A brief history of Pride in Texas

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Though many cities and municipalities in Texas celebrate Pride later in the year (and congratulations to Abilene on announcing they will be holding their first Pride event in September), we thought we could take the time now to look back at some of the most important moments in Texas Pride History.

The June Pride month commemorates what is now known as the Stonewall uprising, an important moment in the history for LGBTQ liberation. After the Greenwich Village bar the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York Police Department on June 28, 1969, LGBTQ patrons (many of whom were people of color) and their neighbors rioted for over six days.

In Texas, Pride events have been happening since the 1970’s. Austin Monthly chronicles how organizations like the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Women’s Liberation held events in 1970, a year after the Stonewall riots. Austin Mayor Jeff Friedman would declare a Gay Pride Celebration Week in June, 1976.

The first official Houston Pride parade occurred in 1979, but OutSmart Magazine gives a great overview of events that happened in the years prior that made an official parade possible. One person who marched in 1976 was Annise Parker, the activist turned mayor of Houston.

The following year in Houston in 1977, a seminal event occurred for the LGBTQ community in June: Anita Bryant came to town. Bryant, a moderately successful singer and a onetime Miss Oklahoma, found a second career as a hateful anti-gay rights activist. Houstonia provides a rundown of the boycott that took place outside the Hyatt Regency, where Bryant was performing. Over 10,000 showed up to the boycott, making it one of the largest public events in Houston’s history at that time. In 1980, Florida Orange Juice officially canned Bryant as their spokesperson.

Dallas held its first official Pride parade in June 1980 (though there was an important and impromptu march from gay rights organizers that occurred in 1973). An organization of LGBTQ bars and nightclubs called the Tavern Guild took over the parade in 1983 and moved it to September to honor the court case Baker v. Wade, which overturned a Texas sodomy law (which would be later reversed by a court of appeals).

As the AIDS epidemic tragically escalated throughout the 1980’s, many Pride events in Texas took on a more dire need. San Antonio held its first Pride Picnic in 1982. San Antonio Magazine notes that first event happened as a result of the activism of real estate developer and nightclub owner Arthur “Hap” Veltman.

Veltman died of complications from AIDS in 1988. A recent documentary from filmmaker Noi Mahoney examines his legacy on the San Antonio LGBTQ community. One of Veltman’s colleagues, Gene Elder became the director of the Happy Foundation Archives, a resource named after Veltman to document gay and queer history in San Antonio and Texas. The University of Texas at San Antonio houses much of those archives.

Though not directly related to Pride, an important court case known as Gay Student Services v. Texas A&M University was upheld in 1984. In 1976, Texas A&M refused to recognize the group Gay Student Services on the basis that homosexuality was illegal in Texas. A court of appeals sided with the student organization, and the Supreme Court declined to take the case, thereby upholding the court of appeals ruling. Texas A&M unveiled a new LGBTQ+ Pride Center last year.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton declared June “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” He issued the same proclamation in 2000, and President Obama continued the tradition when he took office in 2009.

In Texas, Beaumont hosted its first Pride Event in 2014. Hundreds attended the parade and block party that June. Later that year in August, 24-year-old Texas Tech student Kat Cade organized a pride event in Lubbock, which was covered by Texas Monthly. 

Though many activists will point out that Pride Month has morphed into a strange corporation-fueled rainbow celebration with nebulous ties to the protests it once inspired, Texas has been the scene of many important events for the LGBTQ community. And activism is important.

Texas was the site of numerous anti-LGBTQ bills this session, including a transgender sports ban championed by Dan Patrick. The bill, Senate Bill 29, could come back in the special session on July 8th. According to Equality Texas, there were 30 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in the Texas legislative session, an increase of 50 percent from 2019.

Photo: Luis M/Getty Images

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