10 JUNE 25,2004
www.houstonvoice.com HOUSTON VOICE
Past Grand Marshals reign at every Houston Pride Parade
From political activists
to drag queens to
bar owners, Houston
honors Parade past
When the Houston Pride Parade
marches into its 26th year on Saturday,
as always, organizers will honor this
year's grand marshals and those from
The names of some past marshals are
easily recognizable, but some are not.
For instance, the name Thelma
Hansel, a.k.a. "Disco Grandnia" may
not ring many bells, but it was with
Hansel that Houston began the tradition of honoring leaders in the gay and
Hansel was Grand Marshal at
Houston's first Pride Parade in 1979.
Technically, there was a Pride celebration
in 1978, but it was a gathering at the
AstroArena, not actually a parade.
Local long time gay rights activist Ray
Hill, who was Grand Marshal in 1981, said
Hansel got her nickname because, "She
loved Sunday evening drag shows at the
old Plantation gay bar. They even gave her
her own table."
"Disco Grandma" was heterosexual
but she had a gay son and, Hill said, she
loved him and his partner and was very
accepting of them. "There weren't
many accepting parents back then," he
added. Unfortunately, he said, there
were some who were not happy with
Hansel as Grand Marshal because she
was not gay.
Nevertheless, another, heterosexual,
Eleanor Munger, was named Grand
Marshal in 1988. Munger, who recently
passed away, was founder of Omega
Houston City Controller Annise Parker, a past parade Grand Marshall, rode in last year's parade with her
partner, Kathy Hubbard. (Photo by Dalton Dehart)
Thelma Hansel, a.k.a. 'Disco Grandma,' began the tradition of
honoring leaders in the gay and lesbian community.
She was heterosexual but she had a gay son and, says local
gay rights activist Ray Hill, she loved him and his partner
and was very accepting of them.
House Hospice for people with AIDS.
Hill has great praise for her. "She was
an Ivy League graduate and she was hor-.
rifled by AIDS. She did great sacrificial
Ruth Wanstrom was female Grand
Marshall along with Hill in 1981.
Wanstrom, owner of a lesbian bar called
the Roaring 60's, also had a nickname,
"Papa Bear." Nobody seems quite sure
how she got that moniker.
A name that's instantly recognizable
is lesbian City Controller, Annise
Parker. Parker served three terms on
Past Grand Marshall Mitchell Katine (center) rode in last year's parade with John Lawrence (left) and Tyron
Garner, the plaintiffs in the historic Lawrence v. Texas case.
Houston's City Council and last year
was elected to the second highest elected position in the city. Parker reigned
as Grand Marshal in 1990 before she
began her political life.
She was selected because she had
been a gay rights activist at Rice
University and was the founder of a gay
and lesbian group at that institution.
She was also active in Houston's Gay
and Lesbian Political Caucus and
served a term as president. Hill
describes her as an effective politician
who applies her engineering and
accounting background to the structure
of city government.
At least three other past Grand
Marshals have passed away: Eugene
(Gene) Harrington, who led the
199lParade; Ruth Ravas, the 1988 Parade
Grand Marshal; and Rick Grossman who
reigned over the 1988 Parade.
Harrington, an attorney, was according
to Hill, "A Renaissance man." Harrington,
along with Hill and three other gay men
ran for Houston City Council on the same
ballot in the early 90's. It was mostly a
symbolic effort, but Hill said proudly that
he received the most votes.
Trivia buffs will be interested to note
that Hill and attorney Mitchell
Katine-Grand Marshall 2001-have both
been involved in cases that went before
the U.S. Supreme Court.
Katine was the first attorney to take on
the historic case of Lawrence v. Texas,
which prevailed before the U.S. Supreme
court and struck down sodomy laws
across the nation. Coincidentally, the
Court's decision was handed down just
two days before last year's 25*n
Anniversary Pride Parade, prompting
some parade participants and attendees to
wear T-shirts that declared them to be,
. "legally gay."
Hill, an ex-con, claimed he was falsely arrested by Houston Police after he
tried to stop officers from beating and
harassing an African American gay
man in the mid-1980's. His case went all
the way to the U.S. Supreme Court
where he won.
In the written decision handed down
by the Supreme Court, Hill was referred
to as a "citizen provocateur," a title that is
still on his business card today.
Other past Grand Marshals include:
Charles Armstrong, bar owner and businessman, 1989; longtime lesbian activist
Pokey Anderson, 1984; Nancy Ford,
writer and comic, 1999; and Mela
Contreras, owner of Mela's bar, and
Rusty Mueller (a.k.a. Crystal) in 2002.
Perhaps the most interesting Parade as
far as Grand Marshals are concerned,
was last year's 25th Anniversary
Parade. All past Grand Marshals were
invited to lead the Parade.
Hill described it this way, "We were all
on a big float last year. They recycled all
the old GM's. There was hardly room for
all the walkers and canes on that float."
With more than 175,000 onlookers and
125 parade entries, it was the biggest
Houston Pride Parade ever.
The tradition continues Saturday as
the 2004 Grand Marshals: Sonna Alton,
communications director at the Montrose
Clinic; Jerry Simoneaux, an attorney and
president of the Stonewall Law
Association of Greater Houston; Sue and
Jim Null, PFLAG activists; and Randall
Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian
and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, take their
elected places at the head of the Houston
I MORE INFO
Houston Pride Parade
8:45 p.m. Saturday
starts at Westheimer and Woodhead