Memories of Betty King

February 9, 2014

Betty King Picture.jpg

The 60’s and 70’s were an interesting time to grow up: the era of the Vietnam War, the hippie generation, widespread drug culture, the Stonewall Riots and the challenging of society’s politics, culture and morals.

I grew up in a small town in northern Illinois, where the population barely tipped over 700 people. The town and the rural areas around it were an all-white population, no minorities at all. It wasn’t until I went to college near Chicago that I saw other cultures, ethnicities and other ways of life. I knew that there was never a gay person in the area where I grew up (Ha!) and had no idea that such a gay culture existed.

When I started having ‘that awakening,’ I would go to the library and look at some of the books about lesbians. I was too embarrassed to check any of them out. I was bewildered by my feelings and felt I was the only one in the world who felt that way.  That was, until I found another ‘friend’ in my Junior year. Later that year, a small gay group started on campus, but there were no other resources available. There was just one gay bar – out in the middle of cornfields, at least an hour drive from campus.

Within a few years my ‘friend’ and I moved south and landed in Dallas in 1973. Somehow we found our way to the Cedar Springs area, as if a beacon shown from the sky to a spot near Wycliff and Cedar Springs! We started meeting some gay people in the area and learned about a few gay bars that were closer than an hour’s drive.

This was the big city! The first Dallas Gay Parade parade was in 1973, organized by Rob (Ruth) Shivers and Chris McKee, but we did not know of its existence.

Because I had a double major in Psychology and Sociology, I wanted to further my education and start a career. I chose the Guidance and Counseling program at TWU (Texas Woman’s University) in 1974. While going through the first part of the program, needing a topic to present in one of the classes, I decided to talk about being gay. I was terrified of speaking before a group, as being gay was not that popular down here in Texas. I really thought I would get hostility from the class, but I was surprised at how receptive they were. So I started building my confidence about being open and thought of ways I could use my skills to help others in coming out, or not coming out and dealing with the myriad emotions of being in the closet.

To cap off my degree, I wrote a thesis about the lesbian community in Dallas, collecting data on roles in relationship and had the program run through the computers at the University of Texas Health Science Center (now University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center). There were many obstacles in doing this research. The Chancellor of TWU would not approve my topic until my Committee Chair, Dr. Clifton Sparks (I guess her father wanted a son so badly he named her Clifton), lobbied and finally got the approval needed to proceed with the project. Dr. Sparks was a very brave person who supported her students and fought for their freedom of speech and expression.

During this timeframe I decided to start Gayline (1974) and provide some professional help to the gay community. To my knowledge, we had the second Gayline service in the country, behind San Francisco. Gayline started in my apartment on Cedar Springs. We set up a phone in our second bedroom, and I began recruiting volunteers to help staff the phone. Through contacts I had made in the counseling services here in Dallas, the volunteers received training from the Suicide Prevention (Contact) trainers, a social worker with a large gay clientele, and a psychologist experienced in crisis training and gay problems. We ended up with about 50 volunteers – men and women who managed to work well together and were very dedicated to providing services.

At some point, we needed larger spaces and wanted to open a Community Resource Center. I think that was when I met Rob (Ruth) Shivers and Chris McKee. They let us set up at their rent house on Victor Street in old East Dallas. We were there for a while, until a couple offered the top of their two story house for space. We started an outreach for people to stop by and talk, learn about available activities, and meet new people.

                  Betty King (right) with Mary Franklin

                 Betty King (right) with Mary Franklin

As we grew, we moved to an office suite in the Oak Lawn area. By then we were a not-for-profit organization registered with the State of Texas, which was accomplished through pro bono work provided by a member of our community. We had our charter, directors, and volunteers, and the organization kept growing.

This organization developed during the 1970’s, and we ran up against prejudice and a number of barriers. As soon as we had Gayline staffed and the volunteers trained, we tried to place an ad in the local papers to publicize our name and phone number. The Dallas Times Herald quickly refused to run the ad, while, after discussion, the Dallas Morning News agreed to run the two-line ad.

As the Community Resource Center developed, I think in 1975 or 1976, we would print handouts for upcoming events and place them on windshields at a lot of the gay bars. I remember one night at the parking lot of the huge Bayou Landing bar, while placing flyers on windshields, we were followed around the parking lot by the local police. Sometimes they would make us leave; sometimes they would just watch. We also placed flyers inside the bars.

One night I went into a predominately male bar, and just as I was placing the flyer on the board the police raid started. They took one look at me and just told me to get out! I wasn’t arrested.

We also did community outreach at local colleges and universities. We spoke to classes at SMU, UNT and one in Wichita Falls. Several of the volunteers went on radio shows to spread the word about our resources.

One last memory stands out. We had a car wash to raise money for the Community Resource Center at the Club Baths on Swiss Avenue, maybe in 1978. While inside, standing near the office, I saw a flyer on the board that mentioned a disease spreading through the gay community in San Francisco that was killing gay men by the scores. We didn’t know at that time what was ahead for our community.

After spending years to develop Gayline and the Community Resource Center, I decided to leave the organization that had been my life for years, the consequence of two of the directors questioning my integrity, my dedication, and my focus for the organization. The two Directors had stopped the Community Resource Center from funding the women’s basketball team uniforms, saying it wasn't in the organization’s charter. They had actually called the store and cancelled the order. I, obviously, disagreed. I felt I could no longer lead this organization.  I never followed what happened to the ‘crisis line’ and the Community Center after I left. I hope the good parts lived on and became a small part of our community resources in Dallas.

                       Betty King (center with necklace) is now an active member of Coalition for Aging LGBT in Dallas

                      Betty King (center with necklace) is now an active member of Coalition for Aging LGBT in Dallas