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Interview with: Reverend Ralph Lasher
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: July 23, 2008
DG: Today is July 23, 2008, and we are interviewing Reverend Ralph Lasher for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is David Goldstein. How are you today, Reverend Lasher?
RL: I am doing very well. Thank you very much. I am very honored to be included in this project.
DG: Well, thank you for making time for us. Why don’t we begin at the beginning – tell us where you were born and your early days.
RL: I was born in Cheyenne Wyoming on July 29, 1928. My mother was from Michigan. My father was from Wyoming. My mother had gone out there to work for the man who, at that time, was governor of the state. He had been state engineer at the time. She would go anywhere to get rid of living in Michigan where she had been living. I never did know why she chose Wyoming but I am glad she did. I spent the first year of my life, much of it, in Denver, Colorado in a children’s hospital. I was born with a clubbed foot and was one of the pioneers in the efforts to correct clubbed feet, and doctors there did a great job. I moved from Cheyenne to Grand Island, Nebraska, when I was about 18 months old. My father’s business took him there and I was there through about 3rd grade. And from there, went to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I think I was until just probably mid 7th grade, and then we moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, where I stayed throughout high school. And then, I went to college in Connecticut, Hartford, Connecticut, and seminary in New York at churches in Princeton, New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Waukegan, Illinois, and made a decision in 1959, I think it was, to resign from the ministry and seek some secular jobs. My first job was in Chicago. I stayed in Chicago until I moved to Houston in 1968, and have been here ever since.
DG: Well, that is a good overview. Let’s go back. What would you have considered the formative experiences of your youth?
RL: Probably my experiences in church, both in Grand Island and Lincoln, Nebraska. The pastors and some of the Sunday school teachers I had were very influential, and I think when I was probably somewhere between 3 and 4 years old, I went to my parents and said, “I want to be baptized.” I had not been baptized at that point. And so, I was baptized – I remember it very distinctly- at the church in Grand Island, Nebraska, and it was a very important event in my lifetime. And when we were in Lincoln, the pastor there came to the house to visit us one time and the Reverend, I think it was John Marsden – it was Marsden anyway . . . he had observed me at church and Sunday school and I was an altar boy accolade (sp?) and he said, “Ralph, have you ever considered that maybe God is calling you to the ministry?” And this was actually the event that stuck with me the rest of my life until I did decide to go to seminary. It was the night that I was ordained a deacon, my dream was entirely about him and I was really, in my mind, some way taking his place. Very important to me.
DG: How old were you when you had that sense that that was what you wanted to do?
RL: I think I was probably around 12 years old when he came to the house. I wrote it down in a little kind of scribble in book it was called that I had and I had a chance to look at that recently, and I think I was about 12 probably.
DG: Other than church, what sort of things did you enjoy doing?
RL: Oh, I enjoyed work as a writer. I have always been somewhat of an amateur writer and editor, and my first secular job was as an editor in the publishing company which then was Commerce Clearing House which was one of the major publishers of law reports. And I became the editor of the Labor Law Journal and also really the person responsible for putting out a summary of labor law articles by attorneys and by others. Then, I became the assistant head of the labor law department and I even wrote a book on the Taft-Hartley Labor Law when that was enacted which got circulated extensively and led me to give speeches from time to time. And one of the speech meeting s I was giving at a Chamber of Commerce, a man came up to me and said, “Have you ever thought of going into consulting work?” He said, “I want to start a human resources consulting company in connection with my public relations firm I have.” And I said, “Well, I had never thought about it. Let’s talk.” And, before long, I went to work for him and traveled extensively doing consulting work for most of the Fortune 500 companies at the time. I traveled from Canada to Puerto Rico to Mexico to all across the United States and had a wonderful time. But I enjoyed writing and I still write. I have had articles published in several different publications.
DG: So, you have this duality – you had your life in the clergy and you have this business life and obviously, there was an event there but how did you keep the balance or how would you have defined the balance of those two throughout your life?
