JD Doyle tells the story of a road trip he took just before HIV hit Texas

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

In 1981: My Gay American Road Trip, JD Doyle sets out on a cross-country adventure a year before the AIDS epidemic overtook the gay community. During his trip, Doyle discovers Texas, eventually settling in Houston.

One fun chapter in the book is all about his visit to Dallas, where he parties on Cedar Springs and describes recently-opened bars, including a one-story JR.’s, TMC (where Sue Ellen’s now stands) and the Round-Up Saloon.

Doyle was in Dallas recently for a meeting of the Gay Press Association and described Mark Segal, still publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News as “on the ball although perhaps a little pushy, or let’s say, very self-assured.” Great description, although Segal has mellowed some over the years.

A must-see picture is one taken at the corner of Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs of the eight-story landmark Omni Melrose hotel there.

The hotel still looks the same, except for the flashing red neon “Melrose Hotel” sign on the roof back then.

Doyle’s road trip documents life before AIDS in the gay community, and it will bring back memories for those who lived through the era. For those not around back them, it will likely seem quaint or simply odd.

For example, Doyle describes how he traveled with a Bob Damron guide, a pocket-size book that listed every gay bar, shop and meeting place — arranged by state — across the country. Having the latest Damron was a must for any gay traveler.

Doyle kept diaries of his road trip and today documents Houston’s LGBTQ community the way The Dallas Way records the history of the North Texas community.

Doyle began his archiving efforts with his Obituary Project, compiling obits of people in the LGBTQ community as printed in TWT and Houston gay publications he collected. He expanded the project statewide and today has thousands of death notices, including those from Dallas Voice.

That expanded to collecting historic photos documenting the LGBTQ community, especially in Houston, and, today, his websites have more than 80,000 pages of historical documents and photos.

Doyle’s book includes plenty of photos from his road trip, including a shot of Cedar Springs from the window of his room in the Melrose that shows Adair’s where S4 now stands. Adair’s was a Cedar Springs fixture long before the LGBTQ community moved in, and its owner just hated queers. To encourage him to move off the strip, Union Jack would place scantily clad models in its window on Adair’s busiest nights.

I don’t know if Doyle knew that story or not, but as a historian, he’d be happy that one picture of his conjured memories of how the gayborhood developed. And 1981 is a pleasant memory of the world before AIDS.