The History of the LGBTQ Movement in Austin
From Stonewall to today, how Pride has progressed in our city
Dedicated to Beth Westbrook, Ceci Gratias, Tesía Samara, Lauryn Paige Fuller, Steve Thomas, Lisa Davis, and all those we've lost along the way.
$1,500 was a lot of money in 1990. When the city of Austin required liability insurance to host a gay event in a public park for 2,000 people, the hefty price tag almost crippled Pride before it began. With only $100 to its name, the newly formed Austin Lesbian and Gay Pride Commission had just enough to open a bank account and had already spent $5 on printing checks.
In the end, money raised from advance ticket sales at $2 a pop covered the cost of insurance – clearing the first of several hurdles for the city's original Pride. Kip Dollar, one of the founding members of the commission, recalled how rare it was for organizations to use "gay and lesbian" in official names at the time – as when he went to the Austin Police Department for a street closure permit. "I was petrified," he said. "I walked up to the front desk and addressed a handsome young police officer with my request. He looked at my application and said, 'Austin Lesbian and Gay Pride Commission? I didn't know there was such a thing.' To which I replied with a smile: 'There is now.' He smiled, stamped my permit, and wished me success with the event."
Pink Power: The Seventies
When we talk about the LGBTQ rights movement, so often the focus falls on the coastal hot spots – New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles: home to rebellions, sit-ins, kiss-ins, and protests long before the police raid and ensuing riot at the Mafia-run Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in the early hours of June 28, 1969. But even before Stonewall, Austin, Texas, had a thriving – albeit underground – gay and lesbian scene.
In 1990, Eric Jason Ganther completed his UT-Austin master's thesis, "From Closet to Crusade: The Struggle for Lesbian-Gay Civil Rights in Austin, Texas, 1970-1982" (which lives in its entirety at the Austin History Center). The work was researched largely through interviews with folks who started and pushed Austin's movement forward – many of whom have since died. Though Ganther's work focuses on the years following Stonewall, he notes that prior to 1970, Austin's lesbian and gay community "was not politically conscious of itself," but it was active. The city's first documented gay bar – the Manhattan Club, located on Congress between Ninth and 10th streets – opened in 1958. (At least one operating gay bar has existed in Austin ever since.) Ganther concludes that by the late Sixties, Austin had an "underground network of socially active homosexuals" who met at bars and private homes.
According to activist, poet, and playwright Dennis Paddie, Austin's gay rights movement blossomed out of its anti-war movement. In February of 1970, The Rag, a political underground newspaper, ran an article titled "Pink Power!" which called for the "liberation of homosexuals" from a society of oppression. It was the first locally published piece written by self-identified gays – though it would not be the last.
A few months later, roughly 25 people attended a "meeting of homosexuals" – as it was advertised in The Daily Texan – on April 24, 1970, which is believed to be the first public meeting for lesbians and gays in Austin history. From it came Austin's Gay Liberation Front, one of several GLFs forming across the country and Texas' first radical gay organization.
Paddie, who told the Chronicle he was responsible for organizing this initial meeting, credited himself, Jim Denny, and "several women" who "banded together for liberation." Though the meeting was held at the University YMCA at 2330 Guadalupe, Paddie said Gay Liberation truly began on the site of today's Convention Center, in a little stone house located at 105 Neches that he, Denny, and other activists called home.
By its second meeting, the GLF registered to become an official UT student organization, which was denied by Assistant Dean of Students Edward Price; a long appeals process followed. For a brief 24 hours in December 1970, UT's Appeals Committee granted GLF official status, before it was rescinded by the school's interim President Bryce Jordan. The resulting court challenge delayed any gay groups from forming on campus for more than three years, until UT decided in March 1974 to settle out of court with the fizzling GLF and recognize the group.
Yet Paddie, who still writes plays in Austin today, said GLF's signal accomplishment was hosting the First Annual National Gay Conference on March 28-30, 1971. Using the Liberation News Service, an alternative news source that Paddie called the "unsung heroes of that era," Denny posted a call: "'Come to Austin for a convention, all you gay people,'" Paddie recalled. "And we did that and they all came and the whole town participated." More than 200 people were housed by local churches, social and political organizations – "even the Communist Party," recalled Paddie. Breakfast and dinner were provided, with political meetings in the evening. "It was a real convention. It was the first of its kind for gay people in the country, and maybe even in the world." Laughing, Paddie noted, "It was also very joyous. A celebration of everything. You'd have to have been here, really, to get what it was like."
