From politics, to health, from nightlife to spiritual life, lesbians have played a leading role in creating a vibrant, strong and healthy LGBT community in North Texas
Editor’s note: Notice the title of this piece says “brief.” We know it is not even close to comprehensive. There are many more lesbian heroes in our community, and much that came before and after the time covered here. But we wanted in this, our first “Lesbian Issue,” to pay tribute to women who helped make our community great.
Louise Young and Viv Armstrong moved to Dallas in the fall of 1976 but didn’t begin searching for the lesbian community here until the spring of 1977. Their initial search took them to a bar off McKinney Avenue, near what’s now the Crescent, called Bayou Landing.
They saw a poster at the bar for a meeting of the Dallas Gay Political Caucus and decided to check it out.
“We don’t know what to make of all this,” Young and Armstrong told DGPC’s new president, Steve Wilkins, at the meeting.
“I hope you’ll become involved,” he said.
That was in February. In March, DGPC had an opening for secretary, and Young took the position. Armstrong headed the organization’s new political action committee. This was the committee that interviewed political candidates for the organization, and that organized the first opposition to Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, aka the Texas sodomy law.
In 1980, lesbians and gays across the city brought resolutions worded alike to repeal 21.06 to precinct conventions across Dallas, in a move organized by DGPC. The organization also encouraged gays and lesbians to run for precinct chairs.
“We organized the community’s approach to precinct conventions held the night of the primary,” Young said. “That brought women to precinct conventions. We felt empowered and many were elected to district and state conventions.”
A year later, DGPC changed its name to Dallas Gay Alliance. At the same time, many gay groups across the country were adding the word “lesbian” to their titles, Armstrong said.
“Women left when ‘lesbian’ wasn’t put in,” Young said. “Women wanted the L in the name.”
Armstrong and Young conducted a survey of 100 women at the bars.
“There was a direct correlation of women’s desire to be involved in political and organizational activities and wanting to be called lesbians,” Young said.
Young, who wrote several pieces for DGA’s newsletter, said the organization had a style sheet that insisted everyone in the community be referred to as gay. When Young referred to women as lesbians in an article and the piece was changed for print, she said she felt slighted and disrespected.
But, she noted, “I don’t believe there was an intentional effort to exclude women.”
By 1986, Young and Armstrong had left DGA, which by that time was consumed with providing services to those with AIDS. The couple wanted to focus on political activism and so helped created the Lesbian Gay Political Coalition.
DGA finally changed its name to Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance in 1992, soon after Deb Elder became president of the organization. Elder was the first woman to head the group since Young served as president. By the time it became DGLA, the board’s male members agreed with the women the change was long overdue.
Cece Cox succeeded Elder as DGLA president and successfully lobbied Dallas City Council to add workplace protection to city ordinances. By the time she served as president of the group, Cox said the rift over ‘the L word’ was healed.
“My experience was that men and women came together, working side by side,” Cox said.
Young said despite the controversy, men and women always worked together well in Dallas. She recalled once when a friend from San Francisco visited, “she was amazed at what we were doing here compared to San Francisco.”
Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through the 1980s, activists in Dallas — and across Texas — battled to rid the state of the sodomy law, which criminalized private, consensual sexual contact between adults of the same gender. Even though the first victory came when Don Baker filed a lawsuit that resulted in federal Judge Jerry Buchmeyer ruling the sodomy law unconstitutional, that ruling was later overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
It wasn’t until lesbian Mica England tried to join the Dallas Police Department that the community won its first lasting victory over the sodomy law (although it wasn’t completely overturned until 2003 when the U.S. Supreme ruled it unconstitutional).
It was in the early 1990s, though that England, openly lesbian, challenged the sodomy law in state court after the Dallas PD used it as an excuse not to hire her. The trial court ruled in her favor, as did the Texas Court of Appeals. The case never made it to the Texas Supreme Court, because the state failed to appeal the decision in time.
