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OutSmart’s Top Allies of 2016

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Thanking our straight siblings for their support of the LGBT community.
By Megan Smith

In simplest terms, allies are friends. They laugh with us in times of joy, and shed tears with us in our darkest hours. And while our straight ally counterparts may not experience our same struggles, they support us unconditionally.

Allies exuberantly embraced us inside the chambers of City Hall after the passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. They officiated at same-sex weddings—some of them 20 years in the making—after the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. And they stood beside us and mourned the loss of our LGBT brothers and sisters taken from us in Orlando—the prayers of these allies reflecting our own.

To say thank you to our straight friends, OutSmart reached out to the community for nominations of allies making a particularly strong impact on the Houston LGBT community. Below, our nominees share tips for being a great ally, divulge details on how they first got involved with the LGBT community, and—in honor of this being our Fashion Issue—school us on their personal styles.

Shelby Hansen

“I would describe my style as classically feminine,” says Shelby Hansen, noting that her go-to outfit is an A-line dress, blazer, and ballet flats. “My favorite piece is probably the green-lace dress I wore when I met Hillary Clinton. It will always hold a special place in my closet!” Clinton isn’t the only equality-minded candidate that Hansen has supported. She first became involved as an ally to the LGBT community when she volunteered on former mayor Annise Parker’s 2013 re-election campaign. “I’ve always been an ally, but it was through Mayor Parker’s campaign that I was able to get more involved and meet new people,” she explains. “My LGBTQ friends inspire me. The struggles and hurdles the community faces every day have shown me just how far we’ve come and how much further we still need to go.” Since then, she has gotten involved with the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats and has served as the organization’s treasurer since March 2015. She also sits on the board of the New Leaders Council Houston, a nonprofit leadership program focused on preparing the next generation of progressive leaders. Hansen believes that focusing on the safety of LGBTQ people and securing a citywide nondiscrimination policy is particularly crucial at this time, and encourages other straight allies to join the fight. “The easiest way to become an ally is to show up and ask how you can help,” she says. “I think it’s important to understand that your role as an ally is [to offer] unconditional support in your friends’ fight.”

Fernando Aramburo

Fernando Aramburo
Fernando Aramburo

“I’d say I’m pretty traditional in style, but do my best to be well-dressed and well-groomed at all times,” says Fernando Aramburo. “My favorite piece in my wardrobe would be my watches—I have several for different moods and different occasions.” A Montrose resident for over 16 years, Aramburo has always made an effort to be connected to his community—including his LGBTQ friends. Aramburo served as a board member for Bering Omega Community Services for six years (until he reached his term limit) and helped spearhead the group’s young professionals board, which he says led to “many rewarding and wonderful relationships with a greatly diverse group of people.” Before having twins, Aramburo and his wife, Sarah, also held infamous charity Halloween parties that were regularly attended by over 500 guests. “It was one of our favorites,” he says. The couple’s service to the community won them the title of Ally Grand Marshals for the 2014 Houston LGBT Pride Celebration. Now, Aramburo channels his energy into celebrating the diversity of Houston’s art scene as a board member for the Art Colony Association, the group that hosts the Bayou City Arts Festival. “So many of the organizations and charities that support the community are starving for volunteers, and so greatly appreciate anyone who is willing to donate time to help their cause,” he says. “There are so many opportunities to become involved, and one of the most powerful and easiest ways is to ask a friend in the LGBTQ community what they do to be supportive—and then join them!”

