Robert Emery and Cece Cox were resplendent in white as grand marshals of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, outshining the protesters who showed up

2022 BTD Kuchling Humanitarian award honors Robert Emery’s involvement in Dallas’ LGBTQ culture, history and life

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

Robert Emery, this year’s recipient of Black Tie Dinner’s Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, began his career of volunteerism with the Turtle Creek Chorale and along the way has worked to preserve Dallas LGBTQ history, enhance the city’s cultural landscape and make North Texas a safer place for community members to age in.

Emery’s entry into the community was as a member of the chorale. He joined in 1988 during the depths of the AIDS crisis.

He said that while he enjoyed the meteoric rise of the chorale and its leader Tim Seelig, their success had a price.

“Being a gay men’s chorus put us at the center of the [HIV/AIDS] crisis,” Emery said. “There was a time we sang at a funeral every weekend.”

But not being one to dwell on the negative, he quickly turned to positive events. “We traveled to Europe,” he said of the chorale. “We performed at Carnegie Hall.”

And, while he is no longer singing with TCC, Emery’s most recent connection with the group was chairing the chorale’s first Rhapsody fundraiser, which featured Idina Menzel performing at an event at the Statler Hotel. That event was, at the time, the 40-year-old organization’s most successful.

Robert Emery

Emery is no stranger to Black Tie Dinner, either. In 2005 and 2006, he served on its board as producer of the show. He and his committee brought in Lily Tomlin, Sharon Stone, Geena Davis and Alan Cumming.

“Stone upped our fundraising by about $99,000,” Emery estimated, recalling how the actor raised so much money. During the auction, the crowd wasn’t paying attention. So, declaring that “We’re here to raise money,” Stone then grabbed everyone’s attention by auctioning off the shoes she was wearing.

But Emery had the story behind the shoes: The day before Black Tie, Stone told him she needed shoes, and she gave him the name of a specific salesman at the Neiman Marcus store in NorthPark Mall.

“He knows what I like,” Stone said of the salesman.

So Emery went to Neiman’s at NorthPark and found the salesman who knew Stone. The salesman pulled out a pair of Manolo Blahniks in her size, and Emery charged them to his own credit card.

But it was, “a ruse.” Stone had a well-thought-out plan in place all along to put that set of shoes up for auction, grab the attention of the audience and raise some big bucks. Oh, and everyone at that year’s dinner fell in love with her in the process.

At that same dinner, Lily Tomlin asked Emery what the biggest news story of the day was. Emery said he told her it was (former House Speaker) Tom DeLay’s imminent arrest. That fueled Tomlin’s opening line: “I will feel that I have done a good job tonight if I can put a smile on your face just half as broad as the smile on Tom DeLay’s mugshot,” Tomlin said to open her set. And the crowd went wild.

Emery became interested in preserving the history of Dallas’ LGBTQ community when Jack Evans sent out an email after an interview at Dallas Voice on the occasion of his 50th anniversary with George Harris in 2011. “Do you think it would fly if several of our contemporaries had a dialog about the 1950s and beyond?” Evans asked in the email.

That was the beginning of The Dallas Way, a group that collects stories and artifacts to preserve the history of the community.
(Harris’ reaction, by the way, was, “Oh, not another damn group.”)

Emery sat on the original board for The Dallas Way and is currently its president. At the same time the group formed, University of North Texas announced it wanted to become the largest repository of LGBTQ history in the Southwest and that the school had recently built a large cold-storage facility to store papers and artifacts.

Among Emery’s interesting contacts during the decade that he has been collecting stories and memorabilia with The Dallas Way was from a location scout and a costumer from the film Dallas Buyer’s Club. Emery said The Dallas Way helped put together the authentic 1980s pins and t-shirts worn in the film.

Emery worked with Mark Doty and Sam Childers on text for the Texas Historical Marker that stands outside JR.’s Bar & Grill, at the intersection of Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street. They helped shepherd the wording through Dallas County, which had to approve it before it could be sent to the Texas Historical Commission. After a year of emails back and forth, the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton was declared a state historical location.

Then Emery worked with Dr. Sara Abosch of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum to argue, as Emery put it, about what should be highlighted in the new museum’s exhibit on human rights.

“Mica England was a Holocaust Museum choice,” Emery said. “She represents the perfect intersection of sexuality, politics and social justice.”

England, who applied to become a Dallas Police officer, was rejected because she was lesbian. She sued the city for discrimination in employment and won. Emery said her story is included in the museum because it took LGBTQ equality to the next level.

The story of Don Baker, whose lawsuit in the 1980s resulted in a Dallas judge declaring the Texas sodomy law unconstitutional, is also included in the museum.

The September celebration of that decision was the impetus for moving Dallas’ annual Pride parade to September. The Dallas Pride events stayed in September even after an appeals court ruling reinstated the sodomy law.

Emery was named grand marshal of that parade, the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, on its 30th anniversary. He rode in a carriage, wearing a white suit, alongside his co-grand marshal, Cece Cox.

Emery also served on the board of radio station WRR when the station was city-owned. “I’ve always been a fan of WRR, so joining the board was a natural,” he said.

At the time, the station was spending a lot of time and money recruiting people to become “Friends of WRR.” Friends donated to provide commercial-free hours of classical programming.

“I conceived the idea of using the power of the radio to run a Friends of WRR membership drive,” Emery said. Instead of recruiting friends one or two at a time at house parties, the station gained a couple of hundred in a short time through the membership drive.

Another of Emery’s passions is caring for the area’s aging LGBTQ population. At first, he was determined to build a brick-and-mortar facility exclusively for the community. But his focus changed with the formation of Coalition for Aging LGBT, where he’s a board member, after the group took a survey.

“Our LGBT seniors didn’t want to be in an exclusively gay community,” he said. “That was very eye-opening for me and utterly changed my focus. It changed the trajectory of my work.”

The product of more than a year of site visits, questionnaires and trainings resulted in the North Texas LGBT-Friendly Senior Housing Guide.

And finally, Archives for All, Y’All, a 13-state regional conference focused on LGBTQ history, takes place at Dallas College El Centro campus on Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Emery, of course, is co-chairing the local planning committee that’s bringing the conference to town.

But first, he’ll be the recipient of Black Tie’s Kuchling Award recognizing service to the community.