Women of the Year

With the humanitarian award that they receive as a couple this month, SANDY CLOUGH and STEPHANIE MCCLAIN are truly Black Tie winners.

Sandy Clough (L) and Stephanie McClain

Thirty-two years of devotion—that is what Sandy Clough and Stephanie McClain have given one another. They do everything together it seems, including receiving awards, and they say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clough and McClain are the recipients of the 2007 Humanitarian Award to be presented at the November 10 Houston Black Tie Dinner. The first Black Tie Dinner—McClain has been involved since the early days—was hosted in 1988 in Tony’s wine cellar by the late Jay Hollyfield (whose bequest established The Hollyfield Foundation) as a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign Fund. The dinner has since grown into one of the signature fundraising events in the community. Every year, proceeds from the dinner benefit nonprofit service organizations. For 2007, those groups are AssistHers, a cause important to Clough and McClain, as well as AIDS Foundation Houston, Bering Omega Community Services, Casa De Esperanza, Montrose Counseling Center, PFLAG/HATCH Youth Scholarship Fund, and Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG).

The Humanitarian Award has never been given to two people until the Black Tie Dinner board of directors chose to honor Clough and McClain this year.

“We are very pleased to receive this award, especially together,” Clough says. “We know there are so many more people who are more deserving, which makes us feel honored.”

However, when it comes to merit, Clough is certainly being modest. The two women are actively involved in the community and have been for years.

McClain’s commitments include working with organizations that include AssistHers, Houston Black Tie Dinner, Uncommon Legacy-Houston, Lesbian Health Initiative, and Human Rights Campaign Houston. She is also a supporter of the Kindred Spirits Reunion, the annual benefit evening that maintains the legacy of the popular club Kindred Spirits. All of this volunteer activity keeps McClain busy, but she says the full schedule is worth every second.

“The time and effort is more than worth it,” she says. “The wide range of people you meet and work with is unheard of. Most people have a lot of acquaintances, not friends. Sandy and I have a lot of friends, thanks to working for great organizations with great people.”

Clough, equally as involved, has also been active with AssistHers, the volunteer organization that provides in-home, non-medical care to lesbians with debilitating illness. In fact, the two women both serve on the AssistHers board of directors and helped plan the sold-out Decadent Dessert Extravaganza benefit held last month. She also serves on the SPRY (Seniors Preparing for Rainbow Years) advisory group at Montrose Counseling Center and with Friends of the Houston Public Library as well as the Houston Black Tie Dinner (she is board of directors vice president this year).

Their involvement in AssistHers derived from personal experience. At the time that the organization was getting started in 1996, McClain’s father lived in a distant assisted-living facility. She was concerned for him. She knew that if she lived closer, he would not need to rely on such facility, because she would be there. She heard about the first AssistHers training class and knew she had to be a part of it, to allow other women to continue living at home even when dealing with illness.  

When Clough heard of her partner’s desire to be involved, she immediately jumped on board and knew that she wanted to be with her every step of the way. Clough went with McClain to training class, and they have worked together ever since.

When asked how they found time to do anything other than work their day jobs and then with the community, both simply laugh and smile at each other. Sometimes you don’t, they say. Finding time to travel or simply do household chores becomes a challenge, but neither one of them seems to mind.

“You get more than you give,” Clough says.

And what they have received are years worth of fulfilling work and a large number of friends—not just acquaintances. Both agree that finding good friends can sometimes be difficult, and that meeting people is hard, but not when you find people who are just as interested in community service as yourself.  

“There are certain people you remember exactly where you were when you met and they immediately become a part of your life forever,” McClain says.

Clough and McClain have been together for 32 years. In a world in which divorce and breakups seem more common, that figure gives hope. They have given hope not just in their commitment to one another, but also to their commitment in helping the GLBT community.  

When told that they are an inspiration, the two laugh and look at each other. McClain looks across the table with a smile and tells stories of couples who have been together longer and people who she says have done more.  

And that’s when the big smile appears on her face. “We’re just getting started.”

Natasha Avey reported on foster care and adoption for the May OutSmart (“Family Time”).

Having Dinner
RuPaul is the headliner at the Houston Black Tie Dinner on November 10 at the Hyatt Regency. Individual tickets begin at $205; tables for 10 begin at $3,000. Proceeds from the dinner and a silent auction benefit seven community organizations. Tickets: www.houstonblacktiedinner.org. OutSmart is a media sponsor of the event.

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