OutSmart at 30

An OutSmart Magazine 30th Retrospective

We look back on the last 30 years and recognize how far we’ve come—and how far we still have to go

The first print issue of OutSmart magazine landed on newsstands 30 years ago, in an era much different than the times we live in today. When Houston’s premier LGBTQ magazine began reporting on local news, it was still illegal for non-heterosexual couples to marry, RuPaul was gearing up to release his debut studio album, Supermodel of the World, and President Bill Clinton would soon sign into law the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy that prohibited openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the military, while also prohibiting the harassment of “closeted” homosexuals. Different times, indeed.

In 2017, OutSmart celebrated its milestone 25th anniversary with a retrospective of the previous quarter-century. In the five years since that landmark issue hit the newsstands, our community has experienced immense changes, survived historic events, and faced new hurdles in the ongoing fight for equality. We’ve endured a pandemic together, which (on top of the obvious health crisis) made safe spaces for queer people less accessible for a long period of time. Drag queens became the newest target of the conservative right wing, while Donald Trump and his Supreme Court appointees waged war on women’s rights. Republican politicians nationwide set their sights on dismantling the rights of LGBTQ teachers, artists, parents, and more. On the home front, our city endured Hurricane Harvey and the deadly winter freeze of 2021.

Throughout  this turmoil, OutSmart has worked tirelessly to highlight the positive aspects of our community and all that it has to offer. We published our first cover featuring a nonbinary model, celebrated the rise of drag kings in Houston, highlighted the local queer members of Black Lives Matter: Houston, and so much more. We’ve been on the front lines of reporting on HIV health care, entertainment, politics, emerging artists, star athletes, and other community heroes who strengthen the fabric of our community.

As we look back on the last 30 years and recognize how far we’ve come—and how far we still have to go—the OutSmart staff is honored to continue sharing these stories that all too often go unheard. We look forward to the next 30 years and well beyond, thanks to our family of readers, advertisers, supporters, and allies like you.

June 2017
Pride Houston’s 40th anniversary
Pride Houston marked its 40th anniversary, and OutSmart shined a light on the faces of LGBTQ activism in our community with a Pride Portraits collage. This retrospective issue celebrated how far we’ve come as a community while looking forward to the work still to be done. June stories included a look back at “Houston’s Stonewall” moment in 1977 when anti-gay celebrity Anita Bryant’s appearance in Houston sparked a massive downtown demonstration; an interview with Moses Mbai, the first openly gay Mr. TSU; news of two fathers fighting for their trans kids; and a feature on the Transform Houston campaign whose mission was to change hearts and minds about LGBTQ rights.

Beto O’Rourke (Christ Chavez)

October 2018
Beto runs for Texas governor
In a story that offered a glimmer of hope that Texas would finally rid itself of prominent anti-LGBTQ conservative Senator Ted Cruz, OutSmart featured Congressman and Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke on its October cover. O’Rourke ascended to the national spotlight as he aimed to end Texas’ 24-year Democratic drought in statewide elections. As a skateboarding, Whataburger-loving, progressive symbol of change, O’Rourke discussed his vision for a more inclusive state, which resulted in a generation of newly engaged voters and hope for a better tomorrow. Politicians Lupe Valdez and Lizzie Fletcher were also featured, along with RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Aquaria. 

Ray Hill (Photo by Jason Meade)

December 2018
Pioneering local activist Ray Hill dies
Houston experienced an immense loss in November 2018 with the passing of activist and community champion Ray Hill. One of the strongest voices in the fight for LGBTQ rights took his final breath at Omega House in Montrose—the very place he helped launch in the 1980s as a refuge for dying AIDS patients who were often shunned by the larger medical community. Hill lived a thousand lives in his short time on earth, touching countless people through his fearless advocacy work, his local radio show, and even the documentary Loud Mouth Queer that told his story for those not fortunate enough to have met him in person. Hill’s legacy is one for the record books, and OutSmart was honored to pay him homage.

Photos by Ashkan Roayaee

June 2019
Pride Houston names its first Black male grand marshal and four trans women of color as honorary grand marshals
OutSmart’s 2019 Pride issue celebrated the “Fresh Faces of Pride” and the history-making grand marshals who represented our city during that year’s Pride celebrations. Pride Houston’s male grand marshal Harrison Guy and honorary grand marshals Monica Roberts, Ana Andrea Molina, Atlantis Narcisse, and Dee Dee Watters were all featured on the magazine’s cover. The June issue’s “Pride in the Media” feature looked at the many local media outlets that support inclusion. News of an HIV-prevention campaign and a conversation with a nonbinary actor rounded out the issue.

