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On June 16, 1977, Houston's gay and lesbian community gathered with other civil rights supporters in downtown Houston to protest an appearance by singer Anita Bryant. Ms. Bryant, spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, had led a successful campaign to repeal a Dade County ordinance protecting gays against discrimination in housing, employment, loans and public accommodation. She was in town to perform at the Texas Bar Association Convention.
Demonstrators, wearing black armbands with pink triangles, rallied outside the Depository II nightclub at Bagby and McGowen in late afternoon. Television actress Liz Torres spoke briefly to the crowd. A march down the sidewalks of Smith and Louisiana toward City Hall spilled onto the streets as the crowd purportedly swelled to ten thousand people. Organizational efforts by activists in the preceding weeks had paid off. J. Gary Van Ooteghem, head of the Houston Gay Political Caucus and chairman of the Texas Gay Political Caucus, had placed ads and articles in local publications and lined up speakers and financial support for the event.
Van Ooteghem also worked with police officials to insure an orderly and peaceful event. The procession walked past the Hyatt Regency where Ms. Bryant was performing and set up candlelit vigil in front of the Houston Public Library across from City Hall. Celebrities, women's rights advocates and religious leaders were among the supporters. Hugh Crell, a rally organizer, addressed the throng: "Let us remember Miami and build a better world for all people. Gay pride will defeat Anita Bryant."
"I've always considered
that particular event the birthplace of Houston's activism,"
says Ray Hill, then director of the Houston Human Rights League and
one of the prominent activists present.
In a 2001 interview with author James Sears on his book "Rebels, Rubyfruit and Rhinestones," he said "If Stonewall was the match that started the modern gay liberation movement, then Anita Bryant was really the wild fire that spread across the entire country."