The exhibit “Women in the Dallas LGBTQ Community” was originally created for display at Dallas City Hall during Pride Month, June 2019. The exhibit was created by University of North Texas Special Collections, utilizing archival resources in the LGBTQ Archive, with the assistance of our friends at The Dallas Way.
Visibility in the LGBTQ Community
Link to image: https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth615651/
Women are an essential part of the Dallas LGBTQ community, but it has taken time and effort for women to be seen and heard by their male peers. In a society where women are often considered second-class citizens based solely on their gender, the women of the LGBTQ community of Dallas found that they needed to work with heterosexual women’s groups to fight for their rights as women, as well as work with the LGBTQ organizations to fight for equal rights despite their sexual identity. LGBTQ women of color and trans women continue to face additional barriers because of their race, ethnicity, language, gender identity, and cultural backgrounds.
With all of these hurdles to compete with, women in the Dallas LGBTQ community focused on making their presence known in LGBTQ organizations, as well as creating groups specifically to address the needs of lesbian and trans women. Although gay men were marginalized by larger society, many often still acted out sexist norms, sometimes preventing women from joining or leading gay organizations. However, women still rose to leadership roles in existing LGBTQ organizations and founded other important local organizations.
Women often found themselves invisible within the larger gay community and were sometimes purposely excluded. Some early gay bars discriminated against lesbians by prohibiting women wearing jeans, or not allowing open toed shoes. Other forms of discrimination were used to target women and people of color at these bars, such as requiring multiple forms of ID to enter. The Social Justice Committee of the Dallas Gay Alliance eventually shut down these discriminatory practices. The first lesbian bar in Dallas, and possibly Texas, was Trader Vic’s (later Jugs). Donna Lee Foster opened Trader Vic’s in 1964, to create a safe haven and meeting place for women in the community.
Fighting for the “L Word”
One of the earliest LGBTQ organizations in Dallas was the Dallas Gay Political Caucus, founded in 1976. In 1981, members voted to change the name of the organization to reflect the larger scope of work they were doing. The new name, Dallas Gay Alliance (DGA), was selected despite protests from women in the group who wanted the term lesbian included, because that is how many gay women at the time self-identified. (The Dallas Gay Political Caucus remained active as a political action committee within DGA.) Women in the organization believed that including lesbian in the name would make the organization seem more welcoming to women in the community, but a vote was taken, and so it was settled.
In 1986, Dr. Louise Armstrong and Vivienne Young, two active lesbian leaders within the DGA, along with a handful of other members, split from the group to form the Dallas Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition.
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It was not until 1993 that the Dallas Gay Alliance voted to officially add “lesbian” to their name. Following local pressure and amidst a nationwide trend to include “lesbian” in similar organization names, the Dallas Gay Alliance took great care to educate members about the importance of this change before another vote on the topic. When the votes were cast, the decision was unanimous, and the organization was thereafter known as the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
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A major call for addressing sexism in Dallas LGBTQ community organizations came in 1997, when the Foundation for Human Understanding (FHU) laid off a number of employees because of budget concerns. Two of those laid off were women in higher-level positions. They felt that their dismissal was based on their advocacy for more programming addressing women in the community. The lesbian community peacefully protested during FHU board meetings and demanded that changes be made to include more programming for women and that more women be included on the board of FHU and other community organizations. This issue sparked the creation of The Committee for Creating Change, which worked to address sexism, racism, and other discrimination in the community. Later that year, FHU hired Starr Eaddy as Manager of Women’s Programs, to identify and produce programs that were important to women in the community.
Health care in the LGBTQ community focused largely on the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. During this era, governmental support for the funding of prevention programs and treatment initiatives for that contagious and fatal disease was the paramount public health concern.
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During this difficult time, women also had to advocate for their own health care needs and education. Organizations like the Routh Street Women’s Clinic, the Young-Elder Women’s Clinic, and the Women’s Resource Center were created to help educate and address the needs of women. While HIV/AIDS was not a major concern for the lesbian population, they were not immune to the disease. Lesbians and bisexual women were often left out of the statistics gathered around the AIDS epidemic, and so were not well educated about their ability to contract the disease. Women’s clinics made a point to share information about the effect of HIV/AIDS on women and children, as well as share information on safe sex practices and intravenous drug use.
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Around the same time as the AIDS epidemic struck the gay male population, women in the community were discovering that breast and cervical cancers were a great concern, and that regular testing was imperative to catching the diseases early. In the late 80s and early 90s, a major push took place to educate women about the diseases, what to look for, and when to seek treatment. At this time, healthcare providers often discriminated against LGBTQ women, so they tended to avoid regular appointments and tests. With this in mind, many of the LGBTQ community service organizations began to offer free or low-cost screenings for community members.
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The Oak Lawn Counseling Center (later Oak Lawn Community Services), one of the earliest LGBTQ support organizations in Dallas, created numerous programs focused on the mental and physical well being of the LGBTQ community, with many of their programs created to address the needs of women. In 1992, they founded the Candy Marcum Institute for Women’s Studies, which focused on sharing information specific to lesbian health care, including breast cancer awareness, HIV/AIDS education, mental health, and navigating the medical system.
Women Helping Women
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Lesbian Visionaries, founded in 1987 by Deb Elder, was created as a way to bring together what she considered an invisible lesbian community. There were many smaller lesbian organizations in Dallas, but there was no form of central communication or connectedness amongst the groups. Their first order of business was to establish a phone line where these various organizations could share information about their meetings and activities to women around the metroplex. Along with hosting programs based on the needs of the lesbian community, they established the need for the Lesbian Resource Center and created a media task force to ensure that women in the LGBTQ community were fairly represented in the local media. In 1989, they hosted their first Sappho Awards Ceremony, with the ultimate award being the Lesbian of the Year Award. The awards ceremony was created to honor women and organizations who worked hard to better the lesbian and LGBTQ communities.
