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The Pride Team

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Pitching In

Though the celebration is officially only a month, Pride Houston events take many months of planning. OutSmart takes you behind the scenes to meet some of the volunteers who make Pride possible.

by Steven Foster • Photos by Dalton DeHart and Yvonne Feece

Charlotte Jackson

CHARLOTTE JACKSON (aka “Laura’s Mom”)
How old are you?
48 years young.

If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your sexual orientation?
The straightest one at Pride, per the kids I worked with last year.

How did you come to be involved in the Pride organization?
“To live life to the fullest, you have to do something for others that can never be repaid.” That’sa quote my son read to me back in 1997. It is how I try to live my life.I have a daughter who, at 16, asked if I would take her and her girlfriend to Pride. I agreed, with the condition that I could go volunteer. The rest is history.

What’s your role on parade day? Are you a whip-cracker for the floats? Pride guide? Bead babe?
Last year, I worked at Volunteer Central all day. Wow, what a great job!This year, I get to do that as well as serve as a “Friend of Pride VIP Assistant.” [That job title] is from Frankie [Quijano, volunteer director], who is the bomb.Hard to imagine that he and Sarah what’s-her-name are both from Alaska.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?
Getting to meet great people who understand that life is what you make it.The folks I met were 99 percent upbeat, successful, and full of love. And the worst? Sadly, the only “ugly” people I saw last year were from churches, who claim to live by the same Bible that I do. My girls were out walking at the festival and saw people handing out material condemning the festival-goers.One of the girls asked me, “I wonder, do they go to athletic events passing out tracts condemning alcohol, gambling, self gratification, and greed?”Seems like a lot of that happens even at high school games, but these same people support those events.When I am confronted by those folks, I usually just ask, “Is hanging out with honest people more hurtful or more sinful than hanging out with judgmental folks like you?” That tends to shut them up.

What does Pride mean to you?
To me, Pride is an opportunity for people with a common bond to celebrate what they enjoy: living a life where acceptance is a way of life. I met other parents who were more concerned with their children being happy than with worrying about who their child loved.I met successful adults who have not felt love from their families in years, but feel it from this community. I met talented, caring professionals who want to be judged by their character, instead of by their sexual orientation.

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Jason Gallegos

JASON GALLEGOS
How old are you?
23.

Sexual orientation?
Gay.

How did you come to be involved in the Pride organization?
I started off in Pride as a volunteer with the Special Events Committee helping organize various events throughout the year. It wasn’t until recently that I was asked to head up the Parade Committee, and I’ve been involved with that committee for four months now.

What’s your role on parade day? Are you a whip-cracker for the floats? Pride guide? Bead boy?
I guess I would be classified as the “whip-cracker for the floats.” Being on the Parade Committee, it is my duty to ensure that the contingents are taken care of from start to finish. Along with many other volunteers, I help the contingents with setup and departure to ensure they have a good time, and I get the message out to the community about what they are trying to portray.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?
I would have to say the best part of Pride is the giving back to the community. I sought out this opportunity to help and be more involved with giving back. As a volunteer, I have put many hours and days into ensuring that everything runs smoothly and the parade is enjoyed by everyone who attends. All in all, I would have to say that it is personally satisfying to be part of an organization that cares and is here to help those who need it.

And the worst?
Being part of Pride for almost a year, I have yet to find anything that I would regret. We have a great board that is involved and helps, which is a great thing to have within the organization.

Give us your thoughts on Pride.
I think Pride is a wonderful organization, and one that everyone should be involved in. Being part of an organization that gives back to its own community brings me great pleasure and helps me reach out to those who have questions and need answers.

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Wendy Chopin

WENDY CHOPIN
What’s the 411?
39, female, straight, married, three kids.

How did you come to be involved in the Pride organization?
I volunteered at the festival last year, and when Frankie asked for people to help out on the committee, I figured that would be my best chance of getting a better gig this year. It was hot last year!

What’s your role on parade day?
Not sure. I will probably be making sure the boys don’t get too crazy, I suppose. Actually, I would love to be making the sno-cones for the volunteers.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?
The members and volunteers of Pride are so accepting and fun. They accept everyone for who they really are, and make everyone feel wanted. Pride, as a group, faces some real challenges and issues, but knowing that we all feel the same passion about the rights of each individual automatically binds us. What’s not to like about people who are being their true selves—even if it is just for an event, a meeting, or maybe just an hour—and who are working for justice?

And the worst?
I live in Sugar Land, and the geographic distance can sometimes make it difficult to attend as many events as I would like.

Can you share with us some of your personal thoughts about Pride?
I think it’s a tragedy that a society so hell-bent on teaching its children self-acceptance and the idea that being different [is good]—oftentimes to a fault—becomes so hypocritical when it comes to the GLBT community. I am involved with Pride because, to me, it is so important to teach my children that happiness and quality of life should not have a list of specific criteria. Look, if you are a kind and compassionate person, why should it matter who you are sexually attracted to? This life is about making the most of your time and talent, and living true to who you really are. My husband feels the same way that I do. He is completely supportive of my involvement. And yes, being one of a handful of straight volunteers does make me feel like an outsider sometimes, but moving outside of your comfort zone is never a bad thing. I suspect that at some point they will stop asking me why I joined Pride!