Januari Leo

Januari Leo
Januari Leo

“You will not find me on an airplane in sweats!” laughs Januari Leo. “My daughter loves to point out that even if I’m going to the grocery store, I’m put together! For me, accessories are everything. I have a ton of jewelry that I’ve collected or have been given from all over the world. It doesn’t have to be expensive—I prefer my pieces to be meaningful and somewhat sentimental.” Leo, who was named Ally Grand Marshal of the 2013 Houston LGBT Pride Celebration, first got involved with the LGBT community in 1994 as a volunteer working with homeless youth in Austin. “A big component of that was HIV/AIDS education and prevention,” she explains. “I met people who are still some of my best friends today. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be afforded the same rights that I have as a cisgender, heterosexual woman.” Leo is currently a member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and, for the past five years, has worked in policy at Legacy Community Health. “One of the things I’m most proud of was the role I played in implementing the inclusion of all-gender restrooms in our Montrose clinic,” Leo says. “It’s been about a year now, and I love when I see people taking pictures of the bathrooms, or get feedback on how appreciative they are.” Not only was Leo also instrumental in the fight for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, she is now working to strengthen the Fort Bend ISD nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. Leo credits much of her motivation to her kids, ages 12 and 14. “They’ve grown up in the LGBT community and have become advocates themselves,” Leo explains. “My daughter had her first friend come out to her in the sixth grade. They have multiple friends who are either gender nonconforming or transitioning. They were founding members of the Dulles Middle School Gay/Straight Alliance. And, yes, this is in the suburbs! I’m so proud of them, and feel that it is critical that we raise the next generation to continue the fight, no matter what that looks like.”

Jacqueline Martin

Jackie Martin
Jacqueline Martin

“Every now and then I try to go for sexy, and it just doesn’t work,” laughs Jacqueline Martin, principal at J S Martin Associates, LP. “I have a work wardrobe that’s very buttoned-up—very traditional jackets and suits. Casually, I’m a blue jeans and oversized sweater-type person. Then I have gala wear as well. But all of them—all of them—have to be comfortable.” Martin says she can’t remember a time she wasn’t involved with the LGBT community. “I grew up in Austin,” she explains. “And being a black woman in Texas, you were catching [discrimination] in every way. So it was very clear in my household that we didn’t feel that we were second-class citizens, so we didn’t treat anybody else like they were second-class citizens. I’ve known gay people all my life. I’ve been around everybody all my life. It’s just how I was raised.” She’s supported and donated time to Equality Texas, the Victory Fund, and the former Montrose Clinic (now Legacy Community Health), just to name a few. As a member of the corporate world, she also applauds companies that decide to form diversity groups that are inclusive of allies. “We’ve made great strides for the LGB community,” Martin says. “But now, we’ve got to educate people on the trans community. Because once you meet a trans person, it’s really hard to say, ‘Oh, I don’t like those people.’ I think getting the message out that they’re just people too is the big need right now.”

Rev. Jimmy Grace

Rev. Jimmy Grace
Rev. Jimmy Grace

“I am actually a pretty lousy dresser—my wife will attest to that!” laughs Rev. Jimmy Grace, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in the Heights. “When I am not at work, it is pretty much always T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. I have a Metallica T-shirt from 1988 that still fits!” Although Grace has only been with St. Andrew’s for the past two years, he has always sought out parishes that were open and affirming to the LGBTQ community. “I have been involved with the LGBTQ community ever since I [became] aware that several members of my family identified themselves as part of this community,” he says. “There are no second-class citizens for Jesus—all are welcome and included.” Grace notes that while there are so many important issues currently facing the LGBTQ community, he is especially focused on alleviating queer youth homelessness. “Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT,” he says. “This experience leaves these young people particularly vulnerable to mental and physical health issues, and leads to unfair criminalization of queer and trans youth. I think the best way for others to become allies to the LGBTQ community is to engage the community and get to know people who identify as LGBTQ. We have so much more in common than we have things that distinguish us from each other.”

