For 2007, our People to Watch list ranges from a popular entertainer and a soon-to-be highly visible politician, to intriguing although less high-profile individuals who perform the kind of significant work that makes our community special: Lauren Grant
Lauran Grant attends a high school of 1,400 students in Santa Fe, the small town located on the coastal plain near Galveston. She enjoys the usual things that 18-year-olds do—like going to the movies with friends. She’s your typical high school senior. She is gay. And at a school of 1,400, that isn’t as typical as you would think.
At the beginning of this school year, Grant approached school officials about starting a gay/straight alliance at Santa Fe High School. In her words, she wanted to start the alliance because there was a sense of isolation in the GLBT community at her school and no signs of anywhere to turn. Grant wanted to gain tolerance for the students at her school and give them an alternative. She has started something that has become infectious—tolerance. While the battle is still yet to be won, the student has started the fire inside many to get the ball rolling in a town like Santa Fe.
Starting the alliance would not be as easy as Grant had at first hoped. The school administration thought it better to call the organization an anti-defamation alliance to avoid controversy. With that agreed to, the students moved on and started the alliance. According to Charmiane Mantooth, group sponsor, there was a ripple effect at first with students who felt for religious reasons that the students should not be able to have their meetings at school, but since the first few meetings, things have been pretty smooth. Nearly 40 to 50 students at every meeting, the Galveston Daily News has reported.
Mantooth says that she got involved with the group because she respects Grant and, as a Christian, she wants to demonstrate that there is a loving community for her to talk to.
“I have long felt that we Christians often display an un-Christian-like attitude toward certain groups of people, including the GLBT community,” Mantooth says. “We have contributed to the marginalization of this group of people, and I think it puts the high school GLBT community at risk. I refuse to be involved in this marginalization and want to take an active stand in my commitment to allowing all students to achieve their full potential, without being dragged down by names or labels.”
Grant has no intentions of doing so. She has given GLBT high school students who have lived in Santa Fe for generations somewhere to go, somewhere to turn to when their community doesn’t want to listen. She, along with her peers in the alliance, took an idea and made it happen, and they have helped numerous gay students find a voice—students like alliance vice president Josh Everett and officer Blake Hightower. Both say that Santa Fe needed a GLBT support group, which has helped kids at their school come “out of hiding.”
“I am gay in a town that doesn’t support homosexuality, but slowly that is changing with the start of the Anti-Defamation Alliance,” Hightower says. “More and more people are confronting their homosexuality knowing that they have friends and supporters willing to help in their time of need. There is nothing more important to me than promoting equality, love, and a world without hate.”
In a high school senior’s world, most kids don’t think they have the time to help others in need. They are caught up with their friends and some are planning for college. Grant has done all of that. She plans to attend veterinary school at Texas A&M University. She also has time to hang out with her friends and because of that has maybe helped a few in desperate need. Her future is bright. —Natasha Avey; photo by Giselle Monte
Brad Morman admits that his job as a full-time psychiatrist at Legacy Community Health Ser- vices can be “very intense,” but he has learned to balance the demands of the job with a strong sense of personal wellness.
“I feel like I have a really good fit with my career,” says the currently single Morman, who arrived at Legacy last September as the agency’s first full-time psychiatrist. “I don’t dwell on it a lot when I’m at home. For the most part, I’m able to set things aside for the next day and just come at it fresh.”
That perspective has helped Morman excel at his job, but things weren’t always so clear. He dropped out of graduate school and waited tables for a few years after earning an undergraduate degree in psychology. Morman says he was simply “burned out.”
“I was in a pretty research-oriented program, and I was never really interested in doing formal research as a career. I was also pretty young, and I think I kind of rushed things too much in terms of just figuring out exactly what I wanted.”
The path to medicine soon became clear. Morman initially zeroed in on oncology. But during a mandatory psychiatry rotation, something clicked.
“It [psychiatry] felt like home. It felt like what I’d always been meant to do,” he says. “I really love my work. I think I’m one of the luckiest people I know, in terms of being able to do something that I enjoy and getting a lot of satisfaction out of it.”
And at the end of the day, you’re likely to find the good doctor sweating out the stress on a treadmill.
“I go to the gym pretty much every day, and I run,” he says. “I like to go straight to the gym from work, really go from a lot of thinking to just really listening to my body for an hour or two. That feels healthy to me.” —Joey Guerra; photo by David Lewis
A routine medical check-up last year set Essence Augustus on a course that has changed her life. “I found out I was positive two days before my 24th birthday, on Valentine’s Day,” she says.
Augustus, who is transgender and at the time was abusing drugs and had been involved in prostitution, says her whole world came crashing down. But the way she explains it, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to lose.
“I come from a middle-class family who didn’t understand me, and I made a lot of bad choices,” Augustus says. “Finding out that I’m HIV positive is the only positive thing that happened to me until that day. It opened my eyes up and made me put my life together.”
Now Augustus sees herself as a compass for transgender people who have made negative choices. She says there’s no barrier between herself and transgender people who walk the streets. Rather, she stresses that life is about choices. Augustus calls on her life experience in her job at the AIDS Foundation Houston Stone Soup Pantry, where she works to help clients and reach out to those in need of a morale boost.
“It’s a privilege to know my clients and do what I can to help, because I understand their struggles,” Augustus says. “I reach out to them every day. I have friends who still do what they want to do, and I believe I’ve been a positive influence.”
“I see myself in corporate America,” she says. “I just want my voice to be heard.” —Josef Molnar; photo by John Conroy
Noel Freeman is an Air Force veteran, a former member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, and a fiscally conservative Republican. He also happens to be gay and the new president of Log Cabin Republicans Houston.