RL: Well, most of my writing at one point was entirely theological. I had articles published in some of the publications of the Episcopal Church and later, I became in more secular publications, and I wrote a number of things that actually were published under somebody else’s name, that were really humorous things, humorous type articles, and purely humor.
DG: What was the seminary experience like for you?
RL: Well, how I got to seminary is an interesting experience. I was unsure of what I wanted to do. I had become very active in politics in Illinois and the Chamber of Commerce had gotten me much involved, and I seriously thought about going into politics at that point. When I was in college, I still was kind of unsure whether I would become a politician or clergy and I was going to seminary in New York to be interviewed and try to help me make my decision. I took a train from Hartford, Connecticut to New York and the train stopped in New Haven, Connecticut, and I saw somebody that I knew well getting on the platform. It was then the most famous republican, Senator Robert Taft, who, at that point was on crutches. I think he had had a stroke or something. He got onto the train and he saw me and came over and sat down next to me. The connection was that his father, I believe, was my father’s godfather, and they had had military experience together and we had gotten to know each other at family events and things, and he sat down and he said, “Well, where are you going, Ralph?” And I told him. And I told him I was trying to make the decision whether or not to get into politics or the ministry. And he said, “Ralph, don’t go into politics. That’s the dirtiest business there is.” He said, “I spent all my life voting for things I did not want, did not believe in, to get votes for what I believed in.” And that stuck with me. That clarified my mind totally. I was accepted at the seminary and spent three wonderful years in New York City at seminary.
DG: I see. Was the seminary experience a validating one for you? Did it confirm that that was what you wanted to do or did it . . .
RL: Oh, very much so. And then, as I said, the night I was ordained a deacon which was in the Episcopal cathedral in Boston by a candidate from the diocese of Massachusetts, I had this dream where really I was back to Reverend Marsden. I was taking his place since he no longer was able . . . he died by that point, and I was taking his place. It became very important. It was very rewarding. I went then to New Jersey and I was lucky to get the offer to become the assistant to the rector of the Episcopal Church in Princeton, New Jersey, and had a great time there. It was a wonderful experience. I got to know Albert Einstein, just lived down the street, and a number of other wonderful people.
DG: And what were your duties at that first posting?
RL: I was largely involved in the Christian education program, the Sunday school which was a very large one, and I did some counseling – marriage counseling and other counseling.
DG: Then, could you give me the chronology from there? What was your next post?
RL: I went to New Brunswick, New Jersey, and was the rector of a church there which was a quite famous church. It was the church that in 1922, the rector of the church and a choir singer were found murdered out in what was called Lover’s Lane, Derussi’s Lane, and the Hall-Mills murder, it was known as, and there were several books written on it, and in 1926, the Hearst newspapers had investigated a lot and they were responsible for the trial of the family of the rector’s wife and her family, we tried for the murder. It became almost everybody who became a famous person in the journalistic world was covering that trial. Dorothy Kilgallon, I can remember as one. A lot of others. I loved the church very much.
It was, at that time . . . I had known for many years that I was a homosexual and was not at all uncomfortable with being that. I did not talk a lot about it but I met a man in New York City who was another Episcopal priest who was also a homosexual, a gay man, and we had a 1 year long relationship but it was kind of difficult since he lived in New York State and I lived in New Jersey, and also in New York City, I met in other man named Harry Gibson in 1955 and was very much attracted to him and thought he was one of the finest persons I had ever met, and about 1 week after I met him, he was laid off from his position with an airline and I asked him to come and stay with me in New Brunswick and we were together from there on for the next 45 years and 3 months. I made the decision in 1959 that I really needed to leave the ministry because it was very difficult to be a gay couple and to be moving from church to church. I was being asked to become the rector of a much larger church in New Jersey and I just could not figure out how I was going to try to go there and what was I going to say who Harry was? At that time, you never could have said he was my partner. And so, I left that and went to Chicago where my parents lived and that is when I got the job at Commerce Clearing House, used my ability to read and write, and got that job.
