OutSmart gives tribute to these community members and their accomplishments.
By Megan Smith
The past year was a mixed bag for LGBT communities of color. Although nationwide marriage equality was finally won, the unimaginably high murder rate of trans women of color continued to soar, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was defeated at the polls, and the unjust deaths of black teens went unresolved.
But refusing to be defeated, black LGBT leaders have emerged from these losses to galvanize a newly energized civil rights movement. In Houston, these individuals are making their voices heard in philanthropy, business, entertainment, activism, and more. To pay tribute to these movers and shakers, OutSmart reached out to the community for nominations of noteworthy black LGBTQ leaders who are making a difference in our city. Below, our nominees talk about their inspirations, their ongoing activist work, and (just for fun) their favorite tunes that they’re singing this month.
Out trans man Anthony Wolfe’s “go-to” karaoke song may be any track by Linkin Park, but his guilty pleasure is Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” “It’s way too catchy to resist,” Wolfe says. “But if anyone catches me belting it out, I will scream in denial.” Far from being trouble when he walks in, Wolf has dedicated his time over the past four years to attending trans support groups for those struggling with gender identity or other life issues. “I always have the hope that something I say, or my humor, will brighten someone’s day,” he says. However, Wolfe doesn’t shy away from even the darkest of days. For the past two years, he’s participated in Houston’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, reading the names of those who have lost their lives to transphobic violence. “I have to mentally prepare for those days,” he explains. “It’s very distressing.” But he finds happiness in working to change things for the better, and hopes his story inspires others to be empowered to live as their true selves. “I want my community’s confidence to rise as a whole,” Wolfe says. “And I want to help eliminate false beliefs [about trans people] and the fear of the unknown. It’s getting better, but there’s a long way to go.”
Shortly after Aurora Harris was born, her mother was diagnosed with lupus. “Even as a child, I recognized how unfair it was to watch her struggle with accessing healthcare while raising children and working full time,” Harris shares. “I learned early on how the intersections of race, gender, and class affect health outcomes and the real-life repercussions of failed healthcare policies.” It was this experience that led Harris, an open lesbian, to pursue a healthcare career of her own. For two years, under the mentorship of former LHI president Liz James, she served as the senior outreach navigation specialist for the Lesbian Health Initiative to help increase healthcare access for LGBT-identified women and trans men. Today, she serves as the organization’s interim president. “My mother handles her diagnosis with strength, humor, and resiliency, and I bring that same spirit to my own life and advocacy work,” Harris says. Outside of LGBT healthcare, you can find Harris donating her time to Black Lives Matter groups and reproductive-justice advocacy. “Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, but we don’t always tap into that power,” she says. “The more holistic and inclusive we become, the less likely our movements are to fail. If the movement is intersectional and seeks LGBTQ liberation, you can count me in.” And when it comes to some powerful karaoke, you can count Harris in for Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” “I could listen to that song 100 times and still want to hear it again!” she says.
Kevin Anderson may not be a karaoke fan, but at home alone in the shower, he’ll perform a whole Beyoncé concert—choreography and all. As CEO and founder of The T.R.U.T.H. Project, Inc., Anderson has helped mobilize LGBTQ communities of color and their allies through social arts that promote mental, emotional, and sexual health since the nonprofit’s inception in 2011. “Engaging LGBTQ communities of color and allies through the arts gives me the opportunity to explore challenging subject matter through the universal language of art,” he says, noting that the organization’s quarterly performances address issues such as bullying, domestic violence, depression, and HIV awareness. “Within my community, I think stigma and mental health are important issues right now,” Anderson, who identifies as same-gender loving, explains. “The lack of resources seems to hinder LGBT communities of color from seeking support when they need to address a somewhat taboo subject matter.” Anderson’s artistic advocacy work is furthered by his work as founder, curator, and host of heart&SOUL, a monthly merged-arts open-mic showcase created in a nondiscriminatory space. These events are open to artists, lovers of art, and art supporters. “Art inspires!” Anderson says.
It is more than fitting that “unapologetically black trans woman” Monica Roberts’ go-to karaoke songs are Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” and The Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power.” A seasoned community activist who has held numerous leadership positions, Roberts has been fighting for social justice for 18 years and counting. In addition to being the founding editor of TransGriot, a blog dedicated to trans community news, commentary, and history, Roberts serves as secretary for the DC-based Trans Persons of Color Coalition and sits on the board of both the Dallas-based Black Transwomen, Inc., and the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit. In addition to being a founder of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition in 1999, she was on the Creating Change organizing committee when Houston hosted that conference in 2014. “It may sound cliché, but what motivates me is wanting to make the world and all the communities I intersect and interact with a better place,” Roberts says. And the first step to improving those communities is to improve the current job climate, she notes. “The trans community, and especially the African-American trans community, is suffering with a 21 percent unemployment rate, often subsisting on less than $10,000 a year,” she says. “Which is why I was an early and enthusiastic supporter of HERO [the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance] and worked for its passage. Come out of the closets and get involved. You can’t get your rights by cowering in a closet or refusing to fight for them.”
