At her birth in 1948, Phyllis Randolph Frye was named Phillip. Growing up in Texas, Phillip became an Eagle Scout and was the commander of his high school ROTC program. He graduated from Texas A & M with degrees in Civil and Mechanical Engineering. While at university, Phillip got married and had a son.

Coming to terms with the fact that he was (in the vernacular of the day) transsexual, Phillip came out to his family and the military, who promptly rejected him. Unable to get a job, Phillip found an unlikely ally: his second wife Trish. In the spirit of ‘what do you have to lose?’, she encouraged him to transition. When Phil, the born-again Army lieutenant, wrote a letter to his neighbors introducing himself as Phyllis, they responded with eggs, slashed tires, spray-painted obscenities on her driveway, and (during the so-called holy weeks of Christmas and Easter) obscene phone calls.

Phyllis locked onto the idea that with a law degree, she could protect herself – and others. At the University of Houston, she earned an M.B.A. and J.D. While in school, she partnered up with Houston’s then-Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Goyen and Councilmember Ernest McGowan on a successful campaign to repeal Houston’s cross-dressing ordinance.

After becoming a lawyer in 1981, no firms would hire Phyllis. She got by peddling Amway products in gay bars and occasional engineering work from a gay architect. But in 1986, she finally got a break. A closeted member of the military was slapped with a DWI after leaving a gay bar, and needed a lawyer to keep his case out of the papers. With her fees from that case, Phyllis was able to launch her own practice in criminal defense and in transgender law. Her recognition and experience grew until, in 1991, she created the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy, bringing together lawyers and activists to draft policy goals and lobby Congress.

On November 17, 2010, the mayor of Houston appointed Phyllis to the municipal bench, making her the country’s first openly transgender judge. Three years later, the Transgender Foundation of America honored Phyllis with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In a New York Times profile, leading transgender attorney Shannon Minter (another OUTWORDS interviewee) came up with an honorary title for Phyllis: grandmother of the transgender movement.

OUTWORDS interviewed Judge Frye at her Houston office in May 2017. When it came time for portraits, we thought it would be fun to use a gavel as a prop – but Phyllis wasn’t having it. To her, the life-saving power of the law is and will always be serious business.
Mason Funk: Well that's interesting. I've never known before what the person did.
Amy Bench: Oh okay.
Mason Funk: So...
Amy Bench: Okay. There we go.
Mason Funk: All right.
Amy Bench: Speeding.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] So do me a favor. Start off by stating and spelling your name, as you would like it to appear on screen. Give me your date of birth and your place of birth.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Okay. My name is Phyllis Randolph Frye, P-H-Y-L-L-I-S R-A-N-D-O-L-P-H F-R-Y-E. I was born February the 10th, 1948, in San Antonio, Texas.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let me ask you this. If I were identifying you on screen, would you want Phyllis Randolph Frye or just Phyllis Frye? You like the whole-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:01:00] Yeah, and Randolph Frye is not hyphenated. It's just my middle name. A lot of people know me that way, Phyllis Randolph Frye.
Mason Funk: Okay. Great. Do me a favor and just start off by telling me a little bit more about when you were born, what kind of family you were born into. I always like to know what the family culture was, what was prized, what was valued.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:01:30] Well, I grew up in San Antonio. I was born in San Antonio. I was the middle child of three. I was the second son. My family, of course, came out of World War II, and came out of the depression. They also came out of a culture, you know, the Joe McCarthy type stuff, early days of J. Edgar Hoover, where people didn't talk very much, because they learned that you could get in trouble that way. That had a lot to do when I was trying to come out. They were terrified that I was going to be hauled off, and they were also terrified that they were going to be tainted by me.
I went through the regular elementary school, junior high, high school. I went to Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, which is a big deal. Jefferson High School, at that time, was one of the premiere high schools in the city. It's a beautiful building that was built during the FDR days. It's still a beautiful campus.
My high school class was 840 something. I loved high school. I was one of the superstars in high school. I was the ROTC commander in high school. I was also in the senior play. While I was in high school, I had been in the yearbook staff. I had been the acapella choir. I had an A+ average. Before high school, I was in the scouts. I am an Eagle Scout, still am an Eagle Scout. I'm now a lifetime member of the National Association of Eagle Scouts.
My family was, you know, they were racist. Racism is taught. I was taught to be a racist, and not just black. You name it. Hispanic, Jewish, Catholic, whatever. SoI was carrying a lot of prejudice. I also knew when I was four or five years old, that something was different about me. That I wanted to play with my girl cousin's toys more than the toys that I was given, the gender toys that I was given. I knew at Easter and Christmas, whenever she got to dress up, that's the way I wanted to dress up, not the way I was dressed up.
I also knew, and was again, taught, because you get these cues from family members, whether they be aunts and uncles or older brother or our parents, that boys do this and girls do that. If you venture too far from it, you don't get beat. You don't get whipped. You don't get any of that stuff. You get the cues. Sometimes subtle. Sometimes a little less subtle. So you learn that that's not something that is expressed.
Mason Funk: Excuse me.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:05:00] I began cross-dressing in secret when I was eight years old. I always wanted to be a girl, but I knew that would never happen. As I said, I was very successful in scouts. Not only am I an Eagle Scout, but at the time, my peers elected me to be the senior patrol leader. Anybody watching this who's in Scouts knows what that means. I was Order of the Arrow, Brotherhood. I just did a lot of stuff in Scouts. I was good at it. But I'd rather been in Brownies and Girl Scouts.
Mason Funk: Just one second.
Amy Bench: Sorry. Can we pause for a second. I'm going to cut speeding again.
Mason Funk: Okay. Back up a little bit. You mentioned, the last thing you were saying was you would've much rather been a-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:05:30] A brownie or a girl scout, yeah. In high school, as successful as I was, I had much rather been a cheerleader or in the pep squad. You know, that wasn't open to me.
Mason Funk: I'm curious to know what that felt like to ... How uncomfortable was that dissonance for you?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:06:00] It was very uncomfortable, but I knew that because not only was I taught racism, I was taught homophobia. The things you heard about those people, they didn't call them faggots then. They called them queers and degenerates and all the other really nasty stuff. I wasn't going to bring that down upon myself.
I lived a secret life. I cross-dressed as often as I possibly could. I tried to cope. I did a really good job. In fact, I've told a lot of people I'm one of the world's great actresses, because I'm a woman who acted as a boy and as a young man extremely well.
I also have a high intelligence. I made really good grades. I was in advanced classes in high school. When I graduated in high school, I had a four year military scholarship, which is why I was a regular commissioned officer. When Texas A&M College of Engineering learned that I was looking at some other schools, they offered me another scholarship. I went to school paid for by everybody else.
You also have to remember that when I grew up, it was during the days of the draft. When I grew up and I was in high school, it was when the early Vietnam war protests were going on, and when the Kent State Massacre and all these other stuff was happening. 1968, two years out of high school, is when Richard Nixon got elected. So all of this was going on at the time.
I got married in 1968 the first time, while I was still in school, in college at A&M. I was in the corps cadets. I'm sure you'll show a picture of me as a senior in the corps cadets, just as I'm sure you'll show a picture of me as an Eagle Scout, which is fine. I was very accomplished.
It wasn't until my first wife and I were overseas in Germany, with my baby son, that I was just going kind of nutty and came out to her about my desire to cross-dress. She wasn't going to have anything to do with it. She left. The condition was I had to seek treatment. The military doctors don't keep secrets, and so command learned.
Mason Funk: I want to slow this part down a little bit.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh that's fine.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] Tell me about the decision. You said you were going a little nutty. Set the stage. You're in Germany. You have an infant son. You're married. The pressure, I guess, you said you were becoming nutty. Something was really about to ... It became too big to keep to yourself. Tell me about the decision to tell your then wife.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:09:30] Well it was scary. It was very scary. You don't invite hate. You don't invite things unless you really finally feel no other way out of it. I figured that I had to come out to her, cause I had been cross-dressing secretly during our marriage for a couple of years. I was hoping that it was something that she would accept and that I would be able to indulge to some degree. I didn't know what. Well she didn't.
Command began to process me out. Since I had a regular army commission as opposed to reserve, and since I was a scholarship student, you got to remember, I talked about Kent State and all the protests back when I was in high school. The federal government, the Congress, offered a pilot program, where 100 high school army scholarships were going to be given, and 100 air force scholarships were going to be given to high school seniors to go to college. Out of the entire country, there were only 200 of these full scholarships. The odds of getting one of those were less than going to West Point, Annapolis, or Colorado Springs Military Academy.
I got one of those. It was a big deal. I was a big deal with respect to the military. They were investing a lot into me. I was on a career path. They started trying to run me out for the fact that I was trans, even though nobody had ever seen me cross-dress. I fought with them. I convinced one level of the command to give me an honorable discharge rather than a general. Then the next level of command says, "No, we're going to give you a general." I said, "No, I'm going to fight for an honorable." I was always threatening them that I would come out to the press and that I would embarrass them, because I was one of their superstars. Finally, I got up four levels of command. Well you got to remember, this took months. Now let's backtrack a little bit.
Taxpayers, they all paid for all of my college. Okay? Even later on, when I went to get my master's in business and my law degree that was on the GI bill. You guys paid for four college degrees. Now what did you get out of it? Well you got about eight months of active duty until the military started to process me out. Then you got another eight months of me, sitting at a desk, not being allowed to do anything while you processed me out, trying to get me a general, and I got an honorable discharge. So for four degrees, you got eight months of active duty. What a waste of taxpayer money that was. Until recently, when the previous secretary of defense, under Obama, decided and ruled that transgenders could be out and open in the military, that was still the policy.
Mason Funk: When you frame it that way, when you say, "What a waste to the taxpayers-"
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Well you wasted me.
Mason Funk: [00:13:00] Tell me more about that.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Well it's kind of funny, because you wasted me. You tried to waste me. I lost a military career. I practiced engineering. I had, at one time, not only two engineering degrees, but I was licensed in three states. I'm only licensed in one now, 'cause I never practiced after I was discriminated against in the other two states, so I let them go.
Mason Funk: Do you think you'd still be in the military today if this-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:13:30] Well, I'd be a retired officer. I would've probably retired lieutenant colonel or bird colonel. I wouldn't have gotten any higher than that, because of the particular branch of the military I was in. I was not in the infantry, armor, or artillery. I was in the medical service corps as a sanitary engineer. I probably would not have gotten above lieutenant colonel, but still I would've been retired, with my 30 years and my pension and all that other stuff.
In engineering, again, I was a licensed engineer. Well I still am a licensed engineer, 'cause I keep my license current just to say, "You can't take that away from me." Even though they blackballed me and took my career away from me here in Houston.
