March 19, 2014.
There is more to the story, and having lived in Houston for 37 years, I know most of it.
Charles Botts started collecting gay books back in the 1970s.
By 1980, his house was full. He was a member of RMCC, and asked them if they would let him create a gay/religious library. At the time, they were quite willing. I remember that it lined the walls of the board room, at one community meeting I attended, I kept looking at all the books. It was vast.
People started asking if they could give archival materials to him, and he said yes. He was the closest thing to an archives at the time. He inherited a Texas gay archives from someone who gave it to the owner of Wilde N Stein Books. When he went out of business, he asked if the archives could go to Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church [RMCC], and Charles said yes.
Even as early as 1992, Charles knew things were getting too big, and wanted to get an independent location. RMCC was looking for a new facility, but took ten years to find one, so he was never ‘forced’ to find a new home. In 1995, he died of AIDS.
He left all the books, archives, and $50,000 from the sale of his townhouse to “the RMCC library.” Probate court said there was no legal entity with that name, so everyone agreed to change the will by court order to RMCC, with the understanding that it was just for the purpose of getting the money to the library/archives.
Charles’ brother gave the money to the church, and said he wouldn’t put restrictions on it but did ask they include protecting the archives in their mission statement, which they promptly did.
He indicated later that it had been his wish that RMCC would take the money and hire a development person to build a donor base and find a permanent home. Instead, the church shut the archive office door and it became a closet — no one kept up with things at all.
Then, in 2000, they wanted to move to a new facility.
The board wrote Ralph Lasher, who had been pastor when Charles was there, about the whole thing. Lasher wrote back and explained what I just did. All the board wanted was to know they “owned” the archives, and they used the $50,000 for the downpayment for the new church.
They gutted the shower room (they bought a church campus) and stuck everything in there. There was no a/c, no humidity control, no nothing.
Enter Larry Crisione and two volunteers.
Larry put up shelving and got things arranged — bought a portable a/c so the volunteers could work during the week — and started indexing everything. He did have porn, but it was a minor part of the collection and under tight control.
Things hummed along until 2008, when I happened to visit there for the first time, researching the history of the Diana Foundation.
I heard they had a Gay Monopoly game that had a Diana card. Sure enough, they did. They dug out their Diana material, which I wasn’t impressed with at first — old programs I already had, etc. Then my jaw dropped. They had the working folder dating back to 1964 of Charles Hebert, the driving force behind the Dianas. It ended in 1987, when he was murdered. I was stunned, reading the scripts from 1964 on.
Larry began to explain how badly the church treated him.
For example, a donor gave him money for a wireless Internet connection. When the church found out he was going to install it, they said he had to put it in their main office and they would wifi it to him. It didn’t pierce the wall, but they didn’t care. So I asked the Dianas to give Botts a donation to put in the Internet through direct wiring.
I did another history — of Legacy Health Services — and once again, Larry and crew provided me with files of papers back to the very beginning: 1978.
I felt they needed money to grow, so I got a volunteer lawyer to help them with a 501(c)(3). GCAM had become impossible — ten storage rooms and nothing indexed — so Botts was a treasure trove to me.
Then, at the beginning of 2011, Larry said the board was hinting they might have to start charging him rent. I kept thinking about that $50,000 they just appropriated for the downpayment.
In the summer of 2011, I got the news that the church was selling the archive. I couldn’t believe it. The letter of the law said the church owned it, but that was never the spirit of the law. So many people, including me, had donated to the archives believing it was a community archive. A group of five of us went to talk to the board. They kept going on and on about how they wanted a “water ministry” — showers for homeless. When they had a priceless archive in their facility and never gave jack about it.
One day, he came in and the archive was re-keyed. After a couple months, they let the volunteers in, but Larry couldn’t be there without a staff member from the church present.
They were shopping around to universities, but having no luck.
One night the board president came a meeting of ARCH (an umbrella group that all GLBT preservation efforts belong to). She was eaten alive, and never came back. But Judy Reeves, of the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum [GCAM], was taking all this in.
It was a stalemate until the summer of 2012. Suddenly, an announcement was made that the archive had been sold to an anonymous buyer for an undisclosed amount of money, and that Judy Reeves would be the official representative. She predicted a research library would be open in early 2013. Instead, it just disappeared, and I know of at least six researchers who tried to access the collection and were told no.
It was pretty obvious to me that Judy had done a backroom deal with the board. Jimmy Carper was his bosom buddy, and her rich lover had died and left Jimmy a house and money. I finally discovered he was the mystery buyer.
The church had stipulations to whoever bought it: 1) retain it as a separate collection, 2) retain the name Botts, and 3) open it to public for research.
But the old crew didn’t just walk away. They started over with new donations of materials constantly coming in and rented space over Grace Church.
Judy sent the crew a cease and desist order about the name, and they sort of told her to go to hell.
So now we have three archives.
I’ve always seen a big difference—GCAM is massive but not indexed—Botts is small, but highly indexed.
That folder of old Diana stuff went with the sale, so the Dianas stopped any further contributions to GCAM. Even though they claim the Botts Research Library has nothing to do with them. Although they did allow it to be stored in a facility that Jimmy was working on when he died—two apartments made into a large area for GCAM and Botts Research.
I was so furious when the sale happened, I posted four things to Facebook which basically called the church, the pastor, and Judy Reeves thieves. Also the lawyer who handled the sale. He ended up suing me for a million dollars for slander. I found a good attorney, who had him so scared he came begging. He dropped the suit. My attorney was just pissed that he was using the justice system to punish me for speaking out.
There was an uproar for a few days on Facebook, and that was it. Short shelf life.
So we went from two archives, to three.
And the church, in my estimation, were total thieves. They didn’t “own” that collection–but they had the legal papers that said they did, and this provided them leverage to drain the archive, first of $50,000 and second of the selling price of community property.
Charles would be horrified if he knew what happened to his collection.
After the lawsuit, I stopped barking. Every “friend” in the community I had deserted me. So I got bitter and thought: Fuck it.
On the more positive side, this ad appeared in the February issue of OutSmart. I don’t know any details except that the money will go into a trust. Pride Houston will raise money, but it has no intention of heading up the development.
Just for the hell of it, I put together this Powerpoint. Based simply on my blue-sky dreams of what a museum should be. And hope that someday someone with great passion and the ability to develop will come forward and take it on. I decided it was better to go for the gold, instead of a dinky storefront. It may end up there, but I figure big donors will give to something professional before they will to a converted ramshackle old storefront somewhere. The recent “banner project” excited people about our history, so I thought this was a good time to toss an idea out there. It at least gives people something to chew on.
The Powerpoint is just my own independent thoughts, backed by no individual or organization.
Personally, I think the only way we will get a museum is to build one, and hopefully the archives will want to put their stuff there. Sort of “our place, your material.” It will take a skilled, seasoned development person to raise the kind of money needed for a museum. And not just a museum — a museum designed with today’s world in mind — and also Houston’s location as a hurricane venue.
And that’s the story of the archives. None of what I wrote is personal opinion or hearsay. I have copies of legal documents and letters to back up every claim I’ve made.
I still think RMCC deserves some sort of award for scrapping the bottom of the gutter. History isn’t for sale.