When George Harris and Jack Evans became the first couple to legally marry in Dallas County, they had already been together 54 years. That day in 2015, Dallas was the largest metropolitan area in the country to gain marriage equality, and a photo of the couple applying for their marriage license in the County Records Building was printed in newspapers around the world.
Evans passed away a year later, and still, seven years later, Harris says, “I think about him all the time.”
After his husband’s death, Harris felt depression settling over him at the idea of living along in the place where he had spent so many years with his husband. So moved to a new apartment not far from the heart of the city’s gayborhood.
“I love it here,” Harris said recently of his fifth-floor flat decorated with awards and accolades the couple won through their years of activism as well as with many of Evans’ paintings including a very special work that hangs in Harris’ bedroom: It was the last painting Evans completed before he died.
Last June, in the middle of Pride Month, Harris marked his 90th birthday, admitting that, “I didn’t plan on living this long. What keeps me going are my friends. I have lunch or dinner every day this week. … Jack and I always loved our friends and our community.”
Dallas had just held the first of its two annual Pride parades — one the first weekend in June inside Fair Park, and one down Cedar Springs Road in the heart of the gayborhood on the third Sunday in September. The September date had always been Dallas’ traditional Pride celebration, marking Judge Jerry Buchmeyer’s ruling in the case Baker v. Wade in late August, 1982, declaring the Texas sodomy law unconstitutional. Buchmeyer’s ruling was overturned on appeal by the Fifth Circuit court, but Dallas’ Pride parade and festival stayed in September, nonetheless.
Then, in 2019, in an effort to cut down on expenses and give the parade room to grow, the Dallas Pride committee decided to move the celebration, starting in 2020, to the first weekend in June at Fair Park.
There were, of course, those who opposed the move, who felt Pride belonged in the gayborhood. So in September 2022 an organization called Pride in Dallas staged a second Pride parade, back on Cedar Springs Road. As Pride in Dallas President James Ware said this month in the days before the second Pride in Dallas parade, “It's ok for us to have more than one Pride. There is room for both.”
Harris agreed: “The parade needs to be on Cedar Springs.”
Alan Ross, longtime executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, an organization for LGBTQ bar owners, was also the chief Pride organizer until his death in 1995. Harris said he and Evans were friends with Ross, and in those earlier year, whenever funds were running low, “Alan Ross always called me. I’d ask, ‘How much do you need?’ Then I would tell him to ‘come on down’” to pick up a donation to help make up the budget shortfall.
It was just one of the many ways Harris and his husband contributed to the Dallas community.
HOW THEY GOT TO DALLAS
Harris joined the Army in the mid-1950s, and after just two weeks of basic training, he became a stenographer. Males stenographers were rare and in high demand, and Harris was assigned to work with a colonel. When that officer was sent to Europe, he offered Harris the opportunity to go overseas with him. But Harris declined. When he was asked where he’d like to serve, without any particular reason why, he said Washington, D.C.
So off to D.C. he went, and once there, Harris was pulled from the Army to work for the CIA. But during his background check, CIA officials realized Harris was gay. He and 27 other gay soldiers, were arrested “like we were a threat to national security,” he recalled.
That, Harris said, was a terrible time. He and the others were held in the basement of a building for months. The prosecutor wanted them to serve time in Fort Leavenworth for falsifying their Army recruitment papers by not marking homosexual on the document. Fortunately however, he judge felt differently, giving each of the men a dishonorable discharge rather than a prison sentence.
When the friend who came to pick him up from the court hearing told Harris he was leaving for Dallas the next day, Harris decided quickly, “I’ll go with you.”
When he got to North Texas, Harris stayed in Seagoville, a small town just southeast of Dallas for a short while before moving into the Downtown Dallas YMCA. That seven-story YMCA building, he said, was “Sex, sex, sex. Those Highland Park daddies would flood the place. Cowboys from West Texas. Doctors. Lawyers.” There was even a Baptist minister who came to the Y, as well as a famous football player “who came to exercise and for the sauna.”
The Y, nicknamed “the French embassy,” had the only sauna in Dallas at the time, Harris explained.
