Roger Kennedy -- Witness to 43 Years of Dallas Gay History

                   Roger L. ("Scott") Kennedy

                  Roger L. ("Scott") Kennedy

After graduating from SMU in 1973, I enrolled in law school at SMU, but after the first year could not afford to stay. I moved back into my parents’ home in Topeka, Kansas and continued at Washburn University Law School. I still remember slouching down in the dark Jayhawk Theatre in 1974 to see Boys in the Band. I would occasionally take a bus to Kansas City for a weekend of ‘coming out’ in the bars. There was also one gay bar in North Topeka, near the river, called The Other Side. We were instructed to park our cars by backing tightly against the building so that sheriff deputies could not record our license plates (Kansas doesn’t have front license plates). 

In the fall of 1975, two college roommates, Ronald Harris and Frank Stotts, invited me to come down to Dallas by train and spend a month with them for a ‘trial run’ of my moving back to Dallas. During this trip I twice visited the original Old Plantation on Rawlins Street in Oak Lawn, before it burned to the ground. (by the time I returned to Dallas permanently, the “OP” had moved to Denton Drive Cutoff near Maple and Inwood, and later moved to Harwood Street near downtown). In March,’76, I packed up my car and moved back to Dallas, where I spent my first ten days in a rented room in the Downtown YMCA on Elm Street. I then moved into my own efficiency in the Saracen Apartments at Hall and Carlisle Streets. 

 Frank Stotts (left) and Roger Kennedy (right)

Frank Stotts (left) and Roger Kennedy (right)

In the summer of 1976 I attended what I believe to be the first ever gay rally in Dallas. It was in Exall Park near Baylor Hospital – also near two early bars, the Villa Fontana (oldest operating gay bar in the US until it closed years later) and the Fontainebleau. I can still hear the newly-released Frampton Comes Alive blaring from the loudspeakers on stage. I don’t recall an organized theme, merely a procession of speakers. In the fall of ’76, I joined OLTA – Oak Lawn Tennis Association - which played at Samuell Grand Park.

That same summer I first visited the Metropolitan Community Church (“MCC”) at Reagan and Brown, which at that time was only six years old. I believe Rev. Don Eastman was still there. Other than a few bars, Union Jack Clothing Store, and Crossroads Market, there was not much in the way of a gay community. I have attended the MCC and its successor, Cathedral of Hope, off and on over the ensuing 42 years. Today I am an active member of Legacy, the COH group for those over fifty years of age. 

During these early years I remember several diversions. One was late nights at the Lucas B&B diner at Oak Lawn and Bowser. (in the current location of the Pappadeaux’s parking lot). After hours you could see the drag shows move from the bars to the diner. Secondly, on Sunday evenings I would walk with others to the Old Plantation, by this time Harwood Street, to sit on the floor and watch the legendary Jan Russell and his drag shows. He gave many new drag queens their start, among them Lady Shawn, Jimmy Dee, Alan Allison, Michael Andrews (the first Miss Gay America I believe), and Deva Sanchez, Occasionally, several of us would drive to the nude beach at Lake Dallas in Lewisville, and a couple of times to Hippie Hollow, the nude beach at Lake Travis outside of Austin. Finally, around the quadrant of Sale – Hood – Dickinson – Gillespie Streets, there was slow driving around ‘The Cruise Route’. I believe there are still a couple of now- meaningless no-turn signs to try to break up the repeated loops around that block by cars which slowed traffic.

                 DGPC Retreat 1977:   Don Baker, Dick Peeples, Louise Young, Steve Wilkins, Jerry Ward

                DGPC Retreat 1977:   Don Baker, Dick Peeples, Louise Young, Steve Wilkins, Jerry Ward

In early 1977, I got a part time waiter job at the newly-opened Bell Pepper gay restaurant on Lemmon at McKinney. It was a Denny’s-looking building that had previously been an Indian restaurant – The Raja, I believe. The Bell Pepper was owned by a couple named Dennis and Suzanne. All spring and summer the juke box played Liza Minelli’s New York, New York. One night a week I waited on the group that was in the process of founding the Dallas Gay Political Caucus (“DGPC”), the first Dallas gay political organization. I remember them in the circular booth: Dick Peeples, Don Baker, Loise Young, Steve Wilkins, and Jerry Ward. I continued working there a few months longer when it moved two blocks away to McKinney Avenue. 

