Out in Front

These elected grand marshals will lead the GLBT Pride Parade down Westheimer this year: Jack Valinski, Maria González, Garnet Coleman, mperial Court of Houston-Space City Empire.


The community voted, and there are new marshals in town for the GLBT Pride Parade. Look for them at the beginning of the annual procession on Saturday, June 23, as it rolls along Westheimer from Woodhead to Taft. We photographed the marshals (except for Garnet Coleman, who at press time was still working in Austin during the final days of the legislative session) at points along the traditional parade route.

Jack Valinski
Male Grand Marshal

Jack Valinski

Director of operations of the Houston Equal Rights Alliance (HERA).
Toasted for his years of activism in the local community by HERA at a March 29 fundraiser.
Long-time leader of the Pride Committee of Houston (renamed Pride Houston in 2005), most recently as executive director before he left the organization last year.
Houston GLBT Political Caucus board member.
Producer and co-host of Queer Voices, the weekly KPFT radio program.

What is your proudest accomplishment?
I think the night parade. We made the switch in 1997. It was the first nighttime Pride Parade, and it’s still the largest in the Southwest. Through that, I think we’ve been able to help Houston become more accepting, not just of GLBTs but of all people.

How long does it take to put on the parade?
When we started it was a March to July effort, now it’s year-round planning.

You’re originally from Pennsylvania, but you’ve been here since 1981. What do you like best about the city?
Yeah, I’m a Yankee! But believe it or not, I like the weather! I really like the weather here. It never snows.

Are you an outdoors guy, then?
I love riding my bike outside. I also like watching indie films, and I’m a news junkie.

And the future?
Is all about getting voters, progressive voters, together. I’ve started a database. We have about 30,000 Harris County voters now, because I feel we need to work on our home base. Presidential elections are fun, but the real change comes locally. We want to get Annise [Parker, city controller] elected mayor in 2009 and get some Democratic county judges.

Maria González
Female Grand Marshal

Maria González

Associate professor of English at the University of Houston.
A leading authority on Mexican-American literature, Chicana writers, feminist and queer theory, sexuality, and pedagogy.
Author of Contemporary Mexican American Women Novelists: Toward a Feminist Identity .
Board member and driving force of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (and immediate past president).

How does an English prof get involved in politics?
I consider myself a scholar-activist. I’ve always been political. I’m familiar with those issues because of my specialties in academia. When I came to Houston in 1991, I got involved in politics and met people like [political consultant] Grant Martin and Annise Parker, and it just went from there.

Who’s your favorite writer?
Oh, there isn’t just one. I’ve got lots of favorite writers: Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa and many, many more.

What is the state of Chicana lesbian writing today?
There are more and more writers every year. The expected homophobia actually propelled those writers to challenge the literary field. You now have different types of authors. You have gay writers in every single genre in publishing.

How do you prepare for the parade?
I was assured that much of my work would be ceremonial, so I don’t think I have too much to do. I’m very busy right now with the endorsements for the upcoming city election. It is so important that we have people representing us who are in tune with our needs.

What does it mean to you to be a marshal?
I was thrilled just to be nominated. I was a little taken aback when I found out I won. It’s very illustrious company, and to be there with Jack, it’s very special. Stonewall was about getting them off our backs to stop harassing us. That’s why we celebrate in June, but Pride represents a lot of different factors and how far we have come. This is one of those things when I get old and sit in my rocker and tell my story, I’ll be very proud of.

Garnet Coleman
Honorary Grand Marshal

Garnet Coleman

Has served as a state representative from Texas District 147 since 1991.
A third-generation resident of Third Ward.
Named legislator of the year by the Texas Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1995 and one of the 10 best legislators by Texas Monthly in 1995 and 1997.
Advocate for the GLBT community, low-income housing, and solar energy.
Among his accomplishments during the current legislative session, introduced bills that would protect GLBT students and that would add transgender Texans to the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act.

Is the GLBT community becoming stronger on the political front?
I think so. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus helped me win my primary last year in which one of my opponents was using a lot of homophobic rhetoric, and it’s clear the GLBT community was decisive in helping elect representative Ellen Cohen as well. That’s a testament to both how strong the community is and how much progress the community has made in the past few years.

What is your proudest piece of legislation?
For GLBT Texans, I’m certainly proud of the Dignity for All Students Act [HB 2527], which prohibits discrimination and bullying against GLBT students in our public schools. Every student deserves a quality education free from discrimination and harassment, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and I’m proud to have authored this bill this session. [At press time, the bill had been referred to the house committee on public education.]

What do you think the parade does for Houston’s profile?
The parade is an amazing opportunity for Houstonians from all over the city to celebrate how proud we are of Houston’s GLBT community. But more than being just a party, it’s a chance to remember Stonewall, to remember where the movement for GLBT rights started and how far it’s come since then. The more we can celebrate that, the better Houston’s profile is as a place where the GLBT community can live, work, and play.

What are you most looking forward to in the parade?
Riding in the parade, celebrating how proud Houston is of its GLBT community, and hitting up JR’s at the end of the evening.

Imperial Court of Houston- Space City Empire
Grand Marshal-Organization

Imperial Court of Houston- Space City Empire

ICOH, to use the shorthand name, is one of two local nobility-inspired systems in Houston, which raise funds for community causes through drag shows and other benefit events (the other is the Empire of the Royal Sovereign and Imperial Court of the Single Star).
In 2007 ICOH celebrates its fifth anniversary, a year that the nonprofit group has dubbed The Reign of Fundamentally Fabulous Fundraising.

What does it mean to be in the city with the largest Pride Parade in the Southwest?
Apollo Emperor Orlin Cullever: It can be overwhelming—but at the same time it is such an exciting experience! And to be elected by the community to be the Organizational Grand Marshal of the largest parade in the Southwest and the fourth-largest city in the country is such an extreme honor. And to receive this honor during our fifth anniversary year is the icing on the cake. After working so hard as the new kid on the block in the charity fundraising community, this is our confirmation from the community.

What’s the organization’s proudest accomplishment this year?
Chairman of the Board Marc Cohen: We have achieved so much, especially this past year, that makes that a tough question to answer. I would have to say that there was one accomplishment in particular which proves how hard we have worked as an organization. Each November we hold our Cotillion Ball where we present the total funds from the previous reign. This past November we were able to announce a total of over $90,000 to Houston charities, which brought our four-year total to over $300,000.

So you put the “fun” in fundraising?
Gemini Empress Ginger Vitis: Well, of course, we did! I think we all put our own fun into fundraising. We all have a different opinion of what makes it fun, and anyone who attends any of our functions can tell you that “boring” is not a word that is in our dictionary. Whether it be drag shows, bake sales, car washes, garage sales, or our fabulous sit-down dinner and ball in October, we manage to turn it into a very exciting and pleasing event for everyone.

Marene Gustin profiled Robin Reagler, Writers in the Schools executive director, for our May issue (“Reader, Writer, Mother”).


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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