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Interview with: Ray Hill
Interviewed by: Jim Barlow
Date: November 8, 2007
JB: It is November 8. We are in the mayor's dining room. This is the Houston Oral History Project. We are talking here with Ray Hill. My name is Jim Barlow. If you have an identity in Houston of people who know about you but do not know you, they would say, you know, you are a gay activist or you are a prison reform guy. Does that adequately describe you?
RH: I like to think of myself as a journeyman quality hell raiser.
JB: And how long have you been doing that?
RH: Well, before I started, Frankie, my mother, and Raymond, my father, and I was raised in a household where I called them by their real names. Not mommy and daddy stuff. Both of them were labor organizers. Raymond organized shipyard workers for the AF of L/CIO and Frankie organized nurses for the Teamsters which is impossible in Texas because Texas is not a labor state. So, they were failures but they were very proud of that work. And so, we studied things like Saul Olinsky and John L. Lewis and Samuel Gompers and names out of the labor organizing paths. We took some pride in studying about Lou Hill, no relation, but it always felt like it was. And so, that is my background. So, when I did grow up, I grew up to be exactly who my parents wanted me to be.
JB: You were born in Galena Park?
RH: No, born in The Heights. Actually, born across the street. I was born in Baptist Memorial Hospital when it was across the street from City Hall.
JB: What year was that?
JB: And did you live in Galena Park when you were growing up?
RH: Raymond originally was starved off the farm. That was my father. He was starved off the farm during the Depression. He went to work for Jesse Jones as a janitor. And Jesse promoted him up to be building manager at the Gulf Building. Put him in a coat and tie which promptly gave him ulcers because this old farm boy could not handle all that stress, and when you are the boss, you cannot organize. And so, he left that job and went to what was Brown & Root Shipyard, later became Todd Shipyard. And when he did that, we moved from 1202 Aurora in Woodland Heights to 729 Manor in Cloverleaf. That got me in Galena Park.
JB: What was it like then? Did Galena Park think of itself as a separate place from Houston, not part of the Greater Houston area?
RH: Oh, Galena Park was an industrial slum. It was like a waste dump from World War II. I mean, I started high school when I was, what, 12, 13? I started going to Galena Park. And at that time, it was still a waste dump from industrial sludge from World War II. So, we thought of ourselves as down-market from Pasadena if that gives you an image because the wind would blow from Pasadena and would not materially improve our atmospheric conditions.
JB: O.K., you are in Galena Park. Your parents are a couple of lefties. How did you get from there to the Baptist church?
RH: My mother, Frankie, had promised her mother that she would raise her kids in church. Frankie's father was an atheist and a Marxist in Leon County at the turn of the century but he was also the physician. So, when you are the physician, you can get away with a lot that otherwise you would not. But the women he married were Southern Baptist women. And so, Frankie, who had leanings like her father, promised her mother that she would raise her children in church and Frankie did what she promised her mother she would do. But she carried us to extremely fundamentalist, hard-shell Baptist churches. We thought the Southern Baptist Convention was wild-eyed liberals. We were raised in missionary and independent Baptist churches because they thought if you had a convention, you may as well have a pope. And so, in those atmospheres, I raised up. Well, on the occasion of my 13th birthday, I went running into the kitchen the following Sunday ready to go to church and as did Frankie over the stove in a shiverot (sp), drinking a cup of coffee, smoking cigarettes, and I said, "Frankie, aren't you going to church?" She said, "No, I promised my mother I would raise my kids in church and your are my last kid and you are 13. You are a teenager. You can go if you want to but I am never going back to darken the door of one of those dims of hypocrisy as long as I live." Well, I had to go because my whole social life was tied up in friends that I met at church. My sex life was tied up in people that I met at church. I mean, all you have got to do is look a little vulnerable and the youth minister is all over you, and if that does not work, the guy that plays the organ or the piano will be on top of you in a minute. And I am kind of used to those kind of accoutrements, so I had to go, and without Frankie there to keep my feet on the ground, I promptly started teaching my Sunday school class. I mean, I am going to be a dramatist anyway and I am a little gregarious. And then, I would memorize the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Memorization is not a problem for dramatists. And so, I could give the Bible study courses with the Bible up here, giving them chapter and verse and the words, which is pretty impressive when you are a kid. So, the pastor, Pastor Martin of the church, brought some friends over in Pasadena to see me preach Wednesday night Bible study and they said, "This boy has a calling." They put me on the road. So, I became an evangelist. I did that until I was 17 years old and then I decided that was dishonest work and I gave that up and took up more honest work. I became a burglar.
JB: When were you aware of your sexuality?
RH: I don't ever remember not being aware of my sexuality.
JB: And of your preference?
RH: Well, it is not really a preference. When you are full of hormones, it is a drive. It is a drive. I was a big guy. I mean, I played a little football at Galena Park High School. An old sports writer by the name of Carter wrote me up one time. Proudest article of my life. I think it was for The Press or The Post at the time in the 1950s. But he was a good sports writer and he thought I was a hero. It turned out he was gay, too, and he figured it out and made it sound like I was a hero. I think I really did that ball stuff so that Raymond would have something to talk to his union buddies about. That is kind of what it was because I have not watched a football game all the way through since I walked off the field with my helmet in my hand. You would be amazed what goes on in the back of the players bus on the way back from the games.
JB: When you were an evangelist, did you preach about the homosexuality?
