Mary Ann Smith, PhD, longed for this exact moment. With her colleagues and students surrounding her, including her partner of more than 25 years, she clutched and waved a Pride flag in the air. She beamed with joy as the group marched behind a large rainbow banner that read, “UTHealth celebrates Pride!”
It was June 23, 2018, and for the first time in UTHealth Houston history, the university was officially sponsoring a contingent of students and employees to march in the Houston Pride Parade.
Smith has been an active and proud Pride participant and advocate in Houston since the 1990s. She serves as assistant dean of students at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health and an assistant professor with the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences.
In 2017, she helped organize and march with the School of Public Health LGBTQ+ group outREACH – but this day had a different meaning. The excitement was overflowing among the students, faculty, and staff as the group prepared to march collectively in the celebratory environment.
“One of my all-time favorite photos is one of me waving the Pride flag while walking at the front of our group,” Smith said. “One of our students asked if I needed help carrying the flag and I politely declined because I had waited too long to be able to do this as part of a UTHealth Houston group, and I was going to carry it all the way to the end of the parade.”
Five years later, Smith, along with the university’s LGBTQ+ community and allies, are set to participate in the 45th annual Houston Pride Parade downtown on Saturday, June 24.
Smith has noticed an increase in unwavering support throughout the university, which has been vital in creating campuswide relationships.
“One of the best things to have happened is the involvement of the UTHealth Houston Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office and their sponsorship and support of our annual participation in the parade,” Smith said. “Participation has ensured broader participation across the six academic components of the university and affiliated units. Without that support, we would not be able to be as successful in engaging the broader LGBTQ+ community and allies across our university.”
Colin Dunham, talent acquisition operations and business process lead at UTHealth Houston, has also played a vital role in helping organize the university’s Pride efforts. He echoes Smith’s sentiments of the support felt across the Houston campus.
“Prior to my involvement, there have been many who made Pride participation a priority and were able to enlist the help of more and more people over the years,” Dunham said. “Additionally, with UTHealth Houston creating a Diversity Council and allowing Pride a space under its umbrella, it was a big step in the direction of being both recognized and supported in an official capacity by the university. I am constantly amazed by how much we grow and expand each year.”
Smith said she believes Pride inclusion is imperative because of the message it sends to the community — not just the LGBTQ+ community, but to the region the university serves.
Smith also serves as an Americans with Disabilities Act 504 Coordinator, helping students and employees with disabilities access accommodations needed for them to be successful.
“Knowing that our work and academic environment is supportive of all of us is important for our overall well-being,” she said. “Participation in these events sends an important message beyond UTHealth Houston. It lets the community-at-large know that we are an inclusive university community of students, scholars, researchers, and service providers.”
Participants interested in walking with UTHealth Houston at this year’s Pride Parade can register online.