Ganther suggests the conference helped spark Austin's "radical gay culture," but notes there was a "great scarcity of women." One woman, identified by Ganther under the pseudonym "Margaret," said many of the GLF men held "traditional anti-feminist views," which caused many lesbians to break away in June of 1971 to form Gay Women's Liberation.
This Must Be the Place: Austin Lesbians Organize
Also in 1971, some 400 miles north in Lubbock, Janna Zumbrun sought to break out of a stifling environment. Recognizing her situation – falling in love with her straight Texas Tech roommate – was no good for all parties, Zumbrun relocated from her native West Texas to the Forty Acres and complete culture shock. Hippies populated the Drag; UT students organized regular Vietnam War protests. "For a few years there, I hardly knew which way was up and which was down," she recalled. It was a period of transformative life events for Zumbrun, including a new relationship. "I'd gotten involved with a woman, and my life changed completely."
Her partner was "determined to find other gay men or lesbians," and soon enough, she heard of a gay bar called the Pearl Street Warehouse. However, the couple didn't know the address, and being only familiar with the Pearl Street running through West Campus, they set out. "I cannot tell you how long we spent driving up and down Pearl Street," Zumbrun laughed. "We were just like, 'Where the hell is this bar?'" They decided to call the UT student counseling center for clues. To their surprise, the man who answered suggested they look in the phone book. "It never occurred to us that a gay bar would be listed. ... It just seemed like it would be so underground."
The Pearl Street Warehouse, according to Zumbrun, would be "packed" by the time midnight rolled around, but mostly with men. The Insomnia Club, a lesbian bar, had likely shuttered sometime between 1969, when it last appeared as "Club Insomnia" in that year's International Guild Guide – one of several LGBTQ travel guides circulated in the Sixities – and Zumbrun's arrival in 1971, as she recalls there were no lesbian bars in Austin at the time. (Based on "Margaret's" account of her first visit to the Insomnia Club in Ganther's thesis, we know the club existed since at least 1967.)
Gay Women's Liberation dissolved less than a year after its formation; it wasn't until January 12, 1975, that a new group, which would become the Austin Lesbian Organization, held its first meeting. The ALO included committees catering to a number of interests, explained Zumbrun. There was the softball team, the Amazons, and a soccer team called the Lavender Furies. There was a support group for mothers that helped raise funds to cover legal fees for those fighting for child custody. Armed with a mailing list, ALO started a newsletter that later became known as Goodbye to All That.
Ganther claims, "The most successful group to spring from the womb of ALO was the Common Woman Book Collective," founded by ALO members Nancy Lee and Flying Clouds in 1975. The CWBC was soon bought out by Susan Post – who remains the owner of what is BookWoman today. While Post wasn't a member of ALO, she and her partner at the time, who had a baby from an earlier relationship, made their "foray into the Austin lesbian community" when Lee encouraged the couple to connect with a "housebound" single lesbian mother with three kids. "She wanted our family to meet her so that there'd be solidarity," Post explained, noting that not a single one of the mothers fighting in court at the time was awarded custody.
According to Ganther, in March of its founding year, ALO hosted Austin's first openly advertised all-women's dance. Through ALO's relationship with the Austin Women's Political Caucus, the dance was held at Austin Women's Center – to which AWPC belonged and permitted ALO to hold meetings at – housed within the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs in West Campus. The building's back door faced another where the Silver Spurs, a UT service fraternity, were throwing a party that same night. Zumbrun, who attended the dance, said, "People from both events were coming out the back door to get a breath of fresh air, smoke, or whatever. It was not a good mix." Several Spurs "were hurling some insults" when an ALO member threw her beer in one of their faces. "Well, we thought that violence was about to ensue, so we grabbed her, pulled her inside, and we closed the door and we locked it."
While violence did not in fact ensue, the Spurs complained to TFWC. The federation, now aware of the Austin Women's Political Caucus' relationship with the ALO, issued them an ultimatum: Get rid of ALO, or the caucus must go. The caucus, according to Zumbrun, "did the right thing" and vacated the federation's building rather than kick out ALO. (The Silver Spurs incident wasn't ALO's only brush with homophobia. Later that year, during an ALO campout on Lake Travis, a woman – known to Zumbrun as "Annette" – was punched by one of several men in a pickup truck harassing the campers. "Annette" pressed charges and eventually won a conviction.)