The joke of it is I am the grandmother of the national transgender legal and political movement that I started in the early 1990s. Here, you all paid for all of that. Ran me out of two careers so that I became a lawyer, and I'm the preeminent transgender lawyer. I think it's funny.
Mason Funk: There's a certain irony there, a sort of delicious irony.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: It's very delicious, yes, but I went through a lot of pain. I went through decades of hurt.
Mason Funk: [00:15:00] Well that's what I kind of wanted. I don't want to skip over that. You know? You maintain kind of a ... You've got such a successful career and profile and persona and outlook, but it can tend to overshadow the years of actual anguish.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:15:30] I don't want to gloss over that. I wonder also, since this is our first Texas interview, and so I really want to make sure that we talk about this all taking place against the backdrop of one of the most conservative states in the union.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Well yes, it is, but it's not. I mean we got our blue-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. When you say, "It is and it's not," tell me what you're talking about.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:16:00] Well it is conservative, but it's not conservative. Texas is conservative, but it's not conservative. We got a lot of really neat people here. Even there's a lot of conservative people, they're conservative for the correct reasons and not conservative because that emboldened homophobia, or conservative because that's anti-women, and conservative for all of the, what I would consider, very negative reasons. Okay? There's lots of blue pockets in this state.
Harris County, which is Houston, and the City of Houston, has now a pretty good bluish purple color. Of course Travis County, which is Austin, and Bexar County, which is San Antonio, and Dallas County, which is Dallas, and Tarrant County, which is Fort Worth, and El Paso County, which is El Paso, and there's Nueces County, which is Corpus Christi, there's a lot of very nice, wonderful people in this state. Unfortunately, because of gerrymandering, our state is rife with really bad state politicians and very bad congressional politicians. I'm a Democrat.
You know that's funny, because back when I was a kid, it was just Democrats in Texas. Then when LBJ did the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and all of the racists throughout the south, including Texas, went over to the Republican party, all my family became Republicans, because as I said, they were all steeped in racism, and all the other -isms. I went along with it, until I learned better, but unfortunately, I voted for Richard Nixon the second time he ran, because that was my first election. My wife, who's a few years older than I am, my second wife, and we'll have our 44th anniversary in 3 weeks, she stayed with me. She voted for Nixon both times.
'Cause we didn't know any better. But I guarantee you, when I transitioned and we started to get all the hate from all the conservative friends that we had, all the Republican friends that we had, and we found a home, a political home, and a social home through a lot of our Democratic friends, that was when our eyes were very much opened. We became Democrats. I'm not quite a yellow dog Democrat, but I'm close.
Mason Funk: What's a yellow dog Democrat?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh a yellow dog Democrat is someone who votes for a yellow dog if they're running as a Democrat. Okay.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry. One sec. I think we're just hearing Princess.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Yeah. I guess she heard dog.
Mason Funk: Okay. Okay. So if you can just start off with yellow dog again.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:19:30] A yellow dog Democrat is someone who will vote for a yellow dog if they run for a Democrat, if they run as a Democrat. I'm not quite that. I rarely vote straight ticket, because I am very politically active, and I know a lot of judges, and I know a lot of other people, especially judges, because our judges our elected. They run in parties. There are some very good Republican judges that I know and that I would like to keep in office, not many, but a few. There are some Democratic judges that I know that are awful, not many, but there's a few, and so I always go down ballot.
Before I became a judge myself, and was even more politically active than I'm allowed to be now, I had email requests before every election from hundreds of people, "Who are you going to vote for down ballot?" I would send them the list of people I was going to vote for down ballot. That's usually judicial races, constable races, JP races, Justice of the Peace, and stuff like that. In fact, and in actuality, until I became a judge and couldn’t do that anymore, I usually got to cast a couple of hundred votes every election in effect. So that was fun.
Mason Funk: It just occurred to me, because you mentioned it, becoming a judge essentially precluded you from ever pursuing elected office. Is that correct?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: No.
Mason Funk: In other words, when you say more politically active than I'm allowed to be, would that ever have been a path you would want to pursue?
Mason Funk: Okay, why not?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:21:00] I wasn't interested in running for any election, because the question is going to be the same. What bathroom are you going to use? That's always the question. That's always the question when you're out there in the public eye and you're talking with reporters, unless you've met these reporters many times before and have answered that question many times before, and they get to know who you are, and they know you're not a nutcase, which is how we used to be seen. I knew from my experience and all the bad times that I had gone through that that's what all the focus of my opposition was going to be. What bathroom does she use? What bathroom does she use? So I never ever wanted to run for political office.
I was appointed as a municipal court judge, which allows me to continue to practice law. I was appointed a municipal judge, traffic court, basically, in the City of Houston, seven years ago by Annise Parker, who was the first out lesbian mayor in a major city in the United States. It's a two year term. City council has to approve the renomination. The current mayor, I've known Mayor Turner for 35 years, politically, through the Democratic party, and he renominated me, and I'm into my 7th year, and I expect I'll be renominated for at least 2 more terms, until we see who else comes in as a new mayor.
Politically, can I be active politically? Yeah. In this last legislature in Austin, when they were trying to run through a bathroom bill, private citizen Phyllis Frye was there. I was lobbying. Every time somebody said, "Judge Frye this." I'd say, "No, I'm not judge here. I'm Phyllis Frye here." I have to make sure that is, very, very much—I cannot speak as a judge. I just think that if I sent out email lists of who I suggest they vote for, even if it was as Phyllis Frye, rather than Judge Frye, I think that it could be misconstrued and cause me a lot of anguish defending myself, that I really don't need to go through.
Mason Funk: [00:23:30] Right. You don't need to tarnish your standing. That would-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:24:00] I am the first out of the closet, transgender judge in the nation. Do you have any idea what a role model that is for other lawyers, for other judges who are in the closet? You know? When I first became a judge, and it was very new to me, I went to a trans event and suddenly, I was the keynote speaker. I've keynoted a lot of events, but I wasn't going to be the keynote speaker that night. But I'd just been appointed a couple of weeks before, so suddenly, I was the keynote speaker. We went to a reception beforehand. Everybody was just so excited. Big smiles, Judge Frye, Judge Frye, Judge Frye. Well I wasn't handling it yet. I said, "No, no, no, I'm still Phyllis. I'm still Phyllis. You can call me Phyllis."
Well one young FTM trans man, his name is Lou Weavers, a good friend of mine, and is just very active nationally with Lambda Legal, and with Equality Texas. He's with Equality Texas now. Anyway, he grabbed me by the arm and carried me over to a quiet space in the corner. He put his finger in my chest and he says, "These people need to be able to call you Judge Frye, so get over it." So I got over it.
Whenever I'm out with the community and they call me Judge Frye, that's fine. Whenever I'm wearing any kind of political or lobbying hat, I say, "No, I'm not judge today. I'm Phyllis. I'm lobbying. I can't do that as a judge. I don't represent the City of Houston." Anything I'm saying on this video is not from the City of Houston, has no judicial impact. Please don't edit that out.
Mason Funk: [00:25:30] Right. Okay. I love these distinctions. I think in a different life, I would've been a lawyer, because I love these, where the drawing of a distinction between private citizen, public.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: I have to.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:26:00] You were asking me earlier about all the down times, all the horrible stuff I went through. I was starting to come out around 1973 or '74, but it was little piecemeal stuff. I'd go lecture at a university or some place like that, to their psychology classes, or whatever, with my second wife's knowledge. There was more of an understanding then than it was outright approval. Obviously, it's outright approval now.
In September of '76, after it became known in the Houston engineering community that I cross-dressed, and I was fired, and no one would hire me, and I kept trying to get a job, and trying to get a job, and couldn't get a job, in September of '76, over 40 years ago, my wife said, "This is crazy. These people aren't going to hire you because of who they think you are. You might as well be yourself, so go ahead and be who you are."
Now let me backup just a little bit more. Before I left the military, I was so despondent, I cut my wrist. I've got my scars. That's where the depression can drive you. After I came out in the neighborhood, our house was egged, we had spray paintgraffiti all over the place. We had tires slashed. Guess when we got the most obscene phone calls? Christmas and Easter. That's when all the obscene phone calls came—Christmas and Easter.
We had found a home in one of the local MCC, Metropolitan Community Churches, here in Houston. It's a resurrection church. We sang in the choir. It was our church home. They have, a lot of churches here, I remember my Methodist church tradition, that's where I grew up. Every December there would be a white Christmas thing where people were encouraged to bring canned food, wrap it up in white paper, and place it under the altar every Sunday. Then on Christmas Eve, the deacons of the church, the leaders of the church would take it to some poor family.
Guess who got the white Christmas that year. We were the poor family of the church. So there was boxes and boxes and boxes of tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, sliced peaches, sliced pears, fruit cocktail, corned beef hash, Spam, all that stuff, which was wonderful for us. 'Cause the only thing we were living off of was my wife's income. I won't say what her occupation was, because she still does it, and she doesn't want to ... I'm the public person. She's the private person. She didn't make that much money.
We went in 1976 from a combined, you got to remember, this is '76, before several inflations, combined income of about $32,000. I was 28. She was 32. That wasn't bad money back then. To $10,000. We still had a child support for my son. We still had a mortgage payment. We still had car payments. All that stuff, it was really, really tough. I would just get so depressed. I would get so depressed. I was so angry. I couldn't get a job. I couldn't get a job. I could not get a job.
That was when I decided to use the GI bill and get an MBA at the University of Houston, figuring that there would be engineering managers also going for their MBA. They would get to see me, meet me, rather than just hear about me. Over the course of the MBA, one of them might be in the position to hire me as an engineer.
When I was applying, they had just started, they, the University of Houston, had just started a combined law MBA program, where the law school recognized the MBA curriculum to fulfill its elective requirements. The business school recognized the law core curriculum to fulfill its elective requirements. You start both at the same time. You finished both at the same time. I figured, well that would get me GI bill for a longer period of time. If I became a lawyer, maybe I can scare the hell out of the neighbors and the other people who were being so ugly to us, and they'd leave us alone. That's the only reason I became a lawyer, is to stay on the GI bill for another two years and bring in that money, and to get people to leave us alone.
Mason Funk: Backtracking a little bit, also just real quick, can we maybe pause for a sec?
Mason Funk: Backtracking, in the New York Times article, they talked about the attempts to cure you, aversion therapy.
Mason Funk: I want to make sure we talk about that.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: That's fine.
Mason Funk: In some detail. Take your time and walk us through the military's attempts to cure you.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:31:30] Well I can do that real quick, but the New York Times article, anybody watching this, reading the book, Google New York Times Phyllis Frye, and you'll get it. It's great.
