Houston, we have history: How Rice is preserving Pride, one story at a time

Applying for a summer internship spent collecting oral histories of significant Houston LGBTQ activists was an easy decision for Baker College junior Luis Adame. Yes, it’s a paid internship, but more importantly it offered the Dallas native an opportunity to connect even more deeply with a community that has become like a local family.

Brian Riedel with summer CSWGS interns Luis Adame and Zoe Clark

Brian Riedel, professor in the practice of humanities and associate director of Rice University’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, with summer interns Luis Adame and Zoe Clark. (Photo by Katharine Shilcutt)

“I’ve found a second home in the LGBT community here in Houston,” Adame said during a recent meeting with fellow intern Zoe Clark, a Wiess College junior, and their adviser, Brian Riedel, professor in the practice of humanities and associate director of Rice University’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality (CSWGS). “There’s just a great sense of community here and this feels like a way for me to help contribute,” added Adame, who found an abundance of LGBTQ-oriented groups and clubs in Houston upon moving here to attend Rice.

Since 2007, Riedel has guided students like Adame and Clark as they’ve interviewed, transcribed, videotaped and catalogued the oral histories of 147 figures in the local LGBTQ community, from former Houston Mayor Annise Parker ‘78 to Jill Carroll ’94, former director of Rice’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance. Collecting these histories has been part of the coursework in Riedel’s popular survey courses, Introduction to LGBT Studies and Introduction to Women and Gender; more in-depth work takes place each summer as Riedel takes on students such as Adame and Clark who have already shown a greater interest in continuing the research.

The oral histories are part of a larger project aimed at documenting Houston’s LGBTQ history: CSWGS’s and Rice’s contribution to ongoing work with the Houston Area Rainbow Collective History. Eventually, they’ll all be archived in the Woodson Research Center at Fondren Library, but Riedel and his students are also employing the interviews they’ve already collected to encourage others to contribute.

Five years ago, Riedel and his collaborators celebrated the collection of 100 oral histories with an event at the Houston Public Library’s Julia Ideson Building that culminated in an audience discussion on the future of the project. And over the last decade, Riedel has incorporated the oral history projects — including 15-minute, student-created videos — into the history tent at the annual Houston Pride Parade.

“It’s a great way for our community of preservationists to reach out to the broader LGBT and allied community to say not only is there stuff worth preserving, but you can help do it,” said Riedel, who will be staffing the tent this year along with Adame and Clark during the June 23 festivities. “There’s a lot of recruitment; that’s the best part about the history tent.”

Riedel, Adame and Clark will staff the Houston Pride History Tent at this year's Houston Pride Parade June 23. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Riedel, Adame and Clark will staff the Houston Pride History Tent at this year’s Houston Pride Parade June 23. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

In addition to collections from Rice, the history tent will also feature exhibits from the oH Project, the JD Doyle Archives, the Old Lesbian Oral History Project, the Banner Project, the Botts Collection, the Transgender Foundation of America, the University of Houston and the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of GLBT History.

Adame and Clark will also spend their summer internship interviewing four notable Houstonians — three of whom currently serve on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBT Advisory Board: Bob Briddick, Fran Watson, Harrison Guy and Januari Leo. Because their lists of contributions to the local LGBTQ community are lengthy, Riedel specifically wanted these Houstonians’ oral histories conducted by his summer interns, “because in the summer there are multiple interviews that can happen. Luis and Zoe get the opportunity to do an interview, digest it and come back for more.”

A sociology and Asian studies major who has also collected oral histories for the Houston Asian-American Archive, Clark was excited for the opportunity to drill down even further into this kind of research. “I love doing ethnographic work,” she said, specifying its ability to humanize subjects while also illuminating new perspectives.

Leo, a prominent LGBT activist who is herself straight, will be Clark’s first subject. “What I want to get out of the project using her life is to understand allyship within the LGBT community and also how to be an activist in Houston — how to balance that with your personal life and your work life,” said Clark.

Watson, who recently lost her bid for a Texas State Senate seat in District 17, will be Adame’s first subject.

“I chose to focus on her first because her campaign is very fresh,” Adame said. “Whenever I have something big happen in my life, I have gut reactions and a lot of thoughts in my head, so it would be a great opportunity for me to talk to her, see how she feels and capture that narrative.”

“This is just one of many setbacks she’s encountered in her life,” said Adame, referring to a 2011 climbing accident that left Watson with two broken legs. “And I don’t want to just idolize these people, but humanize them.”

Adame recently changed his major from chemical engineering to social policy analysis, inspired by his work in Riedel’s classes and the alliances he’s made at Rice. “These people had struggles — and you might also have similar struggles — and here’s how they made it through that. It’s kind of a cathartic thing for me.”

This year’s Houston Pride Parade takes place Saturday, June 23, starting at 8:30 p.m. The Houston Pride History tent is slated for the 500 block of McKinney St. next to City Hall and the Reflecting Pool. For more information on Rice’s participation in this year’s Pride Parade, which includes a large walking group this year in lieu of a float, visit https://ricepride.rice.edu.

For more information on the Houston ARCH Summer Internship in Oral History, visit https://cswgs.rice.edu/academics/prizes-and-awards/oral-history-internship.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.