Lesbians during the AIDS crisis
Armstrong is a nurse and in addition to her day job, she served on several boards to provide AIDS care to gay men who, in the 1980s and early 1990s, were contracting the disease at an ever-increasing rate.
She worked with the county health department on prevention, providing condom bowls to get men in the habit of having protected sex. She served on the department’s HIV services planning committee for nine years. She helped provide care through Visiting Nurses Association.
Other women in healthcare offered other types of support to gay men who were contracting AIDS.
When Parkland Hospital wouldn’t offer pentamidine mist treatment to help prevent a virulent strain of pneumonia that was killing many people with HIV, Penny Pickle, also a nurse, began administering the treatment at the then-DGA office. That was the beginning of what today is the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic.
Sandy Horwitz was a nurse at Baylor Hospital. She transferred to the AIDS floor there because she knew she could provide gay patients with a level of care they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. She said she lost count of the number of gay men who died in her arms.
Mary Franklin began her career caring for people with AIDS as part of the Dallas Buyers Club, helping Ron Woodruff distribute AIDS drugs not approved in the U.S. that had been smuggled into the country, with the FDA turning a blind eye.
Franklin helped turn a shelf in Crossroads Market — a shop at the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton where customers left canned goods to be distributed to people with AIDS — into the Resource Center Food Pantry. Before the pantry started getting most of its food supplies from the
North Texas Food Bank, Franklin tracked train wrecks and overturned semi trailers for possible sources of donations. She organized teams to stand in front of “Mary Thumb” — the Tom Thumb supermarket that once stood where ilume is now located — to hand out lists of food pantry needs, and she shuttled vans full of donations to the pantry.
While women worked hard to care for men dying from AIDS, they were also creating organizations care for women’s needs as well. One of the earliest lesbian groups was Flying W’s, a motorcycle group started by legendary Dallas lesbian Lory Masters in the 1970s.
Another was the Texas Lesbian Conference, which Cox explained was held annually in different cities around the state, featuring workshops on everything from art to health and social issues.
Lesbian Visionaries, founded by Elder and Kay Vinson among others, was another group that provided women’s programming.
“That was where women came together,” Cox said. She said when that group merged with DGLA, it provided a women’s component that had been missing from the alliance.
In 1988, to celebrate National Coming Out Day, Lesbian Visionaries tried to place an ad in The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald.
Both papers rejected the ad. Years later, DGLA had more success placing the ad with the Morning News.
While the Gay and Lesbian Community Center provided space for everyone in the community, a group of women led by Christine Jarosz opened the Lesbian Resource Center on Hall Street in east Dallas as a safe space specifically for women.
To develop leadership within the community, a group called Leadership Lambda created a seminar series with quite a bit of lesbian talent directing and developing the program. Innovative and strong Dallas organizations were gaining a national reputation.
“I cut my teeth on local organizations,” said Candy Marcum, co-founder of Oak Lawn Counseling Center. Once reports of Gay-Related Immune
Deficiency (GRID, which later became labeled AIDS) began to hit, the center began a crisis line and transformed into Oak Lawn Community Services, one of Dallas’ major AIDS service providers through the 1990s.
Fairway to Equality, which celebrates its 25th year this June, was the first exclusively lesbian event to benefit Human Rights Campaign.
Marcum said she joined the Dallas Insiders, which became the Federal Club and that propelled her into becoming HRC’s first female national chair.
The Dallas lesbian community also has a strong business tradition.
Elder was an early part of Crossroads Market until she and Vinson opened Curious Times, a jewelry and bookstore on Cedar Springs Road.
Vinson and Kay Christian published the Lambda Pages, the Dallas LGBT community’s first yellow page directory. Lambda Pages became a Texas Triangle publication, was later acquired by Dallas Voice and has now evolved into an annual relocation/visitors guide called Out North Texas, still published by Voice Publishing.
Women have been a major driving force in the Dallas real estate scene. Masters was so successful that a neighborhood in the northwest area of Dallas is still referred to as “Lory Land.” And lesbians like Kathy Hewitt and Susan Melnick today consistently rank among the top sales people in the city.