Zumbrun, then pursuing a master's degree in social work at UT, soon settled into her passion for politics. In June 1975, the Austin City Council passed an Equal Employment Opportunity Ordinance that included an anti-discrimination protection for sexual orientation – a first for the Lone Star State. It was a rallying moment for ALO's political committee, then chaired by Bek Runte. "We decided that we wanted to go for getting additional ordinances, like housing, public accommodations," she explained. According to Zumbrun, ALO lobbied Council to get Zumbrun appointed to the Human Relations Commission, where in October 1975 Zumbrun became the first openly gay person in Austin's history to serve on a city commission.
Now known as the Human Rights Commission, the panel still advises Council on matters relating to discrimination. Zumbrun helped propose a Public Accommodations Ordinance with a sexual orientation protection, which Council passed unanimously in 1976. (Two years later, the ordinance would be tested when members of Gay Community Services – another organization born from the ashes of GLF – discovered that the Cabaret Disco at the Driskill Hotel prohibited same-sex dancing, resulting in a lawsuit. In 1979, a jury found the Driskill guilty of violating the ordinance and levied the maximum fine of $200.)
Another win came in June 1976, when Mayor Jeff Friedman declared June 20-26 Gay Pride Celebration Week, marking Austin's third Pride celebration, following events in 1971 and 1975. Other advances included the formation of peer counseling collective Women/Space (1975) and feminist art collective Women & Their Work (1978), in addition to the creation of the Austin Rape Crisis Center and the Center for Battered Women – which later merged to form SafePlace and have since become today's SAFE Alliance. Many of these organizations' volunteers were lesbians or ALO members, according to Ganther's thesis.
ALO – which rebranded to Austin Lesbian-Feminist Organization in 1977 – fell apart sometime in 1978. By then, another lesbian bar called the Hollywood opened. "The 'Hollyweird,'" Post recalled, "was the place. There would be dramatic readings and sometimes poetry readings, but mostly, it was known for Julie, the DJ who would DJ topless." By Post's recollection, the burgeoning feminist bookstores and women's music scene of the late Seventies were signals of a new dawn. "That was kinda the renaissance of lesbian life."
We Are Everywhere: Fighting Back Against Discrimination
Austin's LGBTQ rights movement had scored several major wins in the decade following Stonewall, but a vehement anti-LGBTQ opposition was starting to take hold. At the national level, former beauty queen and singer Anita Bryant galvanized the Christian right with her "Save Our Children" campaign against pro-LGBTQ ordinances across the country. On the local level, the liberal Council led by Friedman was supplanted in 1977 by a conservative crew under Mayor Carole Keeton McClellan, previously president of the Austin school board.
Recognizing the need to remain organized politically, Zumbrun – along with Gay Community Services members Woody Egger and Steve Thomas, union activist Donna Johnson, and others – formed the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus (ALGPC) in 1978, according to Ganther's report. One of the caucus' priorities was the city's Fair Housing Ordinance, which didn't protect sexual orientation. "There was a solid block of religious right people who had been fighting the inclusion of those" protections, Zumbrun said. "And the mayor pretty coyly suggested to them that they could do a referendum to keep those things ever being added to the ordinance."
Spearheaded by fundamentalist Christian activist and alleged "quack" doctor Steven Hotze of Houston, Austin Citizens for Decency collected enough signatures to hold a referendum that would make it legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. In opposition, ALGPC helped form Citizens for a United Austin. "One of the major lessons we had learned in gay and lesbian politics was the value of coalitions," Zumbrun explained. "So early on, in all kinds of ways, we coalesced with the heterosexual feminists, with the Latino community, with the African American community, with the unions." With the support of mainstream progressive churches and Council Members Charles Urdy and John Trevino, CUA crafted a decidedly pointed message: "If they can do this to gay folks, they can do it to you, too."
