Not tired of list blogs? Good. Here are my top 10 highlights of Queer Houston.
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Houston's pretty gay.
I really enjoy living in this city. Houston may not get much of a spotlight compared to other major cities, but it's rad nonetheless. So, so much more than an oil and gas city, Houston's got a booming arts community, an unmatched foodie scene, and some of the most beautiful parks in the game.
What it also has is a really strong queer identity that doesn't get enough love. It's not just the present-day Houston that's gay as heck, either. We've always been here shaping the culture. In no particular order, here are ten highlights of a queer Houston - then and now.
1 - The earliest gay bar in H-Town was opened in the 1930s.
It was called The Pink Elephant, and was located in the heart of the city near the corner of Leeland and Caroline Streets. It would go on to serve a long tenure - nearly fifty years - before closing in the 1980s.
2- The oldest continually active gay organization in the United States is right here in Houston.
The Diana Foundation was founded in 1953 by a big ol' group of Houston gays. It began with a group of friends throwing a lavish Academy Awards watch party. It soon turned into a revue and fundraiser. Here we are over 65 years later and millions of dollars raised in funds that help local LGBTQ+ charities each year.
Pride did not come smoothly into Houston, borrowing steam from the national progressive movement toward change. Indeed, Houston's Pride celebration was founded independently of the national Pride movement after we had our own "Stonewall moment". In 1977, the Houston LGBTQ+ community organized in a way it never had before in response to an Anita Bryant concert. An estimated 6,000 protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against Bryant's appearance. We've been celebrating Pride each June ever since.
4- Mary's, Naturally.
Mary's, Mary's, Mary's. Picture it: Underwear hanging from the rafters. Occasional public sex. A delightful Sunday brunch! That was Mary's. From around 1970 until 2009, it was the heart of Montrose. A storied history of community, love, embracing the strange, and home. In addition, it's also estimated that about 300 memorials were held at Mary's during the AIDS crisis, as friends would decide to celebrate the lives of those lost when the victims' families wouldn't.
5- The Black queer community here is strong and legendary.
There weren't a ton of organizations out there for queer people of color prior to the 1980s and 1990s. Truth be told, black queer folk have always been on the front lines of the broader movement - the benefits of whose work always seemed to be reaped by white gays instead, who promptly pushed the leaders of color out from leadership when the work was done. Case in point: Look what happened to Marsha and Sylvia following Stonewall. But in Houston, the Houston Committee was there to protect and organize for black queer folk. This story in Spectrum South by Crimson Jordan is a good source of info on a few other black LGBTQ+ figures leading the revolution in the 20th century, some of whom were - you guessed it - Houstonian. Presently, folks like Monica Roberts, Mike Webb, Ashton P. Woods, Harrison Guy, Lo Roberts, et al, are leading the change.
6- The first openly gay mayor of a major US city? Annise Parker in Houston.
Mayor Parker was elected in 2010, becoming the first openly gay mayor of a major US city (emphasis on "openly"). Up until the election of Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago in 2019, the distinction also extended to largest city in the US with a gay mayor.
7- I'm fascinated by Chester Snowden and Royal Dixon, the 1930s Houston power couple.
From Houston LGBT History: "Royal Dixon was a prominent writer, author, lecturer, and naturalist. Chester Snowden was a prolific painter and illustrator, and the key is that they were a known couple in the Houston art and literary world from the early 1930s until Dixon's death in 1962." Yes, historians, Dixon and "his artist".
8- Houston has had countless LGBTQ+ political organizations over the years.
Houston may not be the kind of city known for demonstrating, but the LGBTQ+ crowd here knows how to organize and get themselves seats at the table. As this page catalogs, there have been dozens of queer organizations in Houston over the last few decades, many of which are still active today.
9- Houston's got one of the largest Pride celebrations in the nation.
An annual attendance of about 700,000 to 800,000 ain't bad. I also admire how the celebration is set up: Festival during the day, parade at night. That means that during the day - when it's 100 degrees out - you have the freedom to move about, find water, dip into a cafe or what have you for the A/C. But at night, when it's time to crowd into the streets with hundreds of thousands of others to watch the parade, you're met with a cool summer evening breeze, and no sunshine beating down from overhead.
10- Gay media? Houston's got you.
We've been on the scene in mass media for years. From The Nuntius, Houston's first gay publication which ran from 1970 to 1976, to the present day OutSmart Magazine (1994 - present), and Spectrum South (2016 - present), and everything in between, Houston queer folks have been publishing article after op-ed after interview about the world as we see it. And that's just written content - KPFT (90.1 FM) has been on-air since 1970.
The blog would like to thank intrepid Houston transplant JD Doyle for landing here in the early 1980s and deciding to catalog our history. We thank JD for not only cataloging and digitizing H-Town's LGBTQ+ history, but for allowing the blog to utilize his website as a source for this post - we also thank him for being a friend.