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One woman remembers that the police would sometimes go into the bar claiming that they were looking for drugs. At other times, police would wait outside the bar as people were leaving and then follow them home until they found an excuse to pull them over and harass them. This was a night where the bar would have 99 cent drinks and wet t-shirt contests, advertising to both LGBTQ and cisgender heterosexual people.
These nights were also unfortunately marked by violence, often due to the fact that members of rival gangs would go to the same bar, get intoxicated, and then fight once the lights came on or they saw each other in the parking lot.
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After several incidents of violence occurred, police began to increase their presence and the bar eventually closed down. Other people remember that the area around 10th Avenue became increasingly residential and that the residents who lived in the area petitioned to have it shut down. The bar was known for playing industrial and alternative rock music and attracting a large crowd on weekends. In , Club X booked the now world-famous entertainer RuPaul—who had already begun a successful musical and modeling career—to perform.
She drew a huge crowd and a UT Pan American publication wrote a story on her show. One young gay man stated in the article that he was happy to see one of his biggest idols and compared RuPaul to Madonna. At some point, possibly due to the popularity of the RuPaul show, Club X also featured regular drag shows.
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Interestingly, the backdrop for the stage that the queens would perform on was a replica of a mural done by queer artist Keith Haring, who passed away in from AIDS-related complications. One resident who grew up in Rio Grande City in the s remembers that a gazebo on Main Street was known for this kind of activity and other people remember parks in Edinburg, McAllen, and Harlingen that served this function. Archer Park, in downtown McAllen, became known for this on a large scale starting as far back as the s.
Although it was still known for cruising and hooking up, more and more people—mostly gay men and trans women—would begin to frequent the location to meet up with others on Friday and Saturday nights. One person remembers that there were crowds in the park itself and then people who would hang out in and around their cars on the edges of the park. One man remembers that there was a vacant lot next to the park at the time now the site of a bank and that on Saturdays it would be filled with cars coming from nearby gay bars such as Bumpers and 10th Avenue.
The first known gay bar in the Rio Grande Valley opened in the early s. It was owned by a straight couple—a woman named Helen and her husband—who were not originally from the Valley.
Helen is often described as a straight woman who had several gay friends. At the time, the area was a popular shopping destination for tourists from both sides of the border. There was one gay person in town that we knew- they used to call him La Manuela and he was older. He would always wear the most fabulous outfits…pos, one day we just went up to La Manuela and asked her to take us. And we sat down in the back seat of the car agachados crouched down the whole way until we left Rio so that no one would see us with La Manuela!
Going to the bar also came with some risks.
As soon as the community found out the nature of the bar, people would drive by or wait outside to harass customers. They would often shout homophobic slurs at them or throw rocks or bottles. One patron remembers that the bar would close at 1: The queens performed in a small corner of the bar to music provided by a jukebox. Helen died in the early s and the bar was sold to new owners. One man remembers a small bar in the middle of some orange groves on in Edinburg in the mid s and a small bar on old Highway 83 in Donna called The Ocean that was only open for about a year.
The first gay bar that we know of to be owned by a queer person in the Valley was Bumpers which would change its name several times, going by Bumpers, Ect.
Bumpers seems to be the name that most people in the community remember it by. He later opened a gay bar in Reynosa called Choices. He moved to McAllen in the early s and is remembered by most people who knew him as a handsome, bold, and flamboyant figure. Leonardo opened his first bar The Evolution during the s in North McAllen and after a few months moved it to the its more well known location on 10th Street and Pecan in McAllen. The bar eventually changed its name to Bumpers. The first was that it had a dance floor and the second was that it had regular drag shows.
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