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TOWN MEETING 1 (TM1)

Organizers for Town Meeting 1.
The organizers for Houston's Town Meeting 1 included (left to right) co-chairs Steve Shiflett, W. Charles Law, and LaDonna Leake and project coordinator Ray Hill. Courtesy of Houston Chronicle and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

TOWN MEETING 1 (TM1). Town Meeting 1, the culmination of Houston's first week-long celebration of Gay Pride, was one of the first grassroots LGBT political events in the United States. Approximately 3,500 people attended the June 25, 1978, event in the Astro Arena, a segment of the Astrodome complex. The purpose of TM1 was to focus local efforts on goals (established via community workshops) and to chart a political strategy for the cause of gay liberation in Texas. 

Ginny Apuzzo was nominated to serve as chair for the event. A former co-chair of the Gay Rights National Lobby (now the Human Rights Campaign), Apuzzo had been a delegate for New York to the National Women's Conference the year before. Organizers believed her status as an outsider assured her ability to oversee the process without favoring the wishes of any local influences. The keynote speaker was former state representative and two-time Texas gubernatorial candidate Frances “Sissy” Farenthold. The event made front-page headlines in the Sunday editions of both the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post and received some television coverage. The resolutions passed at the meeting led to the founding of organizations to serve the LGBT community, such as the Montrose Clinic (now the Legacy Community Health Services) and Montrose Counseling Center (now the Montrose Center), that proved indispensable during the AIDS crisis and still served the community in the 2010s. 

Ray Hill at Town Meeting 1.
Ray Hill, executive director of the Houston Human Rights League, speaks at Town Meeting 1. Courtesy of Houston Chronicle and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Town Meeting 1 was organized by the Town Meeting Coalition, an ad hoc group with three co-chairs: Steve Shiflett, president of Houston’s Gay Political Caucus (GPC); W. Charles Law, chairman of the Houston Committee (a sociopolitical organization for the black gay community); and LaDonna Leake, who was new to activism. The project coordinator was Ray Hill, executive director of the Houston Human Rights League. There were also co-chairs who oversaw functions such as advertising and registration as well as the presentation of proposed resolutions at the meeting itself.

TM1 was first announced to Houston’s LGBT community at large in April 1978. Throughout the next month, the Wilde ‘N’ Stein bookstore hosted two series of “Human Rights Workshops” for the Town Meeting Coalition’s Issues & Dissemination Committee. The first round of workshops, May 15–17, 1978, gave community members an opportunity to state what they considered to be the most important issues facing the LGBT community of Houston. The second series of workshops, May 22–24, 1978, gathered information from the first round of workshops and sorted it into categories. Participants turned the information into proposed resolutions to be presented at TM1. 

The proposed resolutions were published in a “Participant’s Workbook,” which was made available to the public before the meeting. The provisional resolutions (and the rules) in the workbook provided a framework for TM1. During the meeting, community members had the opportunity to change the resolutions by amendment, submit new resolutions, offer substitute resolutions, or reject them all together.

The resolutions covered social issues at both the community level and society at large. The specific topics included LGBT people with disabilities, job security, physical and mental health care, internal prejudices within the LGBT community, police action against the LGBT community and inaction in regards to their protection, LGBT people in the military, the rights of LGBT parents, and public education to counter misinformation. A legal reform resolution called for changes to a number of laws, such as the Texas sodomy statute (21.06 of the Texas Penal Code), restricting the rights of LGBT people.

Sissy Farenthold at Town Meeting 1.
Former state representative and two-time gubernatorial candidate Frances "Sissy" Farenthold was the keynote speaker at Town Meeting 1. Courtesy of Houston Chronicle and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

On the day of the meeting, representatives of forty-two LGBT groups staffed tables on the floor of the Astro Arena and gave attendees a chance to familiarize themselves with LGBT organizations and social groups in Houston. On stage, city controller Kathy Whitmire and the newly-elected Harris County Democratic party chair Ann Greene were introduced to the crowd, and the keynote address was given by Sissy Farenthold, who explained her presence as a straight woman at an LGBT event by paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr., “No one is free unless we’re all free.” 

