Do You Know Your Houston GLBT History Makers?

Rice University students present project at Pride Festival.

Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.”

Professor Brian Riedl (R) with student Matt Valdez.

Students in Rice University’s “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies” recently tried their hand at both, and you will be able to see their work in the History Tent at the Pride Festival on Saturday, June 23.

As part of the coursework in the Spring 2007 class, the students chose a person to interview from a list of nearly 200 lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender community members who were invited by the instructor to participate in the project. By the end of the semester, the 30 students in the class had researched, interviewed, and prepared presentations featuring the lives and community contributions of 17 Houstonians.

To hear the students talk, the interview experience was both eye opening and fun.

“This past semester has been great, simply due to the fact that it caused me to step out of my comfort zone and explore different avenues,” Desarie Walwyn, a junior majoring in psychology, describes it. “I was able to learn a lot about the GLBT community hands on and from a direct source. I know I would not have gotten that opportunity through simply researching books and journal articles.”

Jonathan Cary, a senior kinesiology and management double major, and Anisha Turner, a freshman with interests in natural science, describe their experience of the interview project in similar terms.

“The project was never a bore, and we seemed to learn something new every day,” he says.

Although the class has been offered to undergraduates for several years through the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, this year is only the second time that the course has emphasized direct student interviews with prominent members of Houston’s GLBT communities. In 2006, the first year where the class had a community research focus, students worked on such diverse issues as the fight over Proposition 2, Exodus International, the impact of Katrina on HIV services in Houston, how homosexuality is treated in college and professional athletic teams, and factors shaping the ways sexuality is treated in the Episcopal Church.

Rosemary Hennessey, the recently appointed director for the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, is a strong supporter of building on this new, community-oriented direction.

“One of the goals of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality,” she says, “is to engage the research that students and faculty do at Rice in communities outside academia and the classroom.” Hennessey argues that this engaged research “enables students to make connections between ideas and consequences in practice.”

Erik Olenchak, who serves on the board of directors for Pride Houston and is one of the many volunteers involved in organizing the History Tent, echoes Hennessy when he describes the impact the project can have, both for students and the community.  

“Student involvement equates to one of the central purposes of any historical collection insofar as students typically represent a forthcoming generation of knowledge and leadership,” Olenchak says.

“Socially,” he adds,” their participation represents an opportunity for youthful researchers to interact on a personal level with materials, media, and people emblematic of GLBT history.”

So whose stories did the students get to know better, after all? Since it would not be fair to just give it all away, take a look at the hints below to test out your knowledge of some of Houston’s history makers!

a graduate of Rice University and former employee of Mosbacher Energy

a member of Delta Phi Upsilon

one of the team of lawyers in   the 2003 Supreme Court case, Lawrence vs. Texas

a nurse who served as president of the Lesbian Health Initiative

a minister and HIV education activist

a local entrepreneur featured in a Logo documentary

the owner of the former Galleon, among many other bars and clubs in the Houston area

a former Bank of America   employee turned grassroots GLBT political activist

the executive director of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2006

a Texas A&M graduate discharged from the Corps of Cadets under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

a transgender lawyer who was honorably discharged from the military

one of the organizers behind Houston Splash

a lawyer and father who has served on the national Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign and helped guide Bayou City Boys Club

a comedian and writer who dressed as Tinky Winky when a Pride Parade Grand Marshal

a volunteer coordinator in several community organizations who was born in Swineshead.

So how did you do?   Stumped?   Think you know them all?   Either way, come to the History Tent on June 23 to learn more!

The author, Brian Riedel, teaches the “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies” at Rice University, and serves on the board of Pride Houston as its treasurer.


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