On January 16, 1982, Austin voters rejected the referendum by an overwhelming 63% – a win Zumbrun believes might have been a national first. A more liberal bloc soon regained control of Council and amended the ordinance to include protection based on sexual orientation – with the supermajority that, per City Charter, prevents any future referendum to repeal it
"The Queer Song": The Intersection of Punk and Politics
By the time musician Gretchen Phillips, then 17 years old, rolled into Austin in 1981, not only was there a new genre of hardcore punk brewing in the capital city, but two of the leading bands were fronted by openly gay men: Gary Floyd of the Dicks, and the Big Boys' Randy "Biscuit" Turner. "The Dicks and the Big Boys had already created a safe space for me to go to the punk club and not be afraid there's going to be gay-bashing," said Phillips. Compared to her hometown of Houston, Austin's political scene was more intersectional. "It was just inherent in a kind of understanding of politics being about oppression of people," she explained.
Phillips posits that relatively low living costs and the "building on all of [these] tremendous politics that had already went on" in the Seventies spawned Austin's explosive punk scene, especially for queer women who wanted to play. Phillips helped found "lezzie rock" bands Meat Joy, Girls in the Nose, and Two Nice Girls, finding her "main place" in Sandra Martinez's gay bar-cum-punk club Chances at 900 Red River, the space now occupied by Cheer Up Charlies. Chances, opened in 1982, was not just the place you'd go to find a new girlfriend but also a gathering place for Austin's growing LGBTQ community – what Phillips describes as "a safe space for all amounts of freaky" – which is why so many organizations felt safe hosting benefits there. Martinez told the Chronicle in a 1998 interview that the Austin Rape Crisis Center, AIDS Services of Austin, and Project Transitions, among others, raised funds at her bar.
A year after Chances opened, the first case of HIV was diagnosed in Austin, and Paul Clover founded the Waterloo Counseling Center to provide mental health services to those dying from AIDS. The center's board created the Austin AIDS Project the following year, which became AIDS Services of Austin in 1987. Zumbrun, who dedicated her career to HIV/AIDS work, was ASA's first executive director; though it was Austin's largest AIDS services organization, Zumbrun noted that it was largely seen as a group for white gay men, leaving out entire communities living with HIV.
Creating Space With allgo
In 1985, a group of Latinx LGBTQ activists – tired of mainstream, nonintersectional gay activism and turned off by mainstream Latinx activism that ignored LGBTQ issues – founded the grassroots Austin Latino/Latina Lesbian and Gay Organization, or ALLGO. The org, known today as allgo, was both a social space-maker for Austin's diverse queer communities and a provider of HIV/AIDS care and outreach to people of color, gay or otherwise.
Playwright Sharon Bridgforth joined allgo as a community volunteer upon arriving in Austin in 1989, but her role soon changed when she started working formally with allgo's HIV/AIDS project Informe SIDA through her position with the Austin-Travis County Health Department. As a disease intervention specialist responding to syphilis cases, Bridgforth began assisting with HIV outreach and early intervention after realizing how many in the community she served were HIV-positive. Though the health department instituted HIV testing, support was scarce. "Basically, in the early days, with the outreach that we were doing – which was specifically focusing on people of color communities in East Austin and LGBTQ communities of color – the health department didn't really sanction or necessarily pay us for that," Bridgforth said. "But we would certainly take the brochures, the condoms, and our time and go do the work."
A native Austinite, allgo Executive Director Priscilla Hale says she rarely went to gay clubs after her first forays in college. Instead, she went to house parties with her queer friends and joined a black lesbian organization called the YeYe before joining allgo in 1998 as a case manager for clients living with HIV/AIDS. The org held annual fundraisers and parties, such as Baile and its own Pride celebration in June. More casual events, like cookouts and movies, occurred year round. These served a double purpose, explained Hale, as both a venue for community outreach and an alternative to Austin's predominantly white gay clubs.
"The racism that people experienced kept people – and continues to keep people – from attending many of the clubs. From being told, 'We don't play that kind of music here' when they're taking requests, to just outright racist things being said," explained Hale. So allgo decided, "We can do some activism around trying to hold these communities and places accountable, but we can't spend all of our energy fighting against that, so we'll create spaces for people."
Pride, As We Know It: 1990s Onward
Nathan Vanden Avond was 20 years old when local queen Tamara Jacobs (aka Pete Robles) invited him to help start Austin Pride because other cities had Prides and "as the capital city, we should have one," too. Fascinated by drag, Vanden Avond, who worked at Esther's Follies, videotaped local after-hours shows. It was 1990.
