It will be hard to imagine Montrose — indeed, Houston — without Ray Hill.
The iconic, fiery, larger-than-life radio host and champion of criminal justice reform and LGBT rights passed away on Saturday, November 24 of heart failure while in hospice care. Hill was 78.
The Houston native was a self-described “hell-raiser” — and once said he was “born to rub the cat hair the wrong direction.” He co-founded Houston’s first gay rights organization, the Promethean Society, in 1967. In 1971, he served prison time for burglary early in his life, something that would inform his activism later.
His activism included influential roles in the start of Queer Nation, the pivotal case Lawrence v. Texas, and identifying hate crimes against gays. In 1987, he was a plaintiff in City of Houston v. Hill, which went to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of Hill, citing a citizen’s freedom of speech while being interrogated by a police officer. (Hill’s business cards often included the title “citizen provocateur,” which the Supreme Court dubbed him during the case.)
The firebrand hosted a popular radio program on KPFT called “The Prison Show”; the show inspired a documentary on Hill, Citizen Provocateur: Ray Hill's Texas Prison Show. Hill was also subject of another documentary, The Trouble with Ray, and was featured in the documentary The Guy with the Knife.
Hill was effortlessly media savvy and always frank and quick with a one-liner. According to the Houston Chronicle, he told callers who were inquiring on his condition: “It’s good to hear from you. But I’m dying right now.”
Rowdy and riotous, he was known to friends and the media simply as “Ray.” The man who once spent time behind bars will long be remembered as a liberating giant of Houston culture.