Houston’s leading LGBTQIA historian has just as many stories to tell as those he preserves of others. JD Doyle, a former Pride Houston grand marshal and well-known name in and outside of Montrose, talked to About Magazine about history, Pride, and much more.
(Houston) – As I happened into the dining area of Jenni’s Noodle House in the Heights to meet with our many honorees for About Magazine‘s Pride Edition, I knew I was over an hour late to the photo shoot. Everyone else knew it, as well. Only, there was but person who knew me well enough to actually crack a joke about it at my expense – and one that genuinely made me smile. That person was Houston’s LGBTQIA historian, JD Doyle.
It makes sense that he would comment on my timing. After all, I’d once been late to a lunch with JD and I’m sure other events, as well. But why wouldn’t we expect JD to be conscious of the passing time? After all, he is a historian. Time is his entire job. And when it comes to JD, no one in our community seems to know it better. But he’s more than just the keeper of Houston’s LGBTQIA history. He’s a person, as well. One that came out of the closet, one that has lived through some unpleasant times in LGBTQ history, one that has been revered by his community for his activity within it, and one who continuously keeps a close eye on that community, as well as the ever-changing world around us. Maybe, just maybe, a better word for Doyle would be that he’s an observationalist. An observationalist that isn’t just paying attention, but one that is doing his part to keep the LGBTQIA community of Houston moving forward rather than backward.
About Magazine: You are Houston’s LGBTQ historian. What in your life brought you here and why does the history mean so much to you?
JD Doyle: Thanks for that compliment. I probably got to this point from being a fanatic record collector for almost fifty years. That interest and aptitude for gathering information shifted in recent years and now is focused on Houston and Texas LGBT history. That begat a website and the desire to make our history accessible online on a large scale, which no one had done. If our history is not captured, it will slip away; and if gone we cannot learn from it. And my Texas Obituary Project was something I realized could be done, and was a worthwhile effort, to honor those we have lost.
As you look through and create these archives of times that came before most of us, what is the feeling that comes over you?
Our history and interconnections really interest me. I often tell people, “I just connect the dots,” but I get a real satisfaction knowing I’m creating a resource that people are using, including writers and researchers all over the world. It’s my gift back to the community, and it drives me to do better.
What has your own history been like as a gay man? What is the cultural difference between your time coming out and what it is like now?
I came out rather late, at age 29, in the late ’70s, though I had been internally “processing” it for a number of years. A huge difference is that we were fairly invisible then. There were no role models. We could only see Liberace and Paul Lynde, and I knew I was not like that. So, no one to talk to, relate with, and keeping a big secret is a lot of work. A year after I came out, in Norfolk, I was made editor of the local gay newspaper, so I was on a crash course, and never looked back.
Historically speaking, LGBTQ people seem to be taking steps in the reverse due to politics. As a historian, do you see us repeating parts of history that were dangerous for LGBTQ people of the past and could be to those of the present?
The setbacks are those imposed by the conservatives who want to erode our progress with their every breath. They are, frankly, evil. I don’t believe we are repeating history, we are working harder to stop the erosion, and social media has never been used so effectively, in all progressive causes.
You were a Pride Houston Grand Marshal in the past and are being honored once again this year with the others of the past 40 years. What strides do you think the organization has taken recently to improve? Or on the opposite end, what improvements do you see that need to be made?
Oh, you definitely know I have opinions here. I’ve “watched” Pride Houston closely for a number of years, and it was greatly held back by being under the thumb of a dictator. I accessed it as, well, for throwing a parade, you get a B+; for community relations, you get an F. One friend who moved to town just a couple years ago commented to me, “Gee, people really hate the Pride organization.” That’s more harsh than I would be. People just could easily see that Pride could do so much more. While other organizations can do their own work and the public is not really interested. With Pride, there is a responsibility that people do see it as a community organization, whether they volunteer or not. They take Pride’s decisions (like moving downtown) personally. People care.
With the regime change I am very hopeful and see tremendous improvement. There seems to be a real effort to consider what the community may want. Having a woman, and a black woman at that, as leader is a big step to allowing people to see Pride as more diverse. And Pride has said they want to set up an Advisory Board. I definitely think that would help the public’s view of how Pride is run. It would mean that Pride is trying to at least seek out opinions on issues. What I have not seen yet is an independent audit of the financial end. As a former GM, people talk to me and that always comes up. Oh, and please continue to reach out to queer communities we seldom see: Asian, Muslim, Latin, especially more Black. By making these folks more visible would encourage them to, well, realize they are part of Pride.
One further move is just beginning to be discussed, and I hope it moves forward. That is the idea to eliminate “male” and “female” titles for the Grand Marshals, and make the selection more gender neutral. This is already being done by most major cities, and I believe it is time to do that in Houston.
What does it feel like when you get positives responses to your archival work? Is this where you saw yourself being years ago?
Feedback encourages me to do a better job. That people consider my sites as resources is gratifying. I do this for the community. And I do consider constructive criticisms, and have made changes because of them … like a huge reorganization of the history site a year and a half ago.
What does Pride mean to you?
There are so many current clichés at the moment, and many seem to focus inward. ‘Be yourself’ may sum it up. Be the best you that you can be.
If you could go back and tell your younger self anything that you know now but didn’t then, what would that be?
I could only suggest, as I know how stubborn I can get, that I get more involved in community work decades earlier, and in particular Houston queer history preservation. Just think what I could have “saved” during the 80s and 90s.
You can check out JD Doyle’s extensive collection of history here.