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‘United with pride.‘: A look back at Houston’s first LGBTQ Pride Parade more than 4 decades ago

Beginning of Houston's Pride Parade of 1979
Beginning of Houston's Pride Parade of 1979 (Larry Butler, courtesy of JD Doyle, HoustonLGBTHistory.org)

HOUSTON – Nearly 50 years ago, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York were considered the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. The historical riot was the spark that helped ignite Houston’s first gay and lesbian organization in the early 70s. However, the city didn’t celebrate its first parade celebration almost a decade later.

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Since the foundation of the pride march in Houston, the city has supported, educated and promoted the LGBTQ community through marches, awareness and major events such as the Pride Parade.

As the nation wraps up Pride Month in June, we look back at the foundation of Houston’s Pride Parade, one of the country’s largest events celebrating Pride.

The beginning of Houston’s Pride Parade

According to Houston LGBT History, the first official Houston Pride Parade was held in Montrose on July 1, 1979. The parade was followed by a rally at Spotts Park, where 5,000 people enjoyed music, speeches, dancing and fireworks.

However, this was wasn’t the first parade of the LGBTQ community. Three years prior in 1976, a small march took place with a few hundred people.

On June 20, 1976, the University of Houston’s Gay Activist Alliance took its first steps in the gay movement with a Houston Pride Parade. Although there were no floats or bands, about 300 to 400 people met at The Exile parking block and marched down Main Street. The march was followed by a “Gayfest,” at the Liberty Bank located in Montrose.

Event article clipping from June 19, 1976
Event article clipping from June 19, 1976 (Larry Butler, courtesy of JD Doyle, HoustonLGBTHistory.org)

The official Houston Pride Parade began three years later on July 1, 1979. The event was coordinated by the Parade Committee and Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus. This was the first time the parade included floats, bands and prominent leaders and allies from the LGBTQ community.

The Montrose Activity Center (MAC) Marching Band
The Montrose Activity Center (MAC) Marching Band (Larry Butler, courtesy of JD Doyle, HoustonLGBTHistory.org)
Calendar of Events from Houston Gay Pride Week, 1979
Calendar of Events from Houston Gay Pride Week, 1979 (Larry Butler, courtesy of JD Doyle, HoustonLGBTHistory.org)

The parade’s first theme was “United We Stand” celebrating the solidarity within the community.

Houston Gay Pride Parade Float from 1979
Houston Gay Pride Parade Float from 1979 (Larry Butler, courtesy of JD Doyle, HoustonLGBTHistory.org)

The grand parade moved down Westheimer Road from Shepherd Drive to Bagby Street and was lead by Thelma “Disco Grandma” Handsel, the event’s first Grand Marshal.

Grand Marshal Thelma "Disco Grandma" Hartsel
Grand Marshal Thelma "Disco Grandma" Hartsel (Larry Butler, courtesy of JD Doyle, HoustonLGBTHistory.org)
Midge Constanza former advisor to President Carter
Midge Constanza former advisor to President Carter (Larry Butler, courtesy of JD Doyle, HoustonLGBTHistory.org)

Throughout the years, Houston’s Pride Parade has grown tremendously, becoming an open atmosphere for all ages, genders, races, sexualities and walks of life.

In 2015, the Pride Parade made its move from the Montrose area to downtown Houston. The event continues to drive hundreds of thousands of individuals and has become the fourth-largest event in the country.

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For the first time since 1977 when the parade was canceled due to lack of funds, Houston’s Pride Parade was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although this celebration was put on a brief pause, the LGBTQ community continues to celebrate, raise awareness and fight for equality.

Click here to view Houston LGBT History’s 1979 Pride Parade Photos