'The Homosexual Playground of the South' (Part 3)
Texas had strict sodomy laws and a complicated, archaic cross-dressing law used as police justification to raid lesbian bars and drag shows. And drag came to Houston in a big way in the Sixties, but seems to have drawn less heat than lesbian bars. In fact, by the Seventies, many members of straight society were regular attendees at drag shows at Montrose establishments like the Farmhouse, located at 2700 Albany. One commenter on the Houston Architecture website even noted that legendary Houston gossip columnist Maxine Messenger often attended the Sunday matinees. There is also mention of the daughter of "a high-level police officer" arriving furtively in a limo with a bodyguard. Those "in the know" knew.
While Houston has had a number of important court cases that figured in the road to the recently-passed equality ordinance and to the current status of the LGBT community, one late Sixties item in particular is legendary.
Rita Wanstrom was a big woman of Scandinavian descent who operated a lesbian bar on Sheperd called The Roaring Sixties. According to the documentary The Trouble With Ray, about local LGBT political activist Ray Hill, Wanstrom, who was affectionately known as "Papa Bear," grew tired of police raids on her establishment where women went to dance.
City ordinance Number 28.42-4 prohibited cross-dressing, and HPD and the local courts interpreted that to mean that women in jeans with a fly on the front were dressing like men. Wanstrom's club was raided by HPD in 1967 and a dozen women were arrested. But Wanstrom had had enough bullying and harassment. She bonded the women out and they all entered "not guilty" pleas. Through a series of fundraisers, the women were able to retain mad-dog litigator Percy Foreman, who told the press he hoped the trial "happens during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo."