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A Straight Couple Embraces LGBT Equality

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Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo, 2014 Community Ally Pride Marshals,
wish for a more accepting world that is fully inclusive.

by Brandon Wolf

Hope for the furture: Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo at Art for Hope 2013, a benefit for Bering Omega. The couple became involved in 2008 and founded the Young Professionals Board.
Hope for the furture: Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo at Art for Hope 2013, a benefit for Bering Omega. The couple became involved in 2008 and founded the Young Professionals Board.

Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo were hesitant to accept when asked if they could be nominated for the 2014 Community Ally Pride Marshals. They are a young married heterosexual couple, with all “the right stuff”—movie-star good looks, athletic bodies, charming personalities, successful business ventures, and relevant lives. But neither one is keen on self-promotion. Even their Facebook accounts have minimal postings about themselves.

They finally accepted the nomination when assured that if they won, their two children could ride with them in the parade down Westheimer. “When they are older, we want them to see pictures of themselves riding in Houston’s 2014 Pride Parade.” They also welcome the chance to shift the spotlight to Bering Omega Community Services, in which they have been involved for the last six years.

They are the embodiment of a progressive’s dream: young people who see only one human race of equals, and whose idea of mattering in the world is helping others less fortunate than themselves.

“Everyone deserves respect,” Aramburo says passionately. Lack of respect for diversity baffles him.

Sarah’s World of Dance

Walters was born in Tampa, Florida, in 1976. Her father was a semi-professional baseball player who opted for college instead of the major leagues, and went to work in the oil industry. Her mother, a native of Panama, was a homemaker.

As the oldest child, Sarah became a “second mom” to her younger brother and two sisters. Her father often worked on oil ships, away for long periods of time. Inevitably, she became the “go-to girl” for her siblings.

The family moved to Houston when she was five, and settled in Deer Park. Her earliest memories include being involved in dance—tap, jazz, and ballet. Reflecting back, Walters says she had no sense of identity except as a dancer. As a young adult, she had to broaden her scope.

She remembers her dance practice lasting at least three hours a day. “It was a constant striving for perfection that can never truly be attained. I grew up constantly seeing myself in a mirror.”

Coming up on the sixth grade, she told her mother she wanted to drop dance, take up gymnastics, and become a cheerleader. Her mother’s only condition was that she would have to stick with the choice for the whole school year.

Walters did become a cheerleader, but soon ached to be back in the world of dance. She felt lonely as her dance friends talked about what was happening in their worlds. By the seventh grade, she was back in dance to stay.

She became a contract dancer in her early teens, working everything from lodges to parades. Her parents moved back to Florida when she was 16, but she chose to stay in Houston and continue her dance career.

At 19, she bought her childhood ballet studio, which she ran with her best friend for three years. Eventually they realized they were missing out on auditions and performing, so they reluctantly let the studio go. There was local work, touring work, and cruise-ship troupes. The cruise ships were special fun, she says, with their Las Vegas costuming and dance routines.

Knee surgery eventually cut the dance career short, and Walters went to work as a buyer for an upscale jewelry store in the Rice Village shopping center.

Can You Hear the Drums, Fernando?

Does the famous ABBA song make Aramburo smile? “Definitely!” he says. But although his wife was named after the Hall & Oates classic Sarah Smile, Aramburo’s name came from a relative.

Aramburo was born in London in 1976. His father was from Colombia and his mother from Guatemala. His father worked in the oil and gas industry while his mother was a homemaker and educator. “She taught my younger sister and me every day!”

The family settled in the Alief area, where Aramburo attended public school and got involved in after-school swimming, horseback riding, and karate. Summers were usually spent in Latin America.

Aramburo was a good honors-program student who graduated 13th in a class of 900. His parents had a low-key approach to life, didn’t practice corporal punishment, and instilled a respect for others and proactive social interaction in their children.

Following high school, Aramburo attended the University of Texas, earning a finance degree in just three years. He paid for his final two years of college by selling religious and educational books door to door, as part of a national sales team.

“My adult life has been entrepreneurial in nature,” Aramburo says. “I joined a friend of mine who had a product that could remove scratches from media—CDs, DVDs, game CDs, etc. We had a project we wanted to do with this product that needed investors, and I found them.”

One of the first investors he found was Randy Yost, who became his best friend and mentor. Aramburo worked for Yost for a number of years, installing flooring and creating intricate designs that incorporated wood, stone, and metals.

Aramburo has also been a real-estate agent for the past 10 years. Fifteen years ago he bought a house next to Yost’s residence, and they built a deck in their backyards that connected the two houses. “He’s family,” says Aramburo.

Yost is gay, and Aramburo has a lot of gay friends. “People always thought Fernando was gay,” his wife sighs. But Aramburo smiles and notes the advantages that come with embracing diversity—“gay men often have a lot of attractive female friends.” That often left him with a great dating pool to pick from, with little or no male competition.

The Perfect Couple’s Not-So-Perfect First Date

Destiny seemed to have something in store for Walters and Aramburo. They were both first-born children in 1976, to fathers who worked in oil and gas. Their mothers were both from Latin America. They were both five years old when their families moved to Houston.

