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How Have Houston’s LGBTQ Activists Continued to Mobilize?

Local advocates share their pandemic experiences.

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Quarantine restrictions have led to the cancellation of LGBTQ charity events, community forums, in-person support groups, and more. With so many of Houston’s LGBTQ movers and shakers confined to their homes, how are they continuing to advocate for change? We asked some leading local activists that question, so read on for their insightful answers: 

Mia Ryan Porter

Founder of Sister to Sister Support Group, healthcare outreach worker

I’m quarantining at home on the north side of Houston with my husband.

Because I am a healthcare worker, I was never relieved of duty. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, [my team and I] were already working on another pandemic—the HIV/AIDS pandemic. COVID-19 complicated things for us, as we already care for individuals who are immunocompromised. Outside of work, my marriage has kept me busy, and I’ve been keeping up with the home and looking after my mother-in-law. Family time is how I’ve been spending a lot of the quarantine. 

My schedule is flexible, so I have always partially worked from home. Typically, I work half of the day at home and the other half at the office. At the start of the quarantine, I worked from home for about two weeks. After we saw where things were headed, I started going back into the office.

My environment at the office has changed. Sometimes I walk in and it’s like a ghost town. All the offices were closed initially. First, we had to assess the risk of the current situation before we moved forward, and everything was put on hold for about a week or two. Since I work for infectious-disease doctors, we had to get on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and take precautionary measures, while also trying to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. COVID-19 changed everything, from our standard operations down to the clinical interactions with the team.

During this crisis, I learned that I had become so used to crisis that the pandemic didn’t really shake me like it did the rest of the world. That’s not because I did not perceive the [severity of the] situation. As a Black trans woman, I am so used to crisis. For the first time, things felt normal. It’s kind of sad to admit that. With everything shutting down and people not being able to access spaces, I can’t say it’s the same thing as the trans experience, but this is something familiar to Black trans women, who are often exiled from family, friends, common work spaces, and so forth.

The Sister to Sister Support Group has been temporarily put on hold. I am planning to move the group online to Zoom, because I do understand that the community needs that support. I just needed to first ensure that during this pandemic, being newly married with new responsibilities, that my family was taken care of and that I would still be able to have an impact in the community without overexerting myself.

I haven’t really been binge-watching TV. Instead, I’ve been taking this time to work on myself. I always try to look at the bright side of things, and I felt like the bright side of the quarantine was that it gave everybody a little preparation time for when things are back to normal. The time allowed me to evaluate some things in my life and make some changes. Once everything is lifted and I’m able to come back full-force, I’ll be able to make an even greater impact on the community.

I recommend listening to Marsha’s Plate, a podcast by Black trans people—Diamond Collier, Mia Mix, and Zahir Rae. I also recommend the books I’ve been reading, The Tabernacle of Lies: Memoirs of Innocence Lost by Farron P. Wiley, and Real N—-s in Training by William T. Hoston. I helped write Hoston’s award-winning book Toxic Silence.

I’d like to give a shout-out to Save Our Sisters United (SOSU) for creating a pandemic relief fund specifically for trans women of color. I think that was great.

Keep up with Mia Ryan on her fan page facebook.com/Mia-Ryan-234946656654842. Learn more about Sister to Sister Support Group at facebook.com/SisterToSisterHOU.


 

Sallie Wyatt-Woodell

Litigation paralegal, president of Out for Education

I am quarantining at home with my wife, Carol, and our four animals.

I’ve been keeping busy by walking our dogs and exercising daily. Carol and I have also been enjoying the last of the cooler weather by relaxing in our backyard with glasses of wine.

My job enables me to work from home anyway, so I have a home office set up downstairs. The biggest adjustment for me has been learning to work with my incredibly barky and mailmen-driven co-workers.

We’ve been ordering takeout from our four favorite restaurants—Federal Grill, Plonk, Rainbow Lodge, and Cyclone Anaya’s—to give them business. My go-to meals are breakfast tacos from Federal, grilled fish from Plonk, artichoke chicken from Rainbow Lodge, and roasted chile relleno from Cyclone’s.

Carol and I normally stay pretty busy with community events, so I thought it would be an adjustment to go from a busy social life to a much quieter life. I find I’m enjoying the change and love getting to spend more time with my wife.

I’ve been binge-watching Young Sheldon, Will & Grace, and Arrested Development.

