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, Texas
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 the 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 printed all the names of those arrested and since it was 1953 many of men’s 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 follow-up 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, and quite colorful life. In 1959, Tommy Gene and his lover Fred–whom he 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 he 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, Gene aka.”Shirley” won the title of “Empress III Shirley,” after which she refused to appear in public without drag.
Tommy Gene Brown who started as a bride and ended up an Empress passed away in 1989.
Lets all raise a wedding toast to the “Waco Bride”and to remembering our history. “Long live the queens!”