THOUGHTS FROM SHIFLETT: a) "Ray (Hill) was the only one who knew how to play City Hall, b) There was tension
all along in the Caucus' development as to who really spoke for the gay community, and that problem still exists with us
today, c) Leaders are born, not made.
Shiflett Leaves with Strong Parting Thoughts
from page 1
occured in his life that has influenced his
direction to this day.
"One of my friends in high school committed suicide," he reflected, "It was
because of his gayness that his family ridiculed him and destroyed his concept of
self-worth. And ever since that day, I was
very committed to making people understand that it was okay to be gay, because I
knew that I was okay.
"So from a long time ago, I was building
up that desire to do something about the
problem, because I saw it come into my life
and it affected me very profoundly," he
said sadly. "And I was in high school."
Shiflett's activism, spurred by the death
of a gay friend and coupled with his natural political bent, was further anchored by
the teachings of his family. He feels that
much of his leadership ability comes from
"the moral strength from my family—the
way I was brought up. I was commited to a
quality of life andmakingsure that justice
should be done.
"There were a lot of wrongs being done
out there that I wanted to straighten out,"
he said of the gay vs. non-gay society of
the early 70's. "You don't get prepared for
that except in your upbringing. Leaders
are born, not made."
So with his lion's share of enthusiasm
and a zealot's ire at injustice, Shiflett
returned to Houston and found the turf
already plowed, waiting for the seeds to be
planted that would grow and make Houston's gay community a viable political
force on the local, state and national levels.
"When I moved here and saw that there
was a quality gay community and people
within the community were aspiring to do
good things with their lives and were not
just into a drag-queen lifestyle," he said, "I
was so inspired that my life started to blossom.
"I got to watch peripherally the GPC
organize," he said of 1975, "because I lived
in an apartment complex of people who
were organizing it."
This combination of his past and present provided the spark for Shiflett's leadership in the community when two years
after his arrival Anita Bryant brought her
"Save Our Children" campaign to Houston.
Prior to her arrival, Shiflett said that
"there really wasn't a sense of community
at all, but that year really gave it some
were private and closed, were engulfed in a
tidal wave of protest directed at the orange
juice queen, so much so that 10,000 people
participated in a candlelight march to
City Hall in protest of Bryant's self-
righteous blasts at gay people everywhere.
"I was so overwhelmed with emotion
and felt so much pride," Shiflett said of the
candlelight march, "that that's when I
first understood the meaning of 'gay
pride.' I had heard of the concept, but I
didn't understand it. It took Dade County
(Bryant's Florida base where she led an
anti-gay referendum) to enlighten me of
this new feeling that was sweeping the
But despite the appearance of 10,000
gay people and their supporters, Houston's and the nation's news media looked
the other way, a media position which
finally catapulted Shiflett into the mainstream of gay politics.
"I was really irritated at the way the
media handled the Anita Bryant march,"
he said angrily. "Not only did they underestimate the numbers of people who were
there, they didn'tdescribethesignificance
of events the way our community wanted
to see it—the way they felt."
Outraged and ready to capitalize on his
past experience as well as his past emotions, Shiflett was then drawn irrevocably
to the organization he had watched being
bom—Houston's Gay Political Caucus, a
group of 20 or so community-oriented individuals who held their meetings upstairs
at the old Inside/Outside (now Texas
Renegades) and the Depository II.
"The caucus at that time was somewhat
small and had a feeling of fraternity, not
really politics. People got together to make
each other feel good—working on press
releasee. They really didn't have a real
serious agenda, and not too many people
came to the meetings, either. It surely
didn't have too much money."
Then using the media slight as his
jumping-off point, Shiflett became
involved with the caucus' Media Monitoring Committee, the only active committee
within the early caucus, other than its
mailing committee which Shiflett felt was
the caucus' backbone.
"We were able to get the media to ascertain the GPC committee as a significant,
constituent group that had needs to be met
under the guidelines of the FCC. And that
was an accomplishment," hesaidofoneof
his (and the GPC's) first achievement.
id we also established connections
and they realized who the people were they for the star in the east,
could call for news." »But there was tension all along in the
Then Shiflett was ready to make a little caucus' development as to who really
spoke for the gay community, and that
news of his own
The fledgling organization was under
Don Hrachovy, an interim president who
followed Gary Van Ooteghem, and a timid
board, and there was no one guiding force
at the wheel of what Shiflett thought
should be a much more powerful political
group. Shiflett then sized up what he saw
as the community's needs and went after
obtaining them, and just began to create
the waves that would see him resign from
the GPC's presidency several years later.
"The leadership of the caucus was hesitant They were overwhelmed with their
own personal lives and work and really
didn't have the time to devote to a new
agenda for the GPC."
Consequently a coup was organized
against existing GPC bylaws and the
Media Monitoring Committee called for a
special election for a new president.
Prior to the election, Shiflett was introduced to City Hall by gay activist Ray
Hill, whom he admits helped him in his
first years by stearing him through Houston's gay political waters.
"Ray was the only one who really knew
how to play City Hall," Shiflett said,
remembering the times Hill took him
downtown and told him "and this is the
way it works.
"He was a real good teacher," Shiflett
Then a meeting was arranged by Hill,
whom some members of the GPC felt was
out to control the gay community, for Shiflett to meet then Mayor Jim McConn, an
event that further pushed Shiflett toward
his goal, that of becoming president of the
"I wasn't real pleased with the way that
meeting went and felt like I could do a
good job in dealing with the kind of people
we were dealing with downtown. I
informed Gregg Bell (who was running for
the GPC presidency) on the way home
(from the meeting) that I was going to run
Bell reacted negatively to Shiflett's
announcement and became furious with
him, Shiflett said. And although Bell was
the hardest worker the GPC had, according to Shiflett, "He wasn't presidential
quality, in my opinion."
But Shiflett overrode Bell's objections,
as well as the objections of others within
the caucus, and capitalized on what was
a \fcto(fcrinfc^Utieal group poking -
problem still exists with us today."
"And it was that quick of a decision," he
said of his first presidential bid. "I just felt
like I had some things to offer that the
people downtown would respond to."
What Shiflett felt he had to offer centered around his professionalism: the way
he asked questions, the way he got the
right answers, the way he was able to get
people to size-up major issues. The caucus
apparently felt so, too, for in March of'78,
he was elected as the group's third president.
Then began the series of what Shiflett
calls "quantum leaps" which occurred
during his administration.
Three months after his election, the
GPC had manufactured an influential
"I knew that I could get the caucus
involved in grass roots politics because of
my background. They just didn't know the
avenue that was available to them—
organizing at the precinct level—and
that's what I wanted to do."
Then following the May Democratic
primaries, Shiflett, along with Ray Hill,
urged the caucus to open up a Town Meeting, an event which Shiflett says could
mean as much to the commmunity today,
if repeated, as it did back in 1978.
Prior to the Town Meeting which Shiflett regards as being one of the most
important political events that this community has ever seen, he met with various
members of the community six weeks
before over 3000 people filed into the
Astrodome to make their voices heard in
Houston's gay community.
"What was so significant about Town
Meeting was that it really established a
serious foundation for the (gay) movement
to go forward," he said of the event. "It set
an agenda and it gained consensus from
the community. When you have that
many people participating in decisionmaking, you can't help but come out with
some kind of benefit.
"And we ended up having large
numbers of people join the GPC at Town
Meeting. New organizations proliferated
overnight. It was amazing what Anita
Bryant had done to us. It magnified 10-
fold that day (of the march), even though
we didn't have the numbers. "After getting consensus like that," he continue
"we rmrfa Wry cohesive and uhrffed con