Qmmunity: Today in Queer Austin History

How a little-known legal case may have shaped the LGBTQIA movement


Livestream the Boiz's annual auditions show Tuesday (Photo by Saraphim Art)

It's July 10, 1979, and a jury in municipal Judge Steve Russell's courtroom has just found the Driskill Hotel guilty of violating Austin's Public Accommodations Ordinance – specifically the hotel's (now long gone) Cabaret Disco's policy banning same-sex dancing. As I wrote to y'all last week, Human Relations Commission member Janna Zumbrun had advocated for a sexual orientation protection in the ordinance, and it's Zumbrun who we have to thank here again.

One night in 1978, Zumbrun and fellow LGBTQIA rights activist Woody Egger, acting as observers, enlisted two couples in testing the disco's policy. "The two couples danced, male-female, for several dances, and then switched, male-male and female-female, and that's when the club manager came out and said, 'We have a policy against that. You have to leave,'" Zumbrun recalled to me in a 2019 interview. The group cited the PA ordinance's protections, but the manager still insisted they leave, said Zumbrun, so the group filed a complaint with the city and thus a lawsuit was born. In an Austin American-Statesman article published shortly after the trial, consulting attorney Matt Coles – who'd been tapped by the city attorney for his experience penning San Francisco's historic gay rights ordinance for Harvey Milk – said, "The consequences on the gay rights movement nationwide are enormous. It is the first time a court anywhere has convicted someone of discrimination on the basis of an individual's sexual orientation."

So, looking back 41 years later, did the Driskill case radically shift the LGBTQIA rights movement? Not seismically, no; but as law professor Carlos A. Ball argues in From the Closet to the Courtroom, the case arrived at the same time the qmmunity "began a concerted effort to pursue a judicial strategy as a way of advancing and protecting its members." It's a strategy that's carried forward all the way to SCOTUS's landmark employment discrimination ruling. In the wake of that decision, state lawmakers and advocates will again renew the fight for public accommodations protections – as well as in housing and employment – for queer and trans Texans at the 87th Texas Legislative Session.

For a "little-known legal case from Austin, Texas," the Driskill case is a reminder that larger movements are born out of a patchwork of struggles, big and small – even if their impact isn't felt until future generations.

2 to Do

The Queer and Trans Community Closet Make your appointment for curbside pickup at Out Youth and the Transgender Wellness Program's qmmunity closet for bus passes, groceries, hygiene items, art supplies, select gender-affirming items, and more. Days and hours of operation vary. Starting: Sun., July 12. Out Youth, 909 E. 49th½, 512/419-1233. Free. www.outyouth.org.

Boiz of Anarchy The applications for the chance to be the newest member of ATX's drag king troupe are in, and now it's your time to cheer these queer rebels on in the Boiz's annual audition show. Tue., July 14, 7pm. Online. www.fb.com/boizofaustin.

Queerly Ahead

aGLIFF 33: Prism Be the rainbow, stream the rainbow: Austin's fave queer film fest is moving to the virtual realm for two weekends in August. Viewers will have the chance to watch on-demand or livestream more than 50 feature and short films showcasing the diverse experiences of queer and trans folks from around the world. Keep up with lineup announcements at www.agliff.org. Aug. 6-9 & 13-16. Online. Weekend badge, $35; both weekends, $65. www.agliff.org.

Want more queer? Visit austinchronicle.com/qmmunity

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin LGBTQ, Janna Zumbrun, Public Accommodations Ordinance, Driskell Hotel, Cabaret Disco, Woody Egger, 87th Texas Legislative Session, Steve Russell, Human Relations Commission, Matt Coles, Carlos A. Ball

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