RH: No, when you are an evangelist, you don't have the requirements of a pastor. See, evangelists can blow into town and preach _____, so my job as an evangelist, and I am 14 years old, 13 years old and I understand what my job is - my job is to save souls and get people into the church so that when I leave, they stay and continue to pay tides to the pastor. And so, I preached plans of salvation. The last revival I preached was in Colmesneil, Texas. The sermon that turned me around and made me question the faith was I was going to preach a Lutheran plan instead of a Baptist plan - for by grace are you saved, not by works lest anyone should boast - out of Ephesians. I had memorized Ephesians but I studied it laboriously for that sermon. And when I got up to deliver that sermon, the lights went out because it was ______ and in the darkness, something happened that was very Pentecostal in nature. I am a Baptist and I do not believe that is even possible. Well, it turned out 2 weeks later, none of those healings lasted. So, it was not possible. But I had 2 sequential theological body slams in about as many weeks. And so, I said, this ain't honest work, and I left.
JB: When did you come out to your parents?
RH: 1958. I stopped preaching in early 1958. I came out to Frankie after school. I came back from the holidays.
JB: And how did they take it?
RH: Well, I told Frankie that I was homosexual. I did not even know the word "gay." And so, I said, "Frankie, I am homosexual." She sat down, got quiet, and she said, "Well, that is certainly a relief." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Well, Raymond and I noticed that you tended to dress up more frequently than the other boys in the neighborhood and we thought you were trying to appear to be wealthier than we are. And we were afraid you might grow up to be a Republican and embarrass the family but if you are gay, it is an acceptance thing and we can live with that."
JB: Were you still in high school?
JB: Did you come out in high school?
RH: I did.
JB: And what happened?
RH: Well, Mr. Barlow, who was the closeted gay assistant principal, was made measurably more uncomfortable by my coming out. But I am a big guy. Nobody made fun of me. They used to make fun of the guys I dated and that would get me into fights but I was young and strong - didn't mind fighting a little bit.
JB: When you came out, were you aware of a support group or was there anything like that?
RH: There wasn't any such thing as that. As a matter of fact, I mean, I went all the way through college where I learned most about who I was in 2 stretches after undergraduate school. I spent some time at Tulane University at the feet of Dean Emeritus of the history department, William S. Woods, and he had a companion, Haley Thomas. And Bill and Tommy took me in as this fresh faced young kid who was there on a fellowship and Bill taught me orally about gay and lesbian history. He included women. He had published . . . this is about as far as you could go in his era . . . he published a coffee table book titled "Friends" that began with David and Jonathan and Achilles and Patrickless and it was just these great companionship relationships. And there was a story in the back of his book that was edited by his publisher before it . . . it was in the galleys but not in the published version, about Walt Whitman and his companion. But that got edited out before it actually hit the shelves. But if you read Walt Whitman's poetry, you knew Walt Whitman was gay. I got Walt Whitman's poetry from the Galena Park High School librarian, Ms. Agnew. She was a clubbed footed, unmarried lady and she handed me a copy of selected Whitman poems. I said, "Oh, thank you, Ms. Agnew." I said, "When do you want it back?" She said, "No, son, no, Raymond, you keep it. You will need it."
JB: So, there is a fairly interesting progression: evangelist, college student, burglar. How did that come about?
RH: Well, actually, there was a little hitch and come along there before we got that far. I bummed around colleges for a long time. The early 1960s, I was a college bum. I went to New York to study economics under Salvador Ayende (sp). And then, while I was there, I ran into a big guy by the name of C. Wright Mills who said, "No, no, son. The Revolution isn't economics. The Revolution is psychoanalysis." I followed that trail until it petered out and then I went to the University of Indiana to the Kinsey Institute where I studied under the likes of John Money and Karen Horney and C.A. Tripp was my mentor. And I found out who I was biologically as a gay person. And then, I came back to Houston to enter the social whirl of gay life in the mid to late 1960s. Well, I did not have the money to do that. It was expensive to go to Splash Day and Mardi Gras and Mission Days in San Diego and the opening of the beaches of Fort Lauderdale, which were all gay holidays. You had to have money to do that. So, I wrote a string of hot checks and I got busted. I was actually busted in California and was extradited back to Houston by Marvin Zindler. He was the "bring him back alive" man for high Sheriff Buster Kern. Marvin picked me up at San Diego County Jail and he put all these chains and things onto me and drove around the block and got me out and took all that off and said that he was a little hung over, would I mind driving? And so, I drove most of the way back to Houston to face the fiddle. And I did face the fiddle. And I got a 6 year sentence.
JB: For hot checks?
RH: Yes. Judge Walton. But then Judge Walton did an unusual thing. At my father's request, he delayed my actual implementation sentence for 90 days to get my affairs in order. I mean, once you got 23 or 24, how much affairs do I have to get in order? And Raymond, my father and I, went to Forest Hill, Texas and we bought a calf from John Connally for $140. The calf was of a market value of about $20. So, we slipped an extra $120 to the governor through his ranch and when I reported to the back gate of Texas prison, instead of going into prison, I lived in the officers' bachelor dormitory and taught GED classes. So now, I am a criminal. I have got a record. So, I looked at the statistics and found out that commercial burglary was a pretty good business to go in if you are a criminal. There is less chance of getting caught and there is almost no chance of ever getting the stuff back so I went into the burglary business and I stole stuff queers know about: antiques, art, jewels and electronics. And I did that for several years and then took full retirement and that is the only thing about that profession that really was bad - the retirement system sucked! I went to Texas Prison, sentenced to 20, 8 year sentences.
JB: Were you caught on the job?
RH: No, I was busted in a tax investigation.
