Roger ("Scott") Kennedy: Witness to Dallas Gay History

                           Roger Kennedy

                          Roger Kennedy

After receiving my bachelor’s degree at SMU in 1973, I enrolled in SMU law school but discovered, before long, that there was no way I could keep up with the high costs there. So, I moved back home to Kansas to live with my parents and restarted my law school studies at Washburn Law School in Topeka. I still remember the dirty bookstores on Kansas Avenue and entering the dark Jayhawk Theatre to see Boys in the Band,slouching in the rear of the audience so as not to be discovered.  In 1974 and 1975 I would occasionally take a bus to Kansas City for a weekend of ‘coming out’ in the bars of The Plaza. There was also a bar on the north, river side of Topeka, where we were advised to park our cars by backing tightly into the Quonset hut wall so that police deputies could not record our rear license plates (Kansas doesn’t have front license plates). Miserable, I dropped out of law school in August, 1975, and began flipping hamburgers the next day, contemplating my dismal future through the haze of The Weed (which I was sometimes high on during law school classes). 

 Dallas friend Frank Stotts (left) and Roger Kennedy (right) in about 1976

Dallas friend Frank Stotts (left) and Roger Kennedy (right) in about 1976

Of my four best friends from my time at SMU, two were straight, and two were gay. The gay ones, Ronald and Frank, had each moved into the rather new Village Apartments, ‘the place’ for singles to live in Dallas. They invited me to come down on the train and stay with each of them for a month for a ‘trial run’ of living in Dallas. During this visit I twice visited the original Old Planation on Rawlins near Oak Lawn before it burned to the ground (allegedly for the insurance money). By the time I returned to Dallas on a permanent basis in early 1976, the “OP” had moved to Denton Drive Cutoff near Maple & Inwood. It later moved downtown to Harwood Street. 

So, on March 10, 1976, three days after turning 25, I packed up my boat of a car and moved to Dallas. I spent the first ten days in a rented room on the upper-floor of the Downtown Dallas YMCA, on Elm Street, where I was continually hit on and did not know what to make of it. I was also introduced to “the baths” on Swiss Avenue – a real shock. Downtown streets at night were like a meat market. There was a seedy piano bar for younger/older men, I believe it was called ‘The Redhead.’  I eventually moved into my own efficiency in the Saracen Apartments on Hall Street – known as the gay version of the Village Apts. 

I distinctly remember the original ‘cruise route’ (Sale-Hood-Dickinson-Gillespie). I believe there are still a couple of meaningless signs that tell a driver not to turn at a corner – trying to inhibit those who wish to make repeated cruising loops through that neighborhood. I also remember looking forward to the Sales Street Art Fair in this neighborhood each September. 

In the late spring of 1976, I walked into the Metropolitan Community Church (“MCC”) located at the corner of Reagan and Brown streets to attend a service. Other than a few bars, and perhaps the men's clothing store, Union Jack, nothing else really existed in terms of gay organizations. I think Troy Perry was still the senior minister there at the MCC. 

I attended the MCC and its successor churches, off and on, over the ensuing 42 years.  I am still an active member of Legacy today (for the “over-50 crowd”).   

Over those years I spent many weekend nights in the Lucas B&B restaurant on Oak Lawn Avenue (in the location of the current parking lot for Pappadeaux’s).  I often stayed late enough to watch the after-hours impromptu drag shows that took place there. 

In 1976 and 1977 my friends and I made occasional drives to ‘Gay Cove,’ the nude beach out at Lake Dallas in Lewisville. We also sometimes drove down to Austin to go to Hippie Hollow, the secluded nudist area of Lake Travis. 

I believe it was in the summer of 1976 that I attended the first-ever gay rally in Dallas. It was in Exall Park near Baylor Hospital.  It was also near the old Villa Fontana (the oldest operating gay bar in the US until it closed) and the Fontainebleau.  I distinctly remember Frampton Comes Alive blaring on the loudspeakers – it had just been released, and he was everyone’s heartthrob. I recall no real organized theme at that rally – just a procession of speakers.