DG: You just related that that decision, as you would expect, with the passage of the years, but how difficult was it for you?
RL: It was very difficult because I was very serious about my beliefs and my call to ministry. One of the, I guess, unusual things about what happened while I was in New Brunswick, is that every Sunday, there were over 100 people that came into our house, the rectory which was next door to the church, for coffee, and frequently, people came for dinner afterwards. Harry loved to cook for them. And we had an elderly member of the church who only had like $35 a month income at that time who was living with us and we had what I thought was a wonderful family along with a couple of dogs we had. I often wondered what the people in the church thought about us and our relationship. About 15 years later, after I had left there, I was driving through New Brunswick on my way from . . . well, I was on my way to New York City and I do not remember where I had come from at that point but anyway, I was driving there and I went in by the church to see what it looked like as there was a brand new building that I had raised the money for, for an office building and for children’s education, and I had never seen it. And so, I walked down the driveway between the church and the parsonage, the rectory, to see what the building looked like and while I was there, somebody came out from the rectory and introduced himself as the rector and asked my name and I said it was Ralph Lasher. He said, “I know who you are. Come on in and talk.” So, I went in and we sat down and talked and before long, he began calling people in the church who apparently had spoken well of me, and before long, they were over there and we had probably 25 or so people came and had a great time. I was invited to go off that evening to the home of two heterosexual couples to have dinner. And, at dinner, they asked me was I still with Harry? I said, “Oh, yes.” They said, “Well, where is he?” I said, “He is in Houston, Texas.” And they said, “Could we call him?” So, we called him and over the phone, the speaker phone, we had a great conversation and, for the first time, I really realized that people knew about us and apparently accepted it and were very fond of us and had no questions. It was a great revelation to me, and a very happy one.
DG: If you had known then, would it have changed your decision?
RL: I doubt it very much because it was not something that I had disclosed to the bishop, and I am not sure what would have happened if I had gone to the vestry of that new church and told them. I thought, well, I could introduce him as my cousin, my friend, he worked for me – I don’t know. I just said no, I’m not going to do it. I am not going to lie. And very happily, all of that changed in 1986 here in Houston as I read a book by Malcolm Boyd who is, I think, still living, who is an Episcopal priest and was openly gay. In that book, he spoke about the Metropolitan Community Churches which I really never heard of and what he felt was their ministry of honesty where you were able to be totally open in what you were. And so, out of curiosity, I called up the local Metropolitan Community Church which is about 3 blocks from where that building is, about 3 blocks from where we are right now on Decatur Street and talked with their pastor then who was Reverend John Gill and told him what I had just done. I said, “I would like to know more about Metropolitan Community Churches.” I invited him to come to dinner and he and his partner came to dinner with us at our house, had a great conversation, and on October 27, as I remember, 1986, Harry and I went to the church which was then here on Decatur Street and for the first time, I saw same gender persons in church with their arms around each other or holding hands and it was a wonderful feeling and I loved it very much and became active in the church. Later, upon the pastor’s suggestion, I sought and obtained clergy credentials in the Metropolitan Community Church and had a wonderful involvement with that church which, unfortunately, I think, left Decatur Street and went to 11th Street, and it has been having a series of problems there ever since – it was hit by Allison, the floods and 4 feet of water and everything else. I just finally in 2006, decided that I needed to go somewhere else and I sought to clergy credentials in the United Church of Christ with a transfer of credentials. They granted them to me and I became the assistant pastor or associate pastor at United Church of Christ here in Houston. And I am now the acting, at least, interim pastor.
DG: Tell me how you came to Houston.
RL: In 1968, I arrived here and that started in December of 1967 when I was in San Antonio on business doing some consulting work for R.J. Reynolds who owned Fiesta Foods. There was about 20 some inches of snow in Chicago after that week. I called my partner up and told him I could not get back to Houston, I was snowed in, and that I was just being a smart aleck knowing that he was from Louisiana and he hated the winter, the north, and particularly hated snow, and I started joking with him about how I was suffering in the heat and the air-conditioning and how I had to buy more short-sleeved shirts. He swore at me and hung up the phone, which I deserved, and when I arrived back in Houston, I said, “Harry, would you like to move back south?” That was the happiest smile I ever saw on his face. He said, “Oh, would I” and so, by next Labor Day, we were here in Houston and I am very pleased that I came here, had a great time and love it. I love Houston.
