A Proud History

A Look Inside UH's Massive LGBT History Collection

One of the largest in the South, the collection is home to three football fields' worth of treasures.

By Nicki Koetting May 24, 2019 Published in the June 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

2019 marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots for gay rights in New York, and Pride Houston is marking the anniversary with this year’s theme: Summer of ’69.

As we pay homage to that seminal event, it’s also worth remembering Houston’s own past. One good way to do that? Spend an afternoon exploring the LGBT History Research Collection at UH. Launched in 2015, the archive is tucked away on the second floor of the university’s MD Anderson Library and contains over three football fields’ worth of materials—personal papers, diaries, books, photographs, videos, publications, and other objects from Houston, Texas, and across the U.S.

The collection is now one of the largest of its kind in the South, if not the largest, says Vince Lee, its archivist and curator, adding that the library’s in the process of digitizing the materials. “Our goal is to show that Houston has a rich LGBT history,” Lee says. “It’s not solely the domain of New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco. We want to show what we have.” Here are a few of Lee’s favorite items:

This Week in Texas issues

This Week in Texas, launched as a gay entertainment and news weekly magazine in 1974, printed through the mid-2000s and still exists online. Thanks to the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of GLBT History and the late Charles Botts, a former NASA employee and an avid collector of LGBT books—he donated over 15,000 titles to the collection!—UH has every single issue of the magazine. Each features an attractive model on the cover and includes a “selective guide to entertainment and events of unusual interest”—gay-friendly or -themed events in major cities in Texas. It wasn’t all fun, of course. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the ’80s, TWIT also had a “vast obituary section in which members of the community would look to see who had passed,” Lee says.

Rare novels Norma Trist and The White Cockades

“We have, believe it or not, two books that may be the first instances in which an LGBT character openly comes out,” Lee says. In Norma Trist—the collection’s copy is a first edition published in Austin in 1895—the titular character, he says, “openly expresses her erotic affections for another woman” during a court case in which she is accused of murdering a lover. And the collection’s rare second edition of The White Cockades, also published in the 1890s, features scenes of adolescent boys expressing their affection for one another, Lee says.

Ray Hill’s play manuscript, The Prison Years

Sixty-two boxes of Houston activist Ray Hill’s personal papers and artifacts were donated to the LGBT history research collection upon his death in November of last year. Hill, who organized Houston’s first LGBT pride parade in 1976 and the Anita Bryant protests in 1977, had a long-running radio program on KPFT, The Prison Show, informed by the years the larger-than-life Houstonian spent in prison for burglary, during the early ’70s. While that’s widely known, it’s less widely known that Hill also wrote a manuscript for a one-man play called The Prison Years. Apparently he even performed it at one point; flyers advertising the show are included with the manuscript.

Annise Parker’s papers

Former Houston mayor Annise Parker recently donated boxes of her personal papers as well as records from her time as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus during the ’80s. The records include cassette recordings of death threats left on the GLBT Political Caucus answering machine in the weeks preceding the organization’s 1985 Pride Week Rally in Spotts Park. “This was a sophisticated harasser,” Parker explains in a note accompanying one of the tapes. “He was ultimately able to get the machine to play back messages. He then called people who left messages with us and harassed them!” The caucus turned the recordings over to HPD, which used them to catch and prosecute the harasser. 

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