Every year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Community Equality Award is given to community leaders who have made their mark on the movement for equality. The decision to honor Julie Mabry this year was a no-brainer. “It was a unanimous decision of HRC Houston leadership to recognize Julie Mabry,” explains Krystal Gilliam, HRC Houston Gala co-chair and a member of HRC’s Board of Governors. Mabry, the owner of Pearl Bar, is well-known in the Houston LGBTQ community.
“When our city needs help, Julie Mabry is one of the first people to raise her hand and respond. She does it very quietly, but her work has not gone unnoticed.”
Recipients of this award are not only strong supporters of the Human Rights Campaign’s mission, Gilliam explains, but they also display an unwavering support for local causes. “Julie Mabry was chosen because of her commitment to establishing and maintaining a space where women who identify as queer, lesbian, and transgender can feel safe and seen.”
Gilliam is quick to note that Mabry’s Pearl Bar doesn’t fall into the lesbian-only bar stereotype. “It is a space that celebrates everyone. Houston is one of the few cities that has a thriving lesbian social scene, and that is due in large part to Julie. She and her staff make everyone feel welcomed, regardless of their gender identity. Pearl Bar strives to be a diverse space.”
Mabry is known for her commitment to helping all members of the local community. She and her business partner, Mariana Lemesoff, have hosted numerous fundraisers for everything from individuals fighting cancer to victims of Hurricane Harvey. “When a Pearl Bar patron was involved in a hit-and-run accident on Washington Avenue, Julie and the patron’s family and friends organized a fundraiser to help cover her extensive medical costs. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Julie opened her doors to host a food and supplies drive for elderly people who lost everything,” Gilliam explains. “When our city needs help, Julie Mabry is one of the first people to raise her hand and respond. She does it very quietly, but her work has not gone unnoticed.”
It’s worth noting that the HRC Community Equality Award is not based on the recipient’s fundraising abilities, or on the size of their HRC donations. “It is an award that is given to members of our community who fight for, show up for, and make space for all of us,” Gilliam says. “HRC Houston leadership recognizes the tremendous impact Julie has had on us locally, and we want to extend our deepest thanks to her,” Gilliam adds.
Like HRC, Mabry believes that every LGBTQ person must be granted both basic equal rights and the ability to be open, honest, and safe at home, at work, and in the community. Mabry’s fight is a personal one, she explains. “I’m gay. My sister is gay. And I have an aunt who was born intersex. My life has been both haunted and blessed by being gay. Haunted because I’ve had to fight homophobia since the day I came out. Blessed because I persevered and made my dream come true to have a safe place for our LGBT community, and to be a voice for those who need me.”
Creating that space and establishing that voice has been Mabry’s dream for as long as she can remember. She credits her mom, who always supported her unconditionally, as her greatest inspiration when it comes to fulfilling that dream. She says her success has made her mom incredibly proud.
Mabry’s dedication to service was instilled in her when she served in AmeriCorps years ago. There she learned the value of helping her community, educating those who simply don’t know they don’t know, having empathy, and exhibiting respect. She is also committed to “combating the ‘less than’ mentality that the Bible and religion was making me feel.” Pearl Bar is a home base of sorts for that fight. Mabry and Lemesoff have donated over $120,000 to the LGBTQ community in Houston with the help of her customers’ selfless generosity. “Being at gay bars was the only time Sarah and I felt safe to be among our own. Pearl has given me a platform to donate, host, give people a place to gather, and to let the younger generation learn about HRC and our LGBT history,” Mabry explains. “My pursuit in life was to open Pearl, and Pearl is about community.”
She has also been honored in Houston as the 2018 Pride Houston Honorary Grand Marshal, the recipient of About magazine’s 2017 Humanitarian Award, and with OutSmart magazine’s Gayest & Greatest businesswoman award in 2016.
Mabry says she was both surprised and honored when she found out about her HRC award. “I really did not expect it,” she says. “I feel really blessed to be a part of the Houston community. I love Houston, and I appreciate everything HRC continues to fight for. I feel equal parts lucky and blessed to play the part I have been able to play.”