DG: What were your first impressions of the city?
RL: How much nicer it was than Chicago in many ways. I miss the big lake in Chicago which things like that were beautiful. I was a little unhappy at first at how humid it was but then I remembered that Chicago was humid in the summer and in the winter, had a strange kind of humidity that you had to shovel. So, I was happy to stay here. I was pleased that I became very involved, of course, again in church work and in the community work in general. I have always had high regard for people. I have known most all . . . I guess all of the mayors since Kathy Whitmire. I knew County Judge John Lindsey well and Judge Emmett I now know. I just had a great high respect for people and what was being done and the potential here.
DG: How would you describe the climate for the gay community when you first moved here? The climate, the acceptance.
RL: I was very pleased that I could be open in who I was and what I was. I became quite involved in a number of community activities people accepted me without any question for who I was. United Way, I was quite involved in doing things and volunteer work. I did a lot of work fundraising. I became the executive director of the Montrose clinic. It was kind of a strange way I did. I was asked by the then director, a man named Tom Ledette, whom I had known from a previous job that we both had, and Tom asked me if I would become the head of the AIDS program. I did not even know what AIDS was at that point. I had to do some studying to become that. And so, in 1988, I became involved there and that was when I became much involved in many community activities and organizations, nonprofit and funding organizations. Major foundations. I became the executive director a few months later when Tom became ill with AIDS and died. I was director there until 1994. I was just very pleased that I was well accepted by everyone, no critical comments. Harry and I quite often would go to events together, dinners. There was an active organization of interfaith clergy at that time, largely because of a pastor at the Bering United Memorial Methodist Church and Troy Plummer who organized this group, and almost all of the major churches and denominations in town who were clergy were involved, and we used to meet together regularly. There was no question who I was and I was well accepted. Troy also was gay and in a relationship. And all of the mayors that I have known have known that I was and I have never had any adverse comments at all, that I know of.
DG: I would like to dig just a little deeper into the mechanics of it. I mean, you arrive here in Houston instead of San Antonio, you mentioned earlier . . .
RL: San Antonio was my first choice but poor transportation then. I was still flying a lot then.
DG: Right. So, you don’t know anybody here – how did you plug in? Who did you meet first? Who were the people that got you in?
RL: I am not sure I remember. I know that by some means, I got onto Timmons Lane to an apartment on Timmons Lane and that was where we lived first and, of course, got to know a lot of people there that lived in the apartment house and others that were there. I think it was probably 1971, I decided that we needed something . . . well, we lived in two apartments on Timmons Lane. We moved from one to the other. But after that, we moved to a house on Whitman that I rented. It was a wonderful one. Harry and I entertained a lot and there were people that were both from the heterosexual community and from the gay community that we had come in for dinner and parties and things like that. And neighbors. We had a good relationship with the neighbors and became very much involved there. My father and mother moved to Houston in 1971 and, probably it was 1983, my mother who had been taking care of my father had had a stroke for I guess 14 years, I guess he had had the stroke. We got a larger house out near Houston Baptist University on Beechnut and we rented that from the same person that owned the house on Whitman. And we lived there until I decided that . . . it was after my mother and father both died . . . we moved in 1984 to a townhouse on what is now the Beltway. And then, I bought a house out in Copperfield and we lived out there until Harry died in 2000. But neighbors in all of these places, became very good friends with neighbors and through the interfaith care ministries or interfaith ministries, we got to know in number of other people. And through, again, when I became involved in the nonprofit organizations, first the Montrose Clinic and later one called the Colby Project, which was a Roman Catholic agency, I just got to know people all over the city, and became much involved with them. And, of course, in the process of raising the money to build the Montrose Clinic building on Westheimer, I got to know the mayor who was very helpful in helping us getting community development funding to do that. I just became much involved and got to know so many people who, again, introduced me to other people.
