Our yearly list of intriguing community notables includes collegiate leaders, a veteran trans and HIV activist, a high-flying entrepreneur, and other accomplished people.
By Tim Brookover, Leslie Claire, Sarah L. Crowder, and Joyce Gabiola
Just after moving to Houston last year, Lynne Shepherd and her partner, Kathy Meyer, participated in the same-gender marriage protest at the courthouse. Friends in Chicago, where they had lived for 18 years, spotted them on television, Shepherd says.
No matter, because Shepherd is out in her personal life and at the University of Houston, where she is a staff psychologist. In 2004, she obtained permission to produce a newsletter welcoming GLBT students. This year, she hopes to find sponsors to help her expand it to a booklet.
At UH, Shepherd works with Crystal Newsome (mentioned later in this article) of GLOBAL, the student group. “It’s amazing. The kids are so much farther along than I was at that age.” She has talked to Kent Loftin (mentioned later in this article) about forming a faculty/staff branch of his Queer Collegiate Alliance.
Shepherd has also taken the reins of the lesbian group at the Houston GLBT Community Center. She renamed it Lesbian Women’s Group: Coming Out and Being Out. “It’s not just for people who are coming out but for people who wonder what it means to be out and how they fit into the community,” she explains. Also on the agenda for 2005: lesbian speed dating.
Like many in the community, Jeffrey Campbell plays more than one role. He is pastor of Fresh Start Church, which worships at the Houston GLBT Community Center. He is also project coordinator of the Young Men Saving Men drop-in center, a program of the Donald R. Watkins Memorial Foundation. On January 23, he will perform with the group Voices of Hope at McGee Chapel Baptist Church. A 2003 World AIDS Day concert in which he participated will be released on CD later this year.
Campbell says 2005 plans for Fresh Start include activities during the 10th anniversary of Black Splash in April and a continued collaboration with New Covenant Christian Church (which also worships at the community center) on homeless outreach.
The drop-in center, Campbell explains, is a Centers for Disease Control-funded project “to provide prevention and education services for young men who have sex with other men, particularly African-Americans, and their sex partners.” Activities include a program for men of color, Many Men, Many Voices.
In September, the U.S. Conference on AIDS will meet here, and Campbell will participate by organizing an all-day seminar that combines his two chief roles. The title: “Is the Bible Belt too Tight for HIV Prevention?”
Crystal Newsome thinks it’s “crazy” that she has been named one of
OutSmart’s people to watch. But she says she considers it a “privilege, an honor, and a great source of pride.”
Newsome is pursuing a communications-media production degree at the University of Houston, where she serves as president of the Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Alliance (GLOBAL). In 2005 she plans to lead GLOBAL to help launch the local chapter of the statewide Queer Collegiate Alliance (QCA), establish a UH GLBT alumni group, and contribute to the OUT Texas university conference in October. Even with these endeavors, Newsome assures that GLOBAL will remain the social, political, and support organization for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community and supporters at the school.
While holding two jobs and working to raise her GPA, Newsome is also collaborating with other student leaders to establish the QCA, which will unite GLBT college organizations to increase visibility and empower individuals to become leaders. To Newsome, the QCA means that “every student who wants to work for and fight for our rights would have the means to do so.” As the nation pays more attention to the community, the QCA may become a viable tool to educate the nation.
“We’re at a critical point with the volunteer EMS section. It’s literally going away,” says J.C. Simmons, an emergency medical technician for 10 years. In 2004, he established the Wind Foundation, a charitable organization created to raise money and provide resources for community-based volunteer emergency medical/first response services. With the typical cost of an ambulance running $87,000, for example, many find their existence endangered by inadequate funding. By helping these groups, the Wind Foundation aims to improve health care in the often low-income communities they serve. “Studies indicate that you can cut down a hospital stay by weeks and thousands of dollars with early EMS intervention,” Simmons says.
Having received its nonprofit status, the Wind Foundation is now working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to identify EMS groups that need assistance. In its first year, Simmons hopes the organization will cover the purchase of four ambulances.
