Whitney Howard has covered a lot of bases in her life. At 50 years young, the vivacious and witty Houstonian is a successful entrepreneur, dedicated musician, and inspiring media personality. But this just scratches the surface, since she is so much more.
The path to prosperity has been a wild journey for Howard. Fresh out of high school, she sought a trade that fit her love of beauty and gift for inspiration. For 32 years, she owned and operated a thriving modeling agency and beauty salon, and she also taught cosmetology for 18 of those years.
About 13 years ago, Howard launched a radio show called Diva’ONNE Exclusive Entertainment, where she continues to interview up-and-coming local artists about their work. In 2013, her profile grew even larger when she was featured as an instructor on Houston Beauty, an Oprah Winfrey Network reality television show that followed the goings-on at Franklin Beauty School, a historic Space City cosmetology institute.
“But all things change, right?” Howard laughs. “My life changed when [my own] beauty school closed. I was out of a job, and I needed to make changes.”
“I am hoping to use my radio, television, and film degree to work for more radio and TV stations in the future. I would also like to write the scripts for films I can then produce. Maybe I can do the music scoring, too!”
In her late 40s, Howard decided to attend Houston Community College for a cosmetology certification. But on a whim, she added piano study to her schedule and promptly fell in love with studying music. She was soon enrolled in music theory, concert choir, voice lessons, chamber ensemble, and music history.
After changing degree plans and completing an associate’s degree in music, Howard continued her studies at Texas Southern University (TSU), where she earned double bachelor’s degrees in applied classical piano and radio, television, and film. Currently, she is working toward her master’s degree in communications at TSU, and hopes to later pursue a doctoral degree in media arts.
As a trans woman, Howard noticed that TSU didn’t have an extensive history of LGBTQ inclusivity. So she decided to fix that by helping launch the school’s Pride Center, where she now works.
“[The resource center] provides TSU’s LGBTQ and ally students a safe and welcoming place to go to study, to eat lunch, to laugh, or to relax. It is wonderful. Sometimes the students even ask me for mentoring, and I am always delighted to do it. The Pride Center has been a happy success for all,” Howard notes.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Howard also teaches piano students part-time at her own Diva’ONNE Exclusive School of Music. Her students range in age from 9 to 50, and they all learn music theory in addition to basic piano skills. “You gotta know why you’re playin’ what you’re playin’!” Howard laughs.
Is there anything this woman can’t do? “Sometimes friends tease me and call me a jack-of-all-trades. I have to correct them and say I am a ‘Jack-ette of all trades!’” she laughs.
Howard’s life journey has been remarkable from the start. Her biological mother was passing through Houston when Howard was born. At only three days old, she became a Texan while her mother continued in her travels.
“I was adopted by a wonderful family in Houston, but there were actually no legal documents involved. It was more like a hand-off. The Houston family just sort of took me in right after I was born,” Howard explains.
It was a happy twist of fate. As a child, Howard was surrounded by love and, as the youngest in her small family, they enjoyed spoiling her. She did well in school, had many books, tons of toys, and often went shopping for clothing with her mom.
However, as a youngster she dealt with gender dysphoria and a mental disconnect from her birth name—a discord that grew more apparent the older she became.
“I was always very, very feminine. No matter how hard I tried to fit my name—to be a boy—it just didn’t work,” she says, noting that a friend suggested she go by a new name. “I have always loved Whitney Houston, so I chose Whitney instead!”
Twenty years after she started transitioning, Howard still hadn’t legally corrected her gender marker or name. But then she happened to cross paths with Houston judge Phyllis Frye—the nation’s first openly trans judge, who specializes in trans issues in her private legal practice.
“I did not know the judge, but I had a traffic ticket so I went to court to pay it,” Howard recalls. “When Judge Frye summoned me up to the bench, she called me by my birth name. [When she became confused after] staring me up and down, she said, ‘We need to do something about that.’ So she helped me change it!”
Another of Howard’s many achievements includes raising two children. Following high school, she and a lesbian friend were sitting around one afternoon lamenting that neither of them would have biological kids. It was a sad moment, as both of the young LGBTQ people wanted to raise a family.
“I said to her, “Hey, wanna give it a try?’ She agreed, so we had a son and raised him together,” Howard says. The duo lived together while they each dated other people. They later decided to have a second child, and this time they had a daughter. Today, both of Howard’s kids are happily married and raising children of their own.
With such a unique life path thus far, where does Howard hope the rest of the journey takes her? “I am hoping to use my radio, television, and film degree to work for [more] radio and TV stations in the future,” Howard explains, noting that she’d like to explore media opportunities in Atlanta. “I would also like to write the scripts for films I can then produce. Maybe I can do the music scoring, too!”
Keep up with Whitney Howard on Instagram @divaexclusivetvwhitneyhoward.
This article appears in the March 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.