Despite deep ties to Forth Worth and its LGBT community, Melissa Flories had had enough. So, in 1999, she packed her crown and sashes, and set out to relocate to Houston.
She'd spent years working with LGBT organizations, leading the Tarrant County Lesbian & Gay Pride Association and being honored as a Pride parade grand marshal in 1994. She served on the board of the Tarrant County Lesbian Gay Alliance. And she was crowned Emperor 16 of the Imperial Court De Fort Worth Arlington, eventually becoming the first lesbian appointed Heir Apparent 17 to Jose 1, The Widow Norton (the founder of the Imperial Court System).
But by 1999, she needed a change.
“What ‘brought’ me to Houston?” Flories muses. “It was more like why I ‘left’ Fort Worth. It was after I buried too many friends, including my lifelong friend Dale Beavers, to AIDS. Everywhere I turned, I saw a memory and I just could not handle it anymore.”
Flories had friends in Houston because of her affiliation with the Imperial Court System. “So I chose Houston. And I love it," she says.
Seventeen years later, Melissa works by day as an account executive managing the Houston market for Color Dynamics, a full service printing company that processes print and mail direct response programs for large companies. She’s also – wait for it – an ordained minister.
Yet she still makes time to bring the same charitable leadership to Houston’s LGBT community that drove her in her old hometown.
In 2012, Flories and five friends focused on establishing a new fundraising organization on “a different business model,” as she puts it, together founded Texas United Charities.
“We got together and decided we wanted to raise money for the gay and lesbian community while putting the ‘fun’ back in fundraising,” she says.
TUC’s original founding members are Flories, Sara Sjolander, Jerry Rockwell (aka Ginger Vitis), Donna Junker, David Revils and John Pace (aka J.P. Gill).
“All of us had different levels of experience with other fundraising organizations and wanted to begin something new that was totally focused on the funds raised, building awareness in the community surrounding the charities we raise funds for, and having a fun time doing it," Flories says.
“Simply put, we wanted 100 percent of any monies raised at an event to go directly to the charities named as beneficiaries for that specific event,” she adds
TUC-sponsored fundraising events have raised close to $40,000 since its inception.
“When the Colt 45 board dissolved the organization, they transferred the Colt Trouble Fund and Till Thacker fund to us – a little over $23,000,” she says. “We distributed these funds to people in need and donated the balance of roughly $18,000 to Lazarus House,” for a grand total of $77,000 raised and/or distributed by TUC.
TUC continues its tradition of “fun fundraising” on Sunday with a party at Neon Boots to introduce its newest board members. Sheila Morton is now the group’s treasurer and major gifts director, and Keith Woods is secretary. Flories is TUC’s president, Sara Sjolander (Flories' partner of eight years and soon-to-be wife) is vice president and graphic designer, and John Earl is director.
Prior to Sunday's shindig, we talked TUC with Flories, how her spirituality informs her charitable work and what guests can expect from the event.
Tell us about the March 20 party at Neon Boots. I hear there are going to be some “silly adult games.”
Yes! And this event is more of a social gathering. Some of our beneficiaries will be there along with the introduction to the new members of the board. We have some fun patio games planned, and prizes, but mostly it will be a day of fun and fellowship. We will have applications on hand if anyone is interested in joining.
Who can join TUC?
Anyone who wants to join can fill out an application and select a dues level. We have some members who just pay dues and attend the events and we have some members who pay dues and volunteer. The dues money goes to pay for the minor operational cost of the organization, along with any event expenses so we can give 100 percent of the money raised at any event to the named charities.
What has been one of your favorite TUC moments?
One of my favorite TUC memories was after we held the first Casino Party. We had some naysayers that said that type of event would not work in (the now-closed) E/J’s. Well, thanks to our membership and the support of E/J’s, we had over 150 people in attendance and raised over $7,500 for LHI and the Montrose Center. Needless to say, the event was successful, people had fun and we raised a good amount of money, which made a great memory.
Who are some of TUC's beneficiaries?
People With AIDS Camp Fund, Lesbians Over Age Fifty (LOAF), AssistHers, Lesbian Health Initiative (LHI), Montrose Center and the TUC Helping Hands Fund.
How does your spirituality influence the work you do with TUC?
I am still an active minister, mostly performing weddings and some funerals. The group that I belong to is the Universal Brotherhood Movement. In short, we are a spiritually based organization with a sincere intention to serve in a non-judgmental manner with unconditional love for all.
My entire fundraising career has been because of and based in my spirituality. I believe in helping people in any way that I can and that was driven home to me when the AIDS epidemic hit Fort Worth. As in Houston, it almost destroyed our community and the only way I could help my brothers was to raise money for their care.
Sunday Funday with Texas United Charities is March 20 at Neon Boots. Follow the organization on Facebook.