Mayor Pro-tem Ellen Cohen

Mayor Pro-tem Ellen Cohen
Mayor Pro-tem Ellen Cohen

“I tend towards classic pieces in bold colors,” says Mayor Pro-tem Ellen Cohen. “My favorite item in my wardrobe is a necklace I received when I stepped down after nearly 20 years as CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center. It’s a daily reminder to never stop fighting to give a voice to those our society tries to silence.” Not only has Cohen been a beacon of hope for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, she’s been a warrior for the LGBT community for decades. “The first time the movement for LGBTQ rights touched my life personally was when my cousin became one of the very first casualties of the AIDS epidemic in New York City,” Cohen explains. “At the time, I served as executive director of the Houston branch of the American Jewish Committee [AJC]. The issue of LGBTQ rights was finally in the national spotlight, and at the AJC we began to advocate for same-sex partner benefits and other equality measures. During my time as the head of major nonprofit organizations and as a Texas state representative, I have been able to advocate for legislation addressing healthcare rights for domestic partners, bullying in Texas schools, and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As the Council member for Houston’s District C, I was honored to serve as the Council whip on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance [HERO]. While HERO was unfortunately overturned after a deceitful misinformation campaign in 2015, I know these advocacy groups, and I will stand together and continue the fight against discrimination in our city.” She currently partners with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats (among other progressive organizations) to ensure equality for all Houstonians. On how to be a better ally, Cohen says, “A small but important way to support the LGBTQ community is to stand up and say something when you hear others using slurs or other demeaning language in daily conversations. Allowing hate speech to seem normal can create a culture where hate crimes seem permissible. Of course, the very most important thing you can do as an ally is to vote!”

Jenni and Scott Tranweaver

Jenni and Scott Tranweaver
Jenni and Scott Tranweaver

“Jenni has an eclectic style and a three-story closet to support her shopping habit,” laughs Scott Tranweaver in regards to his wife’s fashion sense. “Scott’s chill style is a mix of surfing culture and yoga lifestyle,” she replies. The vibrant couple may turn out some of the best noodles in town as the owners of Houston-favorite Jenni’s Noodle House, but they also show unwavering support to their LGBT friends, family, and customers. “Without the fabulous support of the LGBT community when we first opened Jenni’s Noodle House in 2002, our business may not have survived,” they explain. “We believe in equality and try to make that a part of our business and hiring practices, our brand, and who we are every day.” The Tranweavers are longtime supporters of the Houston Rights Campaign, came out as local business allies during the fight for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, and have sponsored various LGBT softball, football, and volleyball team events. Plus, in previous years, the restaurateurs’ colorful and elaborate showing in the Houston LGBT Pride Celebration was awarded Best Costume and Best Float. “The easiest thing to do is to speak up for equality in your daily life every chance you get—walk the talk,” the Tranweavers say. “An ally is one who will support, defend, and accept. So be an ally today to a child, friend, or stranger in need.”

Sandy Stacy

Sandy Stacy
Sandy Stacy

“I love long flowing dresses to lounge around in,” says Sandy Stacy. “My favorite happens to be the one I’m wearing right now!” After moving to Houston in 1988, Stacy began working with Dr. Gordon Crofoot and was introduced to the LGBTQ community—as well as the HIV-positive community—for the first time. “While working for his medical group, I realized I wanted to help with more than scheduling appointments,” Stacy says. “So, at 40 years old, I started school to become a registered nurse. When I graduated in 1994, I headed right to Montrose, first to volunteer at what was then the Montrose Clinic on Richmond, and then to look for work.” The first job offer she received was a staff nursing position at the Omega House AIDS hospice, which she promptly accepted. Stacy has now been with that care facility for 21 years and counting. “I am inspired daily by the love and giving nature of this community, and proud to be considered a part of it.  Having attended and hosted many fundraisers for the different agencies and programs that I represented or supported, I once had a co-worker tell me ‘You are a better gay guy than I am,’” she laughs. Outside of Omega House, Stacy served as president of Pet Patrol from 2013 until 2015, helping assist limited-income elderly and those affected by chronic or life-threatening illnesses to care for their beloved pet companions. She currently serves as a board member of Lazarus House, is an advisory member for the Texas Repository for AIDS, and is a member of both the Thomas Street Advisory Board and the Hospice Palliative Nursing Association. “I think aging is one of my greatest concerns [for the LGBT community],” Stacy says. “No one should have to go back into the closet to receive the care they need in the last years of their life.”