DG: You had lived in other cities. Did you have a sense that Houston was more open to a person who had just moved here?
RL: I don’t know what it would have been like in some of the other cities. One of my favorite places I lived was Brookline, Massachusetts. Another was Lincoln, Nebraska. And I do not know what it would have been like there. It was a different time, a different world. It was after the 1968 Stonewall riots and things like that that I think there were some changes in peoples’ attitudes a lot. There was prejudice and there still is, I am sure. I am sure it exists. It has not been expressed to me, however, personally or directed at me. I don’t know what the other cities would have been like.
DG: One of the goals of this project is to show people who, in whatever context they are viewing this interview, that things were not always as they are now, so looking back, what year was that when you came to Houston?
DG: 1968. Sort of moving backward in time, how are things different then than what they are now?
RL: Well, going back to New York City days, it was very difficult at that time in New York City to be openly gay or in public. If you went to one of even the gay bars, you had better not but your arms around somebody or you would get arrested until after the Stonewall riots. Here in Houston, I do not know what it would have been like, again, in quite that period of time but I never had any problems here. There were gay bars and I used to go to them occasionally. I am not a heavy drinker and Harry was not a heavy drinker but we went occasionally to them and socialized and never had any problems. Never had any comments that I know of from anybody. There certainly never was any of the hateful things . . . there had been hateful things I have seen but I have not been personally involved with. I did remember Paul Broussard who was the young man who was murdered in the Montrose area by some men from The Woodlands. I think it was The Woodlands. They came down into the Montrose area and did kill this man. He was Paul Broussard, I believe. I did participate in the march that was done after that as a stand. I did participate for a number of years in the Gay Pride Parade and very prominently so. I never had any personal hostility towards me.
DG: Who were some of the other people that we should know about in those early days of building the Montrose Clinic, of building identity within the gay community?
RL: Well, of course, Ray Hill. I am sure a lot of people know Ray outside of the gay community because he has been very outspoken. He was very active in politics at one point. He has kind of pulled back from that and his primary activity now is his personal ministry to the prisons and people in prisons. And he does a radio show on that and other thing but he has done a lot of other things, too. He is one name that I can think of offhand that was much involved. Gene Harrington, who actually lived in this same building that we are in at the moment at one point, the last few days of his life. And Gene was very much active in politics. And people thought that we personally disliked each other because we quite often took opposite points of view and I think quite often, it was done intentionally. Gene and I often did that, just to try to create concerns and activity and people doing things that we really had a common interest very much. I cannot remember just offhand some of the other people that were involved other than, of course, the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church and the founder of Metropolitan Community Churches who came to Houston a number of times - Troy Perry – are some of the ones that just come to mind quickly.
DG: Who were some of the political leaders that were particularly open to the needs of the community?
RL: Again, Kathy Whitmire was extremely so and John Lindsey and I always admired John Lindsey because it was probably not to his political advantage to do things but some of the programs for persons with HIV and AIDS and preventive programs, he was influential in bringing them here and getting funding for them. And he was always very cordial and helpful. I probably voted for him and for his wife, and great respect, which is quite a statement for me to make since I have been a democrat for a long time.
DG: There was a time when the endorsement of the gay community was not necessarily sought after and then that shifted as part of the acceptance of the community. Were you aware of that shift when you came, were you aware that that particular aspect improved over time?
RL: Oh, yes. I don’t know that anybody particularly sought the support of the community politically and there were several politicians who do come to the gay and lesbian political caucus and did seek our endorsement. There were not many. I remember some of them though. Kathy Whitmire was one that certainly did. Interestingly, today, there are a very large number of the political politicians come to the caucus for an endorsement, particularly City Council candidates.
DG: What can you share with us about the AIDS epidemic here in Houston from your position there heading up programs and at the Montrose Clinic? How did it sort of get on the radar screen? What was the evolution of the acceptance?
