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THE TUMBLEBUGS FORM TO FIGHT CROSS-DRESSING ORDINANCE

By the mid 1800s, laws against dressing to "disguise one's sex" were in place throughout the United States. During the 1960s women's slacks became more fashionable, but the Houston police still used the so-called "cross-dressing law" as an excuse to raid LGBT bars.

Many of the clubs that catered to gay men required women to wear skirts, or to turn their jeans backward, as "fly front" pants were considered to be masculine dress. Rita Wanstrom saw this as harassment and decided to do something. On June 23, 1967, she opened her bar, The Roaring 60s. It was the premiere lesbian bar in Houston at the time.

On August 5th, the Roaring 60s was raided and 35 women arrested. Rita, also known as Pappa Bear, paid everyone's fines and hired a band to help reopen the bar. The club was raided again two days before New Year's Eve. Eleven women, including Rita, were arrested. This time, they decided to go to court.

With Rita in the lead, the women worked to raise money to hire a lawyer. They called themselves The Tumblebugs, after the hard-working beetle that takes many a fall but keeps getting up and going on.

They threw benefits, sold sweatshirts, and raised enough money to hire famed trial lawyer Percy Foreman.

The case was on the docket four different times. The vice squad officers involved failed to appear each time. On July 26, 1968, the case was dismissed. A disappointed Foreman said he had been hoping the trial would be held during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. "I would have subpoenaed women dressed in cowboy clothes," he said.

The first organized opposition to Houston's cross-dressing law was a success, but complete reversal of the laws regarding cross-dressing would not occur until 1980.