A year earlier, on April 30, 1989, thousands from across Texas and the U.S. descended on the Capitol for the March on Austin for Lesbian/Gay Equal Rights, coming at the end of a strenuous legislative year in which the community demanded the repeal of the state's sodomy law (still on the books) and protections for those living with HIV/AIDS. Inspired by 1987's March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the Austin march was the largest demonstration the city had ever witnessed. Though no one directly credited Pride's creation to the march, less than a year after it happened, Austin Lesbian and Gay Political Caucus' Diane Russell called a small meeting to discuss a possible Pride in Austin. Robles, along with Kip Dollar and his partner Toby Johnson, owners of the gay and lesbian Liberty Books, attended and then formed the Lesbian Gay Pride Commission of Austin.
That first Pride, like today's, took place at Fiesta Gardens. And while memories of June 10, 1990, are hazy, Vanden Avond, who continued to work on the Pride committee through 1992 (and returned again in 2011), remembers the best part was "just putting it on. I was young and had never participated in helping to create anything like this." A few years later, Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (now Equality Texas, the state's largest LGBTQ legislative advocacy organization) took over Austin's Pride events. One part advocacy, one part fundraiser, and one part celebration, LGRL's Pride consisted of a festival, the Women's Dance, and a "politically skewed" Pride Brunch, recalled former Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith, first hired on a contract basis to help put on Pride in 2003.
Pride was LGRL's most substantial fundraiser, generating roughly $100,000 in gross revenues and costing $30,000-40,000 to put on. Today, millennials are suspect of the "corporatization" of Pride, but Smith recalls things were very different in 2003. "There was a lube sponsor and a beer sponsor – that's who would sponsor Pride," said Smith. "It was before there were many corporate businesses [who were] willing to attach their name to something like that."
During LGRL's time at the reins, Austin Pride fell in June – during national Pride month (as later proclaimed by President Barack Obama in 2009) and, every other year, just weeks after the Texas Legislature gaveled out for the session. With its long history of anti-LGBTQ politics, the Capitol has greatly affected the capital's Pride. "Certainly, in odd-numbered years, Pride events were motivational. ... The work around Pride was viewed as an extension of legislative advocacy and a goal of getting more visibility to the issues being faced." Still, Smith recalled, "It was, and still is, such a joyful experience."
A year before Smith joined LGRL, Austin's Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (now the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce) kicked off its inaugural Pride Parade in 2002 – unrelated to the LGRL festivities. It also sparked a near-decadelong controversy within the city's queer community by enforcing a "family-friendly" dress code. When a protester showed up wearing a cling-wrap tube top over their breasts and a dildo strapped over their jeans, a parade organizer denied them entry, saying, "This parade is about normalcy." (As another form of protest, Austin's first Dyke March took to the streets just days before Pride in May 2002.)
As divisions grew – several folks noted that over the years, leather, pup masks, and even drag have been no-nos of the parade – ownership of Pride changed hands. According to Council Member and then-Chamber President Jimmy Flannigan, LGRL handed the Chamber the festival for June 2009's celebration. The result, said Flannigan, "was awesome," with a daytime festival in Republic Square Park leading up to a nighttime parade that achieved his aim to "make it more local," a success he credits largely to then-Pride Chair Ceci Gratias, who he remembers as the "great connector."
Gratias created a community governing board to bring organizations such as the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), allgo, and Out Youth to help Pride embrace the many segments of the city's queer community. Despite 2009's success – at the time, the Chronicle reported, it was "a great leap toward earning the public's trust" in the Chamber – Flannigan was ousted shortly afterward, replaced by former Executive Vice President Chad Peevy.
Trans Rights to the Front
In the early 2000s, Paula Buls, Lisa Scheps, Beth Westbrook, and several others in Austin's transgender community formed the Austin Transgender Ordinance Initiative to lobby for gender identity to be covered by the city's nondiscrimination ordinances. (Decades before these activists came together, trans rights activist and current Houston Judge Phyliss Frye began lobbying for trans rights in Texas; according to Scheps, Frye was "here in Austin with her 'Trans Rights are Human Rights' banner in the Seventies.") When the city added gender identity to NDOs, the group evolved into TENT, but Buls does not flinch when she says, "There was a pretty huge resistance to trans rights in Austin and in the country."