Photo by Ashkan Roayaee

September 2019
Local drag kings featured in a cover story
In a world of queens, drag kings were gaining prominence in 2019, so the September issue highlighted the drag-king collective known as The H-Town Kings by featuring local drag king Hugh Dandy on the cover. The issue also included an interview with Theatre Under The Stars artistic director Dan Knechtges, stories on PFLAG president Janice Anderson, State Representative Garnet Coleman, visual artist Lovie Olivia, and more.

Photos by Alex Rosa

April and May 2020
Local LGBTQ heroes respond to COVID
When the first local COVID-19 infection was documented in 2020, no one could have predicted just how drastically this new virus would alter our lives. The term “frontline workers” was quickly adapted and used to describe vital employees who were unable to work from home, many of whom were facing the health crisis head-on in the heart of hospitals across the country.

Photo by Alex Rosa

The April OutSmart cover story paid homage to frontline gay nurses Nicholas Olaverria and Akil Jones, who spoke about their hospital ICU experiences during a time when much was still unknown about the virus. Read more about these hometown heroes on pages 26 and 28 of this issue.

As the pandemic continued well beyond the original two-week timeframe we were expecting, food insecurity became a huge issue as many families and workers suddenly without a job looked to local food pantries for support. OutSmart’s May cover featured several LGBTQ representatives from the Houston Food Bank, Brighter Bites, and the YMCA of Greater Houston, who all spoke about their efforts to combat food insecurity during the lockdown crisis.

While COVID made impacts on several OutSmart stories moving forward, these two pandemic covers marked the beginning of the magazine’s efforts to highlight queer community members making a difference for those most in need.

Black Lives Matter: Houston organizers Brandon Mack (l), Ashton P. Woods, and Kandice Webber (Photo by Alex Rosa)

July 2020
LGBTQ leaders of the local Black Lives Matter group speak out following George Floyd’s murder
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sent shockwaves throughout the country and led to new forms of activism aimed at ending racism in America. The July cover featured the LGBTQ leaders of Black Lives Matter: Houston (BLMHOU) and their work on the front lines in the fight for systemic change. Brandon Mack, Ashton P. Woods, and Kandice Webber discussed their advocacy work in the cover story, and encouraged all of Houston’s diverse communities to get involved with their work. Queer lawyer Tatiauna Holland also spoke with OutSmart about her work representing those affected by police brutality. Stories about an openly gay pastor and a boutique owner rounded out the July issue highlighting life in Galveston. 

Photo by Jo Cho

August 2020
Actor and model Chiugo kicks off OutSmart’s annual ‘Beyond the Binary’ series
Nonbinary model and artist Chiugo dazzled us on the August cover. The native-Houstonian trailblazer spoke about their relationship with gender identity and how, by simply existing “loud and proud,” they can be a positive example of gender-nonconformity for nonbinary youth. Three other nonbinary activists and changemakers also appeared in that “Beyond the Binary’’ feature that now runs each August. Also featured in the issue were Houston’s Kai Shappley, a young trans activist who starred in Netflix’s The Babysitter’s Club, and a conversation with DJ HYPERFEMME. 

Monica Roberts (photo by Ashkan Roayaee)

November 2020
Trans activist and journalist Monica Roberts dies
In November 2020, OutSmart mourned the loss, and celebrated the life, of  local trans activist and journalist Monica Roberts, who passed away due to natural causes on October 6. The founder of Transgriot, a blog that spotlights Black trans stories that are all too often ignored by the media, Roberts left behind a legacy of progressive and life-saving activism that other trans community members are carrying on. Roberts once wrote, “We do all of this not for ourselves, but for the trans kids.” An inspiration to many and a guiding light for all, Roberts’ legacy lives on as we work to combat the current tide of anti-trans legislation nationwide.