Okay, the deal with my first wife, when she left me with her son, is that if I wanted to keep the marriage intact, I was going to have to see the military doctors. This was before she left. I went to see the military doctors. They met with me several times. They said, "There's nothing wrong with you. You can serve in the military. You're not in a foxhole with anybody. You're not in a tank with anybody. You're in the medical service corps as a sanitary engineer. You can inspect maintenance plants, and water plants, and sewage treatment plants, and all of those stuff that military installations and contractors. That's not a problem." Well that was when she lost it and said, "They're going to fix you, and I'm leaving, and you better get fixed, or else that will be it." So she left. The doctors, I told the doctors, "You guys got to fix me."
They did two things. One is they put me on real heavy drugs to reduce my sex drive. That was the theory of it. They were so heavy I had to get glasses. I wear glasses now, but I didn't start really wearing glasses until I was 40. I'm 69 and it's great. I like my 60s. I had to wear glasses, because I couldn't see anything, but it didn't curve my sex drive. Also, they did me under hypnosis, lots of hypnosis, to get me to, whenever I cross-dressed, to have the urge to regurgitate. Well, okay. It worked. I would cross-dress, I'd regurgitate, and then I'd stay cross-dressed. You know? I didn't go through any electroshock.
Mason Funk: Might that've been an option, or was that just not in the-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:34:00] The doctors were not going to do that. Several months had passed, and my wife had already said, "I'm going to divorce you. It doesn't matter what you do." So I just told the docs, I said, "I'm fine." I quit the lease on the apartment that my wife and I had been renting. I moved into the bachelor officers quarters. I continued to fight with command to get my honorable discharge.
Mason Funk: ] [00:34:30] I want to understand, in that era when you were cross-dressing, did you make a distinction in your mind between cross-dressing and your gender identity? How did you frame the desire to cross-dress as compared to like some notion that you were a woman? Was it one and the same? Explain that for me.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:35:00] Well I really can't. I'm really not certain how to explain that. I don't know. It's just that I needed to present myself as a woman. I wanted to be a woman. Of course, I had not read any literature at that time. It wasn't until 1971, I think it was, after my only son was born, and before we went to Germany. My wife and my mother-in-law were watching television one night—I was in another room, kind of half listening—Christine Jorgensen was a guest. That was the first time I've ever heard that name, much less what she went through and who she was. My wife and my mother-in-law were just ridiculing the hell out of her. That was an awakening for me that I wasn't the only one who felt like this. You know? That's really all I had to hold on to.
I didn't learn much of anything until after my first wife divorced me, and I came back to the States, and I met the woman who became my current wife of almost 44 years. I went to another psychologist. A real sweet Jewish man named Burns DuBose. Of course, I was real big, getting back into the church, and being born again, and all of this stuff. Berns met with me several times. This was in college station Texas, because I went back to A&M to work as an engineer doing research. I was working on artificial limbs. Anyway, Burns said, "You need to go down to Houston to the medical library down there and do some reading, and learn about yourself."
I told my wife. She said, "Yeah, I'll go down there with you." She didn't really understand, but we were friends at the time. We haven't fallen in love yet. She said, "I'm your friend. I'll be your friend. We'll go down there." So I got a whole roll of quarters, several rolls of quarters. We went down to the Jesse Jones Library here in the Texas Medical Center. I started going through the Index Medicus and other indexes, finding anything and everything I could find about transgender. I would bring her journal articles. She was xeroxing. She xeroxed for hours and hours and hours. We brought home several hundred pages of information. That was when I really, really began to learn who I was.
Anyway, finally one day, Burns said, "You know, you don't need me anymore." He says, "Because there's nothing wrong with you. You're learning a lot on your own." He said, "But let me throw something to you as a Jewish person." I said, "Great." He said, "You're a Christian." "Yes." "You're a big Christian. You believe in all this stuff." I said, "Yes." He said, "You believe that Jesus died for your sins." I said, "Yes." He says, "So why are you making him go through more pain and agony, because yours is a worse sin?" I said, "What do you mean?" He says, "Well he's on a cross. He's got a spear on his side. He's got thorns jammed in his forehead. He's had nails driven through his hands and feet. You're standing there looking at him saying, 'Yeah, I believe you died for all the sins, but hey, my sin's a super sin, so you got to hurt some more.'"
That was a huge awakening for me, big awakening from a Jewish man. From then on, the guilt was gone. I shared that with my wife. She thought that made good sense. So anyway...
Mason Funk: Had you become a born again Christian as another attempt to...
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Purge?
Mason Funk: Yes.
Mason Funk: To save yourself from this horrible fate?
Mason Funk: Tell me about that.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:39:30] Well I came up through the Methodist Church as a kid. I joined the church when I was 10 years old. I felt all this, whatever it was. That was another thing—is that during that time, for the first time in my life, I actually began to read the Bible. I found a lot of stuff in the Bible that was never mentioned from the pulpit or any place else, a lot of stuff, especially about David. Jesus never said anything about queer folks. David and Jonathan, they were hot and heavy. Anyway, I know this is going to make some people mad. I don't care. Transgender people, in the early part of their life, go through purges, go through guilt purges. I've gone through many purges. I threw away a lot of stuff.
Finally, I just, born again or whatever. I was going crazy. I had to cross-dress and be who I am. I did. That was when I told my current wife what was going on. That was when she said, "Well I'm still your friend. Later on, we fell in love. She said, "Well if that's the only thing wrong with you, I can live with that. Let's get married." A number of years ago, like I said, I'm 69, and about 10 or 12 years ago, we, both she and I, had pretty much had our fill of the hypocrisy in the church, and we just kind of hung it up. So that's where we are now.
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] There's a whole conversation there, but we'll get back to that. One of the things that I ... I come from a faith background as well, so I love the interwoven stories of faith and true authentic being, how they clash, and how they sometimes work it out, and sometimes they don't.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:42:00] Have you ever read The Woman's Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and I can't think of her name? The Woman's Bible, really, this was in the middle of post civil war, when the abolitionist movement would not allow the feminist movement to be included. So they wrote The Woman's Bible to show dichotomies and discrepancies and hypocrisy in the scripture with respect to women. Well it's an eye opener. You can get it online. You can go through Amazon and get The Woman's Bible. That was another thing that opened me up, but anyway.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] You just tipped me into a new topic, which is interesting. When you talk about the abolitionists not wanting to allow the feminists, the early feminists. That reminded me of the battles within our LGBT movement.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh yeah, and I was in the middle of those.
Mason Funk: So I want to get into that, including you making the argument that homophobia and transphobia are linked, that many people said no, they're not, and so on. Let's go down that path.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:43:00] Okay.
Mason Funk: In terms of the discrimination we've battled within this community that we now call, I call, the LGBTQ community ... Where's my question in there? How have you had to do battle and fight to kind of unite this broad community, where some people said, "No, no, that's them, and we're us. We don't-"
Mason Funk: [00:43:30] [inaudible 00:43:19].
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:44:00] Yeah, well I came out in Houston, and started coming out in '75. Ray Hill, whom you're going to interview, he and I met in October of '75 when I was lecturing at a university class that he was attending. He was a student preacher, called an exhorter, at the Resurrection Metropolitan Church. He introduced me and my wife to the Metropolitan Community Church. There was a lot going on, both in Houston and nationally, because you got to remember, 40 years ago this month, was when all of the Anita Bryant stuff was happening.
40 years ago and about 2, 3 weeks was when Anita Bryant came to Texas to perform for the Texas Bar Association's annual convention. It was in Houston, at the Hyatt Regency, she was doing her anti-Harvey Milk, anti-gay, all this other nonsense that she was doing in the name of Jesus. This fomented what became the initial Pride protest of the Houston LGBT community, which was the forerunner of the first actual Pride parade, and also began to organize, Ray's going to go into this in depth, also went into the formation of then the Gay Political Caucus, which later became the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. Now it's the GLBT Political Caucus. I was in the middle of all of that.
We also had, at that time, in Houston, a cross-dressing ordinance that made me subject to arrest. I was lobbying against that. Every day my wife did not know if I was going to come home or if I was going to be in jail. Imagine your loved one is just being who he or she is, trying to work within the legal framework, but could be arrested and put in jail. Well that's what she was dealing with. It was very hard on her. Also, there was a whole lot of other stuff.
40 years ago last month, you know, the Houston Police Department is great today, but back then, the Houston Police Department was not fun to be around. 40 years ago in May, last month, was when a man by the name of Jose Campos Torres was drowned by the Houston Police Department, because he wouldn't put up with their stuff. They handcuffed him and threw him into the Buffalo Bayou and he drowned. It will be 38 or 39 years, and Ray will tell you about that also, when Fred Páez, one of the activists in the Houston community, was assassinated by a police officer. The bars used to be raided all the time. It was not fun and games around the city of Houston.
People have always asked, they always wondered, why I never was arrested. Well I didn't go out at night. I didn't go to the bars. I was happily married. I had a nice home life. I don't drink that much. I didn't have the need to ... If I had been single, I had gone to the bar just for camaraderie, but I wasn't. I never was out at night when the vice squad was out looking for me. There was just so much turmoil that was going on. I just figured I was part of the gay community. There were so few soldiers at that time that I was welcome. I was welcome in the church. I sang in the choir. My wife became choir director for a number of years. I was involved in the Gay Political Caucus. I was involved in marches and all of this stuff.
Mason Funk: So then when did you experience the-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Well I'm coming to it.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:48:00] Then the lesbian community, nationally as well as locally, said, you know, the media just covers the gay community and everybody thinks it's just the men. We've got to make it the gay and lesbian community. It made sense to me, being the good lesbian woman that I am. It made sense to me. So, I agreed. Houston—I wasn't at all nationally involved at the time—became the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
I was also very involved in the League of Women Voters. I still am involved in the League of Women Voters. There was a period of time, a number of years, that I was the vice president of the League of Women Voters in Houston. They, for the most part, were very accepting of me. They gave me another home with an oasis of nice, kind people. They were interested in progressive ideas and progressive things, the environment, voting rights, all that good stuff.
In 1989, I don't remember exactly what it was, but there was something going on with Randall's Grocery Store, where there had been a boycott by the community, the gay and lesbian community, which I felt I was part of. It was successful. It went on for a couple of years. It was successful.
At the same time, Randall's had also done something very discriminatory against a transgender person. Sothe caucus and the community in Houston was fixing to call off the boycott. I said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. They haven't atoned for the way they treated this transgender person." I was told by a lot of people, "We're glad you've been along for the ride. We appreciate everything you've done for us, but transgender is not what we're about." Boy, did that ever shock me. That's really what turned me into the militant that I became, fighting the gay and lesbian community. That was—when it was—1989.
Of course by then, I had been a lawyer for a long time. I had been receiving mail, we didn't have email at the time, and newsletters from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and from the Gay and Lesbian Law Association, and from the gay and lesbian advocates and defenders, and from Lambda Legal, and all. It's gay lesbian, gay lesbian, gay lesbian, gay lesbian, gay lesbian. Nothing about transgender.
