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‘We Will Get Through This’

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Houston LGBTQ community bands together in wake of Tropical Storm Harvey.  

By Marene Gustin

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey, with so much destruction and so many in dire need, Houston’s LGBTQ community came together quickly.

“In the aftermath of Hurricanes Ike and Katrina, we learned that our community fell through the cracks,” said Kent Loftin, development director for the Montrose Center, the city’s LGBTQ community center.

“A lot of transgender people and [LGBTQ] youth wouldn’t go to the shelters, and some who did faced discrimination,” Loftin said. “So this time, we mobilized and sent counselors to the shelters immediately to help make them more LGBTQ-accepting.”

In addition, LGBTQ people are disproportionately uninsured or underinsured, and seniors may not have anyone to check on them, Loftin said. LGBTQ people are also more likely to live with friends, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will not provide aid unless applicants can prove home ownership or a current rental agreement.

Before the rains even stopped, the Montrose Center established the Hurricane Harvey LGBTQ Disaster Relief Fund (TinyURL.com/HarveyLGBTQRelief), and within five days, donations had totaled more than $300,000.

Loftin called the fund a “payer of last resort.”  

“We don’t want to duplicate services,” he said. “We want to be here for people who fall through the cracks.

“Recovery will take a long time,” he added, “but we will get through this.”

In the wake of the storm, anti-LGBTQ pastors and pundits suggested that God was punishing Houston for electing the nation’s first out big-city mayor, or smiting the state over the Texas Legislature’s failure to pass an anti-trans bathroom bill. And even the Montrose Center’s fundraising efforts received criticism on social media.   

Orange Is the New Black star Ruby Rose, who experienced backlash on Twitter over her $10,000 donation to the LGBTQ fund, responded with this post: “The LGBT center does not just help LGBT members in a crisis like this, it does not discriminate [against] people in need based on gender, sexuality, race, or religion. It is one of the most inclusive organizations I can think of.”

Other local LGBTQ organizations also mobilized quickly, including AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH), which was accepting donations at AIDSHelp.org to relocate, rehouse, and feed people with HIV/AIDS who were displaced by the storm, as well as to repair damage to some of the organization’s six housing facilities. 

“We are gathering donations and helping people to get their medications,” said Kelly Young, CEO of AFH. “I know people can’t donate to everything, but I urge you to find your passion and give. If your passion is homeless LGBT youth, then donate to Tony’s Place.”

Tony’s Place, at TonysPlace.org, is a drop-in shelter focusing on homeless LGBTQ youth in need of showers, Wi-Fi, hot meals, backpacks, and hygiene kits. The organization reported no damage to its facility and is open during regular hours.

Along with residents and nonprofit organizations, the Houston area has numerous LGBTQ-owned businesses that were impacted by the storm. The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce wasted no time launching a hurricane resource page for its members at Tinyurl.com/HarveyLGBTChamber.

“This disaster is unprecedented, and every area of our community is impacted, including business owners,” said Tammi Wallace, cofounder of the chamber. “The chamber will be working with key partners such as the Small Business Administration to get information to our members about business disaster-recovery resources and other pertinent information to help business owners manage through this crisis.”  

Even some of the helpers were in need of help. Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, which ministers to LGBTQ people and allies, was heavily damaged in the floods.

Pastor Troy Treash reported that the church’s main buildings took on about 18 inches of water. The church was accepting donations at ResurrectionMCC.org.

“We’ve been ripping up carpet and pulling sheetrock,” Treash told OutSmart on September 1. “Parishioners and even strangers have been showing up to help us. Only the gym wasn’t flooded, so we’ve set up folding chairs there and will be able to hold Sunday services. Plus, we’ll collect food and clothing donations.”

Meanwhile, representatives from Legacy Community Health said they were working to reopen their citywide clinics as quickly as possible, and seven clinics were operational by September 1. Legacy was accepting hurricane-relief donations at LegacyCommunityHealth.org, as well as reminding people to take care of their mental health by posting recommendations from the American Psychiatric Association.

Two trans-specific groups had also launched Harvey relief funds to assist clients in need. The Houston-based Transgender Foundation of America (TFA), which was accepting donations at TinyURL.com/HarveyTransHelp, said trans, intersex, and genderqueer people are especially vulnerable in natural disasters.  

“This fund will be used to help this historically underserved community recover from this catastrophic event,” TFA wrote. “If needed, the fund will also help with burial costs for community members who’ve lost their lives in this historic disaster.”

The Organization Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT), a Houston group for trans Latina women, was also seeking donations to support its emergency shelter program, Casa de Ana. For more info, email [email protected] (Spanish preferred) or [email protected].

“As of today, the shelter is housing many trans people displaced by the storm, and is running low on food, water, mattresses, and many other items,” according to OLTT.

Below are some additional LGBTQ-related relief efforts and benefits:

• Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon
, at 11410 Hempstead Road, is a designated donation drop-off location. All donations will be separated and delivered daily to various Goodwill locations and school districts requesting assistance. Here are some of the items requested: Clothing (various types including shoes), bedding (sheets, blankets, pillows), towels, school supplies (backpacks, uniforms, notebooks, etc.), and hygiene products (soap, shampoo, toothpaste).

• Hamburger Mary’s, at 2409 Grant, and the Eagle, at 611 Hyde Park, are also conducting clothing drives. You can drop off your donations during normal business hours.

• Cathedral of Hope Houston, at 9022 Long Point Road, is putting together Hygiene and Cleanup Kits for members, neighbors and friends in Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur. For more details, visit http://cohhouston.org/hurricane-recovery/.

• Guava Lamp, at 570 Waugh, will host an LGBT Veterans and Friends Arm Wrestling fundraiser for Harvey survivors from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. today, Sept. 1. Guava Lamp will also host Houston’s Best Drag Show, featuring Angelina DM Trailz, Foxy Mon’Ro, Blackberri and Luna of the Lilies, at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2. Donations benefit AIDS Foundation Houston and the Montrose Center.

South Beach, 810 Pacific, will host a We Love Houston Benefit Show, featuring Chloe T. Crawford, Violet S’Arbleu and others, at 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2. Donations will go to local charities. There is no cover charge from 8 to 11 p.m.

• Rich’s Houston, at 2401 San Jacinto, will host a Houston Drag Benefit Show, featuring Kofi, Kara Dion, Dessie Love-Blake and several of the state’s best drag performers, at 9 p.m. on Saturday, September 16

• South Beach will host Miss LSVA – Houston Strong, featuring contestants from the Miss Lone Star Volleyball Association drag competition, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30. All donations, and a portion of the liquor sales will go to flood relief.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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