Members of Houston’s LGBTQ community are mourning the death of transgender activist Dana Louise, who died unexpectedly in early April at the age of 64. The medical examiner has not yet released the cause of death. Louise experienced a heart attack several years ago, in addition to a stroke she suffered in 2018.
Louise was always prompt about returning phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages, so when communication abruptly stopped, friends became concerned and finally entered her apartment to find that she had passed away.
A virtual memorial service is now being planned by Louise’s friends. This OutSmart post will soon be updated with the date and time of the online event.
Activist Brad Pritchett’s most vivid memory of Louise is from 2014 and 2015, when they were working on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). “Dana had gone out to knock on doors. She wanted to be an ambassador for the trans community. She came back sweating and crying—none of the conversations had been pleasant ones. We suggested she take the rest of the day off, but she insisted on going right back out and knocking on more doors.”
Louise was employed for years as a computer-assisted design (CAD) technician. The skill was something she had learned when CAD first was rolled out to the public. She worked with engineering blueprints.
Louise came out on October 11, 2011, as a trans woman. A year later, she discovered she had come out on National Coming Out Day without even knowing it.
Pritchett says Louise was “one of those people who was always around. People gravitated to her because she had lots of good energy.”
Pritchett also remembers Louise from past Transgender Unity Banquets. “She would be decked out to the nines.” Louise earned the nickname “Amazon Barbie” because of her height—well over six feet. Friends say she loved the nickname and owned it, never letting her height get in the way of her wardrobe choices.
Louise was also a board member of the Transform Houston equality group. Pritchett said that she had stopped driving after her stroke, so she would take two or three buses to get to a canvassing location. “If we had more people like Dana, we wouldn’t lose fights. She was an unseen pillar of the community.”
Louise’s friend Ian Syder-Blake notes that “Dana was a character and a personality—so much larger than life. She was very tall and very blond.”
Louise helped facilitate a transgender support group at the Transgender Foundation of America (TFA) Houston. “Everyone was her best friend. She made you feel important, and that you were the only person in the room when she talked with you,” Syder-Blake recalls.
Syder-Blake says he ate lots of buffalo wings with Louise, and the two would talk for hours. He adds, “She loved to play paintball, and had a passionate love of the history of military planes. She had such a full life. She impacted thousands of lives.”
Syder-Blake remembers Louise’s many “Dana-isms,” such as her term for people she found boring and unproductive: “A bag of donuts.”
Singer/songwriter Austin Vela says Louise was “one of most selfless people I’ve ever met in my life. She spoke what was on her mind, and spoke the truth.”
Vela describes Louise as a tireless community supporter. “She gave all of herself to the community and wanted nothing in return.” He says she impacted his life and the lives of so many others. “She never realized how many lives she touched.”
Vela considered Louise his “chosen aunt.” He and his mother were in the process of getting Louise to come and live with them. Vela’s parent is also trans, and benefited from the support he received from Louise.
Louise first met Vela in 2013 after a show he was performing at Fitzgerald’s in the Heights. She came up to him and praised the concert, and he invited her to join him and some friends for dinner across the street.
“People would call to check on her,” Vela recalls, “and she would end up listening to their problems.”
Vela remembers the stories Louise loved to tell about her pre-transition life. Sometimes they would talk for four hours after dinner. “She told wise stories, and it was like listening to a philosopher. She had a wonderful way of communicating with people at a level that not everyone can. I am going to miss her, and I know I’m not the only one.”
Vela says that Louise was in tune with political realities, and would speak the truth. “She said it was hard to be trans, but that she knew it was the hardest for trans women of color. She sought justice for all.”
Ian Finch also met Louise during the HERO campaign. After her stroke, he often offered to drive her to where she needed to go.
Her advice to people getting ready to transition was “Protect your paycheck!”
Finch remembers talking for hours with Louise. “She especially loved talking about her time as a Little League coach in her pre-transition days.”
Josh Vincent is a trans man who remembers that Louise was one of the first people he met after coming out. “I was very new and introverted, but she made sure everyone in the transgender support group was greeted. She walked right up to me and told me she loved my hair. She didn’t let anyone go unseen.”
Vincent notes that Louise had to sacrifice her marriage after coming out. “She was realistic about the cost of transitioning. She would give people all the reasons not to transition, but then say that if this was who they really are, then nothing would stop them from becoming genuine.”
The organizers of Louise’s online memorial service are looking for photographs and “Dana-isms,” so they encourage folks to send their memories of Louise to Ian Syder-Blake via email at [email protected].
“She wanted to see people love each other,” Vela says. “She wished we could all reach out to each other more, and be brothers and sisters.”