Johnson enthralls audience with tales of gay life in Dallas through the years
Young and old, gay and straight attended gay historian Phil Johnson’s lecture last week on life in Dallas before the Stonewall riots of 1969 and afterwards.
About 15 people showed up for the lecture at the Oak Lawn branch of the Dallas Public Library. Johnson turned it into an informal discussion by asking the audience to gather their chairs in a semi-circle around him.
Johnson, 81, talked about growing up in Dallas in the 1930s and 1940s, joining the service where he worked in an exclusively gay office with other service members, his travels to other cities and his gay life in Dallas.
Gay men often met in the grand movie theaters that once lined Elm Street, or they socialized in the bar at the Adolphus Hotel, according to Johnson. If they wanted to pick up a trick, they would walk down the street to stand in front of Neiman Marcus or in front of the Magnolia Petroleum Building where the Mobil Oil Company’s Flying Red Horse stood perched on the roof.
“The Flying Red Horse marked the corner in the heart of downtown Dallas where we could hang out meet others like us,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s slide presentation showed scenes of the first gay Pride parade in downtown Dallas in the early 1970s. Dallas officials tried to stop the parade, but the city attorney advised them it would be unconstitutional, he said.
The parade started out with only about a dozen people, but it swelled to 300 people before it reached the end of its route, Johnson said. The event shocked residents of Dallas who had no idea so many gay people existed, he said.
He talked about Queen’s Point, a gay gathering beach and camping area on Lake Lewisville that was popular in the 1970s. For years, hundreds of gay men and lesbians spent weekends camping out at Queen’s Point.
After his slide presentation, Johnson asked members of the group to share their experiences.
“I learned stuff, and I’m always eager to do so,” said Johnson, who has been collecting gay publications and documenting gay life for decades.
Trent Williams who lives in Fort Worth, said he found the lecture informative.
“It was really a moving tribute to the history of the community,” Williams said. “I was most surprised to learn that there was a community that was proud of itself, even in the midst of adversity, in a time that we think of as very difficult and trying.”
Marty Malliton, of Dallas, said she found the lecture informative too.
“The presentation was wonderful,” Malliton said. “I think our history is critical. It’s what we use to judge how far we’ve come.”
Malliton said she appreciated Johnson sharing his knowledge with younger members of GLBT society.
Carol Wells, who is straight but once owned a gay bar called La Pigalle in the 1970s, said she enjoyed reminiscing about the old days.
“It was very interesting, and it kind of brought back a lot of old memories,” Wells said. “I love to talk about it because it was a real fun time in my life. It was a party every night.”
Johnson’s collection of gay magazines and other materials are available for research at the Phil Johnson Historic Archives and Library at the John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Call 214-528-0144 for information.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 30, 2006.