After Farenthold’s address, Ginny Apuzzo led discussion and debate over the proposed resolutions in the workbook. Discussion was conducted as an open forum; anyone who “supported the Gay Rights Movement” was welcome to participate. However, only those residing in the Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties) were eligible to vote on the resolutions. Participants were asked to consider the options available among the original and substitute resolutions and vote for only one version. There was a voting area reserved for people eligible to vote, and the method of voting was to raise a voter’s badge issued at the meeting. Each section within the voting area had a “floor teller” to count and report votes when a consensus was not immediately apparent. During a vote, only the floor tellers were allowed to “move about.” In the end, the resolutions passed without any significant alterations to the original intent. 

Town Meeting 1 was not without controversy, both before and after the event. Before June 25, the Harris County Commissioners Court passed a resolution opposing the use of the Astro Arena for the meeting. The resolution was pulled when it was pointed out that they had no authority over the Houston Sports Association, who held the lease for the building, and that the action would be a violation of the First Amendment rights of all those planning to attend. There were only a handful of picketers at the street entrance to the Astro Arena parking lot on the day of TM1.

One of the most volatile controversies of Town Meeting 1 concerned the publication of photographs taken at the gathering. At the time of TM1, photography and video recording at LGBT events was problematic for many people because of the risks it posed; a picture of someone at an LGBT event could cost them their job or their family. Information published before TM1 attempted to assure community members that cameras would be controlled and people’s identities would be protected. Still, some participants were “horrified at the sight of roaming cameras,” according to historian Bruce Remington. 

Discourse on the matter came to a head after several of the TM1 photographs were printed in the July 7, 1978, issue of Upfront, a weekly LGBT newspaper published by the GPC’s founding president Gary Van Ooteghem. In response, a group of lesbian feminists formed an ad hoc committee called For Our Right to Privacy and stole the visual materials from the TM Coalition headquarters on July 10. Heated editorials favoring either side appeared in both the July 21 and August 4 issues of Upfront, as well as in other LGBT publications like This Week In Texas. In a nonpartisan appeal, Steve Shiflett pointed out that, “The very fact that an event like this happened indicates the severe oppression and fear of loss of job or child that gay persons feel in their everyday lives. Certainly you will agree the efforts to erase these fears will be severely hampered if we do not continue to respond to each other’s concerns.” Shiflett participated in negotiations with the For Our Right to Privacy committee to have the stolen visual materials transferred to a “neutral place.” The final dispensation of these materials is unclear.

Although Town Meeting 1 did not directly resolve all the of issues covered by its resolutions, the conference opened new channels of communication and further developed the feeling of shared experience within the LGBT community that began with the Anita Bryant Protest in 1977. On September 23–24, 1978, the Town Meeting Coalition members and GPC leadership went to Lake Somerville to work on a five-year plan based on the resolutions from TM1. It is unclear if the results of the retreat were circulated in any way, but Upfront carried a number of stories showing progress in regards to issues covered at TM1. Before the end of the year, a gay speakers’ bureau was formed, and the organization of a community counseling service had begun. Members of the GPC met with the assistant chief of police regarding violence in the Montrose neighborhood and began “Operation: Documentation” to keep a record of any violations of civil rights experienced at the hands of HPD. (This information was shared with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in the fall of 1979.) Also significant was Annella Harrison’s founding of Family and Friends of Gays, later a chapter of the national organization PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

In addition to the Montrose Clinic and Montrose Counseling Center, TM1 is credited with the creation of the Montrose Sports Association, Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, Montrose Patrol, and the Gay Chicano Caucus (now the Gay and Lesbian Hispanics Unidos). It continues to be recognized as a milestone in the history of Houston’s LGBT community. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Houston Chronicle, June 25, 26, 1978. Houston Post, May 27, 1978; June 26, 1978. Bruce Donald Remington, Twelve Fighting Years: Homosexuals in Houston, 1969–1981 (M.A. thesis, University of Houston, 1983). James T. Sears, Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2001). Town Meeting Coalition, Houston Town Meeting 1 Participants’ Workbook, T.M.I Archives folder, The Botts Collection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, Inc., Houston, Texas. Upfront, April 28, 1978; May 12, 26, 1978; June 9, 1978; July 7, 21, 1978; August 4, 1978. Edmund White, States of Desire Revisited: Travels in Gay America (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

Jo Collier and Jennifer Unruh

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Handbook of Texas Online, Jo Collier and Jennifer Unruh, "Town Meeting 1 (Tm1)," accessed October 24, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ont01.

Uploaded on October 10, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.