Seasons of LOVE • Pride Weddings & Celebrations 2011

Couples who have been together a while celebrate anniversaries in many ways

ON HIGH SEAS | George Harris, left of the man in the New York City shirt, and his partner Jack Evans, flanking on the right, marked their golden anniversary with a week-long cruise to Mexico with more than a dozen close friends.

By Jef tingley

At the risk of sounding like a song from Rent: How does a couple measure a year? It’s the question many same-sex partners are faced with when they make it past 365 days together and seek to fix that elusive date they call their “anniversary.” Was it the first glance? First date? First, uhh, encounter? Or how about the day they loaded the cats in the U-Haul and moved in together?

The answer, it seems, is yes to all of the above. But whether grand or subtle, these couples had their own reasons and ways for making their anniversaries an affair to remember.

Jack Evans and George Harris met each other on Jan. 19, 1961 at the Taboo Room, a long-defunct gay bar located on Lomo Alto Drive off Lemmon Avenue. Earlier this year, they decided to mark their golden anniversary.

“Fifty years and still goin’ strong!” Harris crows.

To celebrate, they invited a group of 16 friends to fly to Los Angeles in early April. The couple spend a day touring the city, including a trip to the Getty Museum, before they all boarded the Princess Sapphire for a one-week Mexican Riviera cruise. The adventure included stopovers in Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo.

“It was wonderful,” says Evans. “A great, harmonious, no-drama group.”

Lakewood residents David Wood and Don Hendershot met 25 years ago at a tea dance at the infamous Parliament House in Orlando, Fla.; however, it was just this year that they took their relationship to the next level, getting legally married in Boston on March 25.

It was certainly a day they’ll never forget. Taking the marriage advice of “something blue” too literally, Hendershot fell from a ladder the day before the wedding, leaving him with a broken hand and bruised ribs going into the ceremony. Major body trauma aside, the intimate wedding came off without a hitch — “except for my unexpected explosion of tears when we exchanged vows,” says Wood.

The duo credit the wedding of a younger couple they are friends with for prompting them to make the move from longtime live-ins to actual husband status. “We had been discussing how we were going to celebrate 25 years and seeing such a young couple tie the knot actually inspired us to do the same,” Wood says.

Oak Cliff residents Kathy Jack and Susie Buck also celebrated one of their anniversaries (year seven) with a wedding. As a result, the couple, now together 15 years, claims two anniversary dates for their very own. “Our anniversary is Feb. 14, which was not planned,” says Jack of the Valentine’s Day milestone. “But our wedding anniversary is Feb. 15, which was planned.” The date change was apparently made to best accommodate the schedule of the couple and their friends as they traveled to Hawaii for a destination wedding.

It was a trip they will both remember for years to come. “Maui on your wedding night. Waves crashing. Champagne. How much better can it get?” says Buck. “[We are] hoping to get away for our 20th to Greece.”

For Oak Cliff couple Todd Johnson and Tom Caraway, who will celebrate their 12-year anniversary on Nov. 3, the special day wasn’t about rushing to the altar — it was about traveling the world together.

“For our 10-year anniversary, we wanted to go someplace special,” says Johnson. “Paris kept popping up, but it seemed like such a cliché. Surely, we could be more original than that. But neither of us had ever been and it was the best decision. Paris is a very special place, my favorite city on the planet. Just strolling the streets of St. Germain, the Marais. The beauty of the city is so inspiring. I now understand why you see people making out on practically every street corner.”

PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES | Tom Caraway, pictured, and his partner Todd Johnson decided to mark their 10th anniversary with a trip to Paris, where neither had ever been. The trip included touristy things like visiting the Louvre, pictured, but also fine dining and a stop at Pere Lachaise cemetery to visit the grave of Oscar Wilde.

