And you thought the pandemic was a bad couple of years. 2023 is certainly ending on a very low note with wars in Ukraine and Israel causing so much sadness, death, and hate. It can be hard to see what is going right in the world with all that is going wrong. But hope springs eternal that peace will prevail—if not today, then eventually. And believe it or not, there are a few things in Houston that should bring a smile to your face. (The Astros winning another World Series is not one of them, however.) Let’s take a moment to focus on my ninth annual list of things to keep in 2024 and leave in 2023.
Things to Keep for 2024
Blackberri, Mistress Isabelle Brooks, and Queen Angelina
Houston is finally getting its flowers as one of the top destinations in the country for drag performers. Those of us who are from here have known this for quite some time, of course. 2023 was an especially bright year for three Houston queens: Mistress Isabelle Brooks, Blackberri, and Queen Angelina. All three of these fabulous artists stepped it up in impressive ways, and the world is thirsting for more. Mistress Isabelle Brooks is probably the most recognizable, having been a top finalist on the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Known for her sharp wit, old-school drag, and as many eras as the Taylor Swift tour, Mistress kept us glued to our televisions until the very end. Then the Bearded Beauty of the Bayou City, Blackberri, announced that she would be featured on Season 5 of another notable drag competition, The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula (think Drag Race, but spookier). It was only a matter of time before this bigger-than-life queen made it to the small screen. And finally, Queen Angelina, the violin-playing virtuoso who can also dance her ass off, became the face of MyGayHouston, where she takes followers with her all over the city. Queen Angelina also stepped into another important role as an activist by speaking out regularly against the Texas drag ban, among other relevant LGBTQ topics.
“Everybody on mute”
We may not have won the World Series, but Houston did win one challenge this summer: Beyoncé’s “Everybody on mute” challenge. The native Houstonian’s Renaissance World Tour finally arrived in the Bayou City on September 23 and 24. Sold-out crowds greeted the singer as she gave the gays everything they wanted: costume changes, wind-blown hair-ography, and an album centered on queer culture. But what garnered the most viral attention in this attention-getting tour was the “Everybody on mute” challenge. During each tour stop, Queen Bey would spit out the lyrics to her song “Energy” and when she uttered, “Look around, everybody on mute,” the crowd would go silent. Or at least they were supposed to. Houston understood the assignment, and although both nights went impressively quiet, it was Night 2 that was pronounced the winner of the challenge (although Atlanta might beg to differ).
Electing LGBTQ Leaders
Houston City Council may be getting two new gay members as candidates Mario Castillo and Nick Hellyar are sent to runoffs in their respective races for District H and At-Large 2. Castillo almost avoided a runoff altogether when he got nearly 47% of the vote in the November 7 general election. Hellyar came in second in his race against the proudly homophobic Willie Davis. Hopefully both of our candidates will make it across the finish line when the December 9 runoff takes place. Houstonians will also have the opportunity to make a decision between two mayoral candidates with strong ties to the Democratic party and a track record of ardent support for the LGBTQ community. State Senator John Whitmire and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee will have a clash of the political titans as they vie for the top office.
If you don’t know who JD Doyle is, then you aren’t paying attention. He is widely known as queer Houston’s unofficial official historian. His website, jddoylearchives.org, is an unprecedented treasure trove of Houston’s LGBTQ history. This year, he wrote his first memoir, 1981: My Gay American Road Trip, a story he describes as a slice of our pre-AIDS culture. The book cover, which features a retro painting of Doyle from the mustache down, got some viral traction when readers of the book posted photos of themselves in a perspective that made Doyle’s ’80s mustache appear like their own. The story itself is a touching one about a simpler time that was also quite complicated in its own right. The book can be purchased on Amazon, but the LGBTQ history on the website is free for all to enjoy (but maybe throw a donation his way).
True, this may be patting ourselves on the back, but Houston’s LGBTQ magazine hit a major milestone this year when it turned 30 years old! That’s an eternity for high-quality, free, queer publications. OutSmart magazine celebrated this milestone by creating a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm that accepts donations to help it keep reporting about the queer community in the largest city in Texas. Our magazine is a unique and top-notch publication, and here’s hoping that it will soar to new heights in 2024.
Things to Leave in 2023
Bans on Bodily Autonomy
Every two years, the LGBTQ community braces for impact when the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature convenes in Austin. Rather than focusing on things like the failing power grid, the rampant gun violence, or the lack of access to adequate health care for most Texans, they focus on banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth and banning abortion under almost every circumstance. This focus on restricting Texans’ rights to have a say on what happens to their own bodies is antithetical to their disingenuous claims that they are the party of “small government.” When the government is in the exam room with you and your doctor, it doesn’t feel very small. Many parents with trans children have opted to leave the state for friendlier places. And many doctors are following suit, not wanting to risk jail time for doing their jobs.
The HISD Takeover
The State of Texas effectively stripped HISD voters of their right to elect their own Board of Trustees to run the largest school district in Texas when Governor Greg Abbott’s Texas Education Agency took control and selected Superintendent Mike Miles to lead the district. He was not warmly welcomed by many parents and quickly received criticism for his plan to turn libraries into disciplinary holding pens for students. His latest proposal would increase elementary class sizes, extend the school year to begin in early August, and hire uncertified teachers without a waiver. Because, I guess, burnt-out or unqualified teachers in oversized classrooms is how student success is achieved. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a shortage of teachers if the State of Texas would stop making educators the scapegoats for all of society’s problems.
The Texas Rangers
Congrats to Dallas for finally winning something other than being the most boring city in Texas. The Rangers needed all seven games to best Houston and move on to the least-watched World Series in television history (which they also won). Personally, I blame Senator Ted “Cancun” Cruz, whose presence at Astros home games is a proven curse. If we can’t beat Dallas in 2024, can we at least get rid of Ted Cruz?
It’s not like they are doing too much to help the LGBTQ community when they are working, but the Republican party can barely keep the lights on, let alone a Speaker of the House. After narrowly avoiding one government shutdown by reaching across the aisle to Democrats, the Republicans then ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy from the post he narrowly won only nine months prior. This effectively shut down Congress’s ability to function for several weeks while they played musical chairs with three different nominees before settling on little-known right-wing extremist Mike Johnson. The not-ready-for-prime-time Speaker has also struggled in getting anything of substance done—not that we necessarily want him to accomplish much of his anti-LGBTQ agenda. How about just the bare minimum request to keep the government running and keep people paid? Is that too much to ask?
Houston as second-most LGBTQ-unfriendly city in America
In a study conducted by Clever Real Estate, Houston ranked second-to-last as the unfriendliest city for LGBTQ people. It trailed behind other low-ranked Texas cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. This news may come as a surprise to many Houstonians who regard the Montrose neighborhood as among the most famous and vibrant LGBTQ-centric communities in the country. The study, which analyzed the 50 largest cities in the country, dinged Houston for its low number of LGBTQ bars per capita, its low municipal equality score, and its low LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers, among other criteria. The data doesn’t seem to match reality, however. Houston was the first major city to elect a lesbian mayor and is also home to the oldest LGBTQ political caucus in the South. True, Houston may lack Pride events, but we are making up for it. We now have two Pride organizations that may or may not be at war with each other. Oh well, no place is perfect.