Mason Funk: Excuse me. Okay.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:51:00] So in 1981, I had been active in one of the local transgender groups. There were several. I was active in one of them, very active in one of them. I just told the membership,"I'm going to run for vice president, but you gotta understand that I'm going to use this organization to found a national transgender legal group, because nobody else is carrying our water." That was the birth of what became the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy, known as ICTLEP, which later became known as the Transgender Law Conference.
The first one was '92. We had six of them every year, and they were in Houston. Using mailing lists, using fax, oh man, I had the fax number for every local, state, regional, and national newsletter that went out. Every Saturday night, when the rates were lowest, I would get up around 1 o'clock in the morning and I would fax press releases to about 50 different fax numbers, every week, about transgender whatevers. A lot of it started appearing. We continued to fight for inclusion.
The Texas Lesbian ... TGRL ... Texas Gay Lesbian Rights Lobby, they would lobby Austin every two years for gay and lesbian rights. One year, we picketed them, because it wasn't transgender inclusive. We had to have our separate lobby day in Austin. When you're doing your pictures later on around my office, you're going to see a picture of us protesting that march in front of the state capital. That was in probably '95, I'm guessing. '95 was a very pivotal year. That was the year that the, I'll think of the name of it, the executive director then was Kerry Lobel. I can't think of the name of it. I've got a plaque from them somewhere. You're going to have to edit this out.
Mason Funk: Sure, no worries.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Because it's important.
Mason Funk: No worries. We'll start again-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Task Force!
Mason Funk: Okay, so start off with 1995 was very important.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:54:00] 1995 was a very pivotal year, because in 1994, July of 1994, the Democrats still held the Senate and the House in Washington. Ted Kennedy was introducing with HRC, the Human Rights Campaign—that was not transgender friendly—they were introducing the ENDA bill, Employment Non Discrimination Act. By the way, all of this that I'm describing is in a chapter of a book called Creating Change, that was published in 2000. That chapter is in the flash drive that I gave you. When you post that, chapter 22 is where all of this is in great detail. They were introducing the ENDA bill, the Employment Non Discrimination Act.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Start the story again with 1995 being an important year. Leave out the bit about the flash drive.
Mason Funk: Just tell it as a story, just in case someone wants to watch the story on the video.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: That's fine. Okay. '95 was a pivotal year, but you got to go back to '94 a little bit. '94, the Democrats had-
Amy Bench: [00:55:00] Can you start again, just because there was a car alarm.
Mason Funk: Okay, fourth time.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [00:55:30] All right, 1995 was really a pivotal year, but we got to go back to 1994 to pick up a few things. In July of 1994, the Senate was democratic. The house is democratic. The president was democratic. HRC, the Human Rights Campaign, had no love for the transgendered community. They were pushing Senator Kennedy to introduce, because he was the head of the committee, I forgot which one it was, the Employment Non Discrimination Act, called ENDA, E-N-D-A. It left out transgenders.
A friend of mine Karen Kerin, who is from Vermont, and who knew very well Jim Jeffords, a Republican, who was the vice chair of that committee, we went up to DC to lobby for transgender inclusion. Of course, we got nowhere. That was when we learned that HRC had been pivotal in making the decision to cut out transgenders out of ENDA. That was when HRC became enemy number one of the transgender community. By the way, HRC came around in 2008. HRC is a friend of ours. I'm not mad at HRC. But that was what happened then.
Then in November, the Republicans won the Senate and the House. Jeffords was now chair of the committee. He was very pro ENDA. We had an in with Jeffords. We rewrote ENDA to include transgender. He said he would do that. So comes February of 1995, and by that time, we were raising so much stink for HRC, and the fledgling, very fledgling internet, and all the stuff that I was faxing to all of the print material, that HRC said, "We're going to have to meet." Quite of a few of the leaders, I got them all organized. We went to DC on their dime and met with them. They said, "This ain't going to happen. Sorry about that."
While we were there, several of us stayed and lobbied Congress. That was when we became convinced that we could lobby Congress. We decided we're going to have a national transgender lobby day in October of '95. Meanwhile, we kept the pressure on HRC. In September that year, HRC asked us to come back because there was so much pressure.
Well it was that very same time that the Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which still retains that name, but they call themselves the Task Force now. They're very inclusive. That was when we went to ... They were having their convention in DC. I knew Kerry Lobel, who was the executive director. I went to her the day before the big meeting with HRC. I had organized a group of half FTMs, half MTFs from different states around the country to be very representative of who we were. We met with her. Boy, her eyes were opened. From then on, the Task Force was a transgender friend.
Also, again, going back to '94, the Gay Lesbian Law Association National, which was called then NLGLA,which is now the National LGBT Bar Association, executive director D'Arcy Kemnitz, who's a wonderful friend of mine. They invited me and Joanne McNamara and Sharon Stuart to come and lecture on transgender legal at their annual convention. Opened up a lot more eyes. I got elected as an alternate delegate. Joanne got elected as a delegate. We stayed for their meeting. Then we went to their next board meeting and introduced a motion that NLGLAwould endorse transgender inclusion in the bill. They voted yes. They were the second national organization who was for transgender inclusion.
The first one was the veteran's group. I don't remember their name, but it was the gay and lesbian veterans group. I wish I can remember their name, but I've written it somewhere. You'll find it.
Mason Funk: Can I interrupt with you a quick-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: I'm back to '95, but go ahead.
Mason Funk: Okay. Okay, keep on going then.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:00:30] All right, so '95, we went to Washington DC in October. There was over 100 of us from 30 states. You'll probably see that picture too. I know it was in the New York Times. We lobbied like crazy. At the next convention of the Task Force, they gave me a Creator of Change award.
Let me see. What else was going on at the time? Oh, I remember. In '95, in the summer of '95, when Jeffords had said that he was going to introduce ENDA, that was transgender inclusive, we were having, in '95, that would be '92, '93, '94, '95 ... Was it '94? It had to be '95, our fourth ICTLEP conference. That one was attended by all but two of the national transgender leadership in the country. While we were there, we learned that ENDA had been reintroduced and the HRC had gotten to Jeffords and the transgenders were not in it. Here was almost every transgender leader in the country, all in one place, we got word. That was when it hit the fan, literally. That was really when it happened.
So we began lobbying. ICTLEP organized a lobby day every year for several years. Then some other people picked it up. Finally, I think it was in 2002 or 2003, I don't remember which one, Mara Keisling came to me and said, "I'm going to organize the National Center for Transgender Equality. We're going to be 24/7, 365 in DC. What do you think?" I said, "Bless you. Bless you. Bless you." I love Mara and NCTE. '95 was really when it all happened. Anyway, most organizations came along.
Mason Funk: Let me pause there for a second. Just a couple of things. Getting a lot of bright sun out that window. I see a cord. Are there blinds on that window by any chance?
Mason Funk: No, okay. Can we just live with it?
Amy Bench: Yeah, it's-
Mason Funk: It's okay.
Amy Bench: Up until the last five minutes, it's been okay.
Amy Bench: Now...
Mason Funk: We can live with it, I think, right?
Amy Bench: It's behind there.
Mason Funk: Yeah. We're not ... I think it's just a little bit. It's good. Okay.
Amy Bench: [01:03:00] We've got 20 minutes left on this card.
Mason Funk: Let's take a quick break. I'm not going to lose the train of thought, but we're going to swap out a card, because we have to start dumping it.
Change even within.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh yeah, I burned up two fax machines.
Mason Funk: I love that story. Getting up at 1:00 in the morning on Saturday night, because that's when the rates were cheapest.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh yeah, I'd send that stuff out for a couple of hours.
Mason Funk: We got to realize there was no internet.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Internet.
Amy Bench: Can we take your glasses off-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh I'm sorry. I forgot I was wearing it.
Amy Bench: No problem.
Mason Funk: Okay. Are you speeding?
Mason Funk: Why is that blinking? Does it always blink?
Mason Funk: [01:03:30] That's normal?
Amy Bench: it's recording.
Mason Funk: Okay. All right, so-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: We were talking about HRC.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:04:00] I need to make sure the HRC story is finished, because we're good friends, but back then, we weren't. 1995 was also very pivotal and it goes in the HRC story, because that's when the internet was coming along. That's when I got on the internet. That's when I became known as the Phyllabuster, P-H-Y-L-L-A-B-U-S-T-E-R. I sent out a few emails to people that I had met at various places that I had gotten their email addresses. I would start sending out the same type of stuff that I had been faxing all those years. Again, you got to remember this is 1995. This was 22 years ago. Okay? We were just getting on the internet. I burned up two fax machines in the process during the previous years.
People would share what I had sent out and people would comment. I just began collecting email addresses. My list just got longer and longer and longer and longer. Over a period of a couple of months, I was trying to come up with a moniker. Leslie Feinberg, I think he's the one who suggested Phyllabuster. I don't remember exactly, but if anybody gets credit for that besides me, I would give it to Leslie.
Anyway, HRC continued to fight with transgender inclusion. I think it was '96 or '97, somewhere around then, I went to a Task Force convention in Detroit. There was a big transgender caucus there. There was a big bisexual caucus there. The leaders of the two caucuses decided that during one of our caucus meetings that overlapped, we would all meet in the same room. We agreed that we would carry each other's water. That transgenders would argue for bisexual and transgender inclusion. Bisexuals would argue for bisexual and transgender inclusion. The bisexuals were not the problem. It was mostly HRC, 'cause more and more national organizations were getting it. Okay? But HRC wasn't.
Through the Phyllabuster and whatever other means I had, and the grassroots movement that I had built up through the ICTLEP conferences, because very few lawyers came to the first ones. These were transgender people who wanted to know what the law was with respect to transgender, what you could do about it and everything else. They became organized. There was an offshoot organization called It's Time America, which became kind of a political lobbying organization. Anyways, it was just a big boiling pot.
Whenever HRC would have its fundraisers around the country, there were always transgender local there. They were carrying their signs. They were picketing. We would encourage pickets. Everywhere HRC went, there were pickets outside for years and years and years.
Another one of our big problems was Barney Frank. He would not include transgenders, because he didn't want to go through the bathroom and shower stuff like they had gone through during the Don't Ask Don't Tell hearings with President Clinton. I sat in his office once and he just gave me billy hell. He can be very nasty, but that's all forgiven now, so don't cut that out. Anyway, this went on for a long time.
Finally, around 2008, I think it was, a new ENDA bill was going to be introduced. It was going to leave transgenders out again. Every organization, national, regional, and statewide, with the exception of HRC and Log Cabin Republicans, said, "No, transgenders are going to be included." That was when the dam broke. That was when Barney Frank was convinced. That was when HRC was convinced. I don't know anything about the Log Cabin Republicans. I haven't heard from them since then, but that's not to say anything ugly, but I'm a Democrat. That was when transgenders finally got into the rightful place that we should've had since the Stonewall rise in 1969, when transgenders threw the first high-heeled shoe that started the movement back then.