RL: Well, in the first place, when I went there and became the AIDS manager was my title, I think it was, I had no idea what it was and it was only later that really people began referring to it as HIV and that AIDS was only a certain stage of the illness. I became very knowledgeable in the subject, probably one of the most knowledgeable persons in Houston, and I was called on to lecture often on the subject to bring it to peoples’ attention. And this was done in a number of programs that were sponsored by United Way and others like that, and some of the doctors who were currently practicing with HIV patients were people that had never heard about HIV until they came to me and to the talks that I gave. And I became, at least at that point, one of the so-called experts. That was pretty sad because I really did not know that much. I became, again, well-regarded and well-respected and I was on a number of research programs where I was on the investigative panels for HIV medications and I began doing counseling and testing and I became a teacher for counseling and testing, and a lot of testing of people, and a number of people that I told were positive, both male and female, some of them became friends. And I told them, of course, that once that happened, the anonymity would disappear and one of them particularly, I can remember when I went in to tell him he was positive, he told me that he had been going to a seminary and he had told one of the professors that he was gay, and once he did that, he was kicked out of seminary. This was from a very biblically fundamentalist seminary and he had always felt he had been called to the ministry. And, after that, he had become much involved in a very sexually promiscuous life and became HIV positive, and this was probably 1988, very early on when I was there. I told him the things that he needed to do which were not very many at that point and asked him what he was going to do about his belief that he was called to the ministry. And he said, “What on earth can I do? I can’t do anything! I can’t go to seminary, I can’t go to church or anything else.” And I said, “Well, I can tell you something but, again, if you follow through on this, the anonymity will disappear and we will no longer be a confidential anonymous-type of involvement.” I said, “I was at a church, Metropolitan Community Church of the Resurrection and at that point, I was founding a support group for persons who were HIV positive at the church known as Empowerment for Living and I would like him to be part of it if he would like to.” And he came to church the next Sunday, became active in Empowerment for Living, became probably one of the most active members of that church and brought probably 50 or 60 people in to the church that he brought in there that were in similar situations. And he later went to work for me at the Montrose Clinic, was involved with our research program, was probably the most faithful person I have ever known in watching his health and medications and everything. Unfortunately, he appeared to have a strong strain of the virus and he died in 1994, which was a personal shock to me, but he had been very active and done a lot to help other people. It was probably one of the experiences I remembered most in all of the time that I was there.
DG: You were also the outreach director of AVES?
RL: AVES. That was much later. That was . . . I do not remember what . . . I think it was like 2003 or 2004, when we finally ceased to exist but I had been for probably three or four years prior to that the development director for them, and I was really kind of the assistant executive director in that program. It was a program that I had really helped found back in about 1989 at the Montrose Clinic. It was called Amigos Volunteering for Education and Services. It was by a man named Luis Fuentes, a name I had forgotten until just now, and Luis later formed it as a separate organization but it was an attempt to reach the Latino community which was becoming increasingly HIV involved or positive and needed education. And so, I did become quite active then and later became involved again with AVES when it actually was located in the Montrose area. And I did help raise money for them. We actually went out of existence about 2003 and the reason for that was because of some financial problems that dated back to several years earlier that we knew nothing about and thought had been resolved, when apparently there had been some officers of the organization that had withheld money from employees’ paychecks and had forgotten to turn them over to the IRS. And the IRS came wanting $1.5 million which we did not have and our board of directors finally decided the best thing was to cease to exist, and they did which was too bad because there are other organizations that are now working among the Hispanic community but it is becoming one of the largest, now one of the largest groups of persons who are HIV positive, and there is a lot needed to be done yet in that area, and I would like to be personally involved in it again but I cannot do everything.
DG: It occurs to me that you brought a unique skill set to all of your tasks because of your business experience as a consultant but also because of your experience as clergy. Was that your self-perception of what you brought to the table? Was there always a blend there or did you sort of switch hats? How do you think you balanced those two aspects of your background to do the work that you did?