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Karen Ashmore founded the Dallas Rainbow Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), in 1990. The Dallas Chapter of NOW was already in existence when Ashmore realized how few women of color were participating, and she wanted to include women of color in larger conversations to address issues that they faced. With this in mind, she petitioned to have the existing chapter take on the Rainbow title with the goals of eliminating racism, sexism, and homophobia. With its creation, this group led to even more lesbian organizations being created that focused on race and ethnicity, like Umoja Hermanas.
Umoja Hermanas (Sisters United), was founded in 1992 by Josie Mata. This organization for lesbian women of color in Dallas, created a safe space for members to gather and discuss social issues, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. Soon after they organized, there was a call to include bisexual women in the group as well. After discussing the issue at a meeting, the group agreed to include bisexual women. Umoja Hermanas worked with other groups in the LGBTQ community to promote the acceptance of LGBTQ people of color both in their racial communities and in the broader LGBTQ community, until the group disbanded in 1998.
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Lesbianas Latinas de Dallas (LLDD), the first lesbian Latina organization in Dallas, was founded by Rosa Lopez, in 1995. Although the group disbanded after two years, Lopez continued her work as a community organizer and lesbian leader. She owned the Suenos Sabrosos ice cream parlor and founded the Vecinos Unidos (United Neighbors) non-profit to build affordable housing in West Dallas. In 2010, the Dallas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Rainbow Council awarded Lopez a community service award for her work helping low-income people in West Dallas find affordable housing. To honor the work that she did in support of education initiatives, LULAC 4817 added her name to their scholarship fund, in 2014. She continued her work in community service up until her death in 2017.
Legacy of Success is an Ad-Hoc organization formed to bring the same gender loving community of color together to celebrate Black History Month through the Heritage Celebration DFW event. Legacy of Success was co -founded by Winner Laws in 2002, and she served as Chairwoman of Heritage Celebration for three years. One of the goals of Legacy of Success is to recognize the unique struggle of the African American gay community who face racism as well as homophobia in their daily lives. Today, Laws continues to serve the gay and lesbian community through her work with the Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ, thought to be the largest LGBTQ-serving congregation in the world. She received her master’s degree in Theological Studies from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in 2016.
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Felicia Miller has worked with local and national LGBTQ organizations, with a goal of protecting gay and lesbian civil rights. As a committee chair for the national Human Rights Campaign, Miller used her position to make the organization more inclusive by helping people understand that HRC is not “pale, male, and elitist.” Working with the Legacy of Success, Miller established a scholarship in the name of her late partner, Hazel Hatcher, and served as co-chair of the African American Lesbian Conference in 2005. Together with her current partner, Katrina Franklin, Miller also works with AIDS Arms Inc. to host traditional events such as Soul Food Sunday for the African American community.
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Dr. Starr Eaddy found passion in serving the healthcare needs of women and the LGBTQ community in Dallas. She worked at the Routh Street Women’s Clinic, Prince Careers Health Training Institute, Cathedral of Hope’s AIDS Crisis Fund and as the Women’s Programs Manager for the Foundation for Human Understanding (later Resource Center). In each of these positions, she focused on creating programs that provided free or low-cost exams and medical testing for women’s health issues and sought to educate the community and provide assistance in areas that were not being readily addressed. Dr. Eaddy currently lives in the Northeast where she continues to work on her research and teach.
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In 1994, Dallas restaurateur Eduardo Greene publicly transitioned to Monica Greene, changing the name of her restaurant to Monica’s Aca y Alla. Greene’s use of traditional Mexican cuisine in an upscale setting has influenced Dallas food culture to take a step back from the ever-popular Tex-Mex. Greene has owned numerous restaurants in Dallas throughout her 25 years in the business and has consulted for many in Texas and other states.
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In 2004, Lupe Valdez was elected as Dallas County’s first female, first Hispanic, and first openly gay sheriff. Valdez worked for many years in various areas of law enforcement, including 12 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, and as a military police officer, ultimately rising to the rank of captain. She worked as an agent in various federal departments including becoming a senior agent with the Department of Homeland Security. She won four consecutive elections as Dallas County Sheriff. In 2018, Valdez became the first Latina, and openly gay candidate nominated for governor of Texas by a major political party.
Nell Gaither founded the Trans Pride Initiative, in 2011, with the focus on bringing the transgender community together, and offering healthcare information to community members who are often discriminated against by their doctors and healthcare professionals. With this focus on healthcare, Gaither began to look at the health coverage offered to City of Dallas employees and realized that trans medical care was not adequately covered. She worked with the city’s LGBT Task Force to fight for better and broader health coverage for trans employees. While continuing to fight for trans rights and health services locally and nationally, Gaither has also focused on other needs of low income trans people, such as homelessness, for which she founded the Dallas Trans Shared Housing Project, in 2014.
Shannon Walker is a transgender rights advocate, working to assist trans men and women through the process of transitioning. She is working with trans organizations in Dallas to support the community, and also helping individuals go through the legal process of changing their gender markers, so that they can be legal recognized as the gender to which they have transitioned. This work was inspired after the 2015 murder of Shade Schuler, a trans woman of color, whose murderer has never been identified. Walker organized a vigil for Schuler and began to realize the scope of violence against transgender women, especially trans women of color. In 2017, Walker starred in the play In The Tall Grass, at Bishop Arts Theatre, which focused on the Schuler’s story as well as others from the trans community.
Links to previous Pride Displays sponsored by the Dallas Way and UNT at the Oak Lawn Library:
Gay History Pride Exhibit June 2019
Pride in A Dallas: A Brief Look at Dallas LGBTQ history
For information on the Oak Library Friends, use this link :