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UH alum Stephanie Rice is a poster child for the Red Dinner.

By Marene Gustin

Texas gal Stephanie Rice has had a wild time since her stint on The Voice in 2017, when she wowed judge Alicia Keys and viewers with her powerful voice and soulful coming-out story.

Since then, Rice and fiancée Janet Gonzalez moved to Los Angeles. She also released a single last year, and is now working on an album. At some point, the couple plans to finally get around to that destination wedding on a beach that they’ve been planning.

“I mean, I say we live in LA, but I’ve been on tour so much, I’m hardly there,” says Rice, who received praise for her 2017 single, an emotional ballad called “Let Me Go.”

As viewers of The Voice know, Rice’s life hasn’t always been so happily successful. Growing up in rural Texas in a strict religious household as the daughter of a local pastor, things quickly headed south after Rice was caught dating another teenage girl.

Rice’s father sent her to “conversion therapy” and wouldn’t let her give the salutatorian speech at her high-school graduation or accept any of the scholastic awards she had received. He also barred her from attending college and accepting the basketball scholarship she had been offered. When Rice’s parents realized they could not change her sexual orientation, they dumped her on the side of a road—literally—and she hasn’t spoken to them since. She has no idea if they know about her Voice appearance or her musical success.

On a happier note, Rice will be back in Houston to perform at the University of Houston’s LGBTQ Alumni Association’s Red Dinner III gala on May 19.

“They reached out to me after seeing me on The Voice,” says Rice, a UH graduate. “I gave a shout-out to Cougars on the show.”

The alumni association raises funds for LGBTQ student scholarships and provides financial stability to at-risk LGBTQ students—a very real need, and one that Rice can identify with.

“This is special to me,” Rice says, “because I received financial aid to go to UH and it changed my life.”

Unfortunately, the LGBTQ Alumni Association wasn’t around back then.

“I had to go through an appeal process with financial aid because I was under 24,” she recalls. “And that meant my application would have to include my parents’ financial information.”

Needless to say, she was unable to provide it.

“They wouldn’t even speak to me, let alone allow me to use them and their income to apply for financial aid to go to college,” she says of her parents. “It was very hard, but I finally got the aid after having people testify that my family had abandoned me and I was totally on my own. The fact that there is help now, specifically for LGBTQ students who have been abandoned by their families, is just a really beautiful thing.”

Today, UH also has an LGBTQ Resource Center and advisory board.

After securing financial aid, Rice attended the university—not for a music degree, but for one in science.

“I’ve always loved science,” she says. “It really interested me.” After graduating, Rice conducted medical research at Baylor College of Medicine while Gonzalez was working at St. Luke’s Hospital. But she knew she wanted to do more with her music, and being on The Voice made that possible.

“I do miss the technical aspects of science,” Rice admits. “But I feel I am able to give back more with my music. One day, I’d like to think that I could marry both interests.”

And there has been another change since her time on The Voice. “Let Me Go” and her upcoming album are under the name Stephanie Rice, not Colonial Blue, the band she formed with drummer Corey Chierighino during her time at UH.

“It’s just a name change, not a personnel change,” Rice says. “It’s still the same group recording and touring, but after the television show, it just made more sense to capitalize on my name recognition.”

What: Red Dinner III
When: 6 p.m. on May 19
Where: Athletics and Alumni Center, 3100 Cullen Blvd.
Tickets and more info: Reddinner.org 

This article appears in the May 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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