JB: So, you are in 20 consecutive 8 year sentences which means that you still ought to be in there.
RH: Yes, Johnny Holmes thinks I still should be there. He was not district attorney. Carol Vance (sp?) was district attorney at the time.
JB: So, what happened?
RH: I got me a pencil. I still had money so I had a lawyer, John Hughes was my lawyer, and I filed . . . the 8th Amendment read that it was cruel and unusual punishment to send somebody all the rest of their life in prison for nonviolent crimes against property. John Hughes, just as we walked in the federal courtroom for the hearing, John leaned over and said, "This is hopeless. This ain't going nowhere. This is a losing case." That is enough encouragement for the day. We found a judge that would rather play golf than hear the hearing. Actually, there was no legal leg for a judge, justice to stand on. So, he said, "Why don't you work out a compromise and keep me from listening to the evidence?" And they changed my sentence to 20 concurrent 8 year sentences. I had 8 to do. I served that sentence and discharged in 4 years, 4 months and 17 days. My prison career was interesting.
JB: Tell me about it.
RH: Well, when you get sentenced to 160 years, you don't go down thinking about what am I going to do when I get out. You go down there thinking about how do I survive, meaning, how do I stay alive, not how do I live until it is time for me to get out. So, I am thinking about how do I stay alive? And I had that figured out in about 2 weeks. And then the next question is, all right, I am here and I am going to survive - how do I prosper. And then, I figured that out. I came to the Ramsey unit which is my unit of first permanent assignment. I came assigned to the job as maintenance bookkeeper. So, I get to the back gate and all these other guys that go inside the security and officer at the back gate who is probably a first cousin of mine says, "Your name Hill?" I said, "Yes." "Well, Sergeant Smith be here to pick you up directly. Go over there and wait under that tree." I have a 160 year sentence and I am under this tree outside the compound by myself. I mean, hello? And sure enough, the sergeant came and picked me up directly and made me make him a set of lock picks that worked because he wanted to break in the warehouse and steal some tools. And I would have told him, I use bull cutters where I come from but I don't have to tidy up when I am through and he does. So, I do that. The next thing you know, a job opens over at the construction department and I get that job and that gets me a pickup truck. So, I spent the time I was on the Ramsey planning and supervising construction using inmate labor and as many materials from the system as I could get and maintaining the prison - keeping the water on, the lights on. There ain't no air condition to fix.
JB: You still have to go inside at night to sleep.
RH: Yes, I slept inside. But when you are a bookkeeper, and I was a different bookkeeper. Instead of wearing starched whites which is what most bookkeepers in prison wear, I insisted that they give me working people's clothes, clothes out of the field. Of course, the longer I would wear them, the whiter they would get and when they would get too white, because you wash them over and over again, I would make them give me a pair of dirty ones because I wanted to maintain this working man's image in prison. See, Barlow, whether it is prison, media, newspapers, your image is a very important part of how well you handle the necessities of life. And in prison, I identified not with the front office and the wardens and the officers but I identified with the working inmates. Ultimately, it was the brothers, it was the black inmates, that watched my back when I was in prison.
JB: So, what year did you get out?
RH: I got out in 1975, March.
JB: And so, what did you do then?
RH: Well, my biggest problem was I was much more afraid to get out than I had been to go in. See, by the time you actually get to prison, you have spent some time in jail and you have talked to some people about how do you do this. An old Houston outlaw by the name of Red Alexander gave me a lecture course on how to survive prison. It was the biggest bunch of crap you ever heard in your life but there was a lot of information that I found quite useful and applied. And then, I took all the tests and maxed out on that. You go in, by the time you get there, you are prepared. And then, on relatively short notice from federal court back to prison and them versus the streets, and the problem is I am going to be nobody for the rest of my life. I mean, even Frankie and Raymond are of the opinion that nobody . . . I mean, I had been involved in a little politics and all that but nobody makes a comeback from prison. I mean, go ask former Hispanic council members about that. "Where are you?" "Well, I don't exist at all politically." So, that is what I had facing me. But I did know that I needed some structure, so I went to Texas Rehabilitation Commission and got tuition and books and enrolled in University of Houston downtown college. And so, I am standing in line there to register and the government is going to pay for this and on the board is like, do you know those spiral note pieces of paper, torn off with the loose edges and the lines, and it said, "Sign up to be a candidate for student government." So, I said, "Well, what does this cost?" They said, "Nothing." It sounded like the price was right. "Well, nobody has run for president yet but we expect the current president to run and he will probably get it." So, I signed up for president and I campaigned on the slogan, "Give a convict a break." That captured their imagination and I was elected president of the student body of University of Houston downtown campus with Judeon Buni (sp), not the one that was on city council but the real one who was just this giant in education. Judeon's dad was there.
JB: Except he called himself J. Don Buni.
RH: Yes, but his name was Judeon just like his son, J. Don Buni. Chancellor Buni was in charge. And so, he called me into his office and he said, "Mr. Hill, how is it that a man who has been out of prison less than 90 days is the president of my student body?" I said, "Well, Dr. Buni, some people do politics better than others." At one point, he called me in because we were fighting over student carols for study space. I mean, it is a commuter campus, kids . . . kids, ain't no kids, it is downtown community college . . . the students there needed a place to sit down with their books and put their course work together, and he wanted more space for teachers' lounges. I have the faculty senate on my side, so I was beating him every turn with the senate. And so, he called me in and he said, "You are going to give me more gray hair than my son." I said, "Oh, no, Dr. Buni, I know your son. It is not possible for anybody to give you more gray hair than your son." And so, I did that and that got my confidence up. And then, I had a fight with Oveta Culp Hobby over Gary Trudeau's cartoon or through the University of Houston Gay Organization, Gay Activist Alliance. And then, started organizing in the community. I co-founded (there were several of us) a Gay Political Caucus in 1975. In 1976, we were trying to plan on what do you do for pride week? In 1977, Anita Bryant came to town and overnight, the term "gay community" which had meant the part of town where the bars are became a group of people with common goals and aspirations.
