Allyship in ActionFeatures

Coalition Builder

The Montrose Center’s Ann Robison reflects on concluding her 35 years of service.

Ann Robison, PhD (Photo courtesy)

In December of 1988, Ann J. Robison, PhD, became the chief executive officer of the Montrose Center. Over her 35-year career at the helm of the largest LGBTQ community-focused organization in Houston, she has played every role, and soon she will be playing a new role: retiree. On October 6, Robison will be honored for her work during the Montrose Center’s Out for Good Gala, which is their annual fundraising benefit.

“I have always been the CEO, but over the years that has meant also answering the hotline, managing data security, being the ethics watchdog, grant writer, grants manager, doing building maintenance (including unstopping toilets and swamping out after hurricanes and floods), and all the other things that go along with being CEO,” she jokes.

Robison’s career has taken her through three and a half decades of Houston LGBTQ history. When she began, AIDS was ravaging the community and that was the focus of the Montrose Center. During her time, treating the virus has evolved into taking one pill a day, and preventive PrEP medication has given the community new hope for eradicating HIV transmission. The Center has also created programs that support the lives of the LGBTQ youth and seniors, and Robison notes that she counts the Law Harrington Senior Living Center as one of her biggest accomplishments.

“It took 10 years of research, planning, and educating ourselves on this complex project,” she notes. “The need for an affordable, LGBTQ affirming, low-income senior housing campus with services attached was apparent from the stories of volunteers, donors, and aging clients who were fearful of moving farther outside the core of Houston where services and neighbors might not be as supportive [of openly LGBTQ+ seniors].”

The Law Harrington Center was just one of many programs developed under Robison. In the mid-’90s, she started the Anti-Violence program—in part because she began her social-work career dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence work. (Many mainstream hate-crime and domestic-violence programs are still unable to adequately deliver services to the LGBTQ community, according to Robison.)

She also led the Montrose Center in taking various existing and vitally important local programs under its wings—programs like Hatch Youth, the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard, AssistHers, Lesbian Health Initiative, and Kindred Spirits were able to survive and thrive thanks to the Montrose Center and Robison. After the Center expanded into its current space on Branard Street, the Center provided those groups with office and meeting space. The entire building is now vibrantly painted to reflect its role as a gathering place for the community it serves.

“We are one of the oldest LGBTQ+ organizations in Houston, and we are certainly the largest. We have been able to be a fiscal agent to many small groups that just needed administrative support and a 501(c)(3) to work under [so they could] continue their good work and grow their ideas,” she explains. “We have absorbed several organizations that are very important to the community and enabled those programs to survive and thrive. And we are honored that their founders trusted us to honor their brand and their history.”

“We have absorbed several organizations that are very important to the community, and enabled them to survive and thrive.” —Ann Robison  

Over her 35 years, Robison has gained a significant amount of knowledge about how best to serve the needs of Houston’s queer community, which is constantly evolving. “Working closely together with the clinicians here to get the policies and practices right is essential,” she says. “Management and program staff have different perspectives, but they are both important to get the right approach. The more diverse our staff has become, the better our services and outreach has become. And listen to the program participants—they can have the best ideas for what the community needs. Working with other agencies in coalition is very important—in HIV, substance use disorder, mental health, anti-violence, homelessness, youth and senior-services issues. Being above reproach in managing the community’s money—both tax dollars and donations—and the ethical implementation of services are paramount.”

As Robison departs the organization, she understands that there are still things left to be accomplished—in particular things relating to LGBTQ youth. “I wanted to do more for youth and young adults who are unstably housed. The system is broken, and until the child-protection and foster-care systems are overhauled in Texas, there isn’t a good way to fund and protect the mission of a dedicated shelter or group-living project.”

While there will always be plenty of work for organizations that support marginalized communities, Robison has earned her retirement. She plans to travel more with her partner, Greg Gladden, and she wants to spend more time with her 94-year-old father in Pennsylvania and even watch more Korean dramas.

But first, the community will have an opportunity to thank her for 35 years of service at the gala on October 6. “I have never been one to stand out front, unless it’s protesting an injustice,” she admits. “I prefer to do all the behind-the-scenes strategizing and implementation, and let others be the face of the Center. So [even though this gala] will be a bit embarrassing and humbling, I am very happy to be a vehicle to showcase the Center’s programs and services. We can get more done together than alone, and we can be the voice of conscience to these mainstream coalitions about LGBTQ+ inclusion.”

For Gala tickets, go here or to send a note of thanks to Ann Robison, visit montrosecenter.org

Comments

Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
Back to top button