According to Buls, LGRL "routinely" lobbied against trans rights at the Capitol, while the local Human Rights Campaign chapter denied trans activists an information table at its annual gala. "I'm not sure if the resistance was due to transphobia or an idea that our agenda was too progressive. ... I also think they were afraid we'd be too angry. Lots of trans people hated HRC in those days." (In 2007, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., dropped gender identity from the Employment Nondiscrimination Act; while the bill still didn't pass, HRC did not challenge Frank, causing a longstanding rift.)
Scheps, however, began working with LGRL in the early 2000s and remembers Smith's predecessor Randall Ellis fighting for trans inclusivity. "At a staff level, LGRL was definitely walking the walk." Buls and Scheps credit each other, as well as local therapist Katy Koonce and their friend Westbrook – an activist, artist, and educator – for pushing trans rights and visibility in Austin. Westbrook, who once told her friend (and former Chronicle staffer) Shelley Hiam that the "primary reason" she became an activist was a "sense of obligation, a feeling that if I don't do this work, it might not get done," died in 2004, but Buls and Scheps agree: She'd still be fighting the "really good fight today."
In the years that followed, Scheps helped bring the International Foundation for Gender Education Conference to Austin, while Buls joined the board of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival. "I think all those things contributed to increasing trans visibility in Austin," Buls said. In terms of Pride and LGBTQ rights, Scheps believes "Austin has always been on the correct side" of history, but adds: There have always been "backslides."
Queerbomb and Beyond
Many would agree that Pride in Austin has had its share of backsliding – what Flannigan describes as a "boom and bust" cycle. By the time of 2010's namesake event at the Long Center, Peevy and the Chamber's Pride had competition. A group of queer, trans, and nonbinary folks united to form QueerBomb, a "flash Force assembly of LGBTQIA individuals" looking to offer a queerer, more inclusive alternative to Pride. At the time, QueerBomb described the city's Pride festivities as "non-inclusive, capitalist, heteronormative, safe, and unchallenging."
The anti-corporate, all-DIY march and party at East Austin's North Door on Friday, June 4, the day before Pride, was born of "a lot of really, really frustrated feelings," said QueerBomb founding member Beth Schindler. These mostly stemmed from Pride's censorship of queer expression and its financial barriers to entry. (Participating groups and businesses need to pay for both a table at the festival and a slot in the parade.) Since its formation 10 years ago, QueerBomb has clocked victories and courted controversies, but Schindler credits QueerBomb with spurring the strides since made by Pride.
After the 2010 event, Pride was $30,000 in debt; Peevy stepped down, and the Chamber spun off the Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation – what we know today as Austin Pride – as an independent group. New and returning blood, including Nathan Vanden Avond, his now-husband Benny Vanden Avond, and Paul Huddleston, joined the board to repair the damages. Under new leadership, Pride moved to September and returned to Fiesta Gardens. Through many uncomfortable conversations and hustling for sponsorships, Vanden Avond exclaimed: "We were able to remedy it in less than a year."
By 2012, the parade found its current route along Congress to Fourth Street, and the team continued to grow Austin's event into a destination Pride (which today's Pride board credits as a primary reason why Austin Pride happens in August). As for dress codes, Vanden Avond says if it's not breaking the law, it's fine by Pride. Schindler concurs that Pride "altered a lot of their practices in very important ways. ... I'm forever grateful they were able to respond to [QueerBomb]." But in Schindler's eyes, they "still have a lot of work to do."
Much of what Schindler views as "work" is on Austin Pride's radar for 2019 and beyond. For Micah Andress, who succeeded Huddleston as president of Pride in January 2018 amid tensions on its board, that vision is clear – even if getting there might not be. Andress, who began volunteering with Pride in 2011, hopes to expand Pride to a full weekend (parade on Friday, festival on Saturday and Sunday, like Pride Weekends across the U.S.) and move the festival to Auditorium Shores (where it took place in 2008). This, Andress hopes, will allow Pride to make the festival free, more accessible, and "give Pride back to the community," because "Pride is all of us, it doesn't belong to just one of us."