In the fall of 1976, I briefly joined OLTA – Oak Lawn Tennis Association – which played at Samuel Grand Park – mostly a challenge ladder league as I remember.

Like others in 1976, I would often walk on Sunday evenings down Cole Avenue and on to the uptown section of Cedar Springs to Harwood and the Old Planation. We were there to sit on the floor and watch the legendary Jan Russell and his drag shows. That is where I first watched Alan Allison, Jimmy Dee, Deva Sanchez, and Lady Shawn, Bette Sheba, and April Love. 

In early 1977, not making enough money to live on with my job at Southland Life, I got a waiter job at the newly-opened Bell Pepper restaurant on Lemmon at McKinney. This was not the later hut building on McKinney. This was a Denny’s-looking building, orange roof, that had been an Indian restaurant (The Raja, I believe). It was owned by a married couple named Dennis and Suzanne who were both gay. All spring and summer the juke box was constantly blaring Liza Minelli’s New York, New York

                     The first DGPC retreat:   Baker  /  Peeples  /  Young  /  Wilkins  /  Ward

                    The first DGPC retreat:   Baker  /  Peeples  /  Young  /  Wilkins  /  Ward

At the Bell Pepper, I became the waiter for a 5-member group that was in the process of formalizing and structuring the first Dallas gay organization, the Dallas Gay Political Caucus (“DGPC”). I remember them in the circular booth: Dick Peeples, Don Baker, Steve Wilkins, Louise Young, and Jerry Ward. I continued working for the restaurant for a while after it moved two blocks away on McKinney. 

In October, 1978, my new boss, Ted Eidson, suggested that I watch a new full-length video documentary called ‘Word is Out.’ I watched it twice. I was fascinated that people were being so honest and open in telling their personal life stories on video. I particularly remember being impressed by a woman named Del Martin (one of the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, along with her partner Phyllis Lyon). 

In the later part of 1980 I moved back to Dallas after a couple of years living in Ft. Worth with a Hispanic friend I made there. He came to need some counseling, and I had heard of a man named Howie Daire (a fellow Pisces) and his partner Candy Marcum, who had started the new Oak Lawn Counseling Center. They had recently opened an office on the second floor of the Esquire Theater on the west side of Oak Lawn between Lemmon and Maple. They would later move to the stone house on Fairmount, with Tyge Lancaster. 

The following year (1981) I attended one of the first Lakewood Social Club functions, started by Jere Hinckley (of the Hinckley Ice family) and his partner Sid Clark (a salesperson at Nieman-Marcus). In the early days, these functions were like a high tea, with petit fours and programs. At the end of each function, Jere would bring out his mother, in her 90s, to meet the attendees. The name of this series of social gatherings came from the fact that Jere’s house was on Lakewood Ave. I have been in and out over the years, but I am still an attending member, which is now more of an older men’s monthly pot luck dinner with alcohol. (As I remember it described, he Lakewood Social Club was thought by many to be the ‘poor man’s’ version of ARETE, OLETA, and Airliners). 

 Rare photo of the original membership of the Turtle Creek Chorale in about 1983 performing at the The Great American Choral Festival in Dallas.  Roger Kennedy is in back row, 6th from the left.  John Thomas is the tallest singer on back row 

Rare photo of the original membership of the Turtle Creek Chorale in about 1983 performing at the The Great American Choral Festival in Dallas.  Roger Kennedy is in back row, 6th from the left.  John Thomas is the tallest singer on back row 

After being in the audience the first season, I joined The Turtle Creek Chorale at the start of its second season in January 1982. In 1995 John Thomas presented me with a letter which designated me, not as a founding member, but as a charter member.  It is difficult today to look back on "the way we were" in the early 1980s and fully understand the concern and trepidations many members of the TCC experienced in simply being the public face of an all-male group of singers who were becoming more and more known as a "gay men's chorus."  Thirty-plus years later, this is rarely a matter of concern for the chorale's singers, but when I began my membership with the group, a good number of men had to "find the courage" to continue to perform so publicly, knowing that being identified with the group could easily have the effect of terminating one's employment by an unsympathetic firm or business. I still feel a sense of pride, which many young people today wouldn't fully understand, that we "faced the music" and turned the Turtle Creek Chorale into a national treasure, regardless of the personal risks associated with being in a sometimes hostile environment in the Dallas of the 1980s. 

