Slampo’s Place interrupts its ongoing Al Hoang coverage to bring you this exclusive interview with Hampton Hardish, adjunct professor of history at South Dairy Ashford Community College and author of the possibly soon-to-be-published Houston: City of Gay Mayors. “We” in Houston have been convulsed in an orgy of self-congratulation in the past week over the election of a lesbian as mayor––a historic development that has proved, beyond a doubt, that Houston is not the dusty cow-town full of yahoos they still believe us to be In New York City and Paris, France but rather the cosmopolitan, urbane and broad-minded place “we” have always known it to be. Hardish, however, claims that Annise Parker won’t be Houston’s first gay mayor, and that in fact the city has had many gay mayors, going back many years. Slampo’s Place under-assistant managing editor and executive vice-president Hidalgo Hidalgo caught up with Hardish yesterday for an interview that began at the Starbucks on Wilcrest and Highway 59 and concluded many hours later at a southwest Houston sports bar. Sr. Hidalgo asked only that we confirm, for the record, that he himself is not gay. “That would not be so good in my community,” he explained.
HH: So, man, you claiming that this Parker lady ain’t gonna be the first gay person to be mayor of this city. Is that right?
HH: Yes sir, that is correct.
HH: So who was the first gay mayor here?
HH: Actually, it all started with with Houston’s first mayor, James Sanders Holman. Back then “gay” simply meant “light-hearted or happy,” and the clinical term “homosexual” had not been coined. Most did not think of themselves as having one “sexual orientation” or the other but kind of played it as it laid. Many were straight, many were gay, some swung both ways. The bayou ran slow and lazy, the fish and wildlife were abundant.
HH. Nah, man. Go on, get outa here.
HH: It's true ... One of my graduate research assistants unearthed the diary of a French visitor to Houston in 1837 who wrote: “One of the charms of this fetid, mosquito-infested hellhole (perhaps the only charm) is seeing the mayor strolling the streets arm-in-arm with a strapping young rustic whom he calls ‘Carl,’ and whose wispy beard he gently strokes as the two wade through the thick chimney smoke and ankle-deep mud.”
HH: The fu....
HH: Yes, there it is.
HH: Okay, what about this guy, whatshisname, Oscar Holcombe?
HH: Not only was he Houston’s longest-serving mayor but Houston’s longest-serving gay mayor. He wasn’t called “the Old Gray Fox” because of his cunning and political acumen, but rather because he was considered, well, foxy. Back then, the city had only a couple off off-the-beaten-track “nelly” bars, and OGF, as he was known, frequented both of them.
HH: Aww, man––how you know that?
HH: I have it on good authority from Ray Hill, who as you know is either the MLK or the Robin Hood of the local gay-rights movement, and has been the mentor to any gay person of accomplishment in Houston for the past 35 years.
HH: So, he knew this Holcombe dude?
HH: Perhaps not. But he says he knows that Jesse Jones and others were uneasy about what they called the mayor’s “misadventures,” although Holcombe always made time for his “boys,” especially around the holidays.
HH: No way! What about your more modern mayors?
HH: Well, Kathy Whitmire was caught in a hot tub with Lily Tomilin ....
HH: Whoa––I thought that was that Ann Richards lady ....
HH: Well, possibly, her too. But Whitmire was unmarried, a widow. Draw your own conclusion.
HH: Who else?
HH: Well, Fred Hofheinz liked to dress in women’s clothes, and Jim MConn was known to “shake his bottom down to the ground” after-hours at many of the city’s gay disco clubs of the late‘70s and early ‘80s. Lee Brown, historians have now determined, was the model for the cop in the Village People ... and, oh yes, when Louie Welch suggested that we “shoot the queers,” this was well-understood in the gay community as meaning, “I’ll be down at the corner of Westheimer and Taft around 11:30 tonight, and I'll be needing a ride.” After his death, it was discovered that he had amassed a large, secret collection of antique patterned draperies.
HH: Aw, man. Next thing you’re gonna tell me is Bob Lanier was gay!
HH: Yes, that appears to be the case.
HH: Naw, man, he was a hoss! You ever check out his wife, that Elsie lady?
HH: I know this will be hard for many people to accept.
HH: Okay, professor, tell me: Has Houston ever had a mayor who wasn’t gay?
HH: Well, of course, Bill White is not gay,* and next year he has a good shot at becoming Texas’ first non-gay governor since Sam Houston.
HH: Beauford Jester was gay, too? Man, all this politics talk is makin’ my head hurt. You got any money?
HH: Some, yes.
HH: I know this bar, Bongo’s, we can get some beers, 2-for-1 at happy hour. Watch the fútbol.
HH: Yes, I’d like that. I enjoy experiencing other cultures.
HH: Uh, yeah. Listen, just don’t mention it to anybody there that you’re gay, okay?
HH: But I’m not gay.
HH: Yeah, whatevs. Gimme your keys. I’m drivin’.
*In the interest of disclosure, Prof. Hardish notes that his wife, two of his three children, his mother-in-law, a second cousin, and an “elderly aunt” all work for White in some capacity.