I just re-read the entire Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie mystery series. I’ve been trying to just read light and entertaining novels during this time. Nothing too serious—there’s too much to stress about during this pandemic and economic downturn.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the responses of our local non-profits as they make the necessary adjustments to the quarantine. For example, Out for Education canceled their student interviews but had the applicants send in their responses to the interview questions and send a short video statement to introduce themselves to the board.

Keep up with Sallie Wyatt-Woodell on Facebook. Learn more about Out for Education at outforeducation.org.


 

Ian Haddock

President of Impulse Group Houston, executive director and principal consultant at The Normal Anomaly Initiative, ambassador for the CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign

Originally I lived with roommates, but in the midst of this pandemic, I live alone. Though I feel it is both a privilege and honor to be able to live alone during a crisis, it has also been extremely isolating and a bit lonely. At first, I was only seeing people through Zoom calls or on Facetime, but recently I have been finding fun ways to physically distance and meet with the people I am closest to. From going on walks in the park to parking at restaurants in separate cars to meet and eat, we have been finding social connectivity while staying apart. 

Moving has kept me exceptionally busy. I had the opportunity to reimagine my space by putting a lot of energy into each of the rooms. Since I am spending a lot of time here and Amazon is still delivering, I am able to be really intentional about the energy and environment I want to create in my space. 

I’ve always worked from home, but now with everyone else working from home, I have more work to do since my focus is digital storytelling, community mobilization, and access to care. With most nonprofits and community organizations not having the infrastructure to support online mobilization and outreach, it has impacted my normal boundaries, cut-off times, and ability to contact my support systems regularly for much-needed self care. Still, it is necessary to work and I feel that we must sacrifice for the greater good of the communities that we live in for their future in the midst of this crushing pandemic. 

I have been trying to support the culinary staples in the community like Midtown Bar & Grill and Hamburger Mary’s, to give me a sense of normalcy during these tumultuous times. Prior to this pandemic, I would Lyft to Midtown Bar & Grill late at night after a few drinks at Crocker Bar, or even drive there during the day for a meeting to get out of the house, as it reminded me of the first area I felt safe in when I moved to Houston. Hamburger Mary’s is a brave space for many marginalized people and allies to come and enjoy good food and amazing entertainment from local and world-renowned drag queens. I can only imagine how hard it is to stay afloat after all of this, and I have never felt more in need of finding some sense of normalcy. These places need us to sustain them during this difficult time, and I choose to give my money to them. 

I have learned so many things while being in this quarantine. To begin with, I have been spending more time having virtual therapy visits. Feeling isolated and lonely, but also overwhelmed by a need to perform and produce, has forced me to tell some necessary truths about myself—mainly that I can do better in the friendship department. Much of my isolation is because of the simple fact that most of my support system also has a direct connection to my work. That doesn’t help when you are feeling overwhelmed and lonely and really just want to laugh, cry, or vent. Also, it doesn’t give space for [finding] support outside of work. I have also learned a lot about family, and how much I need and miss them. I haven’t had much of a connection to family for almost a decade. Seeing the way COVID-19 has ravaged communities and made it practically impossible to see my family, I am missing them now more than ever. This pandemic has definitely shown us how short life is. 

One of the biggest surprises is how much good television I have found. Many people that know me know that I can go months without even turning on my television, but it’s now one of the healthy coping mechanisms I indulge in. One of these shows, Love Goals on the OWN network, has been something that fills my heart. The host, Spirit, is so skilled in her conversation, and the stars on the show bring the trauma, drama, and entertainment. Another favorite was Tiger King! Anyone that has talked to me recently knows that I either enticed them to watch Love Goals or Tiger King. I have also been watching other reality shows, including Real Housewives of Atlanta and the Married to Medicine franchise. I have binged other shows, including Insecure, which is just awesome. 

Two of my favorite books that I often reread are The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn, and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F–k by Mark Manson. These books give me two different perspectives on how to navigate life, especially during trying times and crises. Also, I am reading some phenomenal books by some queer Black authors, including The Titan Chronicles by Houston author Titan Capri, No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell L. Moore, Book of Jewels by Craig Stewart, and Do Something Different by Denita Forges. All of these books feed me in different ways and tell stories that are relatable to the intersections of my personal narrative. Plus, reading them is another way to help local activists who use writing to forge the path of equality and inclusion. 

I want to give a shout-out to the Montrose Center. From their Queer the Census Campaign to the work they do in creating spaces for budding nonprofits like my Normal Anomaly Initiative, they are an organization that deserves a spotlight. I would also like to honor Save Our Sisters United (SOSU), which offers assistance to transgender persons during this pandemic, and the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), which is consistently organizing responses to COVID-19, including their virtual co-working spaces. Finally, I would like to highlight Black Lives Matter Houston, which does tireless work and is often overlooked for the spaces it creates and the mobilization efforts it continues to forge in the midst of constant crisis. 