For January, Katz’s Deli has chosen the Wind Foundation as nonprofit of the month, donating 10 percent of proceeds from a designated table. Next month, Simmons and his partner, Center for AIDS executive director Tom Gegeny, will celebrate their tenth anniversary with a party, requesting donations in lieu of gifts for one of their organizations.
Armed with a “Ph.D in trans issues and HIV from the streets,” Brenda Thomas has helped many other transgender individuals find support over the past 15 years. In 1991, Thomas established Helping TransGenders Anonymous, inspired by her own struggle. She is now executive director of the Houston Transgender Unity Committee, the consortium of trans organizations that hosts a banquet in April and raises scholarship funds.
Thomas works for the city health department as a community involvement coordinator, responsible for addressing trans issues and HIV/AIDS. She is a co-chair for the United States Conference on AIDS, which will take place in Houston in September.
A frequent speaker here and around the country, Thomas also works to educate the community on the use of non-medical silicone, which has injured and even killed some trans women. “The injections just kill me and tear my heart out,” she says. “These girls are risking their lives for curves, and it just isn’t worth it.”
Thomas has two grown children, including a daughter who graduated from college last month. For the future she prays for “good health and the ability to be able to continue what I do well.” The community will agree that what she does well is not only educate, but care.
In May Christel Miller will graduate from Rice University, having majored in psychology, visual arts, and women and gender studies. At Rice, Miller serves on the board of GATHER (GLBTQAs Advancing Toward a Harmonious Environment at Rice), helping to launch that campus resource center. She is co-chair of ADVANCE, a diversity group, and served two years on the Rice University President’s Council for GLBT Relations. Among her many endeavors, Miller is a filmmaker. Her projects include a 60-minute documentary, Breaking the Barriers: Diversity at Rice, and a short documentary, Wandering Thoughts, which screened at the Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival and the Seattle GLBT Film Festival in 2003.
In October, Glamour named Miller one of the top 10 college women in the nation.
This month, the Los Angeles native will apply to graduate programs in women’s studies and psychology. “I want to become a filmmaker. I’m really into doing films that speak to minority voices.” As a role model, she names Jamie Babbit, who directed the comedy But I’m a Cheerleader (“a film that helped me come out”). Miller met Babbit when the director visited Rice. “I enjoy her style of filmmaking and the political message behind it—plus the entertainment value.”
If home is where the heart is, Kent Loftin is certainly at home with volunteerism. Loftin is program manager for the Texas chapter of Best Buddies, the organization that pairs intellectually disabled individuals with people in the general community, providing assistance and support with everyday tasks. He recruits and trains college volunteers.
Loftin is also spearheading the effort to establish the Queer Collegiate Alliance, which will help connect GLBT campus organizations across the state, provide leadership training and networking events, and keep groups informed about events and conferences. “The alliance exists to empower and unite GLBT college organizations to be beacons of enlightenment, progress and support,” he says. So far the alliance has helped unofficial organizations develop at two church-affiliated campuses in Texas.
He also volunteers with the Harris County Democrats and with the Center (a local agency that serves people with mental retardation) and works on fundraising for the Houston GLBT Community Center. To keep himself balanced, Loftin promotes independent music shows, helps to produce local fashion shows, and organizes a current-events book club.
In the coming years, Loftin aims to attend law school and one day run for public office in Texas. Now that’s a career path to watch.
In 1992, Shane Boyle came out to 15,000 readers in his Daily Cougar column at the University of Houston. Over the next two years he received both fan mail and hate mail, inspired attempts by campus conservatives to stop funding for the paper, and received a Society of Professional Journalists award. He began producing zines in high school and published his first comic book in 1997. In 2000, Boyle founded the Graphic Novel Discussion Group and later started a spin-off group, the Houston Comics Jam and Workshop. In November, that group hosted the first Houston Comix and Zine Festival, a grassroots effort to promote local cartoonists and self-publishers.
In 2005, Boyle (pictured with one of his characters) plans to continue both the discussion group and the comics jam, and he expects to increase the scale of both the festival and another group, the Texas Comics Creators Forum. Boyle will also create new issues of his minicomic, Shane (including autobiographical issues that will further establish his identity as an out cartoonist). “A lot of people assume I’m straight until it comes up in conversation,” Boyle says. “At [one] time, I was already writing, editing, and publishing comics and had been out for a decade, but I didn’t really think of myself as an artist. Since then, I’ve come out in that respect, too.”