He’s quick to add that Parisian dining was equally as appealing a part of the trip for the self-proclaimed foodies. “[We] decided to eat our way across the city. All the bistros and patisseries offered one delicious bite after another. For our official anniversary dinner, we went to Alain Ducasse at the Hotel Plaza Athenee, considered one of the finest restaurants in the world. It was like something out of a movie: crystal chandeliers, haute couture decor, formal service but happily not stuffy. We couldn’t get over the food: guinea fowl with truffle pie, steamed langoustines, asparagus with black truffles.”

However, it’s how the couple ended the anniversary excursion that really stands out. “We visited Pere Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris. It’s the one where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried. I know. A cemetery? Romantic?” says Johnson. “But there we were in this perfectly still, quiet place amid the bustle of Paris. The sun was close to setting. The gravestones cast long shadows across the lawn. There was something about the moment that was magical. You focus on the beauty and fragility of life, and it makes you thankful for everything that you have  — especially the love that you have. We took each other’s hands and strolled along the cemetery. It’s my favorite moment of the trip.”

So perhaps the folks in Rent have it right. Maybe you do measure a year in cups of coffee and sunsets? Or, maybe it’s wedding rings and graveyard strolls? Regardless of what it takes, it seems each couple has their own way of making the phrase “happy anniversary” truly mean something.

— Additional reporting by David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

50 years together and still going strong

Evans, Harris celebrate golden anniversary with a look back at how the world has changed

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

George Harris and Jack Evans will celebrate their 50th anniversary on Wednesday, Jan. 19. The couple met in Dallas on Jan. 19, 1961.

Evans and Harris, who tend to finish each other’s sentences, said they first met on a Sunday afternoon at the Taboo Room, a gay bar on Lomo Alto Drive across from Wyatt’s Cafeteria where Whole Foods now stands.

“We’ve been together ever since,” said Evans.

“And lived within 2 miles of where we met for 50 years,” added Harris.

At the time, Evans had recently moved back from Houston. He had been managing the antique furniture department at Neiman Marcus in the Houston store, but Edwin Marcus found out he was gay.

He lost the job, he said, because Marcus said they were afraid that if others found out, he’d be blackmailed and begin to steal from the company.

“They ‘allowed’ me to resign,” Evans said.

Harris had moved to Dallas from Washington, D.C. He had been in the Army and, for a time, had been assigned to the CIA.

“I never did basic training,” he said. “I did stenography.” (Before recording equipment became common, stenographers, who wrote in shorthand code, took transcriptions of meetings.)

“They sent me to Washington,” Harris said. “They couldn’t find male stenographers. I lived off base. That wasn’t a good thing. I was having too much fun.”

Toward the end of his enlistment period, Harris said, he was arrested.

“They rounded up 27 of us,” he said. “But they waited until the end of my three years. They wanted my skills.”

Among the group was a man who was dating Marlon Brando, Harris claimed. Those arrested were charged with fraudulent enlistment. At the time, there was a question on the enlistment form that asked if you were “homosexual,” Harris explained.

“I put no,” he said.

During interrogation, he said, officials seemed most interested in whether he had ever had sex on base or with an officer.

Harris’ three-year enlistment period ended in August, but he remained in detention until the following February when he received a dishonorable discharge.

The discharge was upgraded 20 years later, he said, with the help of the American Red Cross.

After release from the Army, Harris moved to Dallas with one of the other men that had been arrested and who was from Seagoville. That soldier had been accused of having sex with a guard at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Harris went to work as a manager for McLean Trucking. He said that job lasted until trucking deregulation occurred in the 1970s.

Evans had also served in the military. He spent three years in the Coast Guard and was stationed at headquarters in St. Louis and in Honolulu.

“I never once encountered anyone I thought was gay,” he said.

But Evans was 32, he said, before he admitted to himself that he was gay. He said he had been with men, but always told himself he wouldn’t do it again.

Harris was just the opposite: “I came out when I was 7,” he said. “I had a boyfriend in the first grade.”

Getting into real estate

Harris and Evans met, they said, when a mutual friend who worked at Neiman’s antiques department in Dallas invited them to a party.