In October ’78, my new boss, Ted Eidson, suggested that I watch a documentary film in theaters  entitled Word is Out.  I watched it twice, fascinated that people were being so public and honest in coming out and telling their stories. I was particularly impressed by a woman named Del Martin (one of the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, along with her partner Phyllis Lyon). 

In the summer of 1980, a friend asked for a reference for some counselling. I had heard of a man named Howie Daire who had had co-founded the new Oak Lawn Counseling Center, with his professional partner, Candy Marcum. It was on the second floor of the Esquire Theater, on the west side of Oak Lawn Avenue, between Lemmon and Maple. They would later move to a stone house on Fairmount, with Tyge Lancaster. In the summer of 1986 I was one of those with Howie at his house during the final hours before he passed away. 

In 1981 I attended one of the very first Lakewood Social Club functions, begun by Jere Hinckley. In the early days the functions were more like high teas, with programs. Toward the end of the afternoon, he would bring out his mother, who was in her 90’s, to greet the attendees. The name came from the fact that Jere’s house was on Lakewood Avenue. I have been in and out of LSC over the years, and currently I’m a regular attendee. The group is more of an informal potluck these days. As I remember it described early on, it was formed as sort of a ‘poor man’s’ version of the more upscale OLETA, Airliners, and ARETE dinner clubs. 

 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 during the first season, I joined the Turtle Creek Chorale in January, 1982, during the second season. In 1995 John Thomas presented me with a letter designating me, not as a founding member, but as a charter member. I still feel a sense of pride, which many young people wouldn’t fully understand, that we ‘faced the music’ in the often unfriendly environment of Dallas in the 1980’s. I had three different periods of involvement in the TCC, the final one ending around 2000. In 2015 I participated in the 35threunion weekend and concert, during which our former artistic director, Dr. Timothy Seelig, returned to direct us. 

My membership in the TCC had the effect of pulling me into another arts organization. TCC cofounder Don Essmiller, also music minister at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, asked me to play cornet in his church brass choir. This led me to discover the three-year-old Oak Lawn Band, and I played with them for a couple of years. In 1990, in preparation for the Vancouver Gay Games, I returned to the band, under the directorship of Cathy Brown. We travelled and fundraised in order to be able to march in the Games’ opening ceremony and play in the mass band concert. 

 Mike Grossman and Roger Kennedy

Mike Grossman and Roger Kennedy

I participated in the second Experience Weekend in December, 1982. This was a self-discovery workshop done in Dallas (and other cities), led by the late David Goodstein (owner of The Advocate magazine) and the late Rob Eichberg (cofounder of Coming Out Day). It was there that I met and became friends with Mike Grossman and George Amerson, among numerous others. Over the next five years I was very involved with this organization, becoming the logistics team coordinator in 1985. The workshop ended in Dallas in 1987, but when it returned in 1992, I was on the coordinating/organizing team, also enrolling several of my friends. 

Sometime in the early 1980’s, Razzle Dazzle Dallas was started. My friend Buck Massey and I became volunteers for several years – worker bees. I really enjoyed seeing this event grow over the years, as well as the varying locations in which it was held. 

In the spring of 1983, nine of us – six Latinos and three Anglos – founded the first gay Hispanic organization in Dallas. We were under the auspices of the Dallas Gay Alliance (now known as the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance). As a sub-org of the Social Justice Committee of the DGA, our name became the Gay Hispanic Coalition of the Dallas Gay Alliance

 The infamous "open-toed shoe"

The infamous "open-toed shoe"

I was so taken by our experience with the DGA (as well as observing my friend Buck Massey’s tenure on the DGA board), that I became a member of Melody Alexander’s Social Justice Committee from around 1983-85. My most memorable activity was being part of the team that visited local bars (mostly Frank Caven’s) and questioning them about their practice of ‘triple-carding’ IDs of Black and Hispanic men. They were also turning women away for wearing open-toed shoes – their ‘position’ being that the women could be cut by the glass on the floor, even though men were allowed to wear sandals or flip-flops. Pressure from the Social Justice Committee and the public ended these discriminatory practices. 

Around 1985, I assisted in setting up the Nelson-Tebedo Food Pantry in support of persons with HIV/AIDS who had insufficient resources to obtain to obtain nutritious meals. In the late 90’s, as my best friend was battling AIDs, I periodically accompanied him to the AIDS Resource Center’s lunch program. 

