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Out and Proud in San Antonio-Retracing the History of Pride Celebrations in the Alamo City

June 24, 2013

­­Every June, LGBTQ communities across America celebrate Pride month to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969-the catalyst that launched the modern gay rights movement. For many gay men, lesbians, and transgendered persons, gay liberation translated into visibility, the path out of the darkness of the closet. Newfound visibility was cause for celebration and in large cities throughout the U.S., Pride parades, picnics, and rainbow flags marked the collective coming out of a community once relegated to silence and invisibility. Pride week became a time to reaffirm that the gay masses were out and about, openly proclaiming and claiming their place in society. But what about San Antonio? Did the city’s LGBTQ community join in the national veneration of Stonewall? Did San Antonio’s gays, lesbians, and transgenders step out of their closets and shout we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it?

Not quite. Gay SA typically headed to Houston to celebrate Pride or honored the event in the privacy of their own homes or those of friends.[1] It was not until 1982, thirteen years after Stonewall,  that San Antonio’s LGBTQ community finally considered the possibility:  “Visibility in SA:  What Would It Mean?” SAGA—the San Antonio Gay Alliance—alerted the media via a press conference, Gay SA was coming out:  rainbow flags, gay art, queer movies, and of course, a picnic. How would straight San Antonio react to a public display of Pride panoply? Would they protest, sending queer San Antonians scrambling back to their collective closets? Would the Pride picnic at  Lion’s Park in Pecan Valley where revelers were invited to bring potluck dishes, musical instruments, or sports equipment, prove to be too in-your-face gay for the River City?[2]

The Calendar, Pride issue 1982

The Calendar, Pride issue 1982

According to Michael Stevens, head of SAGA and publisher of The Calendar, San Antonio’s LGBTQ periodical, Pride week was a resounding success, unhampered by opposition and opprobrium: “Our gay community did itself proud this past week. SAGA organized a very successful press conference, panel discussion, and picnic. If you didn’t know about Gay Pride Week in San Antonio you were either in Houston or in a soundproofed closet. You can be sure your straight friends and neighbors knew about it from the radio, TV, and newspapers. The San Antonio gay community is out. At least 300 of our brothers and sisters celebrated the end of Gay Pride Week in a super picnic in the park.”[3]

1982’s “innovative experiment in coming out as a community,”  laid the foundation for decades of  Pride celebrations in San Antonio.[4] In 1983, SA’s Pride picnic moved to San Pedro Park; the site served as the venue for Pride festivities in San Antonio for many years and by 1991, 300 party revelers had grown to 3,000 as queer San Antonians turned out en force to celebrate difference and diversity.[5] Out in San Antonio, the city’s queer pub of the moment, declared that Pride ’91 “OUT is IN” would be the “biggest and best Pride Picnic ever!” with “more booths, more entertainment AND more Lesbian Women and Gay Men than ever before!”[6] Pride San Antonio grew bigger and bigger with each passing year, seemingly signaling  cohesion within San Antonio’s every-growing queer community.

Out in San Antonio, Pride issue 1991

Out in San Antonio, Pride issue 1991

However, in 1997  behind the scenes, feuding picnic organizers splintered into two competing groups, each holding separate Pride celebrations that year (and for years to come). Accountability for, and  distribution of  funds raised by past picnics underpinned the dispute between the event’s sponsors. One picnic goer summed up the sentiment of many queer San Antonians regarding the schism:  “It’s a shame to have two picnics like this. . .we have enough hassles from the rest of the world without being able to unite on the one day of the year we get to be ourselves.”[7]

In 1998, organizers of San Antonio’s Pride events, which included a parade through downtown San Antonio, hoped to salve the internal strife that plagued festivities the year before. The 1998 Pride parade was not the first held in the River City. Lesbians and Gays marched in 1976 proclaiming:  “two, four, six, eight—gay is just as good as straight.”[8] Compared to 1976 when a small contingent walked through San Antonio’s downtown, the ’98 procession included floats, drag queens, and LGBTQ organizations. Especially significant was a performance by Cheer Dallas  in front of the Alamo–iconic symbol of Texas liberty. A drag diva passing by in a convertible at the same moment gave new meaning to the term liberty.

Cheer Dallas at San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

Cheer Dallas at San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

Float in San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

Float in San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

San Antonio Pride Parade, 1998

San Antonio’s Pride celebrations have grown in leaps and bounds over the years, taking place in different venues throughout the month of June.  In 2012, Pride organizers expected 10,000 people to attend the block party and parade.[9] Pride festivities now include sports events, presentations at libraries, special gallery exhibitions,  socials, and of course a parade.  At Pride Bigger than Texas 2013, a block party and parade scheduled for June 29th on North Main Street–an area Michael Stevens referred to as the city’s “growing gay neighborhood”–[10] San Antonio’s LGBTQ community and their supporters will carry on the rich tradition of Pride festivities started in 1982 when queer San Antonians discovered that Visibility in SA meant freedom to come out and stand proud in the Alamo city.    


[1] Toby Johnson, “Gay Visibility in S.A.,” in The Calendar, Vol.II, No.3, June 18-July 1, 1982, 17.

[2] “Gay Pride Week Events in S.A.,” in The Calendar, Vol.II, No.3, June 18-July 1, 1982, 25.

[3] Michael Stevens, “Gay Independence,” in The Calendar, Vol.II, No.4, July 2-July 15, 1982, 7.

[4] Michael Stevens, “Greetings From Gay SA,” in The Calendar, Vol.III, No.12, June 17-30, 1983, 7.

[5] Loydean Thomas, “3,000 turn out for Lesbian/Gay Pride Picnic,” in San Antonio Express-News, June 24, 1991, 5A.

[6] “San Antonio’s 9th Annual Lesbian and Gay Pride Celebration,” in Out in San Antonio, Vol.1, No.1, June 20, 1991, 1.

[7] Christina Ramirez, “Feuding gay groups sponsor ‘pride picnics,” in San Antonio Express-News, June 15, 1997, 1B.

[8] “Gays Set Alamo March,” The News, June 24, 1976, 1; “Cheering gays parade through downtown S.A.,” San Antonio Express-News, March 26, 1976, 20.

[9] Elaine Ayala, “Gay Pride:  No-hate activist to lead the parade,” in San Antonio Express-News, June 30, 2012, 3B.

[10] Michael Stevens, “Greetings From Gay SA,” in The Calendar, Vol.III, No.12, June 17-30, 1983, 7.

All images used in this post are from UTSA Libraries Special Collections GLBTQ publications digital collection

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