In 1964, they bought their first house in Oak Lawn.

“We paid $14,500,” Evans said. “It just sold for $350,000.”

“The thing that solidified our relationship — George owned the refrigerator,” Evans said.

“And he owned the dishes,” Harris added.

After leaving Neiman’s, Evans became department manager for a savings and loan and worked there for 14 years.

For company events, he said he always found a lesbian to go with him.

“I decided I went as far as I was going to go,” he said.

With deregulation in his industry as well, Harris also thought his job would be coming to an end.

So when they were buying another property, Evans approached their broker to sponsor him for his real estate license.

In 1976, they opened an office in a small building facing Lemmon Avenue, in the same shopping center as the Taboo Room. That building was torn down in the 1990s to build a bank drive-thru.

Evans-Harris eventually became one of the largest real estate companies in Oak Lawn. Evans did the selling. Harris did the paperwork and handled the money. That arrangement continues to this day.

“I’m the president,” Evans said. “He gets the checkbook.”

He described selling property back in the time before multiple listings and secure lockboxes.

“If you wanted show a property at that time, you had to go to the listing office and pick up the key,” Evans said.

He said that since they began their business they have seen four downturns in the housing market. During one of those downturns about 15 years ago, they decided to align themselves with a stronger office.

“We tried Betty Abio,” Evans said. “We told her we were together 35 years. She said, ‘I don’t think I’ve had a woman up here who’s been married that long.’”

The group is now known as Ellen Terry and is a division of Ebby Halliday Real Estate.

A changing world

The couple describes their relationship with their families as always being good, although they never officially came out to them.

“No one ever questioned or commented on our relationship,” Harris said. “Jack’s mother always introduced me as her other son.”

They talked about how times have changed in Dallas for the LGBT community. Harris had a newspaper clipping from the Oct. 29, 1961 issue of Dallas Morning News.

The headline was “29 nabbed in raid on apartment.”

Two men were charged with sodomy and the others booked on morals charges — but what happened is unclear from the story. Evans and Harris filled in the details.
The vice squad set up parties with food and drink at apartments, they explained. Then the undercover officers went to the bars and invited everyone to come to their party after the bars closed at midnight.

When a crowd gathered, a paddy wagon drove up and whoever didn’t flee fast enough was arrested.

The Morning News story listed professions, but the Dallas Times Herald would print names and ruined quite a few people’s careers, the two men said.
Harris said an attorney they knew moved to Canada, the only place he could continue practicing law.

Teachers were fired as a matter of policy.

In addition, Harris described a bar with picture windows on Skiles Street in East Dallas.

“Kids would throw rocks through the window regularly,” he said,

They said people would drive around the block a few times before parking and going into a bar to make sure things looked safe that evening.

Community involvement

Evans and Harris have been continuously involved in the community. Harris was one of the early board members of the AIDS Resource Center.

Having lunch one day in the early 1990s with John Thomas and several other community leaders, Michael Doughman, now executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, commented, “Now this is what they call a power lunch.”

From that comment, the Stonewall Professional and Business Association began and Evans and Harris later became two of the founding officers of the North Texas Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

They served on the Turtle Creek Chorale advisory committee and on the founding board of the Fort Worth Men’s Chorus.

They received the Texas Human Rights Foundation Robert Schwab Memorial Award in 1996, given to community members who worked toward equal rights in Texas.

And in 1997, they were given the Extra Mile Award, the first men to receive that honor.

Harris served on the Black Tie Dinner committee for five years and in 1998 the group honored the couple with the Kuchling Humanitarian Award. In 2008, DIFFA named the couple Legends in the Fight Against AIDS.

About being together for 50 years, they said, “In light of Joel Burns, we want to be encouragement to people who don’t think it can be done and a model for straight people.”

In April, the couple will celebrate by going on a Mexican Riviera cruise with 14 of their friends.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright