by Brandon Wolf
“I remember so many nights sitting in my car outside of a new bar, trying to get up the courage to go inside,” says Carol Wyatt, Houston’s 2010 Female Pride Marshal. “I would watch the clientele going in and out, trying to figure out if I was going to fit in. It was painful. A lot of what I do for the community today is driven by those early experiences, remembering how difficult it was to put my own social network together. It was so hard to walk into those bars, wishing that someone would at least recognize my existence.”
Wyatt, a native Houstonian, was born in 1956 in Methodist Hospital. Her parents, Peggy and Ray, raised Wyatt and her younger sister in the southwest part of town. Always an athletic person, she loved to play softball, soccer, and flag football. “But when I was in school, there weren’t robust interscholastic teams for girls, so I only played at the club level.”
After graduation from Westbury High School, Wyatt earned a degree in advertising at the University of Texas in Austin. Returning to Houston, she began working for Gordon’s Jewelers. To supplement her income, she worked part-time at a high-end backpacking store. “I discovered I liked business more than advertising,” she says. “So I went full-time at Wilderness Equipment and learned every aspect of personnel, managing, buying, and selling.”
Four years later, convinced that she enjoyed selling, Wyatt began working in the telecom industry, setting up PBX phone systems for clients. When call centers began to emerge, she entered that field and has remained there ever since, helping clients learn how to provide excellence in customer service.
Recalling her early days as a lesbian, Wyatt says, “I guess I always knew I was different, but I didn’t have a name for it. I found my first partner in college, but we were very closeted. Later I discovered that ten percent of my sorority was gay.”
When she and her partner split in 1977, Wyatt realized she needed to build her own social network and turned to the lesbian bars. “Probably the first club I went into was Just Marion and Lynn’s,” she says. “That led me to the Lamppost, Club l’Amour, Twins, and Bacchus. They were pretty much dumps. When Kindred Spirits came along, it was a breath of fresh air.”
Wyatt says that a women’s happy hour at the Missouri Street Station (now Riva’s) in the 1980s inadvertently propelled her into community service. “There was a professional women’s happy hour on Wednesday nights. 200 to 300 well-dressed lesbians showed up. It was wonderful!” But the bar changed hands, and the happy hour evaporated.
Years later, she and several friends were bemoaning the loss of that happy hour. She suggested they try to organize another one. “I started sending out an e-mail blast to about 50 people, working to build up that group. We started meeting at Sonoma and then moved to Meteor.” The original list of 50 lesbians grew to over 1,900, which she named Social Notes. Today she has a regular newsletter and a full website.
Her involvement in Social Notes led Pride Houston to ask her to be a parade judge for two years in a row. Eventually, she served on the organization’s board for four years—two years as an at-large member, one year as vice-president and then a year as president. “During the year I was president, I spent an average of 50 to 60 hours per week working on the parade, for five months. I managed 13 standing committees and over 250 volunteers.”
With an instinctual talent for social organizing, Wyatt has held a fundraising Christmas party at her home for the last 10 years. “We usually have 350 people and have raised about $50,000 over the past decade.”
In 2009, friends living in the northwest part of Houston asked Wyatt to organize a social networking group for people in their area. “They had the idea, and I had the organizational skills,” she says. Named Northwest Corner (“There is life outside the loop.”), the network has grown to nearly 500 members and has a website at nwcorner.org. The group hosts public events and smaller special-interest groups such as gaming night, dining out, and biking. They also take part in the AIDS Walk and have joined up with tree-planting volunteers. The group is an excellent example of gay men and lesbians coming together to socialize.
Wyatt feels that the LGBT community still isn’t taken seriously on a national level, and believes this is where our focus should be directed. On a local level, she hopes that community organizations will evolve and become more attractive and relevant to the younger generation. “We’ve moved beyond Montrose into the suburbs,” Wyatt points out. “That’s why Northwest Corner has filled a social need.”
“We can each make a difference by becoming a part of the broader Houston community. We can be good citizens, good neighbors, and good friends.” Wyatt also encourages the community to build social networking between gay men and lesbians. At the end of her marshal acceptance speech, she asked people to find someone of the opposite gender in the room that night whom they didn’t know, and begin a conversation.
Reflecting on her life, Wyatt says it is characterized by boldness. “I don’t hit the mark every day, but I sure strive for it. No guts, no glory. When there is a need to be filled, try something. Your efforts may fail, but you never know until you try.”
With a last name that is familiar to Houstonians, Wyatt says there was a rumor going around years ago that she was Oscar Wyatt’s daughter. “But I’m actually his socialite wife Lynn—I just dress differently when I attend gay events,” she laughs.
Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. He also profiles Gary Wood and Ann Robison in this issue.