Movements do not happen in a vacuum and if you are an organizer and I claim to be a good organizer and I have actually studied Saul Olinsky and other important works of that kind, you need a nemesis to organize against. Well, Houston Police Department provided that in spades. I mean, cops being brutal, homophobic, just downright mean to gay people was a great organizing tool for me because everybody feared the cops. It was a common element in the community that I could shape and organize and apply, and I did that. And then, here comes Anita Bryant. And thank God for Jane Ely (sp?) because Jane Ely writes the column, "Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner," which was a popular phrase at that time and gives us 3 weeks notice to organize around Anita Bryant. And so, we organize an event which is celebrated by Houston Public Library almost annually in the month of June ______. We organize, got 3 weeks to organize, and my job because I am the guy that is just out of prison, is to deal with the cops. The copy on duty was Pappy Bond who is this old sweetheart of a guy. And he is the captain of Special Operations. And so, I go see him and he said, "How many people do you expect to have at the demonstration?" I said, "Oh, Captain, we are going to have about 500 people." "500 people? They never had a demonstration in Houston with 500 people. I don't care how bad the issue is, you get to 100, 150, you'd be doing good. Ain't no 500 people. I ain't going to plan" . . . I said, "Well, you had better plan for about 500." We had 12,000. And nobody had seen 12,000, not even gay people had seen 12,000 queers in one shot. Certainly not out on the street waving their fists in the air angry. And the plan was to walk down both sides of two streets, down Louisiana Street and Smith Street.
JB: They figured they'd get in the street and had to have a parade permit?
RH: Well, there are no parade permits in Houston at night at that time. Funny, the gay community changed that for our annual pride week celebration but at that time, there wasn't. We had to use sidewalks. Well, you try to filter 12,000 people down the sidewalks of 2 streets, you are going to be there 3 days. Finally, the young officer was assigned to work with me because I was liaison. His walkie talkie crackled and he said, "Captain Bunn (sp?) wants to talk to you," and handed me his walkie talkie, "What can I do for you, Captain?" He said, "Take the God damned street." And I said, "Which one, Captain?" "Both of the mothers." _________ "Do you want me to go tell them?" ________. "My people aren't going to believe your officers. I will send my parade marshals." Little guys. I find the nelliest ones I could find, go running up and say, "Ya'll move in the streets now," and then everybody moves in the street. So, we experienced a victory in about 5 blocks. Well, I don't know if you can imagine what that does to a crowd that is bigger than it is expected to be anyway. And we go down and we surround the Hyatt Regency where Anita is performing at the Texas Bar Association. They can't even hear her sing we are making so much noise. And then, we come over here to City Hall. Well, we actually used the space between the two libraries that was assigned for us. But we overstuffed that . . . we had traffic on both sides of the street and were over into the park in front of City Hall. And so, the people at the head of the parade came and used the sound system to give their speeches. And so, I am at the back of the parade. So, by the time I get there, they not only have finished but they have folded up and gone away. So, I've got the largest crowd of the evening but I've got no sound system. So, I get up on that little rise behind the old library and get them to settle down, which is a trick that still works for me in this community, and I give the best 3 minute speech of my life. And I step off of that and there is John Matthews, then a reporter with some FM teeny bopper radio station, hands me a microphone and says, "NBC national hook up live." Well, you know what that means - that means I am not going to get edited. But it means I've got 30 seconds. And I give the best 30 second speech of my life. I give John back the microphone and the people that had come down there, angry individuals, returned to their cars a community. But we did not have any institutions to sustain a community. We had bars, and the bars that we had were very different from the taverns in which this country was built. You know, the United States was planned in a bunch of taverns.
A lot of the original people were bootleggers smuggling rum around. It was organized in taverns where you would sit down and you smoked and you talked. Well, you cannot smoke anymore. You never have been able to talk in gay bars. They are too loud and too noisy. So, we needed other institutions. So, in 1978, I called Houston town meeting 1. People did not have any idea what I was doing. They thought it was absolutely crazy. They said nobody is going to spend . . . the price range was $10 to $20 to whatever you think it is worth, a ticket to get into the Astro Arena, and listen to resolution debates all Sunday afternoon at the end of June. Well, the only good news about that is the Arena is air-conditioned. The rest of it . . . so, I got Ginny Apuzzo (sp?) who . . . to give you some idea of who Ginny Apuzzo is, she wrote speeches for Mario Cuomo who is famous for his, what? Redderick. And so, she is a speech writer. So, she has got to be a bright lesbian. We brought her down to chair the meeting and our keynote speaker was Sissy Farenthold. Sissy Farenthold's 8 minute speech was interrupted 13 times with standing ovations. It was an amazing day. And about 4,000 people showed up and we shouted at one another all afternoon. All the resolutions passed and that was the founding of the Montrose Counseling Center, the Montrose Clinic, the Montrose Activity Center, the Montrose Sports Association, the Women’s' softball leagues, Gay/Hispanic Unidas Organization of Gay Hispanics, rodeo associations - all of those things that Houston's gay community has been sustained by those institutions since were born out of Houston's town meeting in 1978. And so, I am the cofounder of all of those things.
