Pride in the Media is an ongoing series on local LGBTQ media personalities and ally representatives of queer-affirming local media outlets.
Dayna Steele shows up for lunch in her signature jeans, western boots, and a replica of the “Mine” T-shirt with a downward-pointing arrow that Leslie Jones wore on Saturday Night Live while commenting on abortion-rights bills.
The former queen of the rock-and-roll airwaves in Houston ran for Congress last year in her 36th Congressional District. It is, and was, a deep-red district. She lost.
“I ran in a district I wasn’t likely to win,” she says, “but someone had to do it. The campaign turned my neighbors against me. I knew there was racism in Southeast Texas, but I had no idea how bad it was. I can’t tell you the number of times I heard ‘I was a Democrat until they elected a black man.’” Her views on women’s rights and LGBTQ equality didn’t go over well, either.
“I got pregnant at fifty,” she says. “I had a miscarriage a week later, but to this day I don’t know what I would have decided. But I know I didn’t need somebody making that decision for me. I didn’t need Dan Patrick sitting in my living room telling me what to do with my body.”
Steele, who has an openly gay son, has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community and is open about the current crop of anti-gay laws and trans murders.
“We have to speak up,” Steele says. “It’s gotten too crazy. It’s gotten dangerous. There are people telling me the campaign is over and I need to shut up, and then there are those who say I’m not doing enough. I don’t know exactly where this next chapter of my life is leading. I’m just coming out of that campaign stupor. But I’ve got my statement-T’s,” she says, proudly pointing to her T-shirt, “and I don’t have to be PC anymore. I can kick people off my social media for being ignorant and mean.”
Younger candidates have approached her for advice, which she freely gives. Along with her husband, Charlie Justiz, Steele has donated to some of those candidates’ campaigns. She plans to write a book about her experiences on the campaign trail, but says it’s still too soon to relive it. What she has done this summer is republish the book that started her writing and motivational-speaking careers 11 years ago. Rock to the Top offers advice on how to succeed like a rock star, and her new edition has an added chapter on social media and an afterword by Sammy Hagar.
“That’s really all I want to do right now,” she says. “Write books, travel, and golf.”
Acting on what she describes as a “well-deserved midlife crisis,” the couple is selling their Seabrook home of 27 years and moving into a high-rise apartment in downtown Houston. A mobile home in Palm Springs will become what she calls their golf lair, and while son Dack is on the road stage-managing a Broadway musical tour, they are subsidizing his New York City rent.
“People ask me where I live now, and I say Houston, Palm Springs, and New York,” she laughs. The Palm Springs “trailer park” is next to a golf course and has a landscaped pool and a weekly wine club. While in New York, they visit friends and see musicals. The couple invested in the award-winning production Come from Away as well as a new musical called Chasing Rainbows, about Judy Garland’s early career.
All in all, Steele is still going full speed ahead, even if she has altered course a bit. When asked about running for office again, she doesn’t give a definitive answer but does mention that she’s moving into Sheila Jackson Lee’s district. “And I think she’s got that district covered.”
As lunch ends, she whips a piece of paper out of her purse, unfolds it into a sign that says “Hi Anne” in block letters, and runs to the bar, getting the bartender and waiter to hold it up. They laugh as she snaps a photo on her phone.
“I do this every day,” she says, “and email it to my friend Anne.” That would be Anne McClain, who is currently onboard the International Space Station. From astronauts to rock stars and politicians, Steele knows everyone.
This article appears in the June 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.