Anyway, since 2008, and especially under the current ED, Chad Griffin, HRC has been a friend. HRC has bent over backwards for inclusion. What they have done through their workforce policies, working with Fortune 500 companies, they now demand Fortune 500 companies, if you want the HRC highest grade, you have to have policies which include gender identity and gender expression. Your insurance carrier cannot exclude transgender.
I want to make sure everybody understands. I'm not at war with HRC. I don't know anybody in the community who is. Bygones are bygones. I go to their events. I pay money to go to their events. I've been honored at their events, but it was a long slog.
Mason Funk: What do you think is the lesson for, say, current and future activists, to be taken from that pitch battle that you had to fight? People think of this as our community, but back in the day, it wasn't an inclusive community. You had to go toe to toe, and nose to nose with one of the biggest gay and lesbian, you know-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:10:30] And richest.
Mason Funk: And richest.So you did and ultimately, there's been kind of a coming together, but what is the lesson that we can draw from the war that had to be fought first?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:11:00] Well one of the things I'm noticing, and I'm sad about, is a lot of the younger transgender people who are out, who didn't go through any of this, who don't know the history of what went into our trying to form their own separate transgender organization apart from the gay lesbian bisexual community, that breaks my heart. Because we have so many good friends in the organized community now, both in the Bar Association, and in political organizations, and in the Equality movement throughout the United States. Every state has its own state chapter of Equality. Equality Texas, I know, in the last legislative session in Austin, which just wound up two days ago, fought tooth and nail to kill a bathroom bill very similar to what North Carolina originally passed. That North Carolina compromise, that's a joke. We are an organized movement. I don't want to see a separatist thing happening.
Mason Funk: Why do you think they-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:12:00] Because they don't know their history, which is another reason why I do this, which is another reason why I sit for other interviews, which is another reason why I go to Lavender Law every year and speak. It's another reason why I refer people back to all the stuff that happened and was written back before the turn of the century, because it was very, very exciting. A lot of people expended a lot of ...
I was saying earlier about the fact that I'm 69 and how I have loved my 60s. You want to know why I loved my 60s? Because there are so many transgender activists now, who are out, and how do blogs, and who do this, and are active in this organization, active in this organization. I don't have to fight anymore. I don't have to fight anymore. I go places and, "Oh there's Judge Frye. There's Phyllis Frye." Blah-blah-blah. They're just really good to me. They treat me really, really well. You know, it's fun. It's nice to be patted on the back. It's nice to do that.
During my 60s, I've been able to do that, but it was rough for a long time. I still have PTSD from back then, 'cause if, and I won't do it on camera today, but sometimes people have asked me to go back to some of that, and I'll go back to it, and I'll start tasting it in my mouth. I'll start feeling it. I just have to stop, because it was a very hurtful, prolonged, agonizing period. I'm already starting to feel it, but so there you are.
Mason Funk: One follow up question to the younger transgender activists who are some of them may be somewhat separatists. I said, "Why?" You said, "They don't know their history." But that wouldn't be the reason they give. What reasons do these younger transgender activists give for wanting to create their own organization?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: I don't know.
Mason Funk: You don't know?
Mason Funk: You don't want to comment on that?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:14:30] No, because I hear from them every once in a while. I send them files and copies of our history. I encourage them to read it, and realize a lot of people went before them to be a unified LGBT, I call it LGBT, some people do the other. I don't care. Actually I call it more LGBTI now. I'm starting to add the Q. That's fine. Some people roll their eyes and say, "Oh really? Another initial?" Well who cares? As long as you're being inclusive.
A is a great letter to add for all of our allies, 'cause darling, we don't have the numbers. Every gay person that came out of the closet, every lesbian, and bisexual, and transgender, and intersex person come out of the closet, every questioning person coming out of the closet, we still wouldn't have the numbers to effect positive change for us. It's our allies, it's our straight allies, which is one of the exciting things about this law firm that I have, and that we reach out to, and we're known to reach out to the LGBTI and supportive straight community. Most of our clients are straight, who know who we are. My name's the first name. Everybody knows who I am. The eight lawyers that work here, only three of us are queer. The other five are straight, who want to be part of what we are doing. That's exciting.
Mason Funk: [01:16:00] Now I wanted to go back a little bit, and bear with me. You can say no if you don't want to. I do wonder. There was something that jumped out at me at the article that was regarding your suicide attempt. You said in the article you're recorded as calling it out of character and kind of a massive exercise in self pity. In a way, that sounds a little bit like, I don't know, a little judge-y so to speak.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: No that's fine.
Mason Funk: [01:16:30] Okay. So tell me more. Why do you call that moment in your life out of character?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:17:00] Well because I'm a very optimistic person. I always have been, unless I get into some very blue periods. I used to have some blue periods when I was going through all the stuff. If I'm not really in the middle of a fight or being put upon by a lot of people, I'm a very upbeat, optimistic person.
I slashed my wrists, I was going home from the military. They were going to give me my honorable discharge. I had two days left. I was fixing to walk into a buzzsaw. I knew my family wasn't going to be happy. I figured my family would disown me, which they eventually did. I knew I was fixing to be divorced, because she had filed divorce while I was overseas and I sent her back a letter that said, "Have fun trying to do it while I'm overseas in the military. We'll take care of it when I get back." I knew that was coming. I knew I was going to lose my son. I was walking into a buzzsaw. There was no optimism. You know? That was in August of '72, which is 45 years ago.
Yeah, but you know, things are great. For instance, last July, I went to my 50th high school reunion. I've gone to almost every high school reunion. Like I said, I had a big class. I was a superstar in high school. Everybody knew me. I had a lot of fun in high school. I made a lot of good friends in high school. I went to most of my reunions.
But at this particular reunion, the New York Times article had been out for almost a year by that time. A lot of people had read it. I had a lot of people that I didn't know, when you're with a class of 840 whatever it is, there's no way you're going to know everybody, but they knew me. I had a lot of them throughout the weekend come up to me and take my hand, or give me a hug, or whatever, or look in my eyes and say, "You are really happy, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah, I really am."
That was very significant for them. That helped them turn a page of any bigotry that they may have had towards other LGBT people or family member or who knows. It may have helped them heal a family rift. It may have helped them keep somebody on the job that they otherwise would have fired. You don't know. I don't know. I know that New York Times article has had a huge, huge impact.
Mason Funk: [01:19:30] Talking a little bit about Texas, because you lived your whole life, except for your time overseas and maybe some other moments, but most of your life here, how would you talk about the character of Texans that has informed and kind of colored your journey, in terms of, for example, these people coming up to you, and just really wanting to know if you're happy? Is that, in some way, shape, or form, kind of a Texan thing, or is that a human thing?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:20:00] I think it's a human thing. I like being from Texas. Texans are braggadocious. We're the only state that was its own country. You know that. That's why we're called the lone star state. Texas is very vast, except for Alaska. When people talk about, "Oh well I'm going to be in Dallas. Do you think we can get together?" Well driving into Dallas is a four and a half to five hour drive. Like, "Oh I'm going to be in San Antonio. Do you think we can together?" Well that's a three and a half to four hour drive.
People don't realize that traveling across Texas is like going from Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, all the way up to Maine. You know? It's huge. It has all types of geology, geographic difference. You've got plain states. You've got ... They're not the Rockies. They're the lower Rockies, but you've got mountainous states. You've got hilly areas. You've got very green forested areas. You've got gulf coast areas. You know? You've got humid areas. You've got hot areas. You've got ... What do you want? Most people, unless they've really been taught to hate, most people are really nice.
I was up in some county northeast of Dallas recently speaking. They knew I was coming. All the people there were friendly, were LGBTI or allies. They said, you know, "We don't know what to do up here, because our county is red." I said, "No, it's not." "What do you mean it's not?" I said, "Well it may be majority red, but even if it's 60% red, that means it's 40% blue." That means that when you come out to people, you've got a 4 out of 10 chance of finding someone who is supportive.
Unless you come out, even as an ally, to people, you're not going to find that 40%. I don't know many counties or many cities or even around the country, that red states or blue states, that are more than 60% either way. That means there's 40% of good people. You got to meet them. You got to come out of the closet.
Now do I wear a sign on my head that says I'm transgender? No. But on the back of my car is an HRC Equal decal. You know? If somebody said, like I went to the eye doctor the other day to get a new prescription, and he had done a, this is just an illustrative way, he had done cataract surgery on my wife 11 years ago.
He walked in and I said, "My wife sends her love. You did her cataract surgery 11 years ago." He said, "Well that's great." He didn't have any problem with me being a lesbian married to a lesbian. But then he looked at me and he says, "11 years?" He knows when Obergerfell came around. He knows when same sex marriage was legal. He says, "How did you do that?" I said, "Doc, I'm trans." "Oh! Oh okay. Well that's great. How long is that?" I said, "I've been out for over 40 years." "Oh great. How long have you all been married for?" "44" "Oh that's great." So then he went to give me, you know, started working on my eyes.
You got to do that kind of thing. It gives people who are our allies the chance to validate the fact that they're good people to you, and it also gives them courage, because who knows? At supper, or a business lunch, "Yeah, one of the people who came in my office, she's trans. She and her wife have been married for 44 years." Those are the kind of stories. So you got to come out, even as an ally. If your family's full of bigots, it's not 100% full of bigots. You got to come out to your family. If you're a liberal, you've got to come out, because not everybody's hate-filled.
Mason Funk: Right, they might just be waiting for someone to kind of lead the way.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: They're waiting for somebody to lead them out of the wilderness.
Mason Funk: Right.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:24:30] So you got to come out. You don't have to be LGBTIQ to come out of the closet. You can be an ally and come out of the closet as being an ally. Just by coming out of the closet, somebody who's been in the closet about being LGBTIQ might say, "Oh hallelujah. This person is an ally of the community. I can come out to them."
Mason Funk: On that note, what was it that prevented your own family from embracing you?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:25:00] I don't know. I wished I knew. My dad had told me, he said, "If you make this transition, you're dead as far as I'm concerned." He kept that alive for 24 years until he died. My mother followed his lead. Every once in a while, she'd reach out to me, but I know she took a lot of heat from him. Then after he passed, she saw me a few more times until the Alzheimer's really got to her. Then my sister just walled her off from me. My sister has not had anything to do with me. My brother has not anything to do with me.
Most of my cousins and aunts and uncles, but once again, there were a few aunts and uncles, who when I reached out to them, they responded very warmly and very positively. There were a few cousins. All of those aunts and uncles are dead now. Again, I'm 69. Most of those cousins that were my age are gone now.