JB: This was also the same time you started your program on KPFT, right? 1975?
RH: I was doing Wildenstein the week after I got out of prison. Before I went to prison, Debra Danberg, Larry Lee and Don Gardner and I got together, and based on a rumor that they were going to stop publishing the Texas Observer, decided that we needed some liberal progressive media. And so, we started planning a radio station and Larry Lee got in touch with the Pacifica Foundation and asked them if they would shelter us so we did not have to invent the thing from ______. This is in 1968. Well, we did not get a transmitter until 1970. I would go to prison in November of 1970 but we would start broadcasting in March of 1970. And so, KPFT was grown out of those 4 people, cofounders of Pacifica Radio Station here in Houston. Well, when I got out of prison, by that time, they had run Larry Lee off. They cannibalized mayors over there like lunch. And so, I am the only ex-manager at KPFT that is welcome in the building. And so, I came back to the radio station and Bob Rogers was the manager. He would soon face a rebellion, but I asked for a show for the gay community and began doing Wildenstein. I was up and running about 1-1/2 weeks after I got out of prison. And that was my organization base, was to get on the radio. It takes a while to build up an audience. It takes a while to indoctrinate them. And then it all works. That was how that worked. I am the only cofounder . . . Debra's health is improving so I hope she will come back and play at the radio with me again. She is down in Galveston in a health struggle, bless her heart. A pretty serious one.
JB: When did you start doing the thing about the prisons?
RH: When I became manager. I woke up one morning and realized that I could do anything I wanted to as long as it was radio, and I had always wanted to do a show about, to tell you folks what happens when somebody gets arrested. If somebody in your immediate family got arrested, the first thing is you have got to get him out of jail, right? So, you go down and you deal with a bunch of vultures they call bail bondsmen and you take all of your . . . they say, "Well, you want to get him out of jail? Well, how much money do you have?" And you tell them. Well, that is about what it takes to get them out of jail. And so, they get all the money. You wake up the next day and you say, "Wait a minute, I need some money for a lawyer." Well, where is that coming from? I mean, the house is now in hock and I have emptied the bank accounts. So, you do not know. The great unwashed do not know what to do. And so, I was going to do a radio show to teach ya'll what to do just in case, but I never got that audience. I was on the air. The first thing I got were convicts with radios, their families, convicts in the free world. The audience I got already knew all of that. Well, you do not do radio for an audience you do not have. So, I started figuring out how to do radio for the audience I did have. What are their needs? It is back to the old Saul Olinsky stuff, you know, figure out what their needs are and answer their needs. Well, their needs are Texas prisons do not allow inmates access to the telephone.
So, mama has to go visit for an inmate to hear her voice. Kids have to go travel in Houston heat without enough money in rickety cars with bald tires to see their daddies. Wives who are already overburdened supporting the kids and maybe the parents, too, have got to struggle to get there because there ain't no telephone. Otherwise, it is writing and a lot of these people do not read pretty good, so communication is a big problem. So, I go on the air and I am talking about issues that are important to them, serving my audience, when just as I am going on the air, some lady shows up or calls on the telephone and wants to be on the air and I complain but I put her on the air and then the magic happens. I mean, it was that voice and the sounds of weather and traffic and then the operator demanding more money to continue the call from a pay phone. I thought, damn, this is good radio. Well, the next week when I came in, I did not have a show because the lines were already plugged. So, they just took over it. And so, I reserved the first hour for me and got another hour. I am a manager - I can give myself as much time as I want. I do not want to do a 3 hour radio show but I do a 2 hour radio show every week. Business is good.
JB: But then, the FCC had something to say about you being manager.
RH: Oh, yes. No longer had I been a designated manager, we got a letter from the lawyer saying, no, no, this cannot work.
JB: Because you were a convicted felon?
RH: Because the FCC regulations at that time said that managers of broadcast facilities of the United States must be persons of good moral character. This is what they call Comstock laws named after senators. And so, I said, "Well, what does that mean? I am a convict, right, from a writ room (??). I know about how to hang around a law library." I said, "What is the meaning of good moral character?" They said, "We don't know but certainly no perverts and no ex-convicts. I mean, that should be obvious." And so, I said, well, I tell these lawyers who are supposed to know all of this, I say, "Notify the FCC that we are not in compliance. Instead of letting them find out what we are doing, just send them a letter saying we are not in compliance because." And they said, "O.K." And so, they sent them a letter and the FCC sent them a letter saying, "O.K., we will make this an agenda item at the next commission. Would you like to come and make a report?" And they called me and said, "Now, we have got to go make a report." That is an invitation, that is not an order. Why would we go over there and give them something to argue with? Just say thank you very much. Let us know what your decision is. And they thought that that was crazy. But in convict writ room thinking . . . see, what I have done is I have shifted all of the burden of the work onto the Commission's staff attorneys. So, they have a meeting and there is nobody there with nothing to argue about, so they send a letter saying, "We have exempted radio station KPFT, the Pacifica station in Houston, from that rule, and the matter will be considered by the next meeting of the Commission and we will let you know." And what they discovered is that there is no legal definition for good moral character. Blacks do not cover that. And so, they got rid of the rules. So, I became the first queer ex-convicted to manage a broadcast facility in the United States and did a good job. At least I am still welcome at the station.
JB: Was your head eventually chopped off in one of the ________?
