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More gays pick Galveston, TX as spot to live and relax

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More gays pick Galveston as spot to live and relax

Visitor's center, church, businesses catering to Isle's growing group


2007 Houston Chronicle

With its laid-back lifestyle and low cost of living, Galveston promises to become the gay tourist mecca and residential center of the South, said activist-publisher Laura Villagran, who earlier this month opened the city's first gay and lesbian visitor's center.

Long known for its vibrant bar scene and raucous Splash Day celebrations, Galveston in recent years has become home to a growing gay and lesbian professional class. Now, real estate agents say, the city is poised to become a retirement haven for graying gays who, like their heterosexual counterparts, succumb to the lure of sun and surf.

In recent years, signs of a growing gay presence have appeared in Galveston, a city of 57,000 that boosters boast couples tolerance with a quirky small-town charm.

Last year, Harbor Metropolitan Community Church, catering to gay worshippers, opened on 39th Street. This year, roughly 8,000 revelers turned out for the summer Splash Day celebration on East Beach and, in October, throngs jammed the Strand for the city's first gay pride festival.

Liberal residents

Now, Villagran's visitor's center, which functions as a travel agency and clearing house for tips on entertainment, real estate, health services and gay-friendly businesses, occupies a prominent spot near the heart of the city's tourist district.

A recent Houston-area survey by Rice University sociology professor and pollster Stephen Klineberg found Galveston residents the region's most liberal on the key issue of gay marriage. Forty-five percent of island participants believed such marriages should be given legal status. Elsewhere in the Houston area, no more than 33 percent agreed, and in Montgomery and Fort Bend counties, the total dropped to about 25 percent.

Lawyer-real estate agent David Bowers experienced such apparent tolerance first-hand when, during his bid for a third term on City Council in 1998, he was denounced in a newspaper advertisement as a homosexual. Bowers, who was running unopposed, was unfazed.

"It was amazing," said Bowers, who later made an unsuccessful bid for mayor. "What was heartening about the whole experience was that many straight families called me in support. They were very concerned that someone in Galveston would run that ad. The whole community was embarrassed."

'Couldn't afford prejudice'

Curtiss Brown, a longtime Galveston political observer who has lived on the island more than three decades, suggested that scrutinizing the island through a prism of gay life is "putting a magnifying glass on an elephant."

"It's more broad than that," he said, arguing that the city's history as an immigration port and its devastating 1900 hurricane contributed to a far-reaching tolerance. "We learned that we just couldn't afford prejudice."

Although anti-gay sentiment occasionally has surfaced — in 1999 a Houston minister led a protest at a newly opened gay beachfront motel — gay-straight relations in the city generally have been harmonious.

OutSmart magazine editor Tim Brookover, a Galveston native, observed that the island city long has had a gay presence, "but people didn't recognize it or talk openly about it."

Villagran said people increasingly "are coming out of the closet, so to speak, and choosing to live openly as gays."

"As time has gone by, as history has played out, there's been much less stigma," said Trey Click, editor and publisher of The Parrot, an island entertainment monthly. "People have recognized that it's not — oh my God! — the gays have come to ruin the world. During the last 10 years, there's been a big increase in gay-owned property."

Real estate sales up

Phil DeMarco, owner of the gay-oriented Lost Bayou Guesthouse, noted that at least four other homes within two blocks of his bed and breakfast are owned by gays. And real estate agent V.J. Tramonte confirmed that sales to gays and lesbians have speeded up in the past two or three years.

Bowers, who currently works as a real estate agent, placed the city's gay population at 10 percent.

Gay real estate agent Eldredge Langlinais, a former Houston resident who also owns the Pink Dolphin Bar and heads the gay Krewe of Banner Mardi Gras group, said many gays are attracted by the city's large stock of older homes. And, as many are childless, he said, they have the financial resources to restore more derelict properties.

"I first bought a weekend cottage in 1978," he said. "When I crossed the causeway — the ambience, the different look, the palm trees, the older houses and, of course, the water — I'd know immediately that I was somewhere else."


"Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: Those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave."

"...for the system to be credible, people actually have to be deported at the end of the process."

US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX)

Testimony to the House Immigration Subcommittee, February 24, 1995

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Gays raise the property value. They always keep a tidy house (the ones I know at least).

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies."

Senator Barack Obama
Senate Floor Speech on Public Debt
March 16, 2006


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