Tara-marie Martinez became involved with Houston Area Teen Coalition for Homosexuals at 16. She eventually served on the board of directors and co-hosted the H.A.T.C.H. radio show that airs during After Hours on KPFT.
The Tomball Community College student was selected last year as the first Greater Houston GLBT Chamber of Commerce intern, in a program created by H.A.T.C.H. The chamber recently asked Martinez, who works for a petroleum company while attending school, to stay on for another year. “I’m looking forward to developing the internship program since I’m the first one,” she says. “I’m excited to be part of the chamber during its 10th anniversary year.” She hopes to build the new student membership program for 18- to 25-year-olds, which will feature workshops on entrepreneurship, résumé building, and networking.
“There aren’t a lot of options for that age group,” Martinez says, “but that’s a large group, and we’re keeping them involved.”
Martinez has participated four years in Turned Up Volume, the GLBT performance and video project at DiverseWorks. Last fall, she served a residency as a youth mentor when Turned Up Volume traveled to Boston. Martinez, who plans to continue studies in radio and television, has already made seven short films.
—Sarah L. Crowder
“Ultimately, what this group is about is seeing results in our personal lives to demonstrate that we are changing and changing for the better,” says Paul Guillory of Men Empowering Men. The new support group he founded, which meets weekly at the Houston GLBT Community Center, focuses on the lives of African-American gay, bisexual, and same-gender-loving men. Guillory, who works in the energy industry, wants to “look at those things that keep men from reaching their potential.” He continues, “This is about going into a difficult world, not in an angry way but in a positive way. I want people to be more self-aware and more conscious of the decisions they make on a day-to-day basis and not be surprised when all hell breaks loose.”
In 1999, Guillory founded The Men’s Gathering, another support group, and continues to co-moderate the online component of that group with the new moderator, Christopher Evans. “I like to be a change agent,” Guillory says. “I like to be proactive.” He and his ex-wife (they divorced in 1996) have three children, a daughter who consults for Accenture, another daughter in a social-work doctoral program, and a teenage son who plays football and throws shot put.
Proving that fiction can sometimes advance reality, Douglas Hord recently founded Fabulair, a charter airline service for the community. Inspired in 1998 by an e-mail spoof describing a blueprint for the first gay airline, Hord originally intended only to further the fun by creating a functional website for a fictional carrier, “the first airline for gay men, lesbians, and anyone else lucky enough to get a seat.” However, a background in business consulting and a lifelong fascination with aviation pushed Hord higher. Knowing that thousands of people travel to gay events year-round, he decided to investigate the possibility of offering exclusive charter flights to major GLBT happenings around the world.
Hord solidified the business plan in late 2004 and launched a website on December 29. Now with funding on board, a maiden flight to Amsterdam Pride set for August, and a schedule through June 2006, Houston-based Fabulair is ready for takeoff. “Working at Fabulair is a natural extension resulting from the things we love to do —flying, cocktails, and having as much fun as possible,” he quips. Known at the new airborne firm as Chief Fabulousness Officer, Hord is making the skies a little bit friendlier, and a lot more, well, fabulous.
Soon Chris Rivera will be seen in a production of David Drake’s one-man show The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, jointly mounted by the University of Houston student group Unheard Voices and Unhinged Productions, the GLBT theater company. The show will probably open next month, dependent on location of a venue, says Rivera, who serves as event coordinator for Unheard Voices and is the youngest-ever Unhinged Productions board member.
Even though the Unheard Voices debut season features works with gay content, including Genet’s Deathwatch and Out, a new play by company member Greg Hundemer, the group is not strictly gay, Rivera says. “This isn’t a bunch of gay college kids trying to put on shows about themselves. It’s a diverse organization that has recognized the gay community as a sexual minority whose voice needs to be heard. In fact, I was the only gay member on the play selection committee.”
Rivera says he has never been hindered by race or sexuality in casting. “As a gay Hispanic actor, I am proud that I have been able to do so much work in Houston. I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve played heterosexuals and a Russian philosopher and a drug-addicted prostitute and a Greek island boy.”