The nearby First Baptist Church eventually bought the YMCA building and tore it down, so Harris moved to a room in a house on Bowser Street in Oak Lawn — the neighborhood that was, even then, becoming Dallas’ gayborhood.
Then one day in 1961, Harris was at a bar in the neighborhood called The Taboo Room. There he met an antique buyer for Neiman Marcus who was about to go on a European buying trip. The buyer invited Harris to a party at his apartment nearby.
That’s where Harris met Evans.
Evans had been working for Neiman Marcus in Houston. But in the late 1950s, Lawrence Marcus fired him because he just couldn’t have a gay man working in his store. But even after firing Evans, Marcus asked him to stay on through the holiday season because the store was shorthanded, and Evans was a great salesman.
Evans agreed, but after the Christmas rush, he moved to Dallas where he got a job with a savings and loan.
Harris said he when he first met Jack Evans, he thought, “This is it.”
But Evans wasn’t ready to settle down. So the two just dated.
Still, Harris found himself spending more and more time at Evans’ Oak Lawn-area apartment, and, he said, “I was determined to settle down.” Later that year, Harris got his wish when he and Evans rented a house together just east of Central Expressway, the north/south highway bisecting the city.
A couple of years later, the couple bought their first house together. But because two men couldn’t be on the same mortgage, Evans took out the $14,500 loan in his name. Together, Evans and Harris renovated the house and flipped it, a move that doubled their money, Harris said.
That was the beginning of their house-flipping business. Then in 1978, the couple launched Evans Harris Real Estate, one of the Dallas LGBTQ community’s most legendary gay-owned businesses.
“We were the first all-gay real estate company in Dallas,” Harris said. In 1991, Evans Harris Real Estate opened an office in the gayborhood, adjacent to the Taboo Room and next to the apartment building where the two men first met at that party all those years ago.
But the years weren’t all good, Harris acknowledged. Many of those bad times grew out of the AIDS epidemic, he said, listing off the names of all the agents who had worked for them who “all died from AIDS.”
Lynda Adleta, founder of Adleta Fine Properties, was “crazy about Jack Evans,” Harris said. And when she asked the couple to join her, they did, melding Evans Harris Real Estate into her Park Cities sales team. Harris said he and Evans always worked well together as a team: “I did the paperwork, and he did the people work.”
Ten years into the 21st century and 50-something years into their relationship, Harris and Evans retired in 2010. “Jack wanted to keep working,” Harris said, but the real estate business had changed dramatically. Everything had become computerized, he said, and there just wasn’t a place for the two of them anymore.
But for the two of them, “retired” was a long way from “sedentary.” For one thing, after a reporter suggested that the two should start recording their memories and the stories from their lives, Evans sent out an email to about 100 friends suggesting they create a group that would archive the history of the Dallas LGBTQ community.
“Will it fly?” he asked in the email.
“Not another damn group!” Harris declared.
But fly it did, and thus was born The Dallas Way and the LGBTQ archives at University of North Texas.
Their personal stories and their love that lasted decades are just part of the legacy that George Harris and Jack Evans created for the North Texas LGBTQ they loved so dearly. And The Dallas Way is just one of the many organizations they helped found or participated in. Harris served on Resource Center’s board for a number of years, and he and Evans were integral in co-founding the Stonewall Business Association, the organization that morphed into today’s award-winning North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Together, Harris and Evans won Black Tie Dinner’s Kuchling Award and the North Texas LGBT Chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award. They were also selected one year as grand marshals of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, Dallas’ original Pride parade named after their long-time friend.
But, Harris said, he is most proud of a letter the couple received from President and Michelle Obama congratulating them on their marriage: “May your love for one another guide you in all you do, and may your bond grow stronger with each passing year,” the Obamas wrote.
Today, more than 60 years after he met the love of his life, and seven years since Evans’ death, Harris obviously still adores his husband. “What a glorious relationship we had,” Harris said.
This is a part of a special LGBTQ History Month project. View more stories by visiting outsfl.com/lgbtqhistorymonth2023.