April 12, 1953: “The Waco Bride” – 63 Men Arrested At “Homosexual Convention” In Waco, Texas

The Waco Bride

 

April 12, 1953:

A well-planned raid early Sunday morning broke up a statewide “homosexual convention” while a mock wedding was in progress, police reported Monday. Detective Capt. Wiley Stem said 63 men, mostly ranging in ages from 24 to 33 were arrested in the raid of a two-room private residence in South Waco.

Fifteen detectives, a Texas Ranger, and a district attorney working with information furnished by undercover agents, closed in on the small house as the “bride” and “groom” were going through the mock ceremony before 60 invited guests. Police said some of the “guests” had come from as far away as New York, Virginia and California.

Other “guests” were registered from Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, Fort Hood, and Connally Air Force Base just north of Waco. Police said all had received “invitations” to the affair. – The Waco Citizen.

To call what occurred an “interstate convention” would be quite a stretch.  The men, mostly local gathered in a small cottage on La Salle Street in South Waco.  It is not clear what the primary purpose of the gathering was, but at some point, whether planned as the centerpiece of the event or not, two men attempted to hold a marriage ceremony.  It was to resemble a traditional wedding, with the “bride,” Tommy Gene Brown (pictured above), donning drag. (And a white wedding dress no less, as if she was a virgin) But vows were never exchanged. Two detectives, two vice squad men, one Texas Ranger, and an assistant district attorney surrounded the cottage before the wedding occurred. After realizing they could not handle the raid themselves, they called for backup. In total, 17 law enforcement officers descended on the cottage to bring an end to the “immorality” taking place behind the walls

The Associated Press put the number arrested at 64. Some men reportedly chanted “Long live the queens!” on the way to jail..  One guest from Ft. Worth was charged with possession of marijuana, and others were charged with vagrancy — they posted $25 bonds (that’s about $220 in today’s money) and were released.  The Waco Citizen, a twice-weekly neighborhood paper named names and since it was 1953 many of those who attended lives were ruined.

And what happened to Tommy Gene Brown, the “Waco Bride”?

Dallas LGBT community leader and historian Phil Johnson did some investigative reporting and published a followup in a 1989 issue of This Week in Texas:

As for Tommy Gene, she held her head up high and went on to live a productive, colorful life.In 1959, Tommy Gene and her lover Fred–whom she met in Dallas–left Texas for San Francisco where they lived happily forever after. Fred worked and Tommy Gene kept house. That’s the way Fred and Tommy Gene wanted it.

In San Francisco, Tommy Gene became involved in one of America’s first gay organizations, the Society for Individual Rights (SIR).

Here she helped with the dances and costumes for gay productions of “The Boy Friend,” “Pal Joey,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “The Wizard of Oz.” As a child, Tommy Gene’s favorite fantasy was to be like Shirley Temple, so friends at SIR called her Shirley, and the name stuck.

Under the Imperial Court System, “Shirley” won the title of “Empress III Shirley,” after which she refused to appear in public without drag. She passed away in 1989.

Lets all raise a wedding  toast to the “Waco Bride”and to remembering  our history.   “Long live the queens!”

Sources:  Box Turtle Bulletin and The Daily Kos

 

 

 

 

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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