RL: I have always been a person who was some type of a leader and enjoyed doing that, and that, to me, involved trying to lead well and be well organized. I almost always ran for office in school and I do not know that I ever lost an election, and in college, I felt very strongly that that was something I was led to do, and I had been quite involved in the administrative end of things I have been involved in, including church. And whatever I did, I tried to be organized and efficient and provide that kind of leadership. I have always been especially interested in financial responsibility and managing money well and treating money that was given by donors the way donors wanted it to be handled, used.
DG: And what was the role of faith in that work?
RL: I believe as a person who believes what I believe, that we have been asked by Jesus and told by Jesus to love others as we love ourselves and to serve others, and I have tried very hard in my life to fulfill that responsibility, and I believe I have done it quite well in a number of areas, both in church and in the nonprofit world, and in business world.
DG: Do you have a sense that here in Houston, that those credentials served you well in the work that you were doing in the community?
RL: I think so, apparently so or I would not have been involved as much as I have been and would not have been invited to be interviewed here today.
DG: Well, it occurs to me, you know, your accomplishments, I mean, the stuff that you have done, to some extent, could have been done by somebody without the clergy credentials.
RL: Oh, yes, sure.
DG: But that bringing the credentials of faith to the community must have had a positive impact with some people in some circumstances and I was just wondering what you thought those were.
RL: I think it has certainly been known that I was clergy, whether I was wearing the clergy collar or not. I do not wear it all the time and people know it. People where I live here know it and I have actually had . . . I had a memorial service here recently in our building for one of my friends that died. People look to me to be able to do things like that. I have been asked to say prayers which I have done . . . at the memorial service, the man was clearly a Christian so it was clearly a Christian service. When I have had prayers other times, there have been people, a mixed group of people, then I have tried to be very kind of generic in what I did then out of respect for their faith. I believe very much that there is one God and that there are many doors to God’s presence and the one that I use as, to me, probably the right one but then, I do not know for sure – I will find out some day – and I have great respect for the faith and belief of others.
DG: So, you have been in Houston for a significant number of years and you have seen change. How would you describe where we are today? What have we accomplished and what is still left to be done?
RL: The city has grown tremendously in that period of time and I do not think that we have done a good job in a number of areas. We have done a great job in some but the one I particularly feel is a problem is our area of transportation. I can remember way back when Kathy Whitmire was mayor, the effort that she was making which I believed in for mass transit at that point and heaven knows, we wish we had it now with the gasoline prices what they are, and that we had effective mass transit. It is now being talked about again. Mayor White and others are anxious to get something done. And we have made some progress. We have the train now that is downtown, which I have never been on, by the way, but I have seen it and I am glad we have it, and people use it. I have been told if I were smart, I would use it when I go down to visit the hospitals. When I visit people in the hospitals, it can be a lot easier to do than what I do. But I think that that is one of the biggest things that we have yet to do. One of the things that I am involved in is the old Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association, and I do not own property in the old Sixth Ward – I live in it and the church that became a very important part of my life is located in it. I am a history buff. I love American history especially and I am very anxious to support the old Sixth Ward and what it is doing in preserving the history of Houston, and seeking to prevent the destruction of buildings and replacing them with things that are certainly not part of this era – the era in which this community was developed. I would not miss being a part of that for anything. I am glad to see there are other areas of Houston that are doing similar things, trying to preserve part of our past but, of course, also provide some things that we need today so we do not quite go back to the Dark Ages.
DG: How are we doing as a city in terms of accepting diversity and accepting all people?