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Venita Howard, Pride Houston, outsmartmagazine

VENITA “RENE” HOWARD
How old are you?
I’m 39 years of age, and I am a proud, out-of-the-closet lesbian.

How did you come to be involved in the Pride organization?

When I moved here from Atlanta, I wanted to be involved in some Pride activities and also wanted to meet some people. So I went online and found Pride Houston. I said, “Why not sign up?” So I did.

What’s your role on parade day?

Well, this year I will be there to motivate and make sure the other volunteers are comfortable in their T-shirts. Hopefully we will all be comfortable, because I’m a big girl.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?

Everything. I am a people person and love to have fun. But if I have to say one thing, it would have to be seeing all the people having fun and being who they are. You know, not having to worry about negative stuff. We have too much of that. And the worst? The worst thing would have to be the heat, which is uncontrollable. And they say the darker you are, the hotter you are— so I was pretty hot last year.[Laughs]

Any personal thoughts on Pride?
If you have never experienced Pride, then you are surely missing a treat. No matter if you are gay, bi, lesbian, or straight, it’s something for everyone to get involved in.And Pride is not just one day. They have activities all year, and I’m glad for that because I get to see all the people who I met and who are so special to me all year long.
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Thai Cao

THAO CAO
How old are you?
I’m currently 20 years old.

Are you gay, straight, or bi?
Gay.

How did you come to be involved in Pride?
I became involved with the Pride organization [after] finding Pride Houston on Google, because I wanted to make a difference as a member of the GLBT community.

What’s your role on parade day?

To direct volunteers to their designated destinations, and to pass out refreshments and name tags to volunteers.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?

I would say the best part of the Pride Parade and Festival would be the variety of people I met and befriended, [and seeing] the success that the GLBT community has had in the Houston area.

And the worst?

I would have to say the sun. Its scorching rays make you want to faint from dehydration.

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Andrea Johnson

ANDREA (UNDREA) JOHNSON
How old are you?
I am a 23-year-young female who is a lesbian! Gotta love the ladies!

How did you come to be involved in the Pride organization?

I went on the Pride website to find out about the parade, saw they needed volunteers, and signed up.

What’s your role on parade day?

I am taking on the role of Parade Dispatcher.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?

The best part of Pride for me is networking. I have an interest in people and cultures,so to be in a position where I get to meet new faces and experience new people is always a reward for me!

And the worst?

The worst part is that it’s only two days.

Can you give us your thoughts on Pride?

The Houston GLBT community is lucky to have an organization such as Pride Houston. A lot of people aren’t aware of the organization and theresources that they offer. It is a wonderful organization to be a part of, to raise awareness for, and to support. I’m glad to be a part of it, and encourage everyone to get active and to always show pride—not prejudice.
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Paul Allen

PAUL ALLEN
How old are you?
26.

Are you gay, bisexual, or straight?

Gay.

How did you come to be involved in the Pride organization?

I was looking for a way to meet more gay people [that didn’t involve going to bars]. I also like getting involved in the community.

What’s your role on parade day?

My big role is to go around and make sure all the volunteers are happy, and that all their needs are being met. I guess I also have to make sure that people are getting the job done, and not slacking off too much.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?

Getting to meet and work with other members of the community.

And the worst?
Fundraising.

Any other thoughts about Pride?

I think that Pride Houston is a wonderful organization. I think that it helps people come out and be who they are. It also helps people realize that there are other people out there who are just like them. It involves a lot of hard work and many, many hours, but I really believe it is worth it, and that we are helping people.
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Aaron Parrish

AARON PARRISH
How old are you?
26.

What’s your sexual orientation?

Gay.

How did you come to be involved in the Pride organization?

I volunteered for the Pride Festival in 2009. I enjoyed it so much that I made it known I wanted to be more involved in 2010.

What’s your role on parade day?

I will be handling the festival as the Celebration Chair.It is a big job, but it’s going to be fun.

What’s the best part of Pride for you?

The best part of Pride is being able to give back to the community. I have also met many great friends and networked with other individuals since getting involved.There is a lot of hard work, but it is fun and it will pay off. I am looking forward to the big weekend.We have a lot of exciting things planned for the parade and festival.I would encourage everyone to come early to the festival to visit the businesses who support our community.

And the worst?

The heat! As a pale white boy, it is going to be rough.Last year I was very red after my short six-hour shift.Let’s see what I look like after an entire day in the sun.

Give us your thoughts on Pride.

I would encourage anyone who is looking for volunteer opportunities to contact Pride Houston.Our organization is built on a non-biased philosophy. We do not care about politics, religion, or anything else that may distinguish one individual from another. Pride is about celebrating each person’s individuality.Join us today and give back to the community, meet new friends, and have a great time!

Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine. He also interviews Andy Cohen in this issue.


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Ste7en Foster

Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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