Every spring, UT-Austin is home to the annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, a well-loved destination event for black Texans from across the state. So it's fitting that Austin's Black Pride began at Relays in the mid-Nineties. "It started at my home," recalled Bradley, a retired educator, whose friends would drive down from Dallas and Fort Worth for the weekend. (Bradley asked us to use his last name only.) Their days would be spent on campus, but nights left them lacking. "Clubs didn't care to promote to blacks," explained Bradley. "When more than three of us came in together the music would change – they knew if the music wasn't right, black people wouldn't stay."
Bradley's response was to start throwing parties at his house, where people would hang out and play cards. His friends brought their friends, and it grew. By the fourth year, he went all in. His events – planned months in advance (he joked about storing food in the freezer and buying mixers long before March rolled around) – eventually became known as Austin Relay Pride, a celebratory space for Austin's black LGBTQ community and those visiting for Relays. Representatives from AIDS Services of Austin would attend with condoms and pamphlets about sexual health.
After 450 people showed up at his house one year, Bradley decided to make a change: "We're going to the hotel." He also decided to make it official, reaching out to the Center for Black Equity to become a part of its Black Pride network and forming a board with allgo's Priscilla Hale. "It was a wonderful time," said Bradley, who recalled a year when they'd rented more than 70 rooms at the Wyndham in South Austin before Austin Relay Pride came to an end in 2012. "We actually got snow in March, and we got snowed in ... but everything was at the hotel. It was just so intimate."
Several years later, Sheldon Darnell and Jeremy Teel decided to pick up where Bradley left off – thanks to a 2015 holiday dinner party the pair hosted as a get-together for black gay men. As Darnell remembers, a couple who'd met at Relay Pride attended and shared their love story. "It was huge for me," said Darnell, who'd recently moved to Austin and was searching for a way to "pour back into the community."
Together with Morris Haywood, Frank Washington, and Sani Ballard, Darnell and Teel reached out to Bradley, got his blessing (and support), and by March 2016 had eight events lined up, just in time for Relays. In 2018, Austin Black Pride moved its events to June, but Darnell remains committed to hosting events year-round, because "there are no spaces you could go to" as a black queer man "on any given night." (ABP's events are inclusive of the entire LGBTQ spectrum.)
It's a void of not just social spaces but social services for black queer men, women, and trans folks that keeps Darnell focused on ABP's next move. Over the last four years, ABP has hosted a Juneteenth panel, facilitated free kickboxing classes (in the aftermath of 2016's Pulse shooting), and has become Austin's only nonprofit to focus exclusively on the black queer community. "Now we're trying to figure out our focus," said Darnell, and ways to "affect people in different realms instead of staying in silos."
2019: Back Into the Streets
Pride, still relevant today, continues to evolve after 50 years of passion within a complicated and intersectional movement. With the achievement of marriage equality, many Ls and Gs in the LGBTQ community took a deep breath, sat down, and stopped fighting; but, four years later, the current state of political affairs is inspiring new activists and reigniting others. With that spark comes a wake-up call to the greater LGBTQ community that trans people – especially trans women of color – still don't have protections that others have achieved, and HIV rates, especially among black and Latino men who sleep with men, are, again, on the rise.
Alongside Austin Pride's 29th annual festival and parade this weekend are two additional (unaffiliated) Pride events hoping to propel the movement forward. Local DJ and party promoter Ezra Edwards will launch Austin's first official Trans Pride, featuring trans and nonbinary artists including the event's hosts, p1nkstar and Y2K. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to TENT, and Lisa Scheps feels that right now, a Trans Pride is "super-duper important" to Austin. "Right now we're visible. ... I think it's very important that we maintain our voice."
Austin's trans and nonbinary voices are also invited to join in Sunday for the return of Austin's Dyke March, a historically political event that often precedes Prides across the country. Hosted by Schindler and Unbounded Agency's Anita Obasi, the march taps into the rich legacy of queer activism, including Pride's riot roots, started by trans women of color. "It's very important to me that people realize Pride is a movement and not just a party," explained Obasi. "Especially in this day and age where [Pride's] been so commercialized." For Schindler, the march – and others like it – will continue to reclaim and create space by "connecting to the radical protests" of the past and taking today's fights into the streets, a "radical space where we're not asking permission."
Austin Pride 2019 Parade & Festival takes place Saturday, Aug. 10. See Qmmunity for details.