The 33rd annual Houston Pride Festival and Parade on Saturday were a huge success, made only more joyous by the passage of marriage equality in New York the night before. The celebration is a community-wide affair, full of larger-than-life characters and everyday people braving the heat and humidity in celebration of their pride in the LGBT community.
One of my favorite things about Houston Pride is how involved community organizations and businesses are in the celebration. The El Real Tex Mex restaurant is a new addition to the Montrose neighborhood where the parade and festival take place. The restaurant moved into the historic Tower Theater; most of the time they use the existent marque to advertise specials, but on Saturday they wished everyone a “Happy Parade.”
Right around the corner from the festival is Grace Lutheran Church. Three years ago the church bucked denominational rules by calling a self-identified queer pastor and received an official reprimand for doing so. Since then the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has begun ordaining LGBT clergy, and the church is now on good terms with the denomination. To celebrate Houston Pride Grace decorated their 1949 bell tower in rainbow colors.
One of the most popular spots at the festival was the art and history tent, partially because it was the only air-conditioned tent, but also because of the artifacts and exhibits on display from the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History, and the archive of the Transgender Foundation of America.
One display that captured many people’s attention was a collection of artifacts from events where gender-variant people physically confronted police brutality, including a meal ticket, spoons and an ash tray from Compton’s Cafeteria in San Fransisco. In 1966 transgender patrons at Compton’s responded to a police raid of the cafeteria by barricading themselves in the restaurant and throwing much of its contents at officers. After the riot the San Fransisco Police Department established a first-of-its-kind liaison office with the LGBT community and social services specifically designed for transgender people were created. The Compton’s riot predates the Stonewall riots by almost three years.
Jay Maze of the performance troupe the Gendermyn was in the Art and History tent talking about another project: ‘The Gender Book,’ which explores terminology around gender identity and expression in a simple and easy to understand way.
Outside, in the un-air conditioned tents, groups braved the trademark Houston heat and humidity. Noel Freeman , president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, took the climbing temps in stride. Noel says that at 36 years old, the caucus is the oldest GLBT organization in the South, and one of the oldest in the country. According to one of the caucus’ founders, Pokey Anderson, back in the 70s and 80s, when both the Dallas and Houston parades were getting started some people worried that if they marched in the Pride parade their pictures might wind up on the 6 o’clock news, outing them to family and co-workers and putting their jobs at risk. To avoid that Houstonians would drive up to the Dallas parade and Dallasites would drive down to Houston’s. My how times have changed!
In contrast to the 36-year-old Houston GLBT political caucus, 2-year-old sister organization the Fort Bend GLBT political caucus is the new kid on the block. Caucus president and straight ally Januari Leo had her kids in tow as they enjoyed the festival.
Balloon artist LaKeia Spady delighted festivalgoers with her creations. In addition to balloon talents Spady is a recognized activist and leader in the Houston area. Last year she won the Richard L. Schlegel National Legion of Honor for her work to include gender identity and expression in Houston Community College’s nondiscrimination policy.
The Houston Gaymers tent featured a larger-than-life dancing game on the Wii, but the group’s risque shirts attracted even more attention. Is there anything hotter than a nerd wearing a “Guys Love Our Joysticks” shirt?
Houston Mayor Annise Parker is facing re-election in the fall and her dedicated cadre of volunteers were out in force at both the festival and the parade. Parker faces Republican Fernando Herrera in November.
Of course the Aug. 6 American Family Association/Rick Perry day of prayer and fasting, “The Response,” was on everyone’s mind. The Texas Freedom Network found a clever way to to respond to “The Response” and encourage people to get involved: a life-size photo of Perry with his famous 2010 quote “Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?” Festivalgoers plastered the Perry cutout with their responses, including the insightful, “Why can’t it be both?” and the concise “Screw you!”
Ambalika Williams and Brian Bolton drove in from Austin for Houston Pride. Both are students at the University of Texas where they are active in campus LGBTQ groups. Ambalika formerly attended Houston Community College where she founded the Out Students and Allies. She marched with the group during the parade. Brian was in town with a group of brothers from Delta Lambda Phi national social fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive gentlemen.
Being Pride, rainbows were, of course, the preferred sartorial choice of the day. This festivalgoer outdid us all with her fabulous rainbow Mohawk.
Male grand marshal Bryan Hlavinka took a moment out of his very busy day to take a picture with the author. Brian is one of the co-hosts of Houston’s Queer Voices on KPFT, 90.1, and the Victory Fund’s Southern Caucus Chair. The other grand marshals at the parade were celebrity grand marshal Jonathan Lovitz of Logo’s Setup Squad; female grand marshal Tammi Wallace, a longtime community leader and former chief of staff to former state representative (and current Houston city council candidate) Ellen Cohen; organizational grand marshal the Houston GLBT Community Center; and grand marshals Duane and Judy Roland, PFLAG parents and all-around community leaders.
Of course you can’t have a Pride celebration without homophobic protesters showing up. These are from Houston’s own “Bulldog Ministries.” I think the guy with the “we buy gold” sign may have been lost. In an odd way I like that the bigots have become a part of the tradition. They are a reminder of why we need Pride parades, why we need to be out and loud and celebratory. Without them Pride would just be another party, instead of a statement about our community’s strength and vibrancy.
That’s the point, isn’t it? In Houston, Pride is held in June to remember the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a forceful rejection of official oppression. No matter how many lesbian mayors we have, or how many straight allies come to the festival, regardless of the congressmen and women in the parade, or the sponsorship of major corporations, Pride is about remembering where we’ve come from; not just the people who fought back at the Stonewall Inn, or Compton’s Cafeteria, but people like Harvey Milk and the GLBT Political Caucus’ Pokey Anderson who got us where we are today. It’s also about college students who travel for hours to experience the magic of Pride. It’s about balloon artist who are activists and writers who are gender performance artists. It’s about 36-year-old political organizations and the 2-year-old organizations they inspire. Pride is a Lutheran church that risked reprimand to call the pastor they wanted and it’s video game nerds just getting together for a good time. It’s all these things that make Pride special and it’s all these things that, in the end, will take our community to that place beyond the rainbow, where we are free and equal.