RH: No, I did not overstay my welcome. As a matter of fact, I was really glad to see my successor. I mean, it is a do-do job. And it doesn't pay well. And it is hurting. 136 hours of volunteers is like trying to militarize cats. There is just no way that can work. Actually, I was the first manager to stay 2 full years, but I was looking for a way out of there and when Sharon May Adam, my replacement came, she wound up overstaying her welcome. She did not want to come back to the station.
JB: How were you making a living all this time and how do you make a living now?
RH: Well, back in the 1970s, number one, I had a little money left over from my stealing days, and Orsemus Hill, my father's father . . . wonderful name, Orsemus . . . was a river bottom farmer who happened to have some land with some mineral rights in it. So, during the late 1960s through the time I was in prison and up until the end of the 1970s, there was oil. And I would get upwards of $3,000, $4,000 a month, which I could live on quite handsomely. I don't live very high on the hog. I don't own a car. I live below the poverty line now. I live on Social Security Disability, food stamps, rent subsidy, and my health care, which is a lot, with a post-amputee diabetic comes through the Harris County Hospital District. But I ain't nobody, Barlow, managed to be something of a somebody without a lot of economic resources. As a matter of fact, money scares me. I paid the price of going for money one time and I will not do that again.
JB: You have also been very active in AIDS education in Houston. Talk a little bit about that.
RH: Well, the first thing we knew about it was the handsome young bartenders at _____. Now, also, I will soon celebrate in February of next year, 2008, I will celebrate 49 years of sobriety. I never was a drinker, but I organized politics in bars because that is where gay people were. Young, good-looking bartenders and marys started getting these horrible splotches on their legs and shoulders and we said, "What is that?" The doctor said, "Well, that is Kaposi's sarcoma." "Well, what is that?" "That is a disease common to very old men who have led hard lives." "Well, what are these kids doing with that?" "Well, we don't know." And so, we organized the Kaposi's Sarcoma Committee in the educational building at Bering Methodist Church in the middle of Montrose and that would later become the KS AIDS Foundation when, in 1982 . . . this is late 1980, early 1981 . . . well, they would not coin the phrase "acquired immune disorder syndrome" until 1982.
JB: Was it first called gay cancer?
RH: Well, they tried that. It was called GRIDS, gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome. And, of course, people like me and my peers in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, realized what a political axe that would be and we also, by that time, we were more sophisticated than the mean and we knew what was going on in Africa and what was going on in Haiti and what was going on in Europe where it was not primarily a gay disorder. And so, we immediately moved into that. That became a campaign to prevent a political debacle from occurring. And so, the term AIDS was chosen actually at a Paris conference. Actually, they chose acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. And so, KS AIDS Foundation, that is now AIDS Foundation Houston. So, on an organizing level, that is how that happened. But I had had 7 wonderful men in my life. Four of them died of AIDS. One of them was murdered by a burglar. One of them was assassinated by a police officer. So, I have only one surviving companion of that bunch. He is the proud father of the kid I consider my grandson now. He has subsequently gotten married and they had a baby.
JB: Let's talk a little bit about the murder of Paul Broussard.
RH: I deal with that like this week.
JB: I know.
RH: I deal with that continuously. 1991, I am at home in bed asleep. The phone rings. It is 3 o'clock in the morning. On the other end of the phone is Steve Little. Steve Little had been a champion. He had been fired by Randalls for taking a friend to get an AIDS test. He was a butcher at Randalls and they found him on a national search and brought him from Oklahoma down here. And then, as soon as they fired him, then I moved into that ______. It is a labor issue. I can deal with that. And so, we boycotted Randalls and all that. Now, he got a good settlement, bought him a house in Montrose and right around the corner from his house somebody had been beaten and stabbed and was laying bleeding on the sidewalk and the emergency team was there but they were not touching the victim. So, the call I get at 3 o'clock in the morning from Steve Little is, "Raymond, the EMTs will not transport this guy to the emergency room and he is going to die there if they do not get him to an emergency room." So, I say, "O.K., I will be there," and before I left the house, I called the back line emergent dispatcher and told him what was going on and said, "You meet me there because I want to get this straightened out." It is 4th of July, early morning hours in 1991. What happened is our regular EMT people were off on holiday and we had substitute firefighters on the meat wagon. And they were not used to doing this duty in Montrose and here is this guy in hot pants, apparently inebriated, and he is bleeding all over the place and they do not want to touch him because they are afraid of AIDS. So, by the time I get there, the dispatcher has got on the walkie talkie and they have transported him, I assumed to Ben Taub Hospital. They got to the corner of Westheimer and Montrose, it was right up Montrose - a lawyer's office now but it was a _____ office then - and they got to Montrose and they turned east on Westheimer and carried him to St. Joseph Hospital where there wasn't even a doctor on duty, which would not have been the case at Ben Taub or at Methodist or at Memorial or at St. Joseph. Well, at St. Joseph, they did not have a doctor. So, he is stabbed and beaten at 2 a.m., there is no taking of his vital signs on the ambulance, it is not in the record, gives dispatch time, gives transportation time, all accurate. His vital signs are not taken until 4:47 at St. Joseph Hospital emergency room. Paul Broussard bled to death. Had he received adequate emergency health care, he would be alive today. It wasn't going to be easy, he had to struggle, but he would be alive today. That is further complicated by the fact that when I get to the scene, there is a homicide detective there and there is no tape to preserve the area and I said, "Wait a minute, what is going on here? I mean, you are not preserving the scene." "Oh, we ain't gonna solve this case. _________." Fourth of July morning before a weekend. Monday after Fourth of July, I call Sam Nugents, the police chief and I say, "Sam, I need better detectives on this case." "Oh, Raymond, dealing with you is like wiping your ass with railroad track. It just goes on and on and on. You always want something." I said, "But this case is horrible." By this time, he is dead. When I got there, we were talking about an assault. And so, now we are talking about a homicide.
