By Nancy Ford
With the passage of “Tax Day”, April 15, the partnership between Kindred Spirits Foundation and the Montrose Center became official. The Center is now responsible for all functions and fundraising activities of the longtime Houston lesbian nightclub-turned-charitable organization.
Marion Coleman owned and operated Kindred Spirits in Houston throughout the 1980s to provide a safe, clean, welcoming place where gay women and their friends could dance, drink and feel at ease with who they were.
“February 14, 1980 is when we had our grand opening of our nightclub at 5425 Buffalo Speedway,” Coleman recalls.
More than 700 guests attended that night; the line of women waiting to join the fun wrapped around the building.
“They were in awe of their surroundings; they couldn’t believe what they were looking at,” Coleman says. The club’s attractive, two-tier design, as well as its comfortable chairs, raised dance floor and neon art illuminating the walls made Kindred Spirits an anomaly among the standard profile of most gay or lesbian bars.
Coleman says she immediately knew the kicked-up concept had captured lesbian lightening in a bottle.
“I felt right away that I had made the right decision in establishing a venue for women. What made me realize that was the volume of women who came to support us—the happiness, the smiles—all the women who had never seen and never met each other before. I knew that there would be new friendships and relationships form, and lots of love. And the important thing to me was that they could display it openly and feel like it was a second home.”
Within a few years the club moved to a larger location at 4902 Richmond Avenue to accommodate its growing clientele. As the 1980s continued, HIV/AIDS changed the face of the party atmosphere in the men’s community, and the women of Kindred Spirits stepped up to respond to the growing health crisis.
“Jerry Kauffman (Briar Patch), Andy Mills (Mary’s, Naturally) and Walter Strickler (The Barn) shared with me that there was a major health issue affecting the men in our community, and that number was growing.” Coleman says. “We knew then that we
needed to raise necessary funds, especially to help with medications and living expenses.”
In addition to hosting countless benefits shows, Kindred Spirits also organized a blood drive, donating nearly 500 pints of blood for those in need.
“That was a very difficult time for us all,” Coleman says quietly, the sadness of that era lingering in her voice.
Her nightclub closed in 1990, but was reborn in 2000 due to popular demand of its former patrons as an annual fundraising dance. These reunions morphed into a 501(c)(3) organization in 2009, Kindred Spirits Foundation, which has raised nearly $300,000 to support valuable women’s service with its annual dance, golf tournaments and holiday parties.
After devoting nearly 50 years of her life to Kindred Spirits, Coleman, the foundation’s only president, decided to make a change.
“I turned to my dear friend, Ann Robison, executive director of the Montrose Center. The Center’s board unanimously agreed to accept our foundation under their nonprofit status,” Coleman, one of the original founders of the Center, says.
“We are honored that Marion and the Kindred Spirits board place their trust in us,”Ann Robison, executive director of the Montrose Center, said in a previous statement to the press. “We are committed to keep Kindred Spirits moving forward and to ensure that the funds raised continue to improve the lives of women in Houston.”
Kindred Spirits’ summer dance will continue under the auspices of the Center and is scheduled Saturday, August 26, 7 p.m. until midnight at the SPJST Hall. Proceeds from the annual dance will benefit the Center’s women’s programs—AssistHers, SPRY’s (Seniors Preparing for Rainbow Years) women’s programming and LHI (Lesbian Health Initiative–Houston)—per Kindred Spirits Foundation’s original mission.
The traditional July kick-off event that raises funds to produce the party will be held at the Montrose Center “for those who want to secure reserved tables for the August dance,” Coleman says.
Coleman adds that she is confident that the legacy of Kindred Spirits will continue in the capable hands of the Montrose Center.
“Hopefully Kindred Spirits will stay under the umbrella of the Montrose Center, and continue to raise the moneys necessary to continue supporting our women’s programs,”she says, envisioning the future of the dream she originally envisioned in 1980. “That’s so important. That’s what I want to see. Because the Montrose Center can raise so much more money than we could ever raise—they have the means to do it.
“Ann (Robison) promised me that she would keep the history of Kindred Spirits alive,” Coleman concludes. “And that’s important.”
Montrose Center is located at 401 Branard Street in Houston. For more information,
visit www.montrosecenter.org or call 713.529.0037.