Ice House

A Chance of Change

Braving the weather with an expert guide

By Catherine Matusow August 1, 2013 Published in the August 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Courtesy of Frank Billingsley

Summertime at the West Alabama Ice House and the livin’ is languid. There are red faces, people fanning themselves with their shirts. The pace is lazy, the cold beer and misting fans a godsend. Still, there is the occasional shirt-and-tie type, one of whom stands at the bar. “It’s so humid today,” he says.  

Coming from anyone else’s lips, such an assessment might be easily dismissed. But the shirt-and-tie at the bar is KPRC weatherman Frank Billingsley, who can’t even walk from there to a picnic table without being stopped. “Hey, can I get a picture?” asks a young man, as his friend positions an iPhone. The blue-eyed, fair-haired TV personality obliges with a smile. “You said it was going to rain today,” a woman at the same table says, mock-accusingly. Her group breaks into laughter, and the weatherman just grins. 

It’s clear that Billingsley loves his job—he’s been doing the weather since 1982, with KPRC since ’95, and Houston, he says, is a coveted market. “The nice thing about Houston weather is, there’s a little bit of everything: tornadoes … hurricanes, hail, thunderstorms, hot, humid weather, beautiful, cool, crisp weather, we have ice. We get it all.”

As it happens, Billingsley has recently tied the knot in New York, a feat he would have accomplished in Houston if marriages like his were legal here. “Why put all that money into New York?” he asks, estimating that his destination wedding to longtime partner Kevin Gilliard—if you consider what the guests spent in addition to the wedding itself—pumped a quarter of a million dollars into Gotham’s economy. But that’s the least of it, Billingsley adds. “We should have gay marriage because it’s fair, and it’s right.”

Local media blogger Mike McGuff has described him as Houston’s Anderson Cooper, and it’s easy to see why. Both are handsome, popular news personalities whose sexuality was long the subject of speculation. Asked about the comparison, Billingsley grins and looks down at his near beer. “I think that’s probably accurate,” he concedes, “though I don’t have any Vanderbilt money. That is a big difference, to be honest with you. It’s easy to come out when you have a wall of money.”

Although Billingsley never hid his sexuality—Gilliard was his date to work functions dating back to the ’90s, the two having met at JR’s 18 years ago—it wasn’t until the wedding that he came out to the world. “The whole issue of coming out is very private,” he says, “but the whole point of marriage is to be public.” And he loves being married. “My emotional connection has become stronger and deeper and richer, and I didn’t think it could,” he says. “I think until you actually get married, you don’t quite understand the importance of it.”

The couple has a son in his mid-twenties—Gilliard’s child from a previous marriage, who came into Billingsley’s life when he was 7 and now can’t remember a time when the weatherman wasn’t there. Billingsley finds the attitudes about gay marriage held by his son’s generation to be refreshing. “I thank MTV for that,” he says. “They have gay marriages and gay relationships. For these kids growing up that were addicted to MTV, it was called The Real World, and that became their real world.” 

Even so, he says, “there’s still bullying, so not everyone is cool about it. If there’s that one kid out there—maybe it’s that kid that grabbed me and wanted a picture, I don’t know—if there’s one kid that realizes that he’s as valuable a human as every other human being, then it’s worth coming out for.”

Speaking of which, was the woman at that kid’s table right? Had Billingsley, in fact, falsely predicted rain? “I said there was a 10 percent chance,” he says, “and—I saw it with my own eyes—it rained in Sugar Land and Katy. She was wrong about that.”

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