Keep up with Ian Haddock on Facebook and Instagram @IanLHaddock. Follow The Normal Anomaly Initiative on Facebook and Instagram @TheNormalAnomaly and on Twitter @DaNormalAnomaly. Follow Impulse Group Houston on all social media @ImpulseHTX, and follow AIDS Foundation Houston on Instagram and Twitter at @AIDSHelpHouston


 

Dee Dee Watters

COO and partner of Koncept Kit 

I’m quarantining at my home in southwest Houston with my roommate. 

Life has kept me busy. The quarantine is nothing new for me. In February, I was diagnosed with cancer and had to have a procedure. I am now free from the cancer, but I wasn’t able to leave my home for eight weeks. That experience was very similar to being in quarantine.

I’m currently working from home. For me, that looks like my bed, my pillow, my sheets, and my projection TV. [Laughs]

My work has sort of changed because of the pandemic. The biggest change is not being able to meet clients or see them face-to-face.

I’ve learned a lot about myself during the quarantine. I learned that I can be extremely entertaining. I learned that there is so much power within the individual. For instance, I can do simple things like drinking water, but from a different perspective or in a different state of mind. I like to stop what I’m doing to center myself within the water as I’m pouring it into myself. It’s a reminder that we have the ability to replenish ourselves after we’ve been emptied out. 

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking at home. My favorite go-to food is Italian-sausage soup. HIPP Vegan has also been feeding me from time to time. It’s something a little healthier. Their gumbo is amazing. 

I have been binge-watching Ozark and Naked and Afraid. Ozark is really interesting, because you get to see the way that people manipulate their surroundings, and what survival can really look like for folks. I watch Naked and Afraid because I love nature, and there’s nothing like watching a show where people experience nature naked and afraid. I love to sit and watch and say, “I would have done that!” But realistically, I would never want to go there. My nails are too long. 

I recommend listening to the podcast Marsha’s Plate. I also recommend reading the book I’m featured in called OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance. Also, watch any version of The Lion King

I would like to give a shout-out to the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition for its relief efforts, along with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, Impulse Group Houston, Save Our Sisters United, Inc., Sister to Sister Support Group, Black Lives Matter Houston, and Organización Latina de Trans en Texas. 

Learn more about Dee Dee Watters at deedeewatters.com. Follow her on all social-media platforms @imdeedeewatters, and donate to her Cash App at $deedee832.   


 

Andrea Segovia 

Executive director of Gender Infinity, policy coordinator at Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) 

I’m quarantining at my home in Houston with my family. We’ve been spending a lot of time outside on the weekends. My partner has been doing crawfish boils, which has made us realize that being outside makes us feel good while still being able to be distant. 

I’ve kept busy being an executive director and navigating what things will look like for the rest of the year. Even though we’re in quarantine, federal laws aren’t stopping. Currently there are two court cases [whose decisions will affect the trans community]. These federal guidelines that are up in the air have kept us busy.

My family is super-fortunate to have a home office. We have worked from home for the last three years. If you’re working from home and don’t have a home office, I think it’s important that you set up part of your home to be a place where you work. That’s something that took me a long time to figure out. It’s also great to set a schedule for yourself. 

Work has changed since the pandemic began. TENT created a relief fund for trans people who were financially impacted—that was new for us. Gender Infinity has also changed. We had to cancel our family camps, and we may have to figure out something new for our annual conference. Even though officials have started to reopen spaces, we’ve already seen a rise in new COVID-19 cases. My team at Gender Infinity has discussed this, and we would hate to put anyone else at risk if we hosted a large gathering. We’re working on something that’s virtual, so families can still do our activities at home. Navigating this has been difficult, since it’s something that we’ve never done before. Some people have participated in our events for several years, so it’s a bit nerve-wracking to change things. We just hope that everything works out. 

Something I’ve learned during the quarantine is how to listen to my body. During a [regular Texas] legislative session, things are so intense and nonstop, and there’s never really an opportunity to do self-care. Right now I feel lucky that I get to take more time for breaks. My brain capacity is so much better now [when I don’t] try to power through tasks without stopping to rest. 

Having our home in order is also important to me. Because we travelled so much and our schedules were usually booked, I didn’t realize that we needed to buy and rearrange things. Being able to pay attention to our home has been nice. This is something I want to be better at once the pandemic is over. 

