As gay Black activist and researcher Harrison Guy dug into Houston’s Black LGBTQ history for an archival project in 2019, he uncovered information about an almost-forgotten “proud gay Black activist” from the 1970s with whom he identified.
That Houston activist’s name is Larry Bagneris, who organized Houston’s first Pride parade in 1979 and served as chair of the local Pride-parade committee until 1986.
That information resonated with Guy, because in 2019 he became the first Black man to be honored as a Houston Pride parade grand marshal, 41 years after a gay Black man founded the parade.
Guy knew immediately after learning about Bagneris that he wanted to locate and interview him. Guy heard that Bagneris had moved to New Orleans, so he asked his friends there if they knew him. “I finally got in touch with him. We’ve been chatting ever since. He is very excited about this Saturday’s interview. He has always wanted to make sure people knew about his work in Houston.”
Guy’s interview with Bagneris will be streamed on OutSmart magazine’s Facebook Live page this Saturday, June 26, at 2 p.m. “I want to document his life and legacy in his own words. People tell stories differently. I hope it will also let the Black LGBTQ community know that we have been a part of Pride for a very long time.”
The interview will answer a lot of questions Guy has about Bagneris, his life, and LGBTQ Houston in the 1970s. Guy wants to know how the Black activist came to spearhead a major Pride parade at a time when leadership roles typically went to gay white men. He suspects that Bagneris is inherently a leader. “A person who is born to lead will find leadership. As he found himself in those spaces, he was able to lead.”
The lack of recognition for Bagneris’ contributions disturbed Guy, and also increased his determination to continue creating The Charles Law Community Archive. Founded by Guy with research done through the Houston Black LGBTQ History & Heritage Project, the archive is housed in the African American Library at the Gregory School in Houston’s Fourth Ward. Its namesake and inspiration is Charles Law, a gay Black activist who worked with Houston’s pioneering gay activist Ray Hill in the late 1970s.
“I am on a quest to uncover, document, and preserve Houston’s Black LGBTQ history,” Guy says. “Partnering with a research and archive institution means that not only are the stories safe, but they are also no longer hidden. Imagine a young Black gay teen boy researching history at the Gregory School and learning that a Black gay man started our Pride parade. I’m sure he would walk a bit taller. I wish I knew these stories growing up.”
Guy, a professional dancer and artistic director for Urban Souls Dance Company, started his work on the Houston Black LGBTQ History & Heritage Project over two years ago, but the pandemic has slowed his progress.
Although Houston’s LGBTQ community has traditionally been segregated, Guy notes that times are changing. “I think that most of the LGBTQ spaces have been white for a very long time. Black people have always created their own space where they felt safe, but recently we’ve seen the walls coming down. There are more Black people in those spaces—more people of color in general.”
An inherent ability to lead is something that Guy and Bagneris have in common. As a high school student and class president in LaMarque, Texas, Guy convinced the school to add a homecoming-king election to the school’s homecoming-queen tradition. He also lobbied successfully to have the school’s racially segregated senior dances combined into one event. When he was honored as a local activist at the 2019 Pride parade, Guy noted that his career in activism was sparked during those high-school years when he realized just how much one person’s voice can accomplish.
Charles Law was a founder of The Houston Committee, a professional organization for gay Black men that was active in the late 1970s and early ’80s. In 1979, Law was invited to speak at the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Referring in his Washington speech to the gay civil-rights gains that out activists had achieved in the decade after Stonewall, he said, “I am afraid that those gay people who do not come across as being offensively gay, as militantly gay, obviously gay, adamantly gay, or admittedly gay will be the ones to reap the benefits.”
When Law died in 1993, he was employed at Texas Southern University as the school’s archivist.
Guy says he is looking forward to meeting Bagneris this week as he is welcomed back to Houston for some long-overdue recognition. The 74-year-old activist will also be honored during the Houston Pride parade this year with the title of Honorary Grand Marshal as he appears alongside the other Pride Houston grand-marshal honorees.
What: An Intimate Conversation with Larry Bagneris
When: Saturday, June 26, at 2 p.m.
Where: Online at OutSmart magazine’s Facebook Live