 Gay Games 1986  ::  Roger Kennedy in the rear.  Phil Johnson on the right.

Gay Games 1986  ::  Roger Kennedy in the rear.  Phil Johnson on the right.

No one from Dallas participated in the first Gay Games in 1982. In the summer of 1986, there were elven of us who went to San Francisco for the second Gay Games – three swimmers, a couple of tennis players, three runners, and three basketball players. I served on the Dallas committee, spending many hours in the home of Phil Johnson as we put together the newsletter, planned fundraising, and designed our team sweat suits – white with red lettering. Phil, Gary Brown, and I went as the swimmers – swam individually and as a relay team. Being only three of us, I did two of the four legs, struggling with the butterfly as I was quite overweight.  The three of us came back and founded the Dallas Gay Swim Club. I stayed with that organization for the next seven years. 

 John Thomas

John Thomas

John Thomas, well-known and beloved leader of the AIDS Resource Center in Dallas, could be a bit aloof in groups. I knew him in several environments – Experience Weekend, Turtle Creek Chorale, and Dallas Gay Alliance activities. One morning in early January of 1986, Buck Massey and I made our usual early-Saturday-morning trip to The Olympia, a diner on Cedar Springs that had great steak-and-egg breakfasts. We were startled to walk in and see John stretched across one of the booth seats, forlorn and in tears. Neither of us had ever seen him like this. He had just come from the hospital where one of his closest friends, the well-known Dallas chef Mike Hearn, had passed away. Buck and I were the first two people to see John that morning. I will never forget his vulnerability and trust in us as he shared his feelings. 

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

 Antiques Across America. --  1988

Antiques Across America. --  1988

Three of us opened a small antique shop in the summer of 1988 at the corner of Throckmorton and Maple, called Antiques Across America. We had a predominantly gay/lesbian clientele, but the business lasted only until December of 1990. While it was open, we used half the building (originally a small grocery store) as a rental space for groups. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) at its founding used our space for meetings, as did Reed Hunsdorfer and his Razzle Dazzle Dallas organizing committee. We also rented out the space on several Saturday nights to the first organized Black gay social group.

In the spring and summer of 1990, I played in DIVA (Dallas Independent Volleyball Association). I was given the ‘most improved player’ award that summer. I also attended the third Gay Games, in Vancouver, late that same summer. I was both a swimmer (now with a larger number of swimmers) and in the mass band, with the rest of the Oak Lawn Band contingent – we marched in the opening ceremony and gave a couple of mass band concerts. 

Some time in 1991 or 1992, inspired by the DIVA members who acted as Team Dallas’ ‘cheerleaders’ in Vancouver, I took the idea to my friend Ken Jorns. He credits me as one of two people who inspired him to start a gay cheerleading group, Cheer Dallas. During the group’s early years, I observed his building the organization and attended a number of practices and performances. 

In 1991 I began attending Dignity services (gay Catholics) and stayed several years. This group first met at First Unitarian Church and then moved to St. Thomas Episcopal Church. For one year I was in charge of the vocal/instrumental music for services.

 Dick Peeples (left) and Roger Kennedy (right)

Dick Peeples (left) and Roger Kennedy (right)

My good 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 gay men. We were under the supervision of board member Vivian Armstrong. We reported our findings to the board in February of 1998.

On June 25, 2003, I attended the Lawrence vs. Texas celebration rally at the Resource Center, at Regan and Brown Streets. The decision of the United States Supreme Court declared that any state law criminalizing same-sex relations (such as Texas Penal Code Sec. 21.06) violates the United States Constitution’s guaranty of privacy and equal protection under the law. 

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

In the mid-2000's I spent a couple of years on the Cathedral of Hope's Social Justice Committee.  I joined specifically to be part of COH's Sandbranch Water Project.  This unincorporated area near Wilmer Hutchins, with predominantly African-American families, had no water service, despite being in view of a large Dallas water treatment plant, merely because it ws on the wrong side of the road. We were part of a group of several churches that took turns providing water for them while also supporting advocates who were appealing to the Dallas County Commissioners Court to remedy the situation.

Finally, in 2010 I was one of those from GLFD (Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas) that secured the naming rights to the new Dean’s Reception Area in SMU’s Simmons School of Education. A plaque, presumably still hanging there, recognizes the GLFD and its donors.