The story of the LGBTQ community in the early 20th century is buried deep in Texas history. A first-generation college student and young historian explored these lesser-known past events and early advocates and published his findings in the scholarly article, “Recovering Queer History in Texas: Female Impersonators, Public Opinion, and Policy Responses in the Early Twentieth Century.”
While pursuing his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Gene Alviar dedicated his research to uncover this piece of Texas history. But it was a challenge finding archives of a population that tried to remain in the shadows in this deeply conservative state.
Alviar’s first find was an old black and white flyer of the Wagon Wheel Night Club, a 1930s sanctuary for the LGBTQ community. The flyer has since faded to a yellow tint as it’s slowly deteriorated over the years, but is still visible enough to make out the subject: a man dressed as a woman surrounded by an entourage of performers. It was this discovery that led Alviar to other small triumphs and failures that ultimately became the foundation of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
Strides have been made for the LGBTQ community over the past 20 years. That includes the overturning of the Texas sodomy law and all U.S. sodomy laws in 2003, and the 2015 Supreme Court decision that gave same sex couples the right to marry. In 2019, cities like San Antonio, El Paso, Austin and Dallas passed non-discrimination ordinances for persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
However, the queer population of Texas still has an uphill climb when it comes to civil rights.
No state law exists in Texas that specifically bans discrimination against LGBTQ persons. A failed bathroom bill a few years ago aimed to keep transgender people from using restrooms that reflected the gender with which they identified. Additionally, it’s legal for child welfare organizations to deny services to same-sex couples based on religious belief.
Alviar’s scholarly article, “Recovering Queer History in Texas,” is published at UTSA and he received his Bachelor of Arts in History in December 2019.