Sunday destination.”
As Sanchez explains, “If you ever go to the Montrose Center, know someone who has accessed services from AIDS Foundation Houston, or have enjoyed hearing the Houston Pride Band, then you have come in contact with a program that has benefited from Bunnies on the Bayou. No one can be certain what politicians will do to social-services budgets, or when the next natural disaster will strike, but you can be sure that our community will come together and look after each other.”
“It’s so vital for our community, especially the younger generation, to remember and pay tribute to the history of this event and others like it. Forty years is no small feat,” Cornwall explains. “Events like Bunnies on the Bayou were borne out of necessity. In a world where many face rejection from their family or their church, it’s nice to know that there is a dependable open door for them in downtown Houston every Easter Sunday.”
This article appears in the August 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.