I had three different periods of being in the TCC, ending mostly by 2000.  In 2015 I was part of the 35th reunion weekend and concert where our previous conductor, Tim Selig, returned to Dallas to lead us once again in a very special "reunion concert."

Even my membership in the TCC had the effect of pulling me into yet another organization.  After joining the chorale in 1982, co-founder Don Esmiller, who was also music minister at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, pulled me into his church's brass choir. This led me to discover the two-year old Oak Lawn Band, and I played with them for a couple of years. In 1990 I came back and played under Cathy Brown’s directorship, as we traveled, raised funds, and performed in the concert and processionals for the 1990 Gay Games in Vancouver. 

              Mike Grossman    -    Roger Kennedy

             Mike Grossman    -    Roger Kennedy

I participated in the second Experience Weekend in December 1982.  This was a self-discovery seminar, conducted in Dallas, lead by the late David Goodstein (owner of The Advocate), and the late Rob Eichberg (co-founder of Coming Out Day). It was here that I met and became friends with Mike Grossman and the late George Amerson, among dozens of others. Over the next five years I was very involved with this organization, being a facilitator in 1985. It came to an end in 1987, but when The Experience returned in 1992, I was on the coordinating/organizing team, and enrolled a number of friends.

Sometime in the early 1980’s, Razzle Dazzle Dallas was started by Bill Nelson, Terry Tebedo and others. Buck Massey and I became volunteers over the next several years – sweat equity. I really enjoyed seeing this event grow over the years, as well as changing locations. 

Around 1985, I assisted in setting up the Nelson-Tebedo Food Pantry in support of persons with AIDS who had insufficient resources to obtain good, nutritious meals. 

In the spring of 1983, eight of us, five Latinos and three Anglos, founded the first gay Hispanic organization in Dallas. We were under auspices of the Dallas Gay Alliance (now known as the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance). I distinctly remember Bill Nelson telling us that we would not be financially or morally supported by them unless we remained under their umbrella. So, as a sub-org of the Social Justice Committee of the DGA, chaired by Melody Alexander (one of the three Anglos), we became the Gay Hispanic Coalition of the Dallas Gay Alliance

shoes.jpg

I was so taken by the experience with our Gay Hispanic interaction with DGA (and my  friend Buck Massey’s experiences on the DGA board), I decided to join the DGA for the specific purpose of serving on Melody Alexander’s Social Justice Committee from 1983 through 1985. My most memorable activity was being on the committee that went around to bars (mostly Frank Caven’s collection of gay bars) and confronting them about the fact that they were clearly discriminating against portions of the gay community by triple-carding Blacks and Hispanics, as well as turning women away for having "open-toed shoes" (their so-called ‘position’ being that women wearing open-toed shoes would be cut by the glass on the floor). Of course, men were allowed to wear sandals, flip-flops, whatever.  Many in the community were offended by this blatant attempt to regulate entry into gay bars.  After a time, the continued pressure from the Social Justice Committee, and increasing objections coming from the general public, ended this highly inappropriate practice.

 Gay Games 1982 ::  Roger Kennedy in the rear.  Phil Johnson on right.

Gay Games 1982 ::  Roger Kennedy in the rear.  Phil Johnson on right.