There's some second cousins that have heard about me, whether they heard about me through family gossip, or they just heard about me, because I'm out so much, or they read the New York Times story, and they're like, "Oh! Oh that's who that is." They'll email me and they say, "I'm so-and-so, daughter or son of so-and-so. I read about you or I heard about you. Guess what? I'm gay too. Guess what? I'm a lesbian too. I can't come out to my parents." I said, "Well sorry about that, but you know, I'll be your friend."
I know that sounds very Pollyanna-ish, but it's true. Allies have to come out. It's not just the LGBTIQ people. They need to come out too. But allies need to come out that they're allies.
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] That's a really good point. Okay, I'm going to segue on, because in your question, I asked you to talk about, name some individuals you wanted to talk about for the record. One of them was Ray Hill.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:27:30] Well Ray Hill is and remains my wife's and my best friend. You know, we have a lot of good acquaintances, but friends are people you can count on five fingers, and Ray is one of those. Ray not only introduced us to the community, but at the time, when I told you about how bad things were with the police, Ray told my wife that if I was ever arrested that the first person that she should call is him, and told me that if I was ever arrested, the first person that I should call is him, because he would make sure to activate whatever activists and lawyers that he knew, and he did know some very closeted gay lawyers, would get me out as soon as possible. He has remained my friend throughout, since 1974. You know? 43 years.
He's a wonderful man. He's a dedicated man. He knew Harvey Milk. I didn't know Harvey Milk. He knew some of the national leaders back then in the '70s, especially in the '70s. He was one of the principal organizers of the very first march for gay rights in '79, and I was there. You know, he's just a wonderful man. He has done a lot for prison rights. He's not a lawyer and it's good he's not a lawyer, because that frees him up to be just a real pain in the ass when he has to be. He's very involved politically. He knows people. He knows police chiefs. He knows people on the bureau of pardons and paroles. He knows everybody. Whenever I get a question from somebody, either legal or political or somebody's in trouble or whatever and I haven't a clue to handle it, I always say, "You need to contact Ray at such and such." I have his phone number memorized. I have his email memorized. By the way, I'm going to CC him this.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Okay, Go ahead.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:30:00] By the way, I tell them, I'm going to him CC, I'm going to carbon copy that email. He always responds within 24 hours. He's just a wonderful man. I know that he's had a lot of health issues, but he's in really good health shape now.
Another wonderful person is Annise Parker. Annise and I go way back, although we didn't know it. She met me at Rice University, when I was lecturing for a sociology class and she was a student. I remember meeting her at a, I think it was an endorsement meeting for the then GLBT political caucus. No, it was the Gay Political Caucus then. When I met her, she may have still been a student. I know when she became president of the caucus, that was when there was the big push to change the name to lesbian. I was in the middle of that. We were involved in Democratic Party politics with the then gay and lesbian community, 'cause I thought I was part of that at the time, which I've explained earlier.
I don't remember what year it was, but I think it was in the early '80s. She and I and her then girlfriend, and still a good friend, Cicely Wynne, carpooled up to Austin for a Democratic women's whatever it was. I don't remember. We got to visiting 01:31:20]. She didn't know much about trans. They had a lot of questions.
I said, "You know what I miss most?" She said, "What?" I said, "I miss playing softball, because when I was a kid, from the time when I was about seven years old, I played every spring and early summer church league softball, every year, until I went off to college. I loved it and I missed that." She says, "Were you good?" I said, "Yeah, I was pretty good." At slow pitch, not fastpitch. Slow pitch. She says, "Well I have a team. Would you be interested in playing in it?" I said, "Sure." She said, "Can you hit?" I said, "Oh yeah, I can hit." She says, "What position do you like to play?" I said, "I like to play catcher." She didn't have a catcher. So she recruited me to be on her softball team.
There was some talk in the lesbian league. I told Annise. I said, "I'm not going to take any crap. I've been through enough, thank you." She agreed. There were a lot of lesbian allies that were there. So I became a member of the league. They learned very quickly that there were women in the league that were bigger than I was. Golly, there were some huge women in that league. That some of the women could hit further than I could, not many, but some could. So I played on her team for a long time.
The very first time she ran for City Council, my wife and I wrote her the very first check for her race. We've been good friends with her long-term, now wife, Cathy, for a long time. We wrote her first check ceremoniously for a number of her races. When she became mayor, she appointed Barbara Hartle to be her presiding judge. I don't know if she instructed Barbara or suggested to Barbara of what, but shortly after that Barbara came to me and asked me if I would be municipal judge. I read the law and the law said that I could, and still be a lawyer, but city ordinance said that I could only be an associate judge and still be a lawyer. They were offering me a judgeship. I said, "No, but I'll be an associate." So I became the first. She's a wonderful person. Annise has done so much.
I don't know if you're going to interview Jack Valinski. But Jack Valinski has been a part of the community. Ray knows Jack very, very, very well.
Another person who's been involved in the community for a long time is María González. She just lost her wife a couple of weeks ago, Christine Capps, who is being honored today in a memorial service, which is why I'm not going to be there, because I knew of your time constraints. You were coming from out of town, and blah-blah-blah. I knew how important this was, but I would love to have been at her memorial service. Let's see. There's just so many people.
Mason Funk: [inaudible]
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:35:00] And Aaron Coleman, you're going to interview Aaron. Aaron's been very instrumental in the person of color community. There's other people of color. She's going to get mad at me if I don't say her name. I can't think of it.
Mason Funk: Okay, you can let me know later. Just briefly on Annise.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Monica Roberts.
Mason Funk: Oh yeah.
Mason Funk: Oh I've been trying to get a hold of Monica Roberts.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh I'll give you her stuff.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Yeah, you want to meet Monica.
Mason Funk: So far, I've only had intermediaries.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: No, see if you can meet her before you leave.
Mason Funk: [01:35:30] Well I won't be able to, but for the next trip.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh yeah, Monica. Yeah, you got to interview Monica.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Monica will tell you I'm the one who brought her in and taught her.
Mason Funk: A-ha, okay. She's part of the transgriot community. Is that right? Do I have the right name for that?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: I don't know. What's greo? What's transgriot?
Mason Funk: Griot, G-R-I-O-T, is a community of ... Is she a person of color?
Mason Funk: Yeah, it's a kind of a community of trans people of color.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh I didn't know that.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh yes.
Mason Funk: [01:36:00] Yeah, I think that's kind of the blog or something to that effect.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh yeah, she blogs like crazy.
Mason Funk: I think it's under the moniker of transgriot.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh okay. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Griot comes from an old, maybe like a creole term. I'm not sure.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: It could be.
Mason Funk: Anyway, back to these-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Monica Roberts, yeah. Back to who?
Mason Funk: Right. I just want to have you ... Oh sorry?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Back to who?
Mason Funk: Annise Parker.
Mason Funk: Parker, right?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Parker.
Mason Funk: [01:36:30] I just want to have you talk briefly about what you see as her main strengths as a politician. What have been key to her ability to rise to the level and be as effective as she has been?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:37:00] Annise, one, she's very smart, very smart. Two, I don't think she is an engineer, but she has an engineering background. She worked for Marbacher Engineering, here in Houston, which is very connected to the money in Houston, and is very connected to the Republicans in Houston. You know, the James Baker type of Republicans, not the crazy Republicans. Even though she is a Democrat, and she's not ashamed of being a Democrat, and she's an out and open Democrat, and if she runs for office again, she will run as a Democrat. She has a lot of inroads to the business community that she was able to make or were made for her through her connections with Marbacher family.
She can reach across and she can convince business people that she's not going to be stereotyped, you know how liberals are stereotyped about being foaming at the mouth, anti-business. Why would somebody do that? I get real tickled whenever they talk about all this oppressive regulation. Regulation just didn't happen out of the box. You know? You just don't say, "Oh let's pass some regulations, whether the business is here or not." You pass regulations, because business has done something wrong. You pass regulations because business has polluted something, because business has hurt somebody. Somebody has misbehaved. Not all businesses does that, but somebody has. That's why you have regulations. Whenever I heard about all these oppressive regulations, it's because somebody's misbehaved.
Amy Bench: Can I just suggest that the light's a little bit gotten darker outside.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Sure. Sure, I noticed that-
Amy Bench: I want it to look-
Mason Funk: Do you want me turn this up a tiny ... If she has a question, you'll still respond to me.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Yeah, I know.
Amy Bench: [01:39:00] Just a simple question, a more concise kind of, if you wanted to encapsulate your life, what would you want to be known for?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:39:30] Oh that's an easy answer. I told my wife and I've told other people that if I pass before she does, what I want on the gravestone is, "She opened doors." What else can you ask for as an epitaph? That's what I feel that I've done. I take transgender people through the courts all the time.
Let me tell you what I do, okay? I used to do criminal law. I made my money doing criminal felony representation. During that time, I would take transgender people through the court. There weren't very many of them at the time. Not many people knew how to find me. Well everybody knows how to find me now. A lot of people do. I take people through the court every single month.
I invented a concept, because when I first started taking people through the courts in the '80s, the judges didn't know much about us. So they wouldn't even change the name unless you'd had full below the waist surgery. Well how in the world are you going to get a job if you're Ralph, presenting as Tammy, for the three or four or however many years until you can put your money together and do all the other hoops that you have to jump through to do that.
So I began to convince judges, because I was out at the courthouse, and I interned in the DA's office, boy that was a booger, but I interned at the DA's office, so I knew a lot of judges. I had screened a lot of judges. I began to convince them that it was important to change the name at the very beginning.
Then in the early '90s, more and more people said, you know, "That's great, but still we have to present a job application. What do we do with the thing that says, 'sex'?" I said, "Leave it blank." In my driver's license, it says Phyllis M, but I wasn't all that worried about it, but I've learned, over a period of time, back then we were a check-writing society. You always had to pull out your ID. You always had to pull out your ID. Invariably, some clerk, who was either an idiot or somebody who was mean would say, "Oh did you know you have an M on your driver's license?" Well you know what skinhead is standing in line suddenly is alert that you've been outed, because I pass very well, and would follow me out and beat the stuffings out of me. Well my clients were concerned about that too.
So I came up with a concept, because there is no law on gender identity, that marker that's on the driver's license and on the passport, and on everything else. It's just the name change stated it. I began to argue to the judges that I knew that for a transgender person, a change of name, without also changing the gender marker, was an incomplete change of name. So I invented that concept of gender marker. They all say sex, but we call it gender marker. So I started taking people through the court without any surgery of any kind, at the beginning of their transition, to get their name and their gender marker changed so on the day of court, they could go to DPS, Department of Public Safety, who does our driver's licenses, and get a new ID, new driver's license with their new face, that had their new name, and it said F if they were M to F, said M if they were F to M. That was a big deal. A lot of other people around the country have copied that. I'm glad they have. A lot of people around the state are starting to copy that.
