Dallas’ first gay Pride parade was a small affair by today’s standards.
In 1972, just three after the Stonewall riots in New York City, a festive group of between 250 and 300 men and women gathered to show their pride. They marched through downtown, waving signs and chanting gay rights slogans before a crowd that grew to about 3,000.
There were a few floats, but nothing elaborate; most of the participants walked the route or rode in gaily decorated vehicles.
The next day, the local dailies published photos of what today would be seen as a sedate event but was, in the early 70s, a bold and brave statement.
The first parade made news when it happened. But still, the next one didn’t happen until 1980.
At first, the Parade was rather haphazard, spearheaded by ad hoc committees of Oak Lawn merchants and community leaders. In 1982, however, the newly-established Dallas Tavern Guild took over, and the parade began to grow.
In 1983, the Tavern Guild moved the parade from the usual June date to the third Sunday in September and renamed it the Texas Freedom Parade to commemorate Judge Jerry L. Buchmeyer’s ruling that first negated the Texas sodomy law. The judge’s decision was overturned later by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the parade remained a fall event in Dallas.
The Tavern Guild first began presenting awards to outstanding parade entries in 1985 and instituted the policy of choosing grand marshals. The first grand marshals were Rita Mae Brown and Howie Daire.
Just weeks after the parade in 1983 – on Oct. 2 – actor Rock Hudson died, shortly after coming out as a gay man and as a person with AIDS. His death focused and unprecedented national spotlight on AIDS and spurring the Tavern Guild to begin dedicating the parade each year to those Tavern Guild members who had died of AIDS during the preceding 12 months. In 1988, that number was 12.
In 1991, Dallas Tavern Guild officers dedicated to honor Alan Ross, the tavern guild’s executive director and the man who – since the early days – had shouldered the lion’s share of the responsibilities of organizing the parade. That was the year that the Texas Freedom Parade became the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. Ross, who had been grand marshal alongside Lory Masters in 1988, died in 1995.
In 1994, Dallas Police Chief Ben Click became the city’s first top law enforcement official to speak a the rally following the parade. As more politicians came out as gay – and as more non-gay politicians began to realize the power of the LGBT voting bloc – elected officials and candidates began to make appearances, as well. In 2002, Laura Miller became the first sitting Dallas mayor to participate in the parade.
The 2001 parade was one of the most somber in the event’s history, coming less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that changed our world. There was talk of canceling the parade that year. But organizers decided to go ahead, choosing to leave empty the carriage that usually transported grand marshals, except for a sign reading, “Dedicated to the victims lost in the 9-11 tragedy.”
In 2003, however, an atmosphere of joyous celebration returned. LGBT Texans and their counterparts around the country were riding high to the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Lawrence v. Texas that declared the Texas sodomy law unconstitutional, once and for all.
The rapture continued in 2004. This time it was the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage that set gay lesbian feet to dancing down the parade route.
In 2019, the Parade and the Festival both moved to Fair Park.
The spirit of Pride and celebration shine through each year as organizers prepare for the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
When the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parades gets under way, the minds of many of the past and current coordinators will be ont the event’s namesake.
Lory Masters, who in the early days was the parade’s chief of security with her “Dykes on Bykes” motorcycle group, said she often recalls funny stories about Ross, who dies in 1995 at the age of 57.
“There are so many funny stories about Alan Ross,” Masters said. “He was a slight man, but he had a heart of gold.”
As the longtime executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, Ross was in charge of putting on the Pride parade every year.
Masters said it was difficult fot him to take a break from the jog, even the year when he rode in the parade as one of it’s grand marshals. As tbe other grand marshal, Masters rode with him in a convertible when he was riding in the parade as a grand marshal. She rode with him in a convertible in the parade in 1988 when they both were elected as the grand marshals, the Realtor said.
“From the first of the parade all the way to the end, he must have jumped out of the convertible 10 times to take care of something or put somebody back behind the fence,” Masters said.
Ross left an incredible mark on the parade, Masters added.
“It’s his parade, and it will always be his parade,” Masters said. “He was incredible. He had such a sweet personality, and most people didn’t argue with him. They knew better.”
Masters said Ross was known – and in some circles dreaded – for his tenaciousness.
“He would drive you crazy if the wanted you to do something, which I loved about him,” Masters said. “And if you ‘swouldn’t do it, he would find somebody else. He knew everything about everybody.”
Former Gay City Council member Ed Oakley, who all rode in the parade along with lesbian Sherriff Lupe Valdez and a long list of other elected officials, said he credits Ross with getting him involved in municipal politics.
“He was one of my biggest cheerleaders and fans when I first ran in 1993,” Oakley said. “All of a sudden we were bosom buddies and he became my closest mentor.”
Both Masters and Oakley recall Ross as a founding member of Dallas’ GLBT community – whose dedication to it never wavered.
Ross moved from his native Bartlesville, OK in the 1960’s. As he accepted his sexual orientation, he and his wife divorced. As was typical of Ross, they remained good friends until his death.
Ross retired early from a national retailer and from that point on spent his time volunteering for various organizations. He was a member of the board of directors of some ot the leading gay and lesbian nonprofit groups during the 1980’s and 1990’s, including the Resource Center of Dallas.
In addition to managing the parade every year, he conceived the annual Holiday Gift Project, which continues today. The program enables the Tavern Guild to provide a basket of food and other items to those with terminal illnesses who are in hospitals and other care facilities.
One of his last achievements was the establishment of the Living Tribute in a quiet, shaded area of Robert E. Lee Park where an evergreen tree looks over a plaque bearing testament to people who have died of AIDS, those living with the disease and the people who care for them.