2014 Female Pride Marshal Christina Gorczynski was born to lead.
by Brandon Wolf
Christina Gorczynski was born on October 24, 1979, ten days before her father, Dale Gorczynski, won his first elective office as a Houston city council member. He was the first person to hold the newly created District H seat.
Now 35 years old, she is no longer “Council Member Gorczynski’s daughter.” Her father, a Harris County justice of the peace, smiles when people ask him, “Are you Christina Gorczynski’s dad?” A born leader with instincts honed by decades of exposure to politics, she is Houston’s 2014 Female Pride Marshal.
Learning to Share Her Father with the World
Gorczynski grew up in the Heights, along with her younger brother, John, who was born in 1981. Her mother, Cynthia, was once a missionary nun, but later left the convent and eventually married Dale Gorczynski.
“I learned early that I had to share my father with the world,” Gorczynski remembers. “People would show up at the front door to talk to him. When we went to Albritton’s Cafeteria to eat, it was like a revolving door of people wanting to talk to him.”
As early as age three, Gorczynski sat in the visitors section of the City Council chamber. As she grew older, she found the Council meetings exciting and enjoyed watching the political maneuvering. “But I often had my nose stuck in a book—reading about women like Clara Barton and Eleanor Roosevelt.”
As a little girl, she was a convenient foil for her father. Sometimes he would walk over to her as she was playing on the lawn, bringing a visitor he had been talking with on the front porch. He would invite the visitor to sit with him on the lawn near Christina as they continued their conversation. “People don’t talk about certain things in front of a young girl,” Gorczynski laughs.
Gorczynski learned early that she and her brother had to behave well in public. “I knew that it might affect my father’s career if I didn’t.” But they were both encouraged to speak up at home about their viewpoints and feelings. “Our parents didn’t tell us how to think.”
Her father’s career brought her into direct contact with women like Council Member Eleanor Tinsley and Mayor Kathy Whitmire. Gorczynski remembers Tinsley as being poised, intelligent, and self-aware. “I grew up seeing that women can be powerful and that they can be leaders.”
When Houston voters approved term limits and her father was no longer eligible for re-election, he entered a Harris County justice of the peace race and won. His wife was appointed to serve out the remainder of his term. “I held the Bible when she was sworn in,” Gorczynski remembers. “It was so empowering for me to see that women can be part of the political process.”
Gorczynski attended Oak Forest Elementary, and then began attending Catholic schools. At St. Agnes, a Dominican college-preparatory school, she recalls that “They had a vigorous academic program, and I was surrounded by great female role models.”
She was elected president of her junior and senior classes, and served on the student council. “I was chosen to organize the 1998 senior prom—I sure learned how to work with budgets!”
Gorczynski also learned how to work with controversies. An out lesbian couple at the school asked to attend the prom as a couple. She successfully made it possible for them to attend. “It was a very progressive school—never underestimate nuns,” she laughs.
Living Away from Houston
Pondering college, Gorczynski had questions about her identity, and reasoned that a neutral environment away from Houston would aid her journey of self-discovery. She chose Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, an educational institution recognized for curricular innovation and engagement with the world outside the campus.
Beloit’s student body of 1,250 is diverse, with students from nearly every state and 40 nations. Gorczynski majored in women’s studies and thrived in that environment, especially liking classes focused on topics such as “women and gender” and “critical identity” (the intersection of an individual’s many identities—race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation, career, etc.).
She made good grades, and in her senior year won the Herstory Award, Beloit’s highest honor from the women’s studies program. Ten years later she returned to the campus to receive the Young Alumni Award.
Degree in hand, Gorczynski continued forging her own identity and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to work for the luxurious La Posada de Santa Fe Resort, managing the spa and gift shop.
A staff of 50 employees reported to her. She assisted with a $500,000 building renovation, redesigned menus and brochures, and conducted seasonal marketing campaigns. She was awarded second-place statewide honors for specialized services management.
Coming out was a gradual process for Gorczynski. She knew at a young age that she was attracted to other women, and didn’t feel the same way about men that her friends did. She had crushes and best friends, but didn’t have it all sorted out.
Unlike other lesbians her age, Gorczynski had the additional issue of her family’s political name to factor in. “I knew my parents would be okay,” she says. “But I worried that somehow I might impact my father’s career.”
In college, she did go to lesbian bars even though she wasn’t out. “One of them was appropriately named The Kloset,” she laughs. She credits her brother, John, with whom she is especially close, for helping her. “He knew I was conflicted and depressed, and he finally dragged me out of my closet.”
A Four-Year Blur of Academics and Politics
Gorczynski returned to Houston in 2005 after a seven-year absence. She set her sights higher than ever—enrolling at the University of Houston in both the Master of Business Administration and the Juris Doctor programs. “It was 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” she says. “It was a blur.” While at U of H, she served as president of OutLaw, the LGBT law students’ organization.
In 2009, she was awarded an MBA business degree and a JD law degree. She is a licensed attorney with the State Bar of Texas and a certified mediator.
