6 JUNE 27, 2003
www.houston voice.com HOUSTON VOICE
Houston Pride has come a long way
Parade has become
an organized protest
for gay civil rights,
celebration of gay unity
By ELLA TYLER
Saturday's Houston Pride Parade dates
back 25 years, but gay rights rallies in this
city were held long before the parade itself
In 1976, the first parade was a march
sponsored by the Gay Activists Alliance at
University of Houston. It was downtown,
and included a speech by Vito Russo,
according to Judy Reeves of the Gulf Coast
Archives & Museum of Gay, Lesbian.
Bisexual & Transgender History
In 1977, gays organized a protest against
Anita Bryant, who was appearing at the
State Bar of Texas's convention at the Hyatt
Regency. The event drew unprecedented
crowds, and undoubtedly spurred future
organizing efforts. Bryant, a former Miss
America runner-up and representative for
Florida Orange Juice, was a major organizer against Miami's gay rights ordinance.
The first Pride Week was June 16-25,
1978. It began on Friday with a prayer vigil
held at the Houston Public Library plaza,
in memory of the Bryant rally held there a
year before. Reeves said. A week of lectures, projects and parties followed. Town
Meeting I, a community-wide planning
meeting on June 25 at the Astroarena,
closed out the week.
Use of the Astroarena for a gay function
was controversial. The GCAM archives
include a copy of a transcript of a Harris
County Commissioners' Court meeting of
May 25,1978, at which a Dr. Wallings, then
chairman of the Community Standards
Coalition of Houston, protested the event's
taking place on county property. However,
Marys...Naturally is a popular place for parade watchers both at street level and above. (Photo by Dalton DeHart)
Pride Committee of Houston member Troy
Christensen says that — so far — the unpredictable
rain in Houston has paused long enough each year
for the Pride Parade. (Photo by Dalton DeHart)
since the Houston Sports Authority had
the exclusive rights to lease the property,
Commissioners' Court decided it could not
prevent the rental, although it wanted to
officially go on record saying its members
disapproved. Reeves said.
The first official Pride Parade was held
in 1979, according to Troy Christensen of
the Pride Committee of Houston. The first
Houston Pride marshal was a heterosexual
woman, Thelma Hansel, a.k.a. Disco
Grandma, according to activist Brandon
Wolf, who has compiled a list of parade
marshals. The next year, both a male and a
female grand marshal were chosen.
In 1988, a position for an honorary
grand marshal was created, and in 1993, a
marshal spot was added for an organization, Wolf said. Marshals are now chosen
by a vote, which is open to all gay
Houstonians, from a list of nominees chosen by the Pride Committee.
Various politicians have had entries in
the Parade, and state Rep. Debra Danburg,
Congressman Craig Washington and
Constable Jack Abercia have been honorary grand marshals, but no Houston
mayor had ridden in the parade until 2000.
That year. Mayor Lee Brown made history
as the first person holding that office to
participate in the event.
Sue Null a member of PFLAG (Parents,
Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays),
which was the organizational grand marshal
in 1993 and 2001, says, "When I learned my
daughter was a lesbian about 14 years ago, she
mentioned PFLAQ to me. I said, 'No, I don't
need that; I'm okay with you...but there's no
way I'm going to march in a parade.'
_ "Several years later, I attended PFLAG
to find support for a young gay man just
coming out," Null adds, "four months
after that, he and I were marching in the
Pride Parade, and the next year,.my husband joined me. Since then, we have
marched in most of the parades."
Until 1997, the Pride Parade was held in
the afternoon of the final Sunday in JUne,
but by the early '90s the timing was creating problems.
"The parade was dying," Jack Valinski,
former executive director of the Pride
Committee and this year's parade director,
said in an interview with the Houston Voice
last year. "People were sick and it became
harder and harder to get a crowd out in the
heat. We were talking about moving it to
another month, but Lee Harrington kept saying we should make it a nighttime parade.
"It finally come down to one vote, and I
voted in favor of the nighttime parade, but
I was worried," Valinski said. "We didn't
even know if the city would let us do it like
this, and there were security issues, but it
has been wonderful."
To Jimmy Carper, who was a grand
marshal for the first night parade in 1997,
every parade is wonderful.
"I saw my first Pride Parade in 1986 and
was completely overwhelmed. I saw a
vibrant and very alive community that I
wanted to be a part of," he said. "In 1988,1
was in the parade for the first time. I
couldn't believe the feeling of walking
down the middle of Westheimer in
Montrose with hundreds of people on
either side cheering.
"I had never felt such a feeling of
belonging' ever before," Carper added.
"That feeling has been repeated each year
that I've marched in the parade, and never
to a lesser degree than that fust time. Since
1988, I've only missed one parade: that year
I watched from the sidelines. I'll march in
every future one!"
Before 1997, the parade route varied
some from year to year, according to Brian
Keever, a 20-year veteran of Pride parades.
"I remember when we started at
Shepherd and Westheimer, years ago," he
said. "We had a pre-rally for the parade at
the old Plantation Club behind what is now
the Fox Diner and the floats were lined up
in the lot behind Alabama Theatre. That
was in the early '80s. We even reversed it in
'90 for Star Nite 90 at the Multi-Service
Center on West Gray"
Holding the parade at night has presented unique problems over the years,
according to organizers, but its overall success is evident.
"One problem with the new timing of
the parade was that the route had to be
shorter, because city law at that time said a
parade starting after 8 p.m. couldn't be
over a certain length." Christensen said.
"With Annise Parker's help, we got that
changed. The extra length makes a big dif-
Parade Themes Through the Years
1978: Gay Pride
1979: In Celebration of Human Rights
1980: Proud To Be
1981: We the People
1982: A Part Of.Not Apart From
1983: Unity Through Diversity
1984: Unity and More in '84
1985: Alive With Pride
1986: Liberty Is In Our Grasp
1987: Come Out and Celebrate Pride
1988: Rightfully Proud
1989: Stonewall 20 - A Generation
1990: Look to the Future
1991: Take Pride
1992: Pride = Power
1993: Out & Proud
1995: Silence to Celebration
1996: Pride Knows No Borders
1997: Glowing With Pride
1998: Unified, Diversified, Electrified
1999: Pride, Power & Pizzazz
2000: Take Pride, Take Joy, Take
2001: Embrace Diversity
2002: Pride Worldwide
2003: Silver Celebration
ference because the line-up area is much
better with a Woodhead start, especially
with Lanier Middle School right there.
"The crowd has gotten bigger since the
first nighttime parade in 1997, reaching a
high of 150,000 in 2000," he added. "The
crowd (in 2001] was slightly smaller, but still
very impressive given that Tropical Storm
Allison hit Houston just two weeks prior."
Dalia Stokes, female grand marshal for
2001, praised organizers of the annual
Pride Week events
"What a fabulous job the volunteers
with the Pride Committee of Houston do in
putting on this extravaganza that is so welcoming and so inclusive," Stokes said. "My
entire family — partner of 25 years, 86-
year-old mother, 29-year-old daughter, and
2-year-old granddaughter — participated
in the parade and found it to be an enriching experience all the way around."
So far, even the weather has been cooperative for Pride in Houston.
"It rains nearly every year sometime during parade day, but it never really rains on
the parade itself," Christensen said. "1
remember one year it rained right before the
parade, but stopped before 8:45 p.m„ and one
year it rained just as the parade was ending."
The parade is managed by the Pride
Committee of Houston, a non-profit