For years, Jovaun Davenport struggled with his weight. He went on crash diets, sought guidance at weight-loss centers, and went to the gym—all in an attempt to meet others’ expectations of him. Inside, however, it was killing him softly (his favorite karaoke song by the Fugees, performed by Lauryn Hill). “Then, a light goes off,” Davenport, who identifies as bisexual, says. “Your happiness and worth shouldn’t be defined based off of how others see you. You may have a little more on you than some others; however, you’re still worthy of love.” It was this realization that inspired Davenport to help found Heavy Hitters, LLC, a body-positive organization dedicated to eliminating the shame associated with the “Urban Man of Size” community. The group held its first discussion meeting in 2013, with over 25 people in attendance. “This was a complete surprise to me, because I felt men of size wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to sit around with a group of strangers and have an open dialogue about the many myths and concerns that plague our big-man community,” Davenport says. But what started as a mere discussion group quickly grew into something much more, he notes. The group now produces Heavy Hitters Pride, a three-day empowerment weekend filled with entertainment, seminars, a pool party, brunch, and spoken-work performances. The first celebration was held in summer 2015 and attracted over 350 attendees. “I’ve been met with great resistance and obstacles from some who feel teaching others to love themselves is ‘fat worshipping’ or enabling an unhealthy lifestyle,” he explains. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. My mission is to push a movement of self-love, self-worth, and self-acceptance.”
Houstonian MiMi LaRue just may have superpowers. She’s a single mom to three children, a radio host, a TV personality, a community volunteer, and manages $30 million in funding as the grants director for the Houston Police Department—and she does it all in five-inch heels. Her MJWJ Global Talk Radio show—Dripping Sexy Lifestyle: Living By Design—has had a successful yearlong run and is now expanding from the airwaves to cable television as an upcoming production of HTV, Houston’s municipal channel. “I have used my radio show as a platform to connect with the community,” LaRue says. “I’m so excited about what’s on the horizon as the host for my new television show, Living By Design.” She’s also given back to the community for the past five years as a volunteer financial literacy instructor for the Star of Hope and as an advocate for domestic violence awareness and single mothers. “The families leave more of an impact on me than I could possibly leave with them,” she says. “It’s been my mission to help other mothers find a path which enables them to soar. We wear many hats—we’ve got to be tough, disciplined, driven beings while still allowing a nurturing side to seep through. It’s a delicate dance, but it can be done.” How does she manage to keep balance in her own life? “I thrive on my early-morning workouts. With a lifelong dedication to health and wellness, I keep my stress levels at bay and my energy high,” LaRue says. And at the end of a long day, nothing makes her melt like Five Star’s “Let Me Be the One.” “I morph the minute that song comes on!” she says.
When asked about his go-to karaoke song, Harrison Guy responds, “‘Pony’ by Genuine . . . yikes!” Not only does this self-identified proud black gay man belt out some serious ’90s hip-hop, he also gives back to his community in a major way. He currently serves as the Southern regional director for Delta Phi Upsilon Fraternity, Inc.—the first international fraternity for gay, bisexual, and progressive men. As a member of this group for the past 11 years, he has worked to expand the organization, advocate for LGBT issues, and shift attitudes about LGBT people in the South. “I have always been drawn to helping marginalized communities and people,” Harrison says, noting that he feels the most important issue in the black LGBT community is empowerment and the synchronization of thoughts, ideas, and efforts. “I take pride in joining those who feel pushed out by society. Not necessarily speaking for them, but speaking with them.” Harrison also wants the larger LGBT community to become better allies by focusing on diversity inclusion. “Not just as buzzwords,” he says, “but as an intentional effort that includes both recruitment and retention strategies simultaneously.”
The first time Venita Howard-Curtis went to a gay club, she saw a divine drag queen perform Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” Since then, it’s been her song of choice. “I just love that song,” she says. “It fits. It just fits!” This happily married Houston lesbian has been involved with the philanthropic organization Unique Dollz and Lordz for the past four years, giving back and helping those who cannot help themselves. “I think right now we need to have more love and understanding for one another,” Howard-Curtis says. “The life we are living right now can take a toll on all of us.” For those who want to become more active in the LGBT community, she recommends volunteering with Pride Houston at least once, “to see the joy that they bring.”
Every day, openly gay Houstonian Ian Haddock works diligently to empower black gay and bisexual men and trans women. He’s a coordinator of the mSociety, an arm of Legacy Community Health’s mPowerment program, and is the president of the Delta Chapter of Gamma Mu Phi Fraternity, Inc.—a brotherhood committed to promoting the positive representation of same-gender loving, bisexual, and affirming men of color. And in the last year, he’s blossomed into one of the most-read gay bloggers in the Houston area. “My website, The Normal Anomaly, speaks to all areas where community needs, advocacy, and policy meet,” Haddock explains. “I am able to involve people who would not normally consider getting involved in empowerment, political issues, self-motivation, or community mobilization. With this, we are changing the narrative of our community.” Haddock is taking steps to further that change by training at the JSI (John Snow, Inc.) Research & Training Institute to become a health literacy trainer to help healthcare providers better understand the needs of black men who have sex with men (MSM). “In-the-know people [have a duty] to disseminate pertinent information to those who do not want to readily receive it,” he says. “My purpose is to give this information to those individuals in the most relatable and educational way.” He notes that this information exchange is a two-way street. “People are fighting for you, but we can’t fight for you if you don’t tell us what you need,” he says. “I aim to make these conversations possible.” He may just get a little empowerment from his guilty-pleasure song as well—“Three Is a Crowd” by Milira.
LGBT artist Morena Roas is making a splash on the queer Houston music scene. This former Pride Superstar competitor now co-hosts “The Floor Is Yours”—the first regular LGBT open-mic night for artists, poets, comedians, dancers, and more—every Wednesday night at Guava Lamp. She also lends her talents to community organizations such as Bunnies on the Bayou, AssistHers, and Her Destination Unknown. “My community and my city [inspire me],” she says. “My dreams never let me rest, and that’s a good thing. Any benefit that needs entertainment, I’ll volunteer or donate my time.” Roas also encourages organizations to reach out to more local LGBT performers for entertainment and, in turn, drive more community support. “I love my drag ladies, but we need gigs, too!” she laughs. And her favorite number to perform? “That’s easy! Selena’s ‘Tu Solo Tu.’”