Michael Sibouyeh

Michael Sibouyh
Michael Sibouyeh

“What can I say about my style? I got style!” laughs Michael Sibouyeh. “I’m not a fancy guy—my favorite clothes are T-shirts and jeans.” Owner of Riva’s Italian Restaurant, Sibouyeh’s food is what’s always in fashion. But this culinary connoisseur doesn’t just make a mean meat sauce—he’s been a longtime friend to the LGBT community. Through his work with Riva’s, Sibouyeh has partnered with Stone Soup, helping to provide food assistance to HIV-positive individuals and their families, as well as Bering Omega Community Services. “Since we first opened our doors, I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful people—including our staff—who were involved in supporting the community,” Sibouyeh says. “They were such great and positive role models and inspired us to get involved in helping those who are not as fortunate. One of the most important issues [out there] is equal rights and equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of gender, race, or religion,” he adds. “The easiest way to be an ally to the community is to offer acceptance, to be open-minded, and to get involved in local events.”

Angela Pisecco

Angela Pisecco
Angela Pisecco

“I know nothing about high-end fashion,” says Angela Pisecco. “But I love dresses and fine antique jewelry.” Pisecco explains that growing up, her mom and sisters had gay friends who were treated like family. “We also lost many of them in the ’80s to AIDS and suicide,” she says. In 1995, she was invited by a friend to see The Names Project AIDS Quilt exhibited in Dallas. “All of the beauty and love in those quilts spread across what looked like miles,” she describes. “As far as you could see, quilts telling the story of the men who had died. I could not stop crying that Sunday afternoon, and I was forever changed that day because of the impact that exhibit had on me!” As someone who is sober and involved in the recovery world, Pisecco found community and support with LGBT folks at the Lambda Center when she moved to Houston. “Through my 18 years of attending meetings at Lambda, I have seen countless lives transformed,” she says. “I know many people who came to us, ready to die from their addictions, who are now able to make choices about who they are and who they need to be. To see people transform from trying to kill themselves to living life to its fullest is an honor.” Even when her chosen Catholic faith turned her away for her support of marriage equality, Pisecco did not abandon her LGBT friends. Instead, she found an affirming Episcopal church to join. And she didn’t stay silent when Chick-fil-A came out against marriage equality, either. “I watched the nation come out in droves to show their support against gay marriage, and I was furious,” she says. “I posted on my Facebook, ‘Y’all can do what you want with your money as you wrap the lines around Chic-fil-A, but I am becoming an HRC Federal Club Member today!’ And I did.” That year, she started volunteering with Harris County Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Council on Recovery. She attended the HRC Lobby Day in Washington DC in 2014, where she met with congressional representatives and their staffers about why they should support the current LGBT bills that were up for a vote. She also served as the HRC Houston Steering Committee co-chair until September 2015 and on the HRC board of governors until March 2016. Pisecco was a strong advocate for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, has stood in solidarity with the transgender community for the past three years at the Houston Transgender Day of Remembrance, and participated in a “How to Be a Trans Ally” panel discussion with Houston trans activist Lou Weaver. “I do not worry about getting fired from a job that I love, for being straight,” she says. “I do not worry about my safety when I go to the bathroom or sit in a restaurant, for being straight. I do not worry if my landlord will evict me for being straight. I do not worry about whether I can or cannot get proper medical care because I am straight. I have incredible LGBT friends in my life today. These are people who I love with all my heart and soul. So if the protections that I can count on as a straight person are not [there] for my LGBT family, then I think it’s my job to speak out, loud and proud, until they are.”         

Taft and Dana McWhorter

Taft and Dana McWhorter
Taft and Dana McWhorter

“Our personal style is ‘sexy, chic, and fun,’” says ally couple Taft and Dana McWhorter. For the McWhorters, being allies to the LGBT community is not just important, it’s personal. The couple’s 19-year-old son, Taylor, is gay. “We began having conversations with him on this subject when he was 11 years old,” they say. “Since then, we have heard many horror stories of how parents can be judgmental. We wanted to be parents that love our children for who they are. So we began getting involved in the community, and we have loved every minute of it.” Over the last seven years, the couple has supported Out for Education, the Human Rights Campaign, Hatch Youth, the Diana Foundation, and Bering Omega Community Services. “We believe that when someone is able to truly understand someone else’s feelings, they are able to have a mature conversation about their needs,” the McWhorters say. “By having empathy for the needs of others, we can stop arguing and put our energy into finding solutions. Find something that appeals to you and go get involved!”

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Megan Smith

Megan Smith is the Assistant Editor for OutSmart Magazine.
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