Waco, TX – On Saturday, April 11, 1953, nearly 70 gay men packed into a small four-room house at 2117 S. 19th St. in Waco, Texas, about 10 blocks from Baylor University. David Owen, a ministerial student at the Baptist school, had invited the men to attend the gathering, which was billed as an “interstate convention” that would culminate in a mock wedding ceremony for two men, one of whom would dress in drag as the bride. Suddenly, the doors opened, the windows were blocked and Waco police officers, assisted by a state trooper, arrested everyone. The men were booked into the city jail for “vagrancy” violations, and each posted a $25 bond to be released. But the real damage was done during the coming week when the men’s names and addresses were printed on the front pages of Waco’s two newspapers. Waco gay life of 1953 consisted of a small group of closeted gay men. Acting on a tip (which Johnson reveals likely came from military police at the local James Connally Air Force Base), nearly 20 members of law enforcement descended on the 1,000-square-foot residence.
This story had mostly been lost from LGBTQ history until 2015, when Houston LGBTQ historian JD Doyle discovered it in a 1988 issue of the gay magazine This Week in Texas. At the time, Doyle was putting together a collection of history articles written by the late Phil Johnson of Dallas (whose LGBTQ archives are now a part of the University of North Texas Library). One of Johnson’s articles focused on the 35th anniversary of the Waco raid. Piecing together Doyle’s research, LGBTQ publications can now present the sobering story of the raid’s aftermath for two of the Waco party guests whose resiliency helped them rebuild their lives.
The newspapers, which published the names and addresses of the arrested men, noted that the men came from all walks of life, and that most of them had prominent jobs and college degrees. One young man at the party was at the time a ministerial student at Baylor in his final year. When his name appeared in Waco newspapers, the student was called into the dean’s office and asked to withdraw from Baylor. The same fate awaited the student who threw the party and a couple of other students who attended. “But somehow, God used that incident to give me the courage to go forward. Another Baptist school accepted me. I graduated, going on to a Baptist seminary to earn two degrees and receive an honorary degree. He became pastor at a Metropolitan Community Church in Texas, Tommy Gene Brown, the hapless Waco bride, who was born in Salina, Texas, around 1930. As a young man, he had quite a reputation as a hairstylist and party person, but he achieved his greatest notoriety as the Waco bride.
caption: “This man in a pearl-embroidered wedding dress identified himself as Tommy Gene Brown, a Dallas window designer. He was arrested at a homosexuals’ ‘convention’ in Waco, Texas, which drew 125 participants (including GIs) from as far as N.Y. Police raid stopped Brown’s ‘wedding.’” In 1956, Brown met a man named Fred and fell in love. In 1959, they moved to the more gay-friendly San Francisco. Fred worked, and Brown kept up the home. Brown became involved in one of America’s first gay organizations, the Society of Individual Rights (SIR), where he helped with the dances and costumes for gay productions of “The Boyfriend,” “Pal Joey,” “Hello Dolly” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Brown and his partner, Fred, were together almost 25 years. Fred died in the late 1970s, and Brown died in May 1988. JD Doyle and his Houston LGBT History website provided invaluable research material for this story. Visit houstonlgbthistory.org/ to learn more. (Q Notes Online – at https://goqnotes.com/67485/the-1953-gay-raid-in-waco/)
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