Despite the rigorous academic schedule, Gorczynski began her entry into LGBT politics. Tammi Wallace, campaign manager for Ellen Cohen, successfully enlisted her to help out in the closing weeks of the 2006 campaign.
Gorczynski also joined local efforts by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBT candidates nationwide. Despite her political background, Gorczynski was mesmerized the first time she saw Tammy Baldwin, the U.S. representative from Wisconsin, at a fundraising event.
Gorczynski kept busy during her years at U of H, serving as a grant research assistant in the mayor’s office, a law clerk intern, secretary of the HERA Board, aide to Council Member Sue Lovell, a public interest law fellow, and coordinator of permanent folk art at The Orange Show. In 2009, she coordinated the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’s get-out-the-vote efforts for Annise Parker’s mayoral run.
Revitalizing the League of Women Voters
2009 also brought Gorczynski’s biggest professional challenge when she became executive director of the Houston League of Women Voters, a 90-year-old non-partisan organization. “I was a third-wave feminist, hired by second-wave feminists, to run a first-wave feminist organization.”
Under her leadership, the League introduced new strategies for involving younger generations. Gorczynski initiated a new gala entitled “Rising Stars.” She employed online tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and PayPal.
Gorczynski also facilitated a harmonious environment for a new and more diverse, multi-generational board of directors. By October of 2012, she was ready to move on, leaving behind a re-invigorated League.
Making History in Wisconsin
The Victory Fund took good advantage of her availability by inviting her to Wisconsin for the final days of Tammy Baldwin’s U.S. Senate run. She was met at Milwaukee’s airport by Ali Lozano from the Victory Fund. “Unknown to me, Ali had been tasked to recruit me for their board,” says Gorczynski.
In Milwaukee, Gorczynski coordinated a group of young volunteers. Filling a rented van, they headed into the inner city. “Those days were so inspiring,” she says. “These young people are true believers. They want to change the world.”
On election eve, she and Lozano drove to Madison for the victory rally. “We debated if Tammy would use the L-word. She said yes and I said no. Ali won.”
The next day, Gorczynski headed back to Houston, and had a layover in Chicago. Waiting for takeoff, the pilot announced a short delay. Gorczynski looked out her window and saw Air Force One lifting off, flying the president and Mrs. Obama back to Washington after their Chicago victory party.
A month later, Gorczynski and Lozano saw each other again at a Victory Fund conference, and connected romantically. They kept up a long-distance relationship for nine months.
Lozano then moved to Houston, and the two now share a Heights apartment. In August 2014, they will travel to Maine to be married in an intimate outdoor wedding. “It will just be Ali and me and the officiant.” The couple plans to have a Houston celebration party in 2015.
Testing Her Wings and Taking Flight
In March 2013, Gorczynski established her own consulting firm. She had experience as an organizational consultant, but wanted a recognizable brand. The firm is called First Person. “We are the first people you can call when you want to grow your organization. We create a plan, lead the organization to growth, and turn it back over for you to sustain.”
She takes her operating model from geese. As they fly in formation, one goose leads, and the rest follow. When the lead grows tired, another goose takes over. The geese in the back adjust the pace. If a goose goes down, others follow to help it.
“I pick my clients carefully,” Gorczynski says. “I’m not there to organize chaos. I’m there to help an organized group achieve growth. If they can’t produce the last six months of board-meeting minutes, bylaws, and a balance sheet, we don’t negotiate a contract.”
Creating Change and Becoming a Pride Marshal
In 2013, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force asked Gorczynski to co-chair last winter’s Creating Change Conference in Houston. “It was 20 hours a week for a year,” says Gorczynski. “It was my passion project.”
The conference unfolded like clock-work, beginning January 29, 2014. Four thousand participants registered—the downtown Hilton Americas hotel’s biggest conference ever.
On the evening of April 17, Gorczynski learned that she was selected to be the 2014 Houston Female Pride Marshal. “It felt wonderful that my work has been appreciated. This position gives me great opportunities to talk about my favorite causes. It’s huge!”
Gorczynski loves the Houston Pride event’s 2014 Carnivale theme. Asked if she will dress accordingly, she laughs and says, “When else in my life will I ever have the chance to wear a samba outfit?”
Entering the Arena
Gorczynsk’s experience and credentials have prompted her to consider a run for elected office. Having been raised in a political family, she understands the realities of political life. “I would maintain a healthy work/life balance—setting boundaries between public life and private life.”
She is also a realist about the dangers of public life. When her father did not support the 1985 antigay referendum in Houston, Gorczynski remembers the death threats. “That was scary for a six-year-old girl. The Houston Police Department provided security for our family until the referendum was over.”
Undaunted, Gorczynski plans to pursue her dream. She is a gifted leader and a proven organizer. She has passion for changing the world, and she wants to make a difference.
Her inspiration comes from two of her father’s favorite quotations: “If not me, then who?” and “The world belongs to those who show up.” Christina Gorczynski is ready to show up and be the one who enters the arena.
Brandon Wolf also writes about the male grand marshal and the ally grand marshal in this issue of OutSmart magazine.