No one from Dallas participated in the first Gay Games in 1982. In the summer of 1986, though, there were eleven of us who went to San Francisco for the second Gay Games:  three swimmers, a couple of tennis players, three runners, and a few basketball players. I served on the Dallas committee and a spent a good number of hours in Phil Johnson’s house as we put out the newsletter to get participation and funding, and designed our sweat suites – white with red lettering. Phil Johnson, Gary Brown, and I went as the swimmers – swam individually and as a relay team. I think I had to do two legs of the medley relay race, as there were only three of us. I was obese, and doing the butterfly was a struggle. But, we came back home and started the Dallas Gay Swim Club.

               John Thomas

              John Thomas

John Thomas, the well-known and beloved leader of the AIDS Resource Center in Dallas, was known to be somewhat aloof when in groups. I knew him in several environments (Experience Weekend, Turtle Creek Chorale, and in Dallas Gay Alliance activities). One morning in early January of 1986, Buck Massey and I met (as usual) for Saturday morning breakfast at the Olympia, a dive diner on Cedar Springs that had great steak-and-egg breakfasts. When we entered we were startled to see John Thomas stretched out across one of the booth chairs, looking very forlorn and in tears.  We asked if he was okay, and he told us that he had just come from the hospital where one of his closest friends, the well known Dallas chef, Mike Hearn, had just passed away. We were the first two people to see John that morning. I had never seen him so vulnerable. I will never forget that conversation, and that we were allowed to be a listening support for him in that moment. 

In October of 1987 I participated in the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. 

                                                       Antiques Across America  ::  1988

                                                      Antiques Across America  ::  1988

Two friends and I opened a small antique shop in the summer of 1988 on the corner of Throckmorton and Maple, called Antiques Across America. It lasted only until December of 1990. While we had it, we used half the building (originally a small grocery store), as a rented space for groups. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), at its founding, used our space, as did Reed Hunsdorfer and his Razzle Dazzle Dallas committee. We also rented the space on Saturday nights to the first organized Black gay social group for parties. 

In the spring and summer of 1990, I served a short stint with DIVA (The aptly named “Dallas Independent Volleyball Association”). I won the league’s most-improved player award. I also attended the third Gay Games, in Vancouver, during the summer of 1990, as both a swimmer (now with a considerably larger Dallas swimming contingent) and in the mass band, as part of the Oak Lawn Band contingent. We marched in the opening ceremonies and gave a couple of concerts. 

Sometime in 1991 or 1992, inspired by the sight of DIVA members posing as the Dallas team’s ‘cheerleaders’ during the Vancouver games, I took an idea to my friend Ken Jorns, who had been a TCU cheerleader.  He credits me as being one of the two people who inspired him to begin a gay cheerleading group, Cheer Dallas. During the early  years, I observed his building the organization, and I attended a number of their practices/performances. 

In the mid-1990s, I joined and attended Dignity (gay Catholics).  We met at First Unitarian Church, and then at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. For one year I was in charge of the vocal/instrumental music for services.

                Dick Peeples.  -    Roger Kennedy

               Dick Peeples.  -    Roger Kennedy

My close friend Dick Peeples became the chair of Oak Lawn Community Services, and I wanted to volunteer. In the fall of 1997 I became part of a task force on exploring resources for the growing number of aging lesbians and gays. We were under the supervision of board member Vivian Armstrong, who was with Visiting Nurses Association. We reported our findings to the OLCS board. 

On June 26, 2003, I attended the Lawrence vs. Texas celebration rally at the Resource Center, at Reagan and Brown streets. This decision of the United States Supreme Court declared that any state law criminalizing same-sex relations (like Texas Penal Code Sec. 21.06) violates the United States Constitution’s guaranty of privacy and equal protection under the laws. 

In the fall of 2007, I was an original member of Resounding Harmony, a mixed chorus that Tim Seelig started after he left his leadership position with the Turtle Creek Chorale. 

In 2010 I contributed to the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas's project to financially support the new Dean’s Reception area in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU, securing the naming rights for that addition by GLFD. A plaque, presumably still hanging in the reception area, recognizes the GLFD and its donors.