RL: I think there have been some great steps in that. There is, unfortunately, still a lot of bigotry and a lot of problems. I am very pleased that a number of our City Council members are persons who are African American or Hispanic, and we have had people who were Jewish and Christian. I do not know of any Muslims offhand. I am very pleased that we have reached a point in time when somebody who is African American and a woman could be considered as candidates for president. My grandmother was one of the people that . . . actually, she campaigned against giving women the right to vote. She thought that that was not good to do. But once women got the right to vote, she became very active in politics and became the chairwoman of the party in her state. I can think back of a story she had told of struggles that they had and the rejections that they had. To me, it is a very . . . we did have a couple of women governors at least in Texas – Ann Richards and Ma Ferguson earlier – but there has not been a lot of people that have been elected to positions until recently and I am happy to see it. It is real progress.
DG: Does this city have a spirit, have a tangible sense of itself that you could describe?
RL: I think it has a spirit of being alive and growing and having a need for developing and looking to the future, but also respecting the past, and I have enjoyed that and respect that and am glad to be part of it in my way.
DG: Looking back on your activities here in Houston, is there anything that stands out in your memory as something that you are most proud of?
RL: Well, of course, the work that I did with HIV and getting peoples’ attention in that area and helping educate people and creating what was then the Montrose Clinic building. It is now called Legacy Medical Group, I believe. That is something that I am very proud of. I am very proud to be part of the church that I am now at that will be, this coming Sunday, celebrating our 90th anniversary and be part of the events that are being planned and that are happening then. I am very proud to have been part of the particular outreach to the Hispanic community and trying to do something there. I was recently given an award by a Hispanic organization for my years of service to the Latino community and I am very proud of that. I wish I could do a lot more things. My grandfather, Lasher, lived to be almost 100 years old -- he was 3 days shy of his 100th birthday -- and I have an ambition to be live to be older than he was, and I want to continue to be active and involved. I have had a period in the past few months where I have not been able to because of some shoulder pain. That has now been operated on and I am back to normal and I am looking forward to becoming more active again in many areas.
DG: What will be the first thing you will do when you say get active in more areas? What does the future hold for you and then what does the future hold for our city?
RL: I am not sure how I am going to do some of it. I think I would like to become more involved in some of the political programs and efforts that exists, and I need to look into what some of those are because I have lost touch with a few of them; particularly in the gay community, I have lost all touch with the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce it is called, and I would like to go look into that again and become involved. I am involved with the gay and lesbian political caucus. I attend their meetings. I am not on the border or anything and I may want to do that.
DG: And what do you think about the future of our city?
RL: Well, I think it is a very bright future as long as we look and do some planning on what we do and not just talk about things but actually do them. Again, the mass transit, to me, is a necessity. I had this house in Copperfield. One of the reasons I sold it was because it was taking me so long to drive in on Highway 290. 290, when I first bought the house out there was great. You could zip along in 20 minutes or something like that, or maybe 30, but it had gotten so it was taking 1-1/2 hours to come in, in rush hour and stuff. And going out at night was bad. I just finally sold the house after my partner died and then after the last dog that we owned died. I sold the house and came into inside the Loop. And, of course, I love it inside the Loop now and am pleased.
DG: Was there anything that I should have asked you that you would want people who watch this interview to know either about you or about the city of Houston, about the time that you spent here?
RL: I cannot think of anything offhand at all other than one of the things that I am somewhat involved with at the moment is the matter of really good resources for seniors to seek for housing and for care at various levels of their need -- those who are active as I am or those who are totally disabled and confined to an electric scooter or bed. And it is very difficult for people to find really good places to go that are affordable and also ones that will accept people. There is some discrimination in that area for persons who are African American, for persons who are gay – most of us who are gay just do not talk about it . . . even though there may be 20 here in the building, we never get together as a group. We all know each other. There are persons who are blind. There is one man here who is blind and a great example of what can be done, what was needed. But I know people that are younger, that are looking for places and they have a difficult time finding a place that is really accessible for persons who are blind or deaf. It is a real challenge.
DG: Reverend Lasher, thank you for your time.
RL: I thank you very much. It has been a pleasure, Mr. Goldstein, and I wish you the best with this whole project. I would like to see what comes out of it.
DG: Thanks. We will get together on your 100th birthday and talk about it!
RL: That sounds fine. It sounds great. You are welcome back.
DG: Thank you.