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THE FINAL DEFEAT OF HOUSTON'S CROSS-DRESSING ORDINANCE

Section 28-42.4 of the city's Code of Ordinances, which prohibited "a person from appearing in public dressed with the intent to disguise his or her sex as that of the opposite sex." was long used by police to arrest and harass members of the LGBT community. The first major challenge the ordinance received was in 1967. After being arrested for wearing fly-front pants lesbian bar owner Rita Wanstrom and a group of patrons went to court and were acquitted.

The ordinance was also used to arrest female impersonators either not on stage or in transit to a dressing room, and to target female transsexuals. In 1972 Richard Anthony Mayes, known as Toni, became the poster-child of those being prosecuted under the law. As she was in the process of transitioning, she had been directed to wear women's clothing for several months prior to surgery. The police did not care about the circumstances, and arrested her many times, including once on the steps of the police station as she was being released from a prior arrest.

Mayes fought back; filing a lawsuit, which lost in appeal, and went to the Supreme Court in 1974. By that time Mayes had already undergone surgery and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In 1977 Phyllis Frye picked up the baton when she began her transition. She lobbied City Council members for the repeal through phone calls, letters and visits. For several years she also gave lectures at the city's colleges and other forums to increase awareness of cross-dressing and transgender issues in general.

In 1979, Frye established a friendship with a new councilman and began to volunteer in his office where she made quick friends among other important city figures. Her allies maneuvered a vote to repeal the ordinance on
August 12, 1980. The vote was taken when the mayor and another opponent were out of town and two others were on the phone. With council rules stating that the votes of absent and non-voting council member s count in favor of the ordinance, the motion passed with only one no vote.

Phyllis' work resulted in the ordinance being repealed, and it remains off the books.

Link to Toni Mayes Obituary and Additional Information
Phyllis Frye Website