By Donalevan Maines
Photo by ZoomWorks Photography
A drop-in center for homeless gay teenagers could open as soon as this summer in Montrose, thanks to fundraising efforts such as a recent social event at the enchanting Heights home of Sean Clarry and music artist Pierre Alexandre.
Demand was so great for “Le Jazz Noir,” billed as a Creole night of wine, Southern bites, and jazz, that it morphed from a one-evening event into the March 25–26 preview of a 12-song concert Alexandre plans to mount this fall as a benefit for homeless gay kids in his homeland of Haiti.
“More than $45,000 was raised,” says Al Amado, a founding board member of Homeless Gay Kids-Houston (HGK-H). “Without support from people like Pierre and Sean pitching in, we couldn’t open the drop-in center. Our goal is to not accept any government funds at first, because there would be a lot of strings attached. We decided to raise money as quickly and directly as possible to meet this immediate need by asking everybody in the community to reach into their pockets to fund it.”
Meanwhile, Alexandre progressed to his current role in the musical Heathers, in which he portrays the father of Kurt, a teenager who presumably kills himself for being gay. The production, based on the 1988 black-comedy film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, continues through May 8 at TUTS Underground, the Theatre Under the Stars lineup of edgy fare presented at the downtown Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
Ironically, Kurt in Heathers perfectly portrays the 13–18-year-old demographic of gay teenagers that the HGK-H drop-in center hopes to serve.
Alexandre’s big number in the musical is “My Dead Gay Son.”
“You really cannot go around Montrose without running into homeless gay kids,” explains Amado. “Gay youth, in particular, don’t want to be detected, because often they are the victims of foster care or their families, and religious persecution. They are reluctant to participate in programs that are religiously based and [possibly disapproving] of their lifestyle.”
Amado is a Lamar High School graduate who holds both a law degree and a master of laws (LLM) that includes training in the rule of law in Latin America.
Alexandre was born to a judge and his wife in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, in the Caribbean. However, Alexandre’s mother left the family to make a home for her children in New Jersey before sending for Alexandre and his sisters when he was eight years old. “My mother still talks about how she wishes she could get back those years without her children,” he says.
Moving to the United States “was a culture shock,” he adds, explaining that in Haiti, there was no middle class beneath him, just peasants. “Every child had a maid, but in America, we had to do it all for ourselves. I was bullied in school, but my life changed as soon as I got to high school and a teacher found out that I could sing.”
Alexandre won a full scholarship to Point Park College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also attended a conservatory program at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, which led to a year in Japan singing—in Spanish—with Gloria Estefan. “Japan, for me, was another culture shock,” says Alexandre.
Next, the singer performed in many popular Broadway musicals in Europe, including A Chorus Line, Hair, Rent, West Side Story, The Wild Party, Cats, Dirty Dancing, The Blues Brothers, La Cage aux Folles, and Disney’s The Lion King.
In Holland, Alexandre met Clarry, a Houstonian who was working there as a top manager for an international oil company. “It was literally love at first sight,” says Alexandre. “I was not up to it, but I fell in love.”
Soon, the couple was transported to Houston, to a large, white “California meets Victorian” house at 2200 Harvard St. “It’s a show-stopper,” says Alexandre, describing its bold rooftop steeple as “Gregorian.” It’s on the annual Heights Home Tour, mesmerizing guests with its pink meditation room (with a secret entryway to the spare “Winter Bedroom”), Brazilian cherry-oak floors, four wood-burning fireplaces, iridescent lighting, and a luscious garden.
Alexandre and Clarry graciously opened their home to tours for the March events benefiting HGK-H, says Amado. After touring the home, guests enjoyed sampling a variety of fine wines hand-selected by sommelier Marc Borel and delicious Southern bites prepared by chef John Klosterman, says Alexandre. (Did I mention that the dress code was “black with a touch of leather”?)
Amado explains that HGK-H was incorporated last summer as a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a dependable, safe place where homeless LGBTQ kids under 18 can find support and access to services that will help them survive and thrive.
The idea for a drop-in center came to the late Tony Carroll early last year, in the midst of Carroll’s psychotherapy work involving family reconciliations. “Separate and apart from that,” explains Amado, “Tony contacted me about the need for some sort of facility for young gay teens who were out on the streets.”
Carroll proposed a grassroots campaign for a facility that would be different than a shelter with overnight accommodations—a place where kids can show up for basic services, or referrals to services. “If they need clothing, we give them clothing. If they need a meal, we give them a meal or nonperishable snacks to take with them. We could also provide them with backpacks and hygiene kits,” adds Amado.
Carroll identified the need to serve kids 13–18 because they are “very vulnerable” and at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, and what the late psychotherapist termed “survival sex” with people who offer them a measure of help in return for sex, but often put the kids at risk for STDs.
Carroll’s spouse, Dr. Bruce Smith, a Montrose dentist, likened the campaign to “when we started fighting AIDS in the 1980s,” says Amado. “We couldn’t wait for the government to fund it. We needed to get this rolling with very little bureaucracy and no paid staff.”
The group’s website, homlessgaykidshouston.org, explains that its mission is “to provide a dependable, safe place where homeless LGBT kids under 18 can find support and access to services that will help them survive and thrive.”
The center plans to be open seven days a week “to provide for kids’ immediate needs as well as a place where they can learn life skills for a better future. The drop-in center will be a day shelter providing services such as:
• Skill-building—teaching life skills and survival skills
• Referrals to resources
• WiFi and phone charging
• Backpacks and hygiene kits
• Ongoing compassion for building positive relationships.”
Adamo says the group is also actively engaged in a campaign to raise $150,000 in honor of naming the center Tony’s Place, in memory of Carroll.
The website also details ways that supporters may volunteer in efforts such as administration and finance, development, young professionals, marketing and outreach, and partnerships and collaboration.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.