Editor’s note: The date of the Heritage Gala has changed from October 24 to November 7. For the latest updates on Pride Houston, visit pridehouston.org.
The LGBTQ community should be celebrated beyond Pride Month, according to Pride Houston.
The local LGBTQ organization, which hosts Space City’s LGBTQ Pride festival and parade each summer, was forced to cancel all of its in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the group has a new commitment to staying engaged with Houston’s queer community year-round through its online events.
“We’re moving to more of a ‘Pride 365’ model rather than [just] focusing on Pride during June,” says Kendra Walker, Pride Houston’s vice president and special-events director. “We’re still working, albeit slightly differently, so we just had to get creative about how we can actually bring awareness and action.”
After hosting It Started With A Riot, a virtual Black Lives Matter rally on June 27, Pride Houston continued its digital outreach with Rights Are Human, a virtual roundtable on July 25 that aimed to raise awareness about human-rights abuses. Panelists at that event explored solutions that the organization hopes to implement in their mission moving forward.
The latest addition to Pride Houston’s year-round programming is its upcoming Heritage Gala on November 7. The virtual event will celebrate and support the achievements of local LGBTQ students through scholarship funds raised by Pride Houston’s individual donors and corporate sponsors.
Pride Houston’s Heritage Gala began nearly 10 years ago as a way to raise funds for a heritage museum that would commemorate Houston’s LGBTQ community. Within the last few years, however, Pride Houston has refocused its fundraising on scholarship awards for students to ensure the future of the LGBTQ community.
“Two years ago, we decided to distribute the funds originally raised for [the heritage museum] to the existing archive museums across Houston,” says Pride Houston President and CEO Lorin “Lo” Roberts. “[With this scholarship fund], we wanted to shine a light on what the future of the LGBTQIA+ community is, while also commemorating our past.”
The scholarship fund will support LGBTQ students ranging from high-school juniors and seniors to those seeking a trade-school or graduate degree—a range of recipients that is unique among scholarship programs. The funds are both academic- and need-based, which Walker says is important when considering the LGBTQ community.
“What separates our program from traditional programs is that our community is very diverse—we have students coming out of high school and people starting or returning to college in their late 20s and 30s,” Walker explains. “[The scholarships] give youth who wouldn’t have those funds otherwise an opportunity to continue their education, as well as graduate students who may need extra funding while they’re going through graduate school.”
To raise money for future scholarship funds, Pride Houston will host a silent auction raffle during the event. The organization is also accepting sponsorships and donations.
“[Even though] it’s virtual, we’re keeping some of the same things, as far as motivational speakers and entertainment goes,” Walker says. “It’ll still be a night of celebration. This year you’ll get to hear more backstories about the 5 award recipients, see some of our recipients from last year [who will] speak and pass the torch, and watch local comedians, singers, and other performers.”
So far, the lineup includes America’s Got Talent finalist Christina Wells, comedian Keisha Hunt, fashion designer Trinity Newman, and community activist Dee Dee Watters.
This year’s first-ever virtual event highlights a moment in the nation’s history when students—particularly marginalized students—are facing unprecedented difficulties in obtaining a college degree. For many queer students, the scholarship marks the difference between continuing and abandoning their academic goals.
“A lot of the time, our community doesn’t think about the people who are coming after us because we’re busy focusing on [just getting to] where we are today,” Roberts says. “We want to shift the spotlight to the future with this gala.”
The organization is also highlighting the next generation of queer Houstonians with a new award category in their lineup of grand marshals for the annual Pride parade. Eighteen-year-old transgender activist Landon Ritchie has been named Pride Houston’s 2020 Tomorrow’s Trendsetter, the title to be given to local LGBTQ youth who are making a difference.
Because there was no Pride Houston parade this year, Ritchie, along with Female-Identifying Grand Marshal Tommie Ross, Male-Identifying Grand Marshal Austin Dexter Williams, Nonbinary-Identifying Grand Marshal Kelsey Reynolds, and Honorary Grand Marshal Nikki Araguz Loyd, will be honored alongside the 2021 Pride grand marshals during next year’s celebration.
“The community has to support and cultivate the next generation,” Walker says. “Ideas go stale when the same leaders implement the same programs year after year, so you have to groom those leaders of tomorrow to be a part of the mission. If the community wants to see our rights advance, then you have to invest in that next generation.”
Sadly, Roberts says the organization’s funding has taken a hit from the lack of in-person events.
“Most of the funds that we use for our year-round initiatives are generated during our June celebration,” Roberts says. “Not having that celebration has hurt us tremendously financially—we have lost about 80 percent of our sponsorships because of the cancellation. So on top of trying to figure out how to continue highlighting marginalized communities, it’s also been a test to our commitment to see how we are going to fund those initiatives.”
Thanks to Pride Houston’s innovative new lineup of online fundraising events, it’s easier than ever to support their community-building efforts. And those unable to watch the Heritage Gala online can donate directly to the scholarship fund on Pride Houston’s website or by creating a Facebook fundraiser by visiting facebook.com/pridehouston and clicking “fundraisers” and “raise money.” Depending on the donation level, scholarship donors will receive a gift and be thanked both on the website and during the livestream. Donations will also be accepted during the event’s future rebroadcast.
“Since it’s virtual, all your friends, from California to Canada, can attend!” Walker laughs. “So invite everyone you know to buy a ticket. It’s for a good cause, and a little goes a long way in this age.”
To learn more about Pride Houston and the Heritage Gala, visit their website at pridehouston.org or follow them on Facebook @PrideHouston. To donate or get involved, email [email protected] or [email protected]
What: Pride Houston’s Heritage Gala virtual Zoom meeting
When: Saturday, November 7, 8:00 p.m.—11:00 p.m.