Last year during October, we shared stories on Valley Voice, the first known LGBTQ advocacy group in the Rio Grande Valley that was active in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and on The Little Darlings, a contingent of queer and gender non-conforming youth active within Valley Voice.
As part of those stories, we shared some information about the first known Pride Month celebration in the Rio Grande Valley on June of 1992. To celebrate Pride Month this June, we wanted to share some more images and stories from that historic first Pride.
Pride Month celebrations have traditionally been held in June by LGBTQ communities in the U.S. and around the world to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — a series of riots that occurred in June of 1969 when several queer and trans people fought back against police who raided the Stonewall Inn (a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York) after the police had attempted to arrest several gender non-conforming patrons.
During the 1980s, there were several bars across the Valley that catered to the area’s LGBTQ community. In its first few years of its existence, Valley Voice made great strides in creating social and educational events for queer people of all ages outside of the bar scene. By 1992, however, the Valley had still not had any large-scale community Pride Month celebrations, like those seen in New York, San Francisco, or even Houston and San Antonio.
That year, members of Valley Voice decided to organize the Valley’s first Pride celebration. Realizing that the Valley’s LGBTQ community was spread out over a wide area, from South Padre Island and Brownsville to McAllen and even further west to Rio Grande City, and across both sides of the border, they decided to spread out the Pride celebration over an entire week and have events at various local venues. Drawing on the different kinds of activities that made up other Pride celebrations in larger cities, the group planned a week full of dances, talent shows, potlucks, a BBQ, a rally, a play based on the historic Stonewall riots, a drag pageant, and fundraisers for local nonprofits that worked with the LGBTQ community.
The kickoff of what then called Gay Pride Week began at Choices bar in Reynosa on Friday, June 26, 1992. Choices was owned by a flamboyant and colorful native of Reynosa named Leonardo Mena. In the late 1970s, Leonardo had opened a popular bar in McAllen called The Evolution (later known as Bumpers) and his second bar — Choices — remained a popular nightlife spot for queer people on both sides of the border.
The following Sunday, on June 28, the celebration continued at PBD’s bar on Ware Road and Daffodil in McAllen. PBD’s had opened in 1984 and remains open to this day. Frances Marsh — a core member of the Little Darlings — remembers that at the time the bar felt like “it was out in the boonies.” The celebration at PBDs included a talent show that featured several beginner drag queens and a raffle with door prizes. The money raised from this event went to Metropolitan Community Church (which later became Mount Calvary Christian Church), which was the first LGBTQ affirming church in the RGV. Frances remembers that a pastor from the church went up on the stage to speak to the crowd to thank them for being there but had a hard time getting them to quiet down. A drag queen went up right after the pastor, and the entire crowd went quiet immediately to hear what she had to say. Francis remembers reflecting on the power and importance drag queens held in the community.
The next event was held on July 1, a Wednesday and the anniversary of the final days of the Stonewall Riots, at 10th Avenue in McAllen, which at the time was the most popular gay club in the Valley. Proceeds from this “gay pride fiesta” went to benefit The Comfort House (also known as “Casa Merced”), a hospice that provided palliative care for people dying of AIDS, which was the first such place in the Valley.
On July 3, in Brownsville at the 440 Dance Club, another gay bar, organizers hosted a pageant called “Miss Gay Pride of the Rio Grande Valley.” Channel — a drag queen known for her flawless makeup and vintage glamour looks who was also working towards a career in educational administration at the time — won first place. This made her the first Miss Gay Pride of the Valley and she was interviewed in the following month’s issue of Valley Voice talking about her goals and identity as a performer. In this interview, Chanel stated, “I am…honored to represent an organization that is attempting to unite the gay and lesbian community of the Valley.”
At the 440, members of Valley Voice also performed a skit entitled “Stonewall Revisited.” While no one can quite remember details of the play, it was written by members of the Little Darlings and based on the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Frances remembers that at the time there was very little information written or available about the riots themselves. So the members took what little historical info they could find and turned it into a short play dramatizing the struggle between queer and trans people and the police after the latter had raided and attempted to arrest patrons of the Stonewall Inn.
The culminating event happened on July 5 at Zippers, a popular Harlingen gay bar. This “rally” — as it was described — was called Pansy Pachanga. Valley Voice member Alicia Lugo remembers that she had come up with the name after wanting something that would catch attention. As part of the rally, the play was once again reenacted. Valley Voice also sold BBQ chicken plates to benefit both Valley Voice and the Valley AIDS Council. Organizers later remembered that “record” numbers showed up to the rally to celebrate.
In preparation for the Pansy Pachanga, Valley Voice members created shirts with pink triangles that said “Pride” on them. The pink triangle was originally a symbol that gay and bisexual men and trans women were forced to wear in concentration camps during the Nazi Holocaust. In the 1980s, activists began using it as a symbol to draw attention to the AIDS crisis, and by the early 1990s, it had evolved into a symbol of queer pride and resistance.
In the July issue of Valley Voice’s publication In Touch, organizers wrote an article summing up the experience of this first Valley Pride: “Most of the places where events were held drew record crowds, this was the first time that the whole Valley united to celebrate our lifestyle and show our true pride…although in comparison to events held in larger cities this was a smaller celebration, the important thing is that we have finally taken the first step…and watch out, because there is no stopping us now!” The article continues, “the Pride ran deep in all those people who attended the functions….It was a feeling that will stay with us for a very long time, a feeling that will keep us working on future Gay Pride celebrations in years to come.”
Valley Voice went on to have three more Pride celebrations in 1993, 1994 (the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots), and 1995.
For more stories from the history of the Valley’s LGBTQ community stay tuned for the upcoming documentary Pansy Pachanga, scheduled to be released in 2019. Pansy Pachanga takes its name from one of the events that made up this historic first Pride Month. To find out how you can help make Pansy Pachanga a reality, click here to learn more and see how you can help.
To learn more about LGBTQ history, stop by the LGBTQ history room booth at Pride in the Park happening June 23rd at the McAllen Convention Center.