Photo by Connor Thompson

May 2021
Legislative attacks on trans youth continue in Austin
As travel and tourism began to bounce back from the ongoing pandemic, OutSmart highlighted numerous Texas getaway destinations in May 2021. From cruises to campsites, African-inspired hospitality, and more, this issue served as a guide for those looking to get away to an affirming and fun environment. OutSmart writers also brought much-needed attention to the 2021 legislative attacks on trans youth. Firsthand stories from families of trans and nonbinary youth illustrated the impact that discriminatory laws were having at the local level. Brad Pritchett, Equality Texas field director, spoke to OutSmart about what he and his team were doing to combat Republican lawmakers in Austin. Doctors, politicians, and social-justice visionaries also spoke out against the bills aimed at ending trans rights in Texas.

Blackberri (photos by Frank Hernandez @the_creativex for OutSmart Magazine)

June and July 2021
Houston re-opens as COVID vaccines make in-person events possible
aka “The Bearded Beauty of Texas,” shined on the June cover and chatted with OutSmart about her journey from humble bar gigs to being featured in a Facebook Super Bowl commercial. The hilarious drag queen described her adventures on the front lines of putting drag on the map in our city. This annual Pride issue also featured trans activists and artists, out local journalists, and more.

Marcus Pontello photographed on the stage of Numbers Nightclub (photos by Gavin Calais)

Nonbinary filmmaker Marcus Pontello struck a fierce pose for the July cover and spoke with OutSmart about their documentary focusing on the historic Numbers nightclub in Montrose and its impact on generations of Houstonians. Also included was a profile on the nightclub’s owners and DJs who discussed the lasting legacy of the local nightlife haunt. Stories about the Galveston queer scene, a look inside the downtown Comicpalooza convention, and a Q&A with local drag artist Kymber Devine rounded out the July issue.

The January 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine (photo by Victor Contreras | IG: @closeyoureyesphoto)

January 2022
New HIV-prevention drug introduced, local researcher Jonatan Gioia describes his role in that breakthrough
The January wellness issue celebrated a medical milestone that proved to be a game-changing step toward ending the HIV epidemic. OutSmart spoke with UTHealth’s Jonatan Gioia about a new long-lasting injectable version of the PrEP medication that can eliminate HIV transmission. Gioia, a queer medical professional and native of Buenos Aires, was part of the research team that led to the landmark medical advancement. The issue also featured spin instructors and other fitness trainers, interviews with queer comedians Matteo Lane and Fortune Feimster, and more.

Sis (Photo by Alex Webster Photography)

November 2022
Local trans actor Sis featured in American Horror Story: NYC
Sis, the supernova trans artist from Houston, hit television screens in 2022’s American Horror Story: NYC on FX. She spoke with OutSmart about the importance of trans visibility, particularly for Black trans women in the media. Sis, who was also featured as a background actor on the FX show POSE, brought a spotlight to the importance of trans actors portraying trans characters on screen. Also featured were interviews with artists, trans activists, and a local out meteorologist. Local fitness guru and author Shana Ross chatted with OutSmart about her memoir, which discusses her search for her birth family and her journey to coming out as a lesbian in a deeply conservative family.

Mistress Isabelle Brooks (photo by Victor Contreras @closeyoureyesphoto )

January 2023
Houston drag performer Mistress Isabelle Brooks stars in RuPaul’s Drag Race
RuPaul finally put some respect on Houston’s name and welcomed local drag performer Mistress Isabelle Brooks to the mainstage for the 15th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. OutSmart chatted with the self-proclaimed “Heavyweight Champ” about her rise to stardom and the impact of being H-Town’s first queen to appear in the globally recognized TV series. Also featured were mind-and-body wellness stories from local yogis and spiritual healers. To highlight Holocaust Remembrance Week, Holocaust Museum Houston librarian Joel Bangilan spoke with OutSmart about the surge in anti-semitic attacks across the country.

Julie Mabry (Photos by Frank Xavier)

March 2023
Julie Mabry, local owner of one of the nation’s few remaining lesbian bars, leads the Women’s Month coverage
For International Women’s Month, OutSmart highlighted leading local women who are making a difference. The cover story featured Julie Mabry, the owner of Pearl Bar—one of the last remaining lesbian bars in the country. Mabry shared her story of achieving sobriety, operating the popular Washington Avenue bar, and being dedicated to the larger queer community both locally and nationally. Stories about love, advocacy, and transgender advancement were also featured in the March issue, plus a story about The Diana Foundation’s landmark 70th-anniversary event celebrating the country’s oldest continuously operating LGBTQ charity organization.

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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