The Fight for Pride Week (Part 4)
The Caucus would be one of the dominant political forces in city and county politics from 1979 to the present day. It reached a major high point in its storied history with the election of Annise Parker as mayor in 2010.
Shortly after her election, one of Parker's first exercises of mayoral powers was to appoint the city's first transgender judge, attorney Phyllis Frye, another Seventies fighter for LGBT equality.
When it came to transgender cross-dressing laws, Houston got in early, adopting an ordinance as far back as 1861.
As an attorney and advocate for LGBT causes, Judge Phyllis Frye first became well known in the community in the mid-Seventies when she began to lobby city council to rescind the city's cross-dressing ordinance. While Frye herself was never arrested under the ordinance, she was aware of the glaring 1972 arrest of Anthony "Tony" Mayes, who later became simply Anne Mayes. Mayes was a well-known cross-dresser who was arrested multiple times under the statute. The 1972 arrest was reported thoroughly in local gay newpaper, Nuntius.
In 1976, with her own sex correction in its final stages, Frye began lobbying city council to repeal the ordinance with letters to every member of the council. Only councilman Johnny Goyen was sympathetic, telling Frye he was "dismayed" by the treatment of Anne Mayes.
Frye continued her council efforts and maintained a heavy schedule of speaking engagements and lectures about the need to repeal the ordinance and other transgender issues. Progress was slow to nonexistent, although by 1979 she had won over another supporter, council member Ernest McGowen. In 1979, however, the election of Eleanor Tinsley over strongly anti-gay incumbent Frank Mann signaled to everyone in city politics the power of the gay community at election time. Much of the harsh public bashing of gays by city politicians was muted as a result.
But when councilman John Goodner spoke disparagingly of Frye's campaign to repeal the ordinance in the spring of 1979, several council members took him aside privately and explained the facts. Councilman Lance Lalor spoke with Goodner and suggested that Goodner himself offer a motion to repeal the ordinance, which he did.
The ordinance was eventually repealed in true Houston political fashion: Through sleight of hand. On August 12, 1980, with Goyen acting as Mayor Pro-Tem due to Mayor Jim McConn being out of town, and with two conservative councilmen out of chambers on phone calls, Goyen called for a vote on the repeal of the ordinance. In minutes, one of the thorniest legal levers used to intimidate and repress the Houston LGBT community was no more.
Likewise, challenges to sodomy laws represented another important aspect of LGBT strategy. The community was dismayed when the Texas legislature reformed the sodomy law in 1973, removing any illegality from anal or oral sex between heterosexuals, but keeping the same activities illegal vis a vis homosexuals.
It seems only fitting that Houston figured prominently in the challenge that finally overturned Texas sodomy laws.
On September 17, 1998, Harris County deputies arrested John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner for "deviate sex" under Chapter 21, Sec. 21-06 of the Texas Penal Code, known as the "Homosexual Conduct" law. The arrest took place in Lawrence's west-side apartment, which deputies entered without permission after receiving a call that there was "a black male going crazy with a gun." The call came from another man who had been partying with Lawrence and Garner, then dropped a dime on them when he felt jilted by Lawrence.
On the advice of gay rights activists from Lambda Legal, who represented the pair in court, both men pled "no contest" and were fined $125 each. All along Lambda Legal intended to use an appeal in the case to challenge the state statute. They began the appeals process almost immediately.
After a series of conflicting reversals in Texas courts, the case was eventually accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court on December 2, 2002. On June 26, 2003, in a 6-3 decision the court ruled the Texas statute unconstitutional for violation of due process and equal protection guarantees.
This is the fourth part in a series of posts marking Houston Pride Week.