Houston Matters

Houston Civil Rights Activist Ray Hill Dies

Hill was known for his work fighting for gay rights and criminal justice reform.

Counter protestor Justin Conry, left, and Ray Hill, right, try to shout each other down during a rally outside Houston’s City Hall Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Dallas, Houston and Austin on Thursday as cities around Texas joined the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations demanding an end to corruption in politics and business.

Houston civil rights activist Ray Hill died of heart failure on Saturday at the age of 78.

Hill was known for his work fighting for gay rights and criminal justice reform. He was the subject of the 2015 documentary The Trouble with Ray.  

“He had this eclectic, odd group of issues that didn’t seem to intersect on the surface, but they really did,” Ann Robison, the Executive Director for the Montrose Center, told Houston Matters. “He definitely was involved in Town Hall One in 1977 where a lot of the organizations that we have now have come out of. So in that sense he had a little hand in everything.”

Organizations like the Montrose Center and the Montrose Clinic emerged after the Town Hall One forum

“I see him as ever-present. He was everywhere that things were happening. If there was a protest march he was either organizing it or he was in the middle of it or he was speaking. You never saw something going on in the community that he wasn’t somehow involved with,” Robison said.

Jack Valinski, the producer of Queer Voices on KPFT, echoed this sentiment on Houston Matters. “In sort of a way Ray was like a farmer, he planted seeds, and so many in the community talked about their experiences with Ray,” Valinski said. “Ray didn’t have an entourage.  Ray was somewhat a loner. He’d get you going on things, or he’d suggest you do things; it’s like how he handed over the radio show, or Pride, or probably more importantly the [Houston Gay Political] Caucus mailing list.”

In June, Hill spoke on Houston Matters on the history of Pride celebrations and landmark Supreme Court cases he was involved with.

“The theory of Pride Week actually and the theory of activism comes from Malcom X,” he said. ‘Malcom X didn’t care much about what white people thought about black people, he only cared what black people thought about black people. And that’s what we do there. We feed our own people to have the courage and the sense of integrity and sense of being.”

Hill was in hospice care when he passed away. Shortly after Hill’s passing, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner released a statement.

“Fighting for gay rights, human rights, criminal justice reforms, Ray was on the front line and helped pave the way for many others to follow. He was authentic, committed and respected,” Turner said in the statement. “Ray had a heart for justice, equality and acceptance for decades, and he followed his heart into the streets, courtrooms, city council chambers, legislative hearing rooms, jails, prisons and radio stations of our city and state, advocating for his causes well before they became popular.”

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