I take people from anywhere in Texas once a month to the courts. I'm taking six tomorrow to the courthouse. Let me tell you about it. Okay? A 6-year-old, a 15-year-old, a 17-year-old, a 19-year-old, a 35-year-old, and a 64-year-old. Two are F to M. Four M to F. 64-year-old is a veteran of the Air Force for 8 years. It is exciting work. I'm giving people back their lives. It's a lot of fun to give people back their lives.
Another thing that I kind of created was back when I first started doing this, you could not get your name changed if you had a felony conviction. You just couldn't do it. Well there were things then that were felonies that aren't felonies anymore, like possession of marijuana. I remember about 20 years ago, I had a woman come to me, a trans woman come to me. She was an almost 40 years old. She'd been full time since she was a teenager. She was a florist. She worked for a floral company.
She told me her story. That she had been to several attorneys over the decades. They all said the statute says, "You have a felony." Well I asked her. I said, "What was the felony?" She says, "Possession of marijuana when I was 17, which in Texas is a legal age for criminal, but not the legal age for civil." I said, "Well that's not a felony now." I said, "This is stupid." I said, "The reason why that statute is there is because they don't want people who commit felonies to try to get under the radar and get their name changed, so that they can go about and do other stuff." I said, "We'll just put it in your order." You know?
By the way, she was convicted of a felony, case number such and such, year number such and such, county number such and such for possession of marijuana, which was then a felony is now a misdemeanor. Those three sentences are in her court order. I mean how in the world can you hide if it's the in the court order that you're taking the DPS, and they're going to have a copy of it. You know?
So anyway, we went to see a judge. I explained all this to the judge. The judge says, "It makes sense to me." She signed the order. So we walk out. As soon as we go through the door, I hear a thud. This lady had passed out. She hit the floor. A bunch of people ran over. We helped her to a bench in the hallway. She woke up. She saw me. She started crying. She says, "You gave me back my life."
You know, golly, what a great ... I get to do that. I do it every month. I do it every single month. I take people through the courthouse, whatever age, of course if they're underage, both the parents, even if divorced, have to agree, without the need of any surgery, to get their names and their gender markers changed. If they live outside the state but they were born in the state, I can still do it. I know how to do it. So anyways, it's fun. So I open doors.
Mason Funk: [01:46:30] That's awesome. That's awesome. Do you have another question or a follow up?
Amy Bench: I don't know if this is too complicated. Can you just give a word or a sentence about each decade of your life that summarizes like how you've come from 5-year-old you to 69-year-old you? It doesn't even have to be every decade-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:47:00] Yeah, I understand. You know, from the time that I was a few years, about 4 years old to the time that I was in college and married, I was an achiever. I was very good at all things boy, but I wanted to be all things girl. I didn't know that was possible. I carried a lot of guilt about it. I cross-dressed from the time I was 8 every opportunity I got.
Then from the time that I was divorced and remarried within two years after that, which would've been in my mid 20s to, I would say, my mid 30s. It was a fight, because I was unemployed or unemployable. I went to law school. I had to fight in law school with the Christian Legal Society. It made my life miserable for three years. Some of the students, who were not members of the Christian Legal Society, made my life miserable for three years. I was lobbying for an ordinance that could put me in jail to get rid of it, which I succeeded in doing. It was just a big fight.
In 1986, which would've made me almost 40, that was when my law practice ... Well actually, that decade carries on in to another decade. I was just constantly struggling and fighting.
Then the time around '86, yeah, it was during Reagan. That was when the Reagan recession hit. The only money I had been able to make was selling Amway Clean products to the gay bars, and doing a little bit of engineering for a gay architect. Every once in a while, I'd write a will. That was it.
Then I began to approach judges that I knew. Suddenly, I woke up to the fact that I knew a lot of judges. I went to the judges and asked them. They began to appoint me. That began my big legal career as a felony, and misdemeanor of course, but I did felony trial work too. A lot of people do misdemeanors. They don't do felonies, but I did everything except first degree and capital felonies. I was very, very good at it. I was extremely good at it. Did I win all my trials? No, but I won a lot of them.
The thing that makes me happiest about that period of time, that went from '86 to about almost 2000. It started to fade around '96, when the Republicans swept most of the courts. I didn't get many appointments after that. I got a few from a few good Republican judges. But what I remember most about those years was that I was able to keep about a dozen people who were truly lily white, and I don't mean that to be a racist term, that's just a colloquialism. Innocent! Just flat out innocent. I was able to keep them from getting convicted, either by taking it to trial or winning, or convincing a prosecutor they didn't have a case. When you can keep a dozen people, who don't belong in prison out, because they're innocent, that is a major feel-good.
There was about another dozen people, who they were guilty, but give me a break. It was really technical. It wasn't that big of deal and everything else. I was able to convince the prosecutors. Usually, I got them a really, really, really good plea bargain. I felt good about that. Now everybody else was guilty. The police did it right. The prosecutors weren't over zealous. Some of them, I would take to trial. Others, we would plea out and they were guilty. Most of that time, I was like a shoe salesperson. You know? You find the right color and style and size that suits both the prosecution and the defendant, and you go on with it.
But I was able to spot those cases every once in a while, where the police had done it wrong, or it was not a big deal, or the prosecutor was just ... One case, in particular, I remember I had a prosecutor who was overzealous. My guy was a bad guy. My guy was a bad guy. It was his third felony. It was a sexual assault. He, by Statutoryminimum, was 25 years.
He said, "I'll take 15." The prosecutor said, "No, it's not going to be 15. I don't have to do that. I can win this." I said, "Yes, you can with this, but I'm going to make you pay for it." "What do you mean by that?" "Well how long with the trial take?" She says, "I can do it in two days." I said, "Well it's going to last five." She said, "It ain't going to last five." I said, "Yes, it is, because I know how to do a trial. It's going to last five. You're going to get your guilty, no doubt about it. My guy's probably going to get more than 25 years, but remember me the next time you have to work weekends, because you weren't able to get your work done." She did. My guy got 40 years. It went for five days, but after that, if it was a shitty case, she dismissed and gave me a plea bargain, because she knew, even though I lost, I knew how to prosecute a lawsuit.
A lot of people say, "Well what do you do when you represent guilty people?" I defend the Constitution. You know? I defend the Constitution. If the Constitution doesn't work for a few people, then it doesn't work for anybody. I have no qualms about that. So anyway, that took me until 2000.
Then I went through a number of years of being ill. I had a stroke that affected my eyes. I ended up with a blood cancer, that I still have, but it's not a big deal. My hematologist said, "If you're going to have cancer, you got one of the good ones. It's not aggressive and it's easy to treat." And it is. The first decade of the century was when we finally brought HRC to heel, and more and more transgender people took up the fight.So I guess that's the best way to explain. I'm really happy. I feel good.
Oh and I lost 75 pounds 4 years ago on purpose, and I've kept it off. Yeah. I went from a 44 inch waist to a 32 inch waist. I lost 75 pounds. I went from a size 18XX to a size 14, and I've kept it off. I exercise frequently. I eat a whole lot better than I used to. I don't drink soda. I don't drink this. I don't eat that. I'm not a nut about it. I'm not a vegan, although it's fine if you want to be a vegan. I'm not a vegetarian, although you can be that too. I just do everything in moderation. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Excellent.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Yeah, but that's great.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] Anything else.
Amy Bench: I had something and I kind of-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Boy, she got a big smile when I told her about the weight loss.
Amy Bench: Because I couldn't believe it.
Mason Funk: A lot of people are going to be going, how did you do it? How did you do it? But that's a different archive.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:55:30] No. No, it's very easy. Lose weight, it's not as simple. You have to work out. You have to work out frequently. You have to sweat. You have to weigh yourself every day and write it on the calendar so you can monitor. You lose about three pounds a month if you do it right. You have to watch what you eat. What will happen, what happened with me was I started losing weight and then I plateaued. So I had to figure out what I was eating that I could get rid off. Then I would start losing weight. Then I would plateau. It didn't matter what I did, how much exercise or anything. I would cut out something else, and I would cut out something. I eat good. I eat steak. I eat mashed potatoes. I eat desserts. I just don't eat them all the time. I don't eat huge quantities of them. I eat eggs and bacon. You know? I don't drink soda waters, not even diets. I don't touch them.
Mason Funk: Yeah, that's what everybody says is the absolute worst.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Yeah. I lost three pounds a month. It took two years.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's probably why you kept it off.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:56:30] That's why I kept it off.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay, well I think we're down to the final four, the final four questions that I ask every single interview.
Amy Bench: Let me ... We're getting a ton of light.
Mason Funk: Yeah, the sun just burst through there.
Amy Bench: Do you want me to go closer? Do you want to keep the frame the same? Because this is getting lost now?
Mason Funk: Just a little closer.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Yeah, this is the final four. Let's do a close up.
Mason Funk: Do it.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: This sounds like the guy on the Actor's Studio, who just kind of asks the questions.
Mason Funk: Broderick. I forget his first name. It was Matthew Broderick.
Amy Bench: And then I'm going to come down on this a little bit.
Mason Funk: Okay, you want me to do it for you since you're tucked in there?
Amy Bench: You may need to just hand it off or turn it off.
Mason Funk: [01:57:00] This one?
Amy Bench: Yeah, because she's getting bounced from the wall. Yeah. Yeah, there's nothing we can do about it.
Amy Bench: I can stop down a little-
Phyllis Randolph Frye: By the way, if we had done this in the conference room, you would've gotten the same window.
Mason Funk: Yeah, we're good. We're almost done here. Home stretch.
Amy Bench: [01:57:30] Can you come up on this a tiny bit.
Mason Funk: Okay, here we go.
Amy Bench: Coming up. Stop.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: All right, final four questions.
Mason Funk: [01:58:00] You already did a really good thing about coming out, about allies coming out, but the first of my four final questions is what suggestion, advice, wisdom would you share with someone who came to you and said, "I'm thinking about coming out." Whatever that means to that person?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [01:58:30] Come out. I mean really. I came out in the '70s. I survived. Was it easy? No. Did I cry? Yes. Did I lose income? Yes. Did I have a hard time? Yes. Did I make it? Yes. Am I successful now? Yes. Am I happy now? Yes. You know, I have people who come to my office. I take them through court. Some of them are in their late 70s and early 80s. They look at me and they say, "My wife's dead. My kids are grown. My grandkids are grown. I'm not going to live, but a couple more years. I am going to be myself." You know? So why do you want to wait that long to live your life? You're the only one who can come out. Is it easy? No. Is it fun? No. Is it hurtful? Yes, but you know, if you remember right, and you don't, when you came out of the womb, all those things applied and you were screaming your head off on your way out. You came out usually head first, so big deal. Grow up.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: I don't have any sympathy. I don't do sympathy.
