People to Watch 2
Eva Thibaudeau-Graczyk, Rob Scamardo, Pete Rodriguez, and Brandon Mack
“I remember being eight years old at my Catholic grade school and thinking that I wanted to be like Mother Teresa or Saint Bernadette,” shares Eva Thibaudeau-Graczyk, interim chief operating officer for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. In this capacity, she is responsible for the implementation of a strategic plan to combat homelessness in the metropolitan area. At the private nonprofit organization, she is in charge of the Rapid Re-Housing program, which recently passed the one-year mark. This effort provides chronically homeless individuals with a stable environment to help them transition from homelessness to long-term housing.
Thibaudeau-Graczyk is a long-time community activist, having volunteered her time and effort to many organizations, including Equality Texas, Catholic Charities, Americorps/Serve Houston, and the LGBT Affairs committee for the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. She is also a Sunday school teacher at First Unitarian Universalist Church.
Beyond her dedication to volunteerism, Thibaudeau-Graczyk is a single, adoptive mother of four. She says that Isaiah, 13, is the typical absent-minded professor while Saleem, 12, is full of zest and verve. Quincy, 4, is driven by curiosity and a desire to be perfect while his twin sister Maya is a dreamer and dancer. Thibaudeau-Graczyk says her personal goal is to increase the foster-parent population in the GLBT community.
As Mother Teresa did throughout her life, Thibaudeau-Graczyk gives of herself to improve the lives of others. At the coalition, she hopes to expand awareness of homelessness and continue to encourage solutions. “I want to positively impact the world in which we live. That’s all.” —Joyce Gabiola • Photo by Yvonne Feece
If you are politically active in the GLBT community, chances are good you have heard Rob Scamardo’s name. He is the new president of the Houston Equal Rights Alliance (HERA), the advocacy organization that works to identify and educate voters.
Scamardo’s election to the group’s leadership is a logical next step for the attorney, who once worked on Capitol Hill for Senator John D. Rockefeller. That direct contact with the inner workings of legislation, his legal training, and a passion for spiritual matters (he spent five years in Catholic seminary) have combined to give Scamardo a resolute fervor in approaching HERA’s mission of community building to promote equality.
On tap for HERA this year, according to Scamardo: field campaigns to identify and register voters, targeting key legislative districts, and gearing up to support City Controller Annise Parker in her anticipated 2009 mayoral run. Greater integration with Equality Texas, the Austin-based statewide advocacy group, is also in store, Scamardo says, as well as a continuing alliance with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.
“HERA will be making statewide efforts to elect pro-equality legislators,” he says, “and a few changes in Houston will go a long way to make those happen. We like to think of ourselves as having a long-term vision.”
Scamardo is also an active member of Fathers First, a support group for gay dads. The nearly five-year-old group had one of the teams that raised the most money without corporate sponsorship for AIDS Foundation Houston AIDS Walk in 2007.
Surprisingly, Scamardo is relatively new to local political activism, though he is a native Texan. The Democratic victories in Washington in 2006 nearly compelled him to return to the nation’s capital, but his family (partner Alex McDougald and their combined six children from previous marriages) kept him in Houston. —Tracy Morris • Photo by Gary Laird
Providing quality compassionate care for HIV-positive individuals can take a physical and emotional toll on the most experienced clinician. Many who work in the field often leave HIV care, overwhelmed by its complexities. For Pete Rodriguez, the new director of HIV services for Harris County Hospital District’s Thomas Street Health Center, these challenges have the opposite effect. They enliven, motivate, and invigorate him.
As one of the few Houston medical professionals present at the birth of the epidemic, Rodriguez has an invaluable perspective. While an emergency room nurse in the early ’80s, Rodriguez remembers his first encounter with HIV. “I realized that this was something that I was going to have to learn about very quickly,” he says.
Rodriguez’s HIV-specific knowledge was recognized by his peers. “I started the first AIDS clinic in the county hospital in Fort Worth, back in the AZT days, the infancy of HIV care.” He then moved to Houston, working with patients at Park Plaza and Ben Taub General hospitals and then at Thomas Street. He was appointed director last October.
Rodriguez seeks to expand and develop the care that Thomas Street provides, emphasizing a team approach. “I put a lot of trust in the staff of this clinic. We have top-notch clinicians here. Other primary-care clinics in Houston send their most complicated cases to our medical staff.
“My dream is to see TSC be the San Francisco General Hospital of the Southwest, where regardless of your income or your insurance status, you would choose to come here for your care.”
In expanding his scope regarding HIV services, Rodriguez is candid. “As a gay man it is important for me to think outside the box regarding medical care. Most of our patients are not homosexual. Today the epidemic is radically different.” —Rich Arenschieldt • Photo by Yvonne Feece
Do you? It’s a phrase Brandon Mack uses to set off his days. Perhaps it’s a key to his success. Mack is busy working on empowering society through education and understanding. As a graduate sociology student at Texas A&M University, Mack pursues research that focuses on race and sexuality. He hopes that his work “will help society to understand African-American gay individuals, and for African-American gay individuals to understand and accept themselves.”
Mack is involved in a large-scale project on effemiphobia (also referred to as sissyphobia), which is the irrational fear, contempt, or hatred that some gay men feel toward gay men who are not perceived as masculine in their behavior. The purpose of his research is to promote understanding of what it means to be a black gay individual living in America and the pressures of living as a double minority. “My central concern is how this fear prevents unity within the gay community,” Mack says.
As an activist with particular interest in issues that involve African-American men, Mack is a co-facilitator and advisory board member for The Men’s Gathering of Houston, a dialogue group that discusses issues impacting the lives of black same-gender-loving men. He serves on the community advisory board for St. Hope Foundation’s Fusion program, an HIV/AIDS prevention effort that targets young African-American men. Mack is also secretary for the local Iota Chapter of Delta Phi Upsilon Fraternity, Inc., the first Greek-letter organization established for gay men of color in the nation. This month, the Houston chapter begins celebrating its 10th anniversary year.
In 2008, Mack hopes to intern at the Human Rights Campaign Washington, D.C., headquarters; attend a sexuality research institute in Amsterdam; and work on his autobiography, which he has titled BGM Seeks: Reflections of a Young Black Gay Man.—Joyce Gabiola • Photo by Henry Yau