Commentary: There was pride long before the first Pride parades. It showed up wherever LGBTQ+ people had the courage to gather as a group, most notably in bars and pubs. The taverns were like our church, and not just because some patrons spent a lot of time on their knees there. (There, I said it first.)
Early parades were marches and demonstrations with a purpose-to correct a wrong perpetrated on a group of people. It took courage to march down a street with Bible thumpers proclaiming your damnation to hell along the way.
The coronavirus and the ensuing cancellations of parades across the nation has taught us that we do not need to march down Main Street half naked, three sheets to the wind and sweaty as an atheist in church to show our pride.
Pride parades have drifted away from the LGBTQ+ community over the past decade. What started as a righteous protest for equal rights and a “call to action” has become people’s excuse to engage in debauchery, semi-nudity, public sex and drunkenness, and an anything-goes attitude.
I recall the sense of pride I felt the first time a saw a major corporate sponsor in a Houston Pride parade. It took guts for Budweiser to drive that big ol’ truck down Westheimer with threats of boycotts to follow. Today, corporations proclaim their support for the cause, slap a rainbow on their logos, and then go on about their business of donating to anti-LGBTQ causes and politicians.
Montrose became Houston’s gayborhood decades ago and remains so today. At one point there were nearly fifty gay and lesbian bars and restaurants essentially all within walking distance of each other. Queers often put their lives at risk just to hangout with people like themselves. That was pride.
When singer Anita Bryant switched from pedaling orange juice to anti-gay activism, it was at a gay bar where Houston queers gathered to begin a march downtown to protest her form of hate. The Depository, at the corners of Bagby and McGowen Streets was a popular gay bar in 1977 and served as the starting point of what’s been hailed as “Houston’s Stonewall.” That was pride.
The first official Pride Houston Parade occurred in 1979 with a rally at Spotts Park afterwards, attended by about 5,000 people. An unofficial parade happened three years earlier. In June of 1976, the University of Houston’s Gay Activist Alliance took its first steps in the gay movement with a Houston Pride Parade. Although there were no floats or bands, about 300 to 400 people met at The Exile and paraded down Main Street. The march was followed by a “Gayfest,” at the Liberty Bank located in Montrose, wrote Click2Houston.com. The Exile was, you guessed it, a gay bar located at 1011 Bell Street.
Before there were parades, there was already pride. It showed up in the energy of drag shows at the Copa and the Old Plantation. Pride was at the early-morning watering holes like Mary’s, EJ’s and the 611. Pride was in evidence at the saloons like Miss Kitty’s and Brazos River Bottom although the skin-tight Wranglers may have distracted you. Pride found its way onto Pacific Street at places like Heaven and Montrose Mining Company.
The bars were where gay people could go and meet in public. That unstoppable spirit still lives, and we do not need a parade to remind us of our progress or to celebrate being ourselves. We can do that every day!
There are many LGBTQ+ Houstonians who have not been to a parade in several years, and it is not because of the pandemic. The authorities at Pride Houston decided to move the parade from its natural home in Montrose to downtown Houston in 2015. That move made the parade less a celebration of our community and made it a generic family friendly event.
It is time to return Pride to its protest driven origins. Festivals, concerts, and unique events at our bars would more than compensate for the elimination of parades as a Pride event. The Eagle Houston hosted a three-day-long Pride block party last month.
Pride Houston teamed up with Karbach Brewing to host Pride Market, an open market that featured local vendors, a DJ, and beer from Karbach Brewing Co. Discovery Green and Miller Outdoor Theatre have hosted Pride celebrations in past years.
LGBTQ Pride festivals were held in the suburbs like Pearland, Kemah and The Woodlands.
Galveston is planning a three-day Pride festival this fall. Events are scheduled for September 3 through 5 with a Beach Bash on Saturday, September 4. The bash will include live DJs, free food and other goodies. Walgreen’s will be passing out water since no one will be voting at this affair. Along with surfboards and thongs, look out for Frankie and Chet.
Pride parades have lost their purpose and no longer benefit the LGBTQ+ community. While Pride parades began as a protest against discrimination and for equal rights, many of those early objectives have been achieved. There is still work to do; we just don’t need to walk down Main Street half-naked to get it done.