The weather was typically muggy Saturday afternoon, making it impossible to keep the 100-degree heat out of the conversation for more than 10 minutes. But that did not deter the thousands of revelers sprawled throughout the Montrose neighborhood at the weather’s peak during Houston’s 33rd annual Pride celebration. Booths lined the streets, ranging from lesbian travel agencies to wine vendors. Performers took their renditions of Top 40’s songs to a stage set up in the middle of the melee, met by enthusiastic crowds that unabashedly belted the lyrics along with them. There were children and dogs, “twinks” and “bears” (both of which I was referred to the “gay glossary” for an accurate definition of), first timers and veterans, and enough beads to rival a New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration.
Saturday’s festival and parade, which managed to completely shut down two blocks of Montrose, were only the culmination of the week-long revelry for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. This year’s finale, however, held a different kind of poignancy. Just the night before, after months of deliberation, New York became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage, giving a new meaning to this year’s festival theme, “Live, Love, Be.” This bore an obvious mark on the day’s festivities, giving restored and hopeful attendees a pass for the most raucous and simultaneously sincere celebration.
While the city streets were temporarily converted to a sea of rainbow, the national symbol for LGBT, it was easy to forget that this was the largest city in a state dominated by conservative politics. A city known for old money and big oil.
But Pride’s 150,000 attendees stood as a testament to the fact that Houston, along with the rest of the world, is shifting.
It might have been easier to place these scenes on the streets of Austin, a Texas oasis known for embracing the atypical. Yet Houston’s Pride celebrations outshine and easily outnumber not only Austin and the rest of the state, but the entire Southwest. Houston Pride was named one of the top 10 attractions to experience by the Greater City of Houston Visitor’s Bureau, and is the second largest parade in Houston, falling only to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. So, why is this event, standing in stark contrast to the deep-rooted traditions the city is built on, continuing to attract such a diverse population?
“This is a unique state. Obviously, New York changed it for everybody, but Texas is probably number 48 or 49 that will happen to,” said Pride Houston’s president and CEO Frankie Quijano. “In the midst of that, we can give [the community] at least one day to come out and just be who they want to be no matter who it is. This is the place for you to be who you are and be amongst those of your family.”
There was certainly a familial atmosphere – from sporadic, friendly chats to passing bottles to new neighbors, the day seemed to elicit a collective sigh of relief. Montrose, transformed even further from its eclectic norm, was a safe haven. On festival grounds there was no animosity, no protesting, no jeering.
For Jonathan D. Lovitz, LOGO TV star and this year’s Celebrity Grand Marshal, this was not a drastic change in daily life as it was for many in-state attendants. As a resident of New York City and openly gay man on television, Lovitz’s sexual transparency is a luxury that many members of the Texas LGBT only dream of. Although he was invited to attend many Pride festivals around the country, Lovitz was drawn to Houston.
“This is not everyone’s first thought for a state of progressive civil rights,” Lovitz said. “I thought it a really special opportunity to come down and share my slice of daily New York gay life with this really wonderful enclave of gay America.”
As night fell over the festival the crowd migrated to the parade route. While glitter and balloons seemed to be the prevailing theme, other patterns emerged. Mayoral and city council candidates took advantage of the gathering, conscious of the fledgling election season. Car after car of stuffy-looking candidates did their best to blend in, and while their motivation was clear the fact that the gay community was so openly recognized as important constituents serves as a commentary to progress.
Speaking even louder were the dozens of floats and banners manned by church groups reaching out to include, not change, the LGBT community. Religious groups were present and extending hands to the same alliances that their brethren have so vehemently fought—and they were doing it with the most indubitably genuine smiles.
While the day itself has passed, Jonathan Lovitz had nothing but hopeful projections for Houston’s post-Pride community.
“I think it’s a credit to [the Pride team] for making us feel like Houston is a place to feel comfortable who you are. This isn’t a fly-by-night scene and then you have to go back to 364 days of in the closet. This is one day that you can carry with you the rest of the year and feel like the people of Houston are behind you and supporting you,” he said.