Houston Pride: This is how it all began

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As Houston celebrates LGBTQ Pride Month, local activists are reminding revelers of the city's complicated history with gay rights.

It's been 50 years this month since police raided the historic Stonewall Inn in Lower Manhattan.

Protests and riots led to the modern day gay rights movement, and nearly 1,500 miles away, Houston has its own version.

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The place opened in 1969 and was called "Mary's Naturally."

"Not so much Mary's Naturally, as the Houston Stonewall Inn," explained Judy Reeves. "I felt comfortable there. I was there with the motorcycle crowd, the leather crowd, the Levi crowd. I was there with the drag queens, and I was always accepted and welcomed."

Reeves and her friend Skip Willett were both regulars at Mary's back in the 80s.

"It brings back happy times and it brings back sad ones," Willett explained.

Back then, police raids at gay bars were common.

"They would walk into the door and detain everybody and ID everybody," Reeves explained. "Back then, most people weren't out. So they even listed the names of people they found in the bar in the newspaper."

Protests against those raids led to the creation of LGBT advocacy groups and HIV prevention clinics in Houston.

They also brought our city's first Pride celebrations.

"The floats would stop and pay homage to Mary's," Reeves said.

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When Mary's finally closed in 2009, the building became a trendy coffee shop and the trees behind it were cut down.

But paving over the past doesn't erase it. Both Reeves and Willett remember burying urns and ashes behind Mary's.

"There was no place to go. A lot of people had died. They literally lost their apartments. They lost everything they had. We couldn't get them into the hospitals because hospitals wouldn't accept them, and funeral homes wouldn't come get them," Willett said. "It never gets easy. You just learn to live with it."

You can see the original bar tops from Mary's at the Contemporary Arts Museum now through July 28.

Watch the live stream of the Houston Pride Parade on ABC13.com on June 22 at 8:00 p.m.

Follow Pooja Lodhia on Facebook and Twitter.

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