Women’s Business Network, created by Marty Malliton and led by Jo Bess Jackson, was known for its business mixers that brought professional women together to share resources.
Lesbian bars as community centers
Nightclubs played an important role in the lesbian community, but unlike many other cities, in Dallas many of the lesbian bars were actually owned by women.
Kathy Jack, the original manager of the popular nightclub Sue Ellen’s who recently returned to that position, said that at the time Caven opened Sue Ellen’s, there were four other lesbian bars in Dallas: High Country, Desert Moon, Jugs and Buddies. That was amazing at a time when other cities struggled to keep just one lesbian bar open. Jack attributes that to Dallas’ large and especially strong lesbian community.
Jugs and Buddies were the two iconic names in the history of Dallas lesbian bars. At the time Jugs — owned by Joe Elliott — closed, it was the oldest continuously operating lesbian bar in the country. When Sandy Myers’ Buddies II closed a number of years later, it had taken the title of longest lesbian-owned-and-operated bar in the country. Jack said Myers started out working for Elliott at Jugs. At one point, they “got into it,” and Myers opened her own bar.
Jack, herself now an icon Dallas LGBT nightclub world, called Elliott a mentor. “Joe had a heart as big as Dallas and would do anything for anybody,” Jack said. “But [you wanted to] stay on her good side.”
Myers also had a gruff exterior, but was also known for her big heart. Every year, Christmas was her opportunity to collect clothing and blankets for the homeless. She and her partner Dawn Jackson and bartenders and customers from the bar would go out and distribute items on the streets and under bridges to whomever was in need.
Jackson likes to tell the story about a particularly cold Christmas when Myers had given her a pair of fur-lined gloves.
While distributing the blankets and clothes, they met a woman who appeared especially cold.
Myers said, “Give me the gloves.” Jackson objected because it was her Christmas gift. “Give me the damn gloves,” Myers insisted. Jackson handed over the gloves to the homeless woman and Myers got Jackson another pair later.
Living in faith
Lesbians have long been strong partners in the Dallas faith community as well.
“Carol West played an incredible role,” Cox said. “They were there as leaders and [they] restored people in their faith.”
Colleen Darraugh, Shelley Hamilton, Shelly Torres West are also among those leaders Cox described.
Many local faith leaders moved to national positions. Cindi Love served as executive director of Metropolitan Community Churches for four years and was executive director of Soulforce.
Unlike in other cities where the men’s and women’s communities have been quite separate and even antagonistic entities, Dallas women all gave as many examples of men and women working together as they did of just doing things for themselves.
This brief history doesn’t include the names of many of the women that contributed so much to the community — Ann Brown, Starr Eady, Charlotte Taft, Susan Gore, Alpha Thomas, Micah England, Christy Kinsler and so many, many more — and it doesn’t include much history beyond 1990. But lesbians — including Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Patti Fink, Tonya Parker, Feleshia Porter, C.D. Kirven, Felecia Miller, Dee Pennington and others — have continued to contribute to every aspect of what makes the Dallas LGBT community such an important part of the city today, and an integral part of why Oak Lawn was recently named the No. 1 gayborhood in the country.
Resources and Organizations for Women
• National Center for Lesbian Rights
Legal help line 415-392-6257
• National LGBTQ Task Force
• Human Rights Campaign
• DFW Federal Club Women’s Mixer
Resource Center program dedicated to empowering women through community involvement and social opportunities.
• Late Bloomers
For women who came out later in life
• North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce Women’s group
• Once in a Blue Moon
Monthly dance for women
• Socially Open Lesbians in Demand (SOLID)
Texas chapter of the SOLID Network, designed to help build a positive, supportive community of sisterhood.
• The Women’s Chorus of Dallas
• Women of Distinction
An organization for African-American professional women committed to providing a networking and social forum for women in a non-business type atmosphere.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 16, 2015.