Freeman, who works in the city public works and engineering department, is running for the Houston City Council At-Large Position 3 seat in November and may run for the remaining portion of the term in the special election now set for May. The seat became vacant when at-large member Shelly Sekula-Gibbs had to relinquish her Council seat once she was elected in November to fill the remaining months of Tom Delay’s seat in a special election held after the House speaker’s resignation. (In the general election, Democratic candidate and former congressman Nick Lampson was elected to replace Delay in District 22.)
“I’ve been considering running for the last year and a half,” Freeman says. “I was planning to run in November 2007, but [Sekula-Gibbs’] election sped up that process.”
Freeman doesn’t think his orientation will be an issue with voters.
“If I’m going to be honest to people about who I am, people can expect me to be honest about the issues which affect their lives,” he says.
Freeman points to Annise Parker’s success (elected three times to an at-large Council position and her two terms as city controller) as well as Sue Lovell’s recent winning bid for a Council seat as proof that gay people can be as electable as their straight counterparts.
“I think I would be just as good a representative on City Council as the others have been,” he says. “But I have a conservative side.”
Specifically, Freeman is conservative in business and fiscal matters and socially more moderate. He sees no irony with being a Republican and gay.
“There are lots of conservative GLBT people, and some have been pushed away by the direction the Republican Party has gone,” he says. But Freeman asserts that there is a place for conservative gay people in political life.
“As far as drawing a clear line is concerned,” he says, “people who identify as liberals focus on social issues and conservatives focus on fiscal issues.”
Freeman is a member of the Houston Heights Association and the Texas Floodplain Managers Association, which he says has helped him learn how to better understand aspects of his job.
Freeman says his fiscal conservatism would be an asset on City Council along with his experience in the public works department, which oversees the city’s infrastructure such as streets, light fixtures, and water facilities.
As a fiscal conservative, Noel favors following the example of the public/private efforts that created Discovery Green, the new park adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.
“It’s good to ask, ‘Is there another way to fund it?'” he says. “We could have used city taxes to pay for the entire project, but instead we were able to save the city money by using grants to work on that. We saved a lot of money that way.” —Josef Molnar; photo by David Lewis
Delma Cummings had a career. Between her 15 years of working with special-education students and the 30 she spent at Southwestern Bell, she has paid her dues in the work force. Now, at age 68, she has decided to take on a new job—one that is especially important to her.
Cummings is an outreach worker with SPRY, the program for GLBT seniors established by Montrose Counseling Center and Legacy Community Health Services with help from a $1.2 million federal grant. SPRY (Seniors Preparing for Rainbow Years) offers mental health and support services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons who are age 60 or older. These services include assessment, peer support, counseling, case management, and psychiatry.
Cummings was compelled to get involved in the program, through Montrose Counseling Center, after hearing of it in a meeting of the group LOAF (Lesbians Over the Age of Fifty). She has been involved ever since. SPRY launched a year ago this month and is involved in a range of endeavors, which include support groups, social activities, and visits to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to offer help to GLBT seniors.
All in all, Cummings says she has found her work to be rewarding and beneficial to those in her age group. The message of which Cummings wants to remind people is that there are in fact GLBT seniors in need of support—more than most think about. Some of these people have been closeted their whole lives and are now facing feelings of isolation and loneliness in the late years of their lives. SPRY was formed to help those people and remind others that just because a person reaches a certain age, that doesn’t mean they do not have to deal with the day-to-day things that trouble the GLBT community.
In Cummings’ words, “Just because we turned 60 doesn’t mean we stopped being gay.” So far, Cummings says SPRY is going well and has no intentions of slowing in its second year. Neither does Cummings—to her, age is just a number. —Natasha Avey; photo by Dalton DeHart
Alan Lett was barely out of high school when he recorded his first disc, From Now On, in his bedroom. He completed his second disc, The Noise Next Door, in his parents’ garage in 2004.
These days, the prolific prodigy has moved into considerably roomier digs. He teamed with pop duo Jason & deMarco in late 2004 to form RJN Music-Letthead Productions, an independent company based in Houston that includes a 1,000-square-foot digital recording studio.
Lett and crew are dedicated to providing both new and established artists—particularly those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender—with a welcoming environment to record music.
“Most of the ‘gay’ music out there is pure shock value and exploitation. It’s hard to make real, non-satirical music and have people want to listen to it,” says Lett, who took piano lessons as a child but has no other formal training.
“I think there’s something creepy to straight people about an openly gay artist who’s not in drag or not surrounded by half-naked men all the time. That’s what we hope to change.”
Jason & deMarco were so taken with Lett’s drive—and talent—that the pair asked him to produce Til the End of Time, released in June via Centaur Music. This is the well-known gay duo’s first foray into mainstream pop after making some waves in the Christian music world.
DeMarco calls Lett’s sound, “refreshing and real, not over-produced—acoustic and raw, yet still commercial enough for radio.”
“Jason & deMarco are a blast,” Lett says. “That little five-inch disc with that little hour of audio represents a huge part of my life and career. The first time I held a physical copy of the finished product in my hands, I got emotional. So much of who I am went into that project.”
As for his own music, Lett recently released a third disc, Heart, Soul and Hymns , an album of classic inspirational favorites. The 21 tracks include “How Great Thou Art,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” and “Here I Am, Lord.” Along with the well-loved hymns, Lett concludes the CD with an original, and danceable, tune, “When Jesus Calls My Name.”
“Overall, the album will represent my recent overhaul of the ‘taking myself too seriously’ credo,” he says.” I’m just having fun at this point—in all aspects of my life.”—Joey Guerra; photo by Steven David