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There’s an old adage in LGBTQ advocacy circles: “We are everywhere.” When it comes to Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts in Houston and beyond, this has certainly been the case. From first responders to drag artists to leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, the LGBTQ community stood exceptionally tall in the wake of the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
For example, Memorial Villages police officer Toni Mascione continued responding to calls even as the home she shared with her wife and three children was being destroyed. Meanwhile, after completing one of her shifts, Houston fire Capt. Iris Rodriguez helped launch a volunteer network, dubbed the “lesbian mafia,” that rescued 30 families during the flood and has gone on to rebuild numerous homes.
After leading volunteer efforts at the downtown George R. Brown Convention Center shelter, gay real-estate broker Bill Baldwin set up a Harvey Relief Hub in an empty warehouse in the Heights to process donations. And Laura Spanjian, regional public-policy director at Airbnb, was busy coordinating her company’s largest relief effort to date.
Spanjian’s partner, Susan Christian, helped lead the city’s response to the storm as director of the Houston Mayor’s Office of Special Events. And Christian’s coworker in the Mayor’s Office, government relations assistant Kris Banks, served as night manager at the GRB convention-center shelter.
Angela Blanchard, CEO of BakerRipley, was responsible for setting up Harris County’s main shelter at the NRG Stadium complex. And, back at the GRB, Friends for Life founder Salise Shuttlesworth was spearheading the heroic effort that enabled evacuees to shelter with their pets.
The list goes on. And sadly, some of OutSmart’s own writers and advertisers felt Harvey’s effects firsthand, including regular contributor Ryan Leach.
Finally, before Harvey’s rains even stopped, the Montrose Center launched what has become one of the largest LGBTQ natural-disaster relief funds in history. OutSmart is donating a portion of its advertising revenue from this special issue to that fund.
When we decided to devote most of our October issue to Harvey coverage, we had no idea that so many remarkable stories would come from within our own community. Unfortunately, it was impossible to include them all.
As Captain Rodriguez says of LGBTQ folks, “Caring for people is a part of our being. It’s our fabric. We live this every single day, and we don’t know any differently.”
We hope you enjoy reading about some of the “Heroes of Harvey” in our October edition.