Class is in session with Houston Pride Grand Marshal nominee Tamira “Augie” Augustine, and you’d better pay attention because the former Houston educator is teaching lessons about lifelong activism.
Growing up with Black Panther parents, Augie’s acute awareness of advocacy has inspired students of all ages. From mentoring LGBT students in the Houston Independent School District to co-creating the lesbian collegiate Greek order Epsilon Xi Gamma and organizing and participating in events like Houston’s march for marriage equality, her endless energy is dedicated to creating a world where she wants youth (and herself) to live.
With only about a week to cast your vote, Project Q talks with all of the Pride Houston grand marshal nominees. Go beyond the bios as Augie shares the origin of her nickname, why LGBT rights are civil rights and why it’s about damn time the community selects another African-American grand marshal for the first time in 21 years.
Can you share the origin of your nickname?
When I was in my early 20s and a little bit braver about my sexuality, a lot of the women I dated met my dad. They would always say, “You act just like your dad. I’m gonna call you Augie, Jr.” Now everybody calls me Augie. Nobody calls me Tamira except my mom and my sister.
What are your earliest memories of social justice?
I come from a social justice background. Both my parents were Black Panthers. We grew up in a household where during Black History Month, we were taught things not in the books. Mom would always pull some activist’s name out of a hat that we never heard of, and we’d all be forced to go and research and report why this person was important.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Working for the Houston Independent School District (HISD) for seven and a half, almost eight years. In that time I was an out educator when a lot of educators were like, “No, don’t do it. You’re gonna get fired. I said, let them fire me; I’ll sue the crap out of them.”
[Being out] grew into me being a mentor. And students still call me. They tell me how important I was to who they became, that because I was out, because I wasn’t afraid and challenged teachers and kids to treat them fairly, their life is better. Every single time I hear that, I get teary-eyed, because those kids are still alive and still here.
Tell us about the order you co-founded, Epsilon Xi Gamma.
I’m Greek, but that organization does nothing for the LGBT community at all. I paid almost a $1,000 to be part of an organization, and I can’t bring my partner to any event? I didn’t want to pay into an organization to tolerate me. That’s not what Greek life is about. It’s about camaraderie, a common bond.
After a student I mentored ended up at Oklahoma State University didn’t see a Greek organization, I began to think why shouldn’t college students go to school and have a lifelong organization that represents them, their needs and what they want to see. Gamma now has members in five states and is on four college campuses.
What about your “We Need You to Survive” advocacy?
All [Gamma] members are required to do something with LGBT youth; it’s the cornerstone project of Gamma. “We Need You to Survive” is something I’ve created here in Houston that speaks to the prevention of youth homelessness. I don’t want to wait until your homeless, I want to do something while you are still somewhere I can affect you.
What is the program’s current focus?
We’ve created partnerships with Texas Mentor, which is foster youth. We’ve built a coalition of people who affect youth in different walks of life, and they now mentor kids that are incarcerated. 60 percent of the kids incarcerated in Harris County are LGBT – that’s 20 percent above the national average.
They’ve finally admitted to needing help and now after two-and-a-half years, we’re putting on a one-day workshop to train those adults who are over the kids who can’t ever go home. Phase Two is that any child who identifies LGBT, who is on probation (meaning that they can go home), is going to be assigned to a nine-month program that teaches them life skills from an LGBT perspective – Trans 101, suicide prevention, LGBT-friendly colleges and careers.
Have there been any watershed moments in your advocacy?
For me, it was hearing from the African-American community that [LGBT rights] were not a civil rights issue. One year, when volunteering for Pride, I was on the radio station. They had us talk about being gay and when they did this, the people that called in were so livid. Everyone said the same thing: You choose to be gay, you can’t choose to be black. That day, my activism changed drastically.
I made it my mission to show my community this is a civil rights issue. My activism changed to really getting louder about tragedies – that people are being killed, people are getting fired, being denied housing, denied the ability to have families. These are the exact same things that the [African-American] community – my mother and father and grandparents – went through. I had a woman tell me “Well, y’all aren’t being lynched.” To that I say, look at the trans community. They may not be hanging from the trees but they’re damn sure being killed in mass numbers.
What would being selected Pride Grand Marshal mean to you?
Well, it’s really an honor to be nominated. There has not been an African-American Grand Marshal since 1994. That was the last time. We’re talking 21 years and when I saw Fran [Watson, fellow nominee] on stage, I looked at her and said, ‘If I knew you were nominated, I wouldn’t have accepted.” [laughs] But it’s a win for either one of us, not to take anything from [Britt Kornmann] but I believe we absolutely deserve it. For me, it wouldn’t be a win for me at all, but our community as a whole.