So, Sam, he gives me Vacaris and Abedondolo and that is the best he's got. He don't have homicide detectives better than Sargent Vacaris and Sargent Abbey, as they called him, because nobody could pronounce Abedondolo. That is the best they've got. I mean, that is a serious team. This is Monday. Wednesday, they said, "We have looked at everything there is here and Mr. Hill, there is nothing to investigate here. This case is not going to get solved." I said, "Do you mean to tell me that this is yet another gay bash homicide, that it is not going to get investigated?" "Well, we would like to investigate but we ain't got nothing to investigate." I said, "What do you mean? You've got 2 eyewitnesses." "Well, the description of the car is shiny, not black, white, blue, green. Shiny. Silver. Just shiny. Don't know what make it is. They don't know whether it is big or it is little. One of the witnesses said that the assailants were black, the other ones say no, they were not black but they may have been Hispanic or white, so we ain't got nothing to investigate." I said, "You are right, we are going to solve this case. You just watch." The following Friday night at 10 o'clock, I put 4,000 people at the corner of Westheimer and Montrose at exactly 10 o'clock. We block traffic so with a lead story on all the network stations. We moved to the front page of both the Houston Post which was alive at the time and The Chronicle the next morning, Saturday morning, and I keep it right there at that level for 2 weeks. I mean, I do everything. I talked the vice squad into sending 2 guys down to walk through Montrose holding hands to see what violence. That became Operation Vice-Versa. That got published all over the country. Ted Koppel sent a camera down here to get that. And so, I mean this was the first national gay bash case and we kept it at that level for 2 weeks until a student walked up to an openly gay professor at the University of Houston and said, "Professor Reinhart, I know one of the guys that killed that banker." Carl had her call me, I talked to her 2 minutes and I said, "No, hon, you need to call Crime Stoppers because there is a handsome reward here and you are entitled to it." It is obvious to me she knew what she was talking about. She collected that reward. I don't know who she is. That is the way that worked. It is supposed to be anonymous. But we arrested Derrick Athard (sp?) at his grandmother's house in New York and I made Vacaris go get him and bring him back so that I could have the other assailants named _______. So, I micromanaged that case from the first day. There would have been no case because there is certainly not anybody else in Houston that can manipulate calling as many debts as I can in the media that could keep this story alive for that period of time. And that is how that case got solved.
The first person to get sentenced was John Bice. He was the guy with the knife. I was out of town. He gets 45 years. Well, a 17-year-old kid getting 45 years - I knew a little something about the criminal justice system and that is too much time. It is a horrible case, it was a homicide, but 45 years to a 17-year-old kid in a dog pack mentality situation. I don't care what the motivation is. That is too much time. So, I tell it to the judge who I have known since he was 16. I told the judge, I said, "Do something for me." And so, John became eligible for parole after 12 years instead of 25.
JB: He was just turned down for parole again.
RH: Two more years, and I will still be on the case. The other side of that is after I sent 7 of the 10 to prison, it occurred to me that I had been there. There is nothing in prison to deal with prejudice against gays. There is nothing in prison to deal with prejudice against anybody. Prisons are very racists, sexist, homophobic, ethnically prejudiced place. They are hog beds of prejudice. There is nothing going on in Texas prisons that would change the attitude of these boys, so I made them write me. I went on the radio. I said, "I want this guy, John Bice, to write me." So, some friend of his on the outside said, "We have a friend of yours who wants you to write him." He said, "Who is that?" He said, "Ray Hill." He said, "That SOB sent me to prison, why would I want to write him?" He said, "No, you've got Ray wrong. He may have been doing nothing when he was in a different role but he is the best advocate you've got." Finally, John got around to writing me a what the hell do you want letter and I answered him back. Did not pick up on his attitude. I said, "You've got 45 years to do, son. Do you want a little advice on how to make it easier?" And over the years, we became friends. He made this keychain. He made this belt buckle. He is going to replace me on the prison show when he gets out. He is a wonderful man and he exceeds every stated priority of the parole board that justifies letting people get out. He meets or exceeds, he exceeds every one of them. He has a master's degree. He is going to continue his postgraduate education for the next couple of years, maybe get a Ph.D. before he gets out. He is my friend and I support him. I talked to his dad almost every day the last 2 weeks and I visit him frequently.
JB: It seems to me, from the outside looking in, that the gay community in Houston is not as intersigned as we have seen in a lot of places; where they are always chopping off each other's heads and yelling and screaming and fighting. Is that an accurate . . .