But the first night they met in the mid 2000s, destiny seemed to have deserted them. “We met on Myspace,” says Walters, “and agreed to meet at Sammy’s Blues Bar at 2016 Main, on my regular night there, Thursday night.”

There was a torrential downpour that night, and Walters’ best friend refused to venture out, leaving her solo. At first sight, she thought Aramburo seemed smaller than the men she usually dated. And when his buddy wanted to leave after an hour, Aramburo had to drive him home. Walters was not impressed. “There are taxis,” she says.

But Aramburo returned, as promised. Finally alone, the two discovered that the magic of romance was quickly setting in. They danced for hours and closed down the bar. Since that night, they have had eyes for no one else.

Marriage Not on the Agenda

The two continued to date, and Walters eventually moved into Aramburo’s house. But they had no interest in marriage. “We both had seen failed marriages up close,” Walters says. They just weren’t impressed by the institution.

“We knew we wanted to have children,” Walters says. “We started living super-health-conscious lives—the right nutrition, proper exercise, and adequate sleep.” When the time came to start trying, the first attempt was apparently a bull’s-eye because Walters began feeling morning sickness shortly thereafter. They visited a doctor because she was worried she might have some rare illness—and that they should once again wait to start a
family.

Double the love: Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo in 2013 with twins Seraphina and Fernando.
Double the love: Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo in 2013 with twins Seraphina and Fernando.

The doctor told them she was pregnant and asked if they were “on drugs.” Mistaking his question about fertility drugs, Walters was confused and scared. Neither of them used recreational drugs, so she assumed that something had gone horribly wrong with the embryos.

The physician then announced that they would probably have triplets. Walters was relieved, but her thoughts soon turned to logistics—three babies at once! One of the embryos did not develop, but Walters did give birth to a boy and a girl, Fernando and Seraphina, on July 26, 2012.

After the twins became part of their lives, the thought of marriage became more appealing to them. On December 28, 2012, they invited their close friends to their house for a “Winter Wonderland” party. The decks twinkled with romantic white mini-lights and flickering candles. Halfway through the party, to their guests’ astonishment, they announced that the party was actually their wedding. They exchanged vows while holding their twins.

Walters and Aramburo now own and operate two spas—Dolce Vita and Body Envy—located in one of Houston’s best-kept secrets—the charming, hidden-away Artigiana Center on Shepherd, just north of Westheimer.

“It’s like another world in there,” says Walters. Dolce Vita is a favorite of many high-profile Houstonians who like the intimacy and privacy of the spa. Body Envy specializes in laser hair removal procedures.

Seeking a Life of Relevance

After Walters and Aramburo began dating, they enjoyed attending social events and fundraisers together. One night they attended a fundraiser sponsored by AIDS Foundation Houston. Friends introduced them around, and soon the couple became interested in Bering Omega Community Services. Shane McCardell, who at the time was the Bering Omega board president, convinced Fernando to join the board in 2007.

“My sister is a lesbian,” says Walters. “I wanted to change things so that gay kids could grow up without the complications she faced. Also, I lost a male dance friend in the 1980s to AIDS, so I was concerned about the disease.” Bering Omega resonated with them.

The couple was especially touched by Omega House, a hospice that provides a warm, loving atmosphere where terminally ill patients can die with dignity. The couple also liked the day-care center for people living with AIDS who had no caregivers.

Facing facts: an Instagram message from Fernando and Sarah—We are Facing AIDS so they don’t have to!
Facing facts: an Instagram message from Fernando and Sarah—We are Facing AIDS so they don’t have to!

Aramburo served for six years on the Bering Omega board, until he was term-limited in 2013. While on the board, he and Walters helped create the Young Professionals Board, introducing a new generation of activists to the charity. Walters served as a member of that board, then secretary, and is now the chairperson.

Together, they have helped the Bering Omega AIDS Walk Team win first place nearly every year. They have chaired and hosted countless galas, events, fundraisers, and parties to gain support for Bering Omega. Their colorful events are favorites of local cultural media such as the CultureMap website.

Halloween Madness

Their biggest fundraising event is the annual Halloween party for Bering Omega. They charge $15 admission, and a costume is mandatory. The first year, some partygoers not in costume were turned away, but the next year they were back in costume.

Nothing scary about this: Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo host their annual Halloween fundraiser for Bering Omega.
Nothing scary about this: Sarah Walters and Fernando Aramburo host their annual Halloween fundraiser for Bering Omega.

The party spills over from their house to Yost’s house via the outdoor deck. The first year, 200 people showed up. Last Halloween, a record 500 attended. The couple is careful to visit with their neighbors beforehand, informing them of the party and the cause, and inviting them to come. No one has ever complained.

The costumes are always amusing and outrageous—such as the Alien baby exploding from someone’s chest. Asked about other memorable costumes, they mention an Adam and Eve couple. “He was wearing little more than a few fig leaves,” they laugh. “He was very popular that night.”

Ready for Carnivale

The couple was surprised and excited at being named the Community Ally Marshals for 2014 last month. They are also fascinated with the Pride celebration’s “Carnivale” theme.

Will they dress for the occasion? “My friends are all telling us to get samba outfits,” Walters says. Then with a smile, she adds, “Everyone that knows us knows that we love to dress up!”

Brandon Wolf also writes about the male and female grand marshals in this issue of OutSmart magazine.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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