'The Homosexual Playground of the South' (Part 3)
Part three in a series for Houston Pride Week.
PrideHouston.org/Chris Garza Photography Houston was an established gay "playground" in the 1950s and 1960s.
The trials, tribulations, and awakenings during the war against fascism led to a spate of coming-out items in the immediate postwar years. In 1944, poet Robert Duncan published The Homosexual in Society, the earliest attempt to formulate a gay rights agenda. In Houston, the legendary gay bar Pink Elephant opened at the corner of Fannin and Bell in 1945 just as World War II was ending. According to Van Allen's report, the Pink Elephant opening marks a tidal shift for gays, since it drew the scene out of the traditional gay areas downtown. The bar later moved to 1218 Leland. Described in one publication as "primarily serving older gay men," it was an anchoring fixture of the local scene for almost half a century.
While most gays were still forced to lead the closeted life, the end of the war brought landmark national events that were the first cracks in the wall of intolerance, inequality, and injustice. In Atlanta, Rev. George Augustine Hyde founded the first church to openly accept gays in 1946, while in 1947 the first national lesbian periodical, Vice Versa, began publication. Considered shocking and controversial, Dr. Alfred Kinsey's study, Sexual Behavior In the Human Male, recognized homosexuality as an aspect of human sexuality in 1948.
See also: Houston's Earliest Gay Scenes (Part 2)
Several landmark events in Houston's LGBT history happened in the Fifties. The Dianas, a cocktail party presented as a fake Academy Awards show for a clique of closeted gay professionals, held their first event in 1954 in the Louisiana Street home of florist David Moncrief. An evening of ribald hilarity that featured hosts Tom Adams and Charles Hebert doing send-ups of Hollywood gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons and giving out cheeky and often titillating local awards (the first Diana award was a dildo presented to Virginia "Hub" Lankford for "an amorous adventure"), the annual event became one of the hottest gala tickets in town.
With annual appearances by satirical characters like "Pricene Waterhouse" and others who spoofed Houston's straight community, by 1976 the event had grown to such proportions that the Diana Foundation was formed as a 503-C charity. The Dianas are the oldest continually active gay organization in the country.
Consisting of 150-200 somewhat socially prominent, cosmopolitan, professional gays by the end of the Fifties, the Dianas became referred to as "The A List," although host Jack Bresnahan retorted that the group was only "the A List to people who thought they were on some B list."
In his 120-page history of the foundation, historian Brandon Wolf noted that, because of their prominence and their jobs, most gays of this social stratus did not frequent bars for fear of being outed or running afoul of the vice squad, which would almost certainly mean the loss of employment and public humiliation. So most gay social events took place in private homes until the annual Diana event became such a hot ticket that it was moved into clubs or hotel ballrooms.
In fact, it was held at the Palace Club in 1971 and 1972. Imagine that.
By the 1960s, Houston was "the homosexual playground of the South," according to author James T. Sears in his book Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South. By the time the turbulent decade ended, Montrose had become the center of gay life in the city, but that hardly meant an end to harassment or inequality.