HOUSTON — Long-time Houston gay rights activist Ray Hill died Saturday in hospice care at the age of 78 from complications related to heart disease, according to friends.
The self-described “troublemaker” was one of the well-known faces of the Houston's gay rights movement in the late 1970s through the 1980s.
"He led a movement when there was no movement for gay rights in Houston," former KHOU 11 News reporter Doug Miller said. "There was a time, in our lifetime, when it was dangerous to be a gay man walking around in Montrose. Gay men were beaten, were murdered simply for being gay men. That's the world where Ray Hill emerged as a leader in the gay community."
A young Ray Hill's work began on the streets of the Montrose District where gay Houstonians met and lived.
There were few resources for the city's gay community at the time. Hill stepped forward and made himself available.
"He used to have a calling card, when people had calling cards, and it was, 'Ray Hill, loud-mouthed queer," said documentary filmmaker Travis Johns. "So if you were gay in the 80s, and you were having some trouble, you called Uncle Ray."
Johns has spent the last few years chronicling Hill's life and legacy and will release his feature-length documentary on the advocate in 2019.
"[Hill] would be the person in the room making people uncomfortable," Johns said. "Because comfortable people do not change."
Hill's advocacy was concentrated among three issues: gay rights, prisoner rights and First Amendment rights.
The advocate was reportedly most proud of his First Amendment lawsuit that made it all the way to the Supreme Court, Hill v. Houston.
Hill pushed back against allegedly excessive discretion used by Houston Police Officers.
Former Houston mayor Annise Parker was personally selected by Hill to organize his funeral to be held on the steps of City Hall.
"He said, 'I want three speakers, I want it over in 20 minutes, it cannot be in a church, there cannot be any prayers, there cannot be any hymns,'" Parker said reflecting on one of her final conversations with Hill.
As the city's first openly gay mayor, Parker sees the impact of Houston's gay rights movement from a very personal perspective. She remembers a time when it was not always safe to be gay in Houston.
Parker also remembers the Anita Bryant protests and the marches that resulted in the creation of resources for Houston's gay community. She is one of those who experienced the movement that changed the lives of so many Houstonians forever; pushed along by a self-described "hell raiser."
"We were way ahead of other places in the country that are considered much more progressive than we are," Parker said. "Ray made us what we needed to be sooner and faster. He was always pushing the envelope."
Parker says Hill's funeral arrangements are still being made and anticipates a ceremony on the steps of City Hall in the coming weeks.