The Day After Black Wednesday

Even after a landmark Supreme Court marriage-equality decision broadened the legal definition of what constitutes an American family, holidays can still feel like toxic tar pits for some LGBTQ, triggering flashbacks of estrangement, abandonment, disownment, and even violence. Some intentionally skip the holidays altogether; most not by choice.

With this in mind, Oilcan Harry's (OCH) owner Larry Davis keeps his popular Warehouse District gay bar open on Thanksgiving. Many of his customers, he says, still feel ostracized by their own families. "After they come out, parents don't want anything to do with them, don't welcome them home."

In Austin, three gay bars, OCH, the Iron Bear, and Bout Time II, carry on a tradition that dates back to the mid-Eighties: free Thanksgiving feasts to anyone who feels left out of the holiday.

The Bout Time II celebration is a direct descendant of the tradition, according to owner David Green. The original Bout Time's sister bar, the iconic Charlie's Austin (then, Austin's oldest gay bar) laid out lavish, free Thanks­giving and Christmas meals from the mid-Eighties until it closed in 2011. "Daddy Wayne" Schmidt, who originally hosted free Thanksgivings at a club called the Crossing, brought along the generous event when he moved over to Charlie's. According to a 2004 account which appeared in Gulf Coast gay paper Ambush:

"The holiday season was fast approaching, and one afternoon while sipping cocktails, Daddy Wayne asked the kid seated next to him if he was going home for Thanksgiving. The kid bowed his head and said, 'No, they won't let me come home.' Stunned, Daddy Wayne asked why, and the young man replied, 'Because I am gay.' Later Daddy Wayne told [Crossing owner] Fred Fine, 'Next year, you buy the food, I'll cook.'"

"He wanted to make sure everyone had Thanksgiving and Christmas," says Green. "Daddy Wayne" did so for decades, sometimes serving as many as 300 people. Green and current co-owner Tino Calderon keep the tradition alive, serving turkey, dressing, and all the fixin's for 120 to 150 people each holiday. Post office retiree and regular volunteer holiday server Jack Heffington says no one is turned away. "People know they have a place to go to feel welcome, to eat a holiday meal – terrifically good food in a peaceful atmosphere – and to feel comfortable being themselves."

Back at Oilcan Harry's, Larry Davis is busy prepping the menu for his club's holiday feast. He has no idea how many folks to expect: "We've had as few as five and as many as 150. We order a lot of food. It's either a lot of leftovers or none."

Oilcan Harry's, 211 W. Fourth. Opens at 2pm; dinner at 4pm

Iron Bear, 121 W. Eighth. Dinner 5-8pm; bring a side to share

Bout Time II, 6607 N. I-35. Opens at 11am; dinner 1pm

  • More of the Story

  • Setting the Table

    How Thanksgiving meals make their way to Austinites in need

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