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Houston’s Own “Stonewall”

In the News
Anita Bryant (Billboard, 1971)

Anita Bryant (Billboard, 1971)

On the evening of June 16, 1977 thousands of Houston’s gay and lesbian community assembled to march on the streets of downtown in protest of Anita Bryant’s appearance at the Texas State Bar Association’s meeting.

A popular singer and former beauty queen, Anita Bryant founded Save Our Children, Inc. in 1977 to battle a growing gay rights movement, specifically working to repeal a Dade County law that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.  She staked out her stance and drew the battle lines, stating, “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.”

The successful repeal of the Miami legislation buoyed other similar, religiously fundamentalist groups around the nation.  These newly organized activists would eventually exert more organized political influence through the end of the century under the Moral Majority umbrella, with Jerry Falwell using similar adversarial language and tactics as Bryant’s 1977 campaign.

So it was that in 1977, at the height of her popularity and controversy, the Texas State Bar Association invited Bryant to appear at their meeting in Houston at the Hyatt Hotel.  Their political influence lacking, Houston’s LGBT community was unable to block Bryant’s appearance in Houston but, donning black armbands emblazoned with pink triangles, the throng outside (which by some accounts grew to near 10,000), made their feelings known as they walked the streets and passed outside the Hyatt.  Inside the meeting, Bryant sang patriotic songs and received a standing ovation.  The galvanizing event had taken place, however, perhaps unbeknownst to those on the streets or the meeting hall.  Almost a decade after Stonewall, Anita Bryant had unintentionally given birth to the organized gay rights movement in Houston.

The Daily Kos argues as much in this piece and those interested in a better understanding of this complex history would do well to give it a read.  Leaning heavily on Bruce Remington’s 1983 thesis, “Twelve Fighting Years: Homosexuals in Houston, 1969-1981,” it charts the rise of the gay rights movement in Houston, providing quotes and insights from those who helped forge history that night and the days to come.

Here at the University of Houston Special Collections, we not only have Remington’s thesis available for study, but we also offer access to recorded interviews that were used as source material for the thesis.  As Pride season approaches, we encourage you to take a closer look at Houston’s history which serves to remind us that June does not only remember Stonewall in NYC but, for better or worse, it also remembers Anita Bryant’s visit to Houston.

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