We’ve been ordering to-go from Bollo Woodfired Pizza. I think their pasta is great. Another place in Montrose that we frequent is Al’s Quick Stop. You can order online and they have great Middle Eastern food. For dessert I like Flower and Cream, a family-owned and -operated ice-cream shop. I order the Nutella ice cream on a lavender cone with Lucky Charms cereal on top. 

I usually watch whatever shows my family is watching. Parks and Recreation did a special quarantine show from home, and I almost wanted to cry because I really miss the show. I’ve also been playing Mario Kart and Animal Crossing. We’ve been making use of our Nintendo Switch.

I recommend listening to The Read. It’s a podcast by two Black queer people who just read everything—celebrities, current events, the news—for about an hour each episode. They make me laugh and distract me, which is really nice right now. 

I’d like to give three shout-outs to the Montrose Center (since it has really been trying to get resources to people), the Houston Food Bank (and our good friend Melanie Pang, who’s working her butt off there), and Pearl Bar Houston (for being a business that is trying to do right). Julie Mabry is one of the last lesbian-bar owners in America, and she’s been advocating for her business and for her employees, making sure they can pay their bills while the bar is closed.

For more information about Gender Infinity, visit genderinfinity.org. For more information about TENT, visit transtexas.org.


 

Kevin Dapree Anderson

Founder and CEO of The T.R.U.T.H. Project, Inc., director of health and wellness at AIDS Foundation Houston

I am quarantining at home with my husband, Roderick, and with daily Zoom calls. I feel like I have invited so many people into my home virtually over the last two months while working remotely.

I’ve kept busy by keeping the innovation of The T.R.U.T.H. Project in full swing. We’ve launched One Mic, One Voice, a virtual open-mic event, and have elevated our monthly support circles—R.I.S.E. for LGBTQ POC, and P.L.U.S. for LGBTQ POC living with HIV. Both of these support circles have been the space that many look forward to in the midst of the pandemic. Although it’s not therapy, it certainly feels good to have a like mind with shared experiences to lean on. Lastly, I began the creative process to curate an art exhibition called And Their Eyes Grow Thorns at Winston Contemporary Art Gallery that will take place during the months of June and July. I’m excited about creating a space for artists of color to tell their stories of Pride through visual art. 

Working remotely during a pandemic while leading The T.R.U.T.H. Project, Inc., and working for an AIDS service organization, takes a lot of balance and WHOOSAH. I probably average about five to six Zoom conference calls a day, but it all keeps the work on track.

All of my work is being done online, and I make sure I begin almost every call checking in on everyone’s mental and physical state. I started something at work called Wellness Wednesday, and it has been a fulfilling experience bringing in therapists, financial advisors, counselors, and healthcare professionals to provide tools to help guide us through the week.

I love breakfast food, and I discovered a new restaurant in February called Eggcellence Café. They have the best Chicken Florentine Crepe. Yums!

This experience has taught me that I wasn’t as prepared for a pandemic as I thought, especially once we began working remotely. I have had a few nights that I haven’t rested well. Thank goodness for a good therapist! I have also learned that I truly enjoy my home. Creating calming energy at home has taken on a new meaning.

I have watched a few documentaries. One in particular is Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It fed my soul. I was reminded of how important family is, and the importance of being kind to yourself. And of course, I binge-watched Netflix’s Hollywood in one weekend, loving Janet Mock and Ryan Murphy. Now we are on season two of Ozark—talk about family! [Laughs

I recommend reading any book written by my favorite author, Dr. Daniel Black. My favorites are The Coming and Perfect Peace. I’m also a bit of a sci-fi nerd, and stumbled across Octavia E. Butler years ago. Butler is an African-American science-fiction author who blows my mind. Check out her book Kindred. I’ve recently joined Spectrum South’s Veer Queer podcast family as one of the four hosts, and it has been a great experience bringing my perspective to the podcast to discuss art, the spoken word, fat-phobia, and dating.

I have been really impressed with the work of The Mahogany Project and Saving Our Sisters United. Both nonprofits have created space, support, and a platform for my nonbinary family and trans brothers and sisters to have a voice in the midst of the pandemic.

Learn more about The T.R.U.T.H. Project at www.truthprojecthtx.org. Follow the organization on Facebook (@thetruthprojecthtx) and Instagram (@truthprojecthtx). Find Kevin Anderson online at  facebook.com/kevin.anderson.5070276

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is the managing editor of OutSmart magazine.

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