RH: Well, from my perspective, certainly not. You know, although I announced, when was it, 2005, that I was retiring from active role in gay politics - I don't go to meetings, I don't take votes - but then just this year, I was elected gay male hero and leading gay activist in the pole in the Outsmart Magazine. And friends of mine said, "Well, that is just a popularity contest." I said, "Where the hell do you get off thinking I am all that popular? I am a pretty irritating old cuss." But from my perspective, I am everybody's gay uncle. Who do you call when you are in trouble? Who do you call when your sorry husband gets picked up with a DWI? Who helps you through this crisis? Who helps you through that crisis? Who do I want to talk to when I found out that I am HIV positive and I want somebody to lean on? That is the role that I play and I really . . . the politics just do not interest me anymore. But the social worker part of it will always interest me. Jim, gay people, gay men, lesbians and transgendered people are some of the most maligned, wonderful people on this planet. Look at who we are. My sister got killed in an automobile accident and I became the adopted father of her 2 children. When my parents got old, my married sister had the next generation to worry about. My role in the family was to take care of them. How many gay people are in the nursing profession? How many gay people take care of old folks at old folks' homes by going around scrubbing bedpans, carrying urinals, changing sheets? At war time, what do we do? I mean, understanding Native American cultures ______ where some males are recognized to be significantly different by their mothers and they are trained as both squaws and they are trained as warriors, and they are there to be the helping hands. They are the ones that carried the wounded off the battles when the tribes get into war. They are the ones that have free access from village to village even if those villages are in war time because we are the peacemakers, the caregivers, the nurturers. We take care of whatever you have left over. And that has been our social, cultural, historic anthropological role forever. But because of some religious hocus pocus based twist, we've got to be maligned, made devils, demons, violence against us is justified. Saturday, I go to Americans United for Separation of Church and State and I deal with prison chaplaincy programs that get big government bucks to teach hate against queers. That is who my people are. Ya'll, straight people, don't see them that way but that is because you are too busy with your own lives to worry about what makes up other peoples' lives. We are suspected of being creatures of the night because that is the only institutions you historically would allow us to have. Until I came along and a few others came along and said, "Wait a minute. We can have counseling centers and clinics and other kinds of institutions." All we had was bars because that is where we were supposed to . . . the whole society thought we were supposed to hang out. Creatures of the night. Actually, I get up about 5 o'clock every morning.
JB: How many of the Houston leaders, in your opinion, were openly concerned with the gay community?
RH: The first one that would come talk to us was Fred Hofheinz. He was scared. I arranged a meeting in 1975 with Fred Hofheinz who was running for reelection. He came and said, "I can't do anything for you." Of course, we knew Sam, his wife. Sam was a great friend. She was an exceptionally beautiful woman. So, she required a lot of hairdressers and makeup people around her. So, we would see Sam at Splash Day in Galveston and she hung around with gay people. So, we had an inside line on Sam. But even Louie. Louie was good friends of George Halger, who was an executive for . . . oh, what was the big sports organization out on the Gulf Freeway? I have forgotten the name of that department store. He sold sporting goods.
RH: Oshmans. George was an executive at Oshmans who had a little gay bar on the side called The Red Room which is over here on Webster Street. I used to go into Webster in the afternoon and Louie would be in there, when he was mayor having a couple of beers. Same joke. Every time I saw him. He would drop something. When you bent to pick it up, he would say, "No, I am closer," and he would make a joke about being a short guy. It was Louie Welch's whole routine. None of these people were gay. Now, some of them were gay that were deeply closeted. Herman Short was homosexually active. I don't know whether I can say gay but he was homosexually active. You have got to realize - I am the first generation of gay men that did not marry for cover. All the generation prior to me had to get married to make it in their careers and to keep up images, but I did not have to do that. The night before Herman Short was sworn in as police chief, he spent in a hotel with another man. And I knew that that day. Well, what the hell do you do with that? I mean, you don't hold a press conference and say, "Guess what Herman Short did last night?" or your credibility would go down the tubes. I knew that his whole term and I was able to get him to lighten up on some of the worst harassment things just by hinting that I knew it. I didn't blackmail the man. I am not that crass.
JB: Let's look back to when you were young to where you are now. What kind of progress do you think that you have made as far as . . .
RH: Gay people?
RH: Oh, Jesus. That is the difference between light and dark. Gay people were guiltred and fearful, shamed. I have never been a drinker. I would go to the bars, I would be sober. But, I mean, for people to cruise me and say, "Let's go play and have fun and I am only going to be gay until I am about 35 because nobody cares anything about old queers," and all that. I washed my hands of all that when I was 20 years old and did not want to have anything to do with that. We are full of guilt, shame, but let me tell you something: the gay movement is not about what you think of us. The gay movement is about what we think of us. Study some more Saul Olinsky. Saul Olinsky did not give a tinker's damn what the bosses thought about the coal miners. He only cared what the coal miners thought about the coal miners. That is the nature of movements. That is the nature of successful movements. That is why I was able to prosper in what others would consider a tough territory. I did not waste my energy on what people in power thought about gay people. I put all of my energy in what gay men, lesbians and transgendered people thought about themselves. The transgendered movement was not born until 1978, and I was active in trying to get some understanding about gay people as early as 1966, 1965. The transgendered people had to see others progress before they even began to progress. I remember reading a story of Christine Jorgensen and the sex change operation in Sweden. That was big news at that time. And watching the expressions on the faces of people who were trying to be gay and it was not quite working because their issue was not gay, their issue was gender. And I knew a lot of those people. They did not have anywhere else to go. They did not fit in the gay community because that was not their erotic attraction. But they knew they were different and it took Christine Jorgensen and watch another movement develop before they reached the point where they began . . . now, the sin that dare not speak its name will not shut up, and never again will it shut up. I mean, just yesterday, Congress passed employment nondiscrimination against gay and lesbians. Well, what about transgendered? And what did the real leadership of the community say? Well, we are halfway there. We have got to go back and take care of those other folks because this train ain't leaving with a caboose sitting in the station. We are not going to leave anybody behind.
JB: I think we are done.
RH: Thank you.
JB: Thank you. It has been interesting.