Mason Funk: [01:59:30] Excellent. Number two, what is your hope for the future?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [02:00:00] More people would come out. You know, the gay community is the greatest example of this, except they had to die because of that damn disease, HIV, back when. I saw so many good people pass away. That was what forced them out of the closet to their family, and their friends, and their coworkers, and everybody else, and their church, pastors, and their choir members, and their neighbors. That forced the gay community out.
The transgender community isn't facing any epidemic like that, but we are now being targeted. Okay? Gay marriage is legal. More and more people are not all upset about having gay neighbors. In fact, most people like to have gay neighbors who fix up the neighborhood, you know, that stereotype. We are being targeted—bathroom laws and all this other stuff for one thing. But on the other side, so many allies and allied legal organizations and GLBT organizations like our friends HRC are fighting against it. So we've got a lot of friends.
Come out. This is the time. You know? A lot of people find me on the internet. That's cool. They contact me. Usually what I do is if they're in Texas, we do a consult over the phone. If they're in Houston, we do a consult in person. If I can help them, I do. When they come to my office, I give them a flash drive that contains 3,500 pages of what I have either written or has been written about me during the last century to give them courage.
I'm not at all happy about what's going on in Washington DC right now. I'm not at all happy about what just went down in Austin. I'm not at all happy about the gerrymandering and all that problems that's causing, but it's really waking people up and golly, I hope everybody can get busy for the 2018 election for the congressional and Senate and state elections. If this doesn't wake people up, nothing will wake people up.
I went to the Women's March in January, not to the national one. The Houston one. It was big. I've been to protests at City Hall in Houston. For many decades, I've been to protests. I've been to a lot of them for different this and that. I spoke, I was asked to speak. I've never seen that many people at a Houston rally. It was just everywhere. I know this afternoon, we may pull out of the Paris Climate Accords. I would be very surprised if we don't have another explosion over that.
Anyway, I'm optimistic that somehow we can ... If we can survive Ronald Reagan, and if we can survive W, we can survive this. If we can survive an election being stolen from Al Gore, and if we can survive an election being stolen from John Kerry, if we can survive an election being stolen from Hillary Clinton by the Russians, this country is great. I just wish the Republicans would finally say enough is enough. I don't know what it's going to take to do that. I'm sure you're going to cut all of this out, but that's the way I feel.
Mason Funk: It will all stay in.
Mason Funk: Why having, especially having told your story so many times, why is it important to you to keep telling your story?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [02:04:00] Because you present a different venue. There's people that are awakening and come out at different times. There's people that go on blogs at different times in their life in different stages. You know? People will find things that they haven't found before.So it's a good story to tell. I've done a lot. I've been very instrumental in a lot of positive change. I'm very proud of that. I don't want my story to get lost. I don't think it will. If I can give people courage, that's what's most important.
Again, I did this back in the 70s. I survived a lot. I kept my second marriage intact. We still live in the same house. That's another thing. You know, I told you about all the stuff that went on in the neighborhood. Well we stayed, because we had a mortgage. What were we going to do? Pull up stakes and get another mortgage that was worse or rent some place? We had a house. We had a backyard. We had dogs. We had a garden. So we suffered it out. Guess what happened? The ugly neighbors either moved, they got over it, or they died.
About 17 years ago, I was appointed by one of the presidents of the Civic Club to the unexpired term of a resigning secretary to be secretary of the Civic Club. Every year after that, for the next nine years, I was re elected by the Civic Club to be on the board of directors. They knew who I was. I finally had to get off, because as a judge, the Civic Club was going against the city on things and I had a conflict of interest, so I got off.
The Civic Club loves me, because I was very instrumental, extremely instrumental. This is a whole bunch of other stories on getting our neighborhood a sound wall from the railroad and getting us a quiet zone, where the railroad went across the intersections nearby, couldn't blow their horns. Oh man, it made a huge difference in our neighborhood. I was also very instrumental in cleaning up the neighborhood and getting rid of the graffiti.
You know how to get rid of graffiti in the neighborhood? Have a couple of buckets of paint and as soon as you see it, have it covered up within 24 hours. 'Cause the little punks that do that in the middle of the night, they steal or have to spend their own money on spray paint. They do it to show their friends. If their work and their bragging rights are gone before they can even show their friends, they'll go to another neighborhood. That's how you get rid of graffiti.
A lot of times, we'd get ready to paint somebody's fence and they'd come out and say, "You can't do that." I take a picture of the fence and I'd say, "This is going to the police department. You've got 48 hours to do something about it or we'll paint it for free." Well we painted it. They were happy. Sometimes nobody's at home, so my friends say, "Are we going to get in trouble for painting this?" I said, "No, I'm going to take a picture before and after. If they sue us, we'll go to court and say, this is what it was before. This is what it was after. What damages did we cause? None."
Anyway, I'm very well respected in the neighborhood. That, again, goes to allies and coming out and all this other stuff.
Mason Funk: Great. I'm tempted to do one question that we're looking for.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Go ahead.
Mason Funk: About fighting to overturn the ban on cross-dressing.
Mason Funk: Which it sounds like a key thing, an important thing.
Mason Funk: Can you tell us about that?
Mason Funk: What stage in your life were you at this point?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [02:08:00] Oh well I had come out and I was going full-time, so it was in '76. Another transgender person, bless her heart, by the name of Ann Mays, was out before me. She was full-time. She did not have the support network that I had of a spouse, who had an income and a house, so that I was able to ... I understand that when Ann was Tony, that Ann was really a good pool player. So Ann survived by being a pool shark.
She got arrested a lot. It was on television and in the newspapers a lot, so much so that some people, who sat on the fence, became kind of offended about the fact that she seemed to be persecuted by the police department. One time, she was arrested, and the judge found her not guilty, so they took her back and gave her her clothes. She put on her clothes. She walked out of the police department on to the sidewalk, and they arrested her again.
So when I was coming out, I wrote a letter to all of the members then of City Council, of which there were only eight, and a letter to the mayor, telling him who I was, and all this sort of stuff, the cross-dressing ordinance. Well one, it only takes one, one member of City Council had been so upset by what he had seen had happened to her, called me on the phone in response to the letter. He said, "I don't understand any of this, but I don't like the way she was treated. Will you come down to City Council, come to my office, and explain to me, meet with me?" And I did. I would do it regularly. He started introducing me to other members of the City Council. He started talking about me to his friends and to the mayor and other people.
It was at that time that City Council went through a big federal lawsuit, because we did not have single member districts. I don't know if you remember that, but back then, that was a big deal, because with the exception of one member of City Council, they were all white. So we went through a big deal on that. That was when I was going to law school. I became friends with one of the candidates.
When he got elected, this was a black man by the name of Ernest McGowen, a wonderful man, he said that I could come down once a week to his office and do volunteer work for him, where you would have a list of legal issues that he wanted my analysis on, or he would have a list of engineering questions that he has, because he knows I was an engineer. In trade for that, he would call the office and have me bring something down while council was in session.
So once a week, through the backdoor of the City Council, in session, I got to parade, Phyllis Frye, the known cross-dresser, the known transgender person, in front of all the members of City Council and the mayor, and whatever audience was sitting there to deliver something to him. At around six weeks, one of the City Council members just blew a fuse. He ranted and raved, and ranted and raved, and ranted and raved, and I heard about it after I left.
I went to his office. I was in tears. I said, "I did not deserve that. I am a nice person. I did not..." Well he was so embarrassed, because several other members of City Council went in there and said, "You are just wrong." He was very embarrassed. He was a gentleman. He was a jerk, but he was a gentleman. He said, "What do I do about it?" The closeted gay member of Council said, "If you'll move to repeal, I'll second." So when they went back in session, he moved to repeal, and second. I got a call from that person says, "Don't come back to Council until it's done." To get to that point took almost three years. Okay?
So on the day of the vote, the mayor was out of town. My first friend, whose name is Johnny Goyen, was Mayor Pro Tem. The mayor had already known the repeal ordinance was coming up for a vote. He had already told Johnny, says, "Yeah, let it go." The city secretary, who is still the city secretary, AnnaRussell, knew it was coming. Well there were two people, who I'm not going to name, not because I'm trying to cover their identity, because they're just jerks. I don't want their name even be mentioned. But they were going to flag it. City Council can flag and delay.
Well there's also a rule in City Council that if you're there present and you're not paying attention, but on the phone or whatever, or you don't vote, because you're busy, it's a yes. That's a vote at City Council. Well AnnaRussell waited until they were both on the phone. When the next item came up, she immediately handed that to Johnny completely out of order. Johnny says, "I have here blah-blah-blah-blah." There was yes votes. It was one no vote. The two members of city council were on the phone, didn't even know about it. They were recorded as yes votes.
I heard a few minutes later that they both went up to Goyen later, "Did you know this passed?" He said, "Oh, I didn't even realize that came up." Anyway, so it passed. It passed a week before I did my internship at the DA's office. The DA had said that if I came dressed as a woman, he was going to have me arrested, so I did my internship at the DA's office. My restroom was on the second floor. I was officed on the 10th floor. Stupid shit. I know this is being recorded, but I went through a lot of stupid shit. But anyway, there it is.
Mason Funk: All right. Amazing story.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: You got it. You had one more question?
Mason Funk: Yeah, what's the importance of a project like OUTWORDS?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: [02:14:30] Getting out the word. Getting the word. You gotta get out the word. Anything that gets out the word, no matter what format is. I'm hoping that it becomes an Amazon best seller. I'm hoping that because of that, people go to the website and watch the whole thing. I'm sure that there will be a lot of blogging about it. I'm hoping that students and professors use it. That's how it all happens. It's very important. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have been here for a full morning and rearranged my schedule to do this, and missed that funeral.
Mason Funk: Well we appreciate it. We're going to do room tone. You've done that before as well. 30 seconds, just silence.
Mason Funk: She'll just call it out.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: All right, and then when you take your camera, if you want to take pictures before you leave.
Mason Funk: I'm going to take you out and shoot some portraits. Well I'm going to shoot some portraits and then we'll shoot some B-roll as well.
Mason Funk: You should call it out.
Amy Bench: We're recording B-roll?
Mason Funk: No room tone.
Amy Bench: [02:15:30] Oh sorry, room tone. This is room tone. Okay, cutting.
Mason Funk: Okay. Give me one sec here. Here we go.
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Don't break it.
Mason Funk: I hope I won't. Do you want to go outside?
Phyllis Randolph Frye: Oh hi, Princess. You've been such a good girl.
Mason [00:00:30] Funk:
Phyllis [00:01:00] Randolph
Amy [00:31:00] Bench:

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Amy Bench
Date: June 01, 2017
Location: Office Of Phyllis Randolph Frye, Houston, TX