Sallie Wyatt-Woodell succeeds her wife, Carol, as female grand marshal of the Houston Pride parade.
By Brandon Wolf
A40th birthday is something most people are ambivalent about, and it’s usually not a milestone they remember years later. But Sallie Wyatt-Woodell will always remember her 40th birthday—April 27, the same day she was named female grand marshal of the Houston Pride parade.
“Especially because I’m still at a relatively early age, and I had some very strong and very deserving competition, it was fabulous to feel the love and support of my community, and to know that they appreciate how hard I’m working to make things better,” Wyatt-Woodell says.
In being named this year’s grand marshal, she and her wife, Carol Wyatt-Woodell, have made history as the first couple in which both partners have received the honor. Carol served as Pride grand marshal in 2010.
“It highlights what kind of a couple we are—both of us are tireless volunteers,” Wyatt-Woodell says. “It does make our relationship easier. With many couples, one partner is actively involved and the other stays more at home. We understand when the other can’t be home some evenings due to a volunteer activity. But we do [set aside regular nights] on our calendars as date nights.”
Sallie Wyatt-Woodell was born in Houston in 1977. She credits her parents with instilling in her an awareness that she was lucky to have been given so many advantages, and a sense of responsibility to share them by volunteering.
She came out at age 24. “I wanted to be authentic,” Wyatt-Woodell says.
After earning a degree in English literature at Rhodes College in Tennessee, she worked at Barnes & Noble in Houston, rising from bookseller to department manager. For the last seven years, she’s worked as a paralegal.
Bored with the bar scene, Wyatt-Woodell began volunteering in the LGBT community in 2010 by taking a friend’s advice and joining The Diana Foundation. The organization had only three female members at the time, and she says the men charmed her into joining. She would serve as secretary for three terms.
But Wyatt-Woodell felt she needed more lesbians in her life, so in 2013 she joined the Kindred Spirits Endowment Foundation, which arose from the 1980s nightclub Kindred Spirits. The Foundation supports nonprofits providing health and human-services assistance to women. It was at a Kindred Spirits meeting that Sallie met Carol.
“A board meeting is a good place to see someone’s core values,” says Sallie, who served as secretary for Kindred Spirits until its absorption into the Montrose Center in 2016.
Carol Wyatt-Woodell, a former Pride Houston president, is known for her annual fundraising Christmas party that has raised thousands in each of the last 16 years to benefit groups such as Out for Education, the Creating Change Conference, HRC’s Welcoming Schools program, and the Montrose Center’s NEST program.
Since 2013, Sallie Wyatt-Woodell has served as co-host of the Christmas fundraiser, now known as “Carol & Sallie’s Christmas Party.”
“We are awed to be the first couple to both win this wonderful honor,” Carol says. “Community involvement brought us together, and it continues to be the foundation for our social lives and our network of friends. We don’t do what we do for the recognition, but we have to admit that we are very proud that we’ll both be able to wear the grand-marshal medals.”
Reflecting on her community involvement, Sallie says she seeks out organizations and activities that are diverse. “Especially now, we should all be working together, not against other members of the community,” she says.
She currently serves as volunteer outreach coordinator for OutReach United, which has raised over $350,000 for LGBT organizations since 2006. After joining the Out for Education board in 2013, she was elected president of that organization last month.
“I loved the mission statement—‘Invest in our future,’” she says. “A lot of LGBT kids are kicked out of their homes and [can barely] survive, much less go to college. The organization awards 50 scholarships a year.”
In 2016, Sallie Wyatt-Woodell branched out into politics by joining the Houston chapter of The Victory Fund, which is dedicated to electing LGBT candidates to office. “The annual [Victory Fund] brunch is a favorite of mine,” she says. “At last year’s brunch, something really resonated with me—I was incredibly moved with all of the speakers. And I was getting worried about the 2016 election. I’m an optimist, but the current political situation scares me.”
In fact, she calls it “terrifyingly unstable.”
“Women’s rights are under attack, and things could go very, very badly,” she says, adding that she draws hope from the energy of recent protests and the number of women running for office.
“I hope the momentum continues, and carries us through a 2018 midterm victory,” she says.
In addition to her LGBT activism, Wyatt-Woodell is involved with animal rescue. “It’s like a third-world country out there for homeless animals in Houston,” she says. She and her wife share their home with three rescue dogs—Charlie, Chance, and Winnie—and two rescue cats, Metro and Molly Ivins.
“We are huge fans of Molly Ivins,” Wyatt-Woodell says of the legendary Texas journalist. “When we met that cat, we had just seen a one-woman play about Ivins, and the cat seemed so much like her. She doesn’t put up with anything from our big dogs—and she’s smart, opinionated, and very well-spoken.”
The same could be said of Wyatt-Woodell herself.
Returning to the subject of LGBT rights, she says she looks forward to the day when the community is truly equal, and no longer treated as second-class citizens.
“[That means] not having to worry that current marriages could be voided, feeling secure we can visit the ones we love in a hospital, not having to [worry about] where we go because we might be discriminated against or attacked, being able to raise kids in loving environments [where they won’t] be judged for who their parents are, and not being hated by religious and political groups,” she says.
“Compassion can truly make our own little corners of the world better places,” she adds. “If you can put a name and face to a gay person, your mind will be changed. It’s no longer some sinner, it’s Carol and Sallie across the street.”