Giving back to the community through fundraising.
Interview and photo by Brandon Wolf
“I’m flattered and overwhelmed,” says Gary Wood, Houston’s 2010 Male Pride Marshal. “I felt honored just to be nominated. I never expected to actually win.”
The man who will represent Houston’s LGBT community during June of this year was born in 1966 in Huntsville, Alabama. “My father worked for NASA. He focused on the development of rockets, and designed the heating exchange systems for the Mercury and Gemini programs.”
When he was two years old, Wood’s family moved to Houston. He has a younger sister. An older brother passed away. “I attended Sharpstown High School,” he says. “Back then, there was nothing out there—it was like growing up outside of town.”
A man who has worked all his life, Wood was hired by Randall’s Supermarkets while he was in high school. He started as a sacker and worked his way up to assistant manager. High school was a difficult time for him, however. His older brother was battling cancer and his beloved stepfather was diagnosed with a brain tumor. “I immersed myself in my job,” he says. “I wanted to stay distracted.”
Following graduation, Wood continued to work for Randall’s. He laughs as he recounts his coming out: “I had a really close friend from Randall’s, and we did lots of things together. One weekend we rented a condo on Padre Island, playing volleyball on the beach and doing a lot of four-wheeling. My friend was a collegiate wrestler and in great shape. Now and then we’d wrestle. I walked into the bedroom at one point, and he picked me up and threw me on the bed. I bounced off and onto the floor, and it knocked the wind out of me. He was terribly worried, but finally I got my breath back. He leaned down over me and kissed me.”
Wood’s friend introduced him to Houston’s gay community and the Montrose nightlife. “The gay community was a playground for me back then,” Wood says. As he approached his late 20s, he became more serious and enrolled at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, earning a degree in business. Unlike his high school experience, he was clearly focused and graduated with a 4.0 average.
H-E-B Supermarkets recruited Wood, and he became one of their youngest store directors. He was given the task of building a new store from the ground up—ironically, the one located at Montrose and Westheimer in the space now occupied by a Spec’s Liquor store. “They didn’t market wisely to their clientele,” he says. “The deli was very profitable, but the rest of the store wasn’t.”
Wood says he didn’t have any problem coming out at work, because one day the corporate diversity director was visiting with him and asked if he was gay. “They were very supportive, and were the first big company to enter the Pride Parade. The first year they drove an enormous 18-wheeler down Westheimer, to the delighted applause of parade-goers.”
During his early 30s, Wood began to get involved in community activities. He began by joining the GLBT Chamber of Commerce, and went on to work with Halloween Magic, Mystery & Fantasy Ball, and the Krewe of Olympus. He also became very interested in the annual Bunnies on the Bayou event, and helped work a Bunnies tent at the Pride Festival for a number of years. “Each year we had a different humorous theme. One year it was the Foreign Bunny Exchange. I remember we had someone in a burka with bunny ears.”
Several years ago, Wood decided it was time for a career change, and became a corporate recruiter for firms specializing in credit risk and marketing analysis. Reflecting on the current economy, he says with a laugh, “They figured out all the analysis they did was wrong, so now they need us to correct it.”
Wood met Bryant, his partner of seven years, at a Madonna-rama at South Beach. “That’s sort of funny,” he says, “because neither of us was really into the bar scene anymore.” They lived together in a small bungalow in the Heights, but decided it was time to move when things kept breaking down. “It always cost $500 to fix, no matter what it was,” he laughs.
The couple designed and built a beautiful new home in the Heights and now lives there with their three dachshunds, all of which are “rescue” dogs.
“My partner is a wonderful man and a great second-grade teacher,” Wood says with pride. “He is so dedicated, and starts his day at 4:30 in the morning so that he can get to school early. He works in a particularly challenging school and even buys supplies that the children need.”
Wood’s greatest contribution to the community has been fundraising for Houston Pride. “I met Carol Wyatt and was so impressed with her professionalism that I wanted to get involved. It’s great that we will be marshals together this year.”
Speaking about Houston Out Party and Outreach United, Wood says, “My partner and I decided to celebrate coming out. Bryant feels very passionate about it. We all have to come out in different ways—personally, professionally, maybe as someone living with HIV. We face a difficult time, and it’s emotional. Sometimes it’s detrimental. We wanted to celebrate coming out as something positive.”
Wood called on friends to help. The first year of the Houston Out Party, 85 people showed up, and they raised $5,000. The second year, 145 people came and $10,000 was raised. Last year they had 275 people and brought in $13,000 in three hours. The funds are donated to local organizations and for scholarships. Wood recently founded a nonprofit organization entitled Outreach United, and hopes to make Houston Out Party a weekend event that attracts a national audience.
“Get involved” is Wood’s challenge to the LGBT community. “You can give money or time, or just stand in a crowd and be a number.”
Looking back on his accomplishments, Wood says that his life has been determined by his sense of passion. “I immerse myself in whatever I do. I want to leave a legacy of making a difference.”
Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. He also profiles Ann Robison and Carol Wyatt in this issue.
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