LGBT

Putting the L in LGBTQ: Tammi Wallace Means Business

Tammi Wallace makes business connections happen in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.
Tammi Wallace makes business connections happen in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond. Photo by Monica Kressman
June is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, often regarded as the tipping point in the modern gay rights movement and earning its recognition as Pride Month. Houston Press met with members of the LGBTQ community to learn more about their experiences belonging to this group. These are their stories.

Tammi Wallace means business. As head of the Greater Houston LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, she is a fierce advocate for the growing group of LGBTQ-owned business and allies of the queer community in H-town.

"We make sure that we're connecting dots across the community," Wallace said. "We make sure that we have people at the table who are representing different issues that come up and different aspects, whether it's economic development or community engagement, and we're continually educating our business and our broader business community in Houston about the role of our community and how important we are to the economic fabric of the region."

Founded in 2016, the Greater Houston LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce has served as a catylyst to accelerate economic opportunity for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-plus community through a strong network of business allies, innovative programs, strategic partnerships and advance policies that foster economic inclusion and equality.

While focusing on business might be the chamber's strong suite, the group also is willing to jump in when its members are being persecuted. Like, say, when drag performers become the hot topic on politicians' minds or when same-sex marriage is up for debate.

"Advocacy is one of our core focus areas. Chambers have been doing this for decades," Wallace said. "We also are a diverse chamber. In the case [of the drag ban], we didn't hesitate to file a lawsuit against the state of Texas for this horrendous legislation because it squarely impacted some of our members, and it impacts our community."

Strong and mighty Wallace may seem, but she didn't start of as the firebrand that most know her as. Before she became the powerhouse advocate she is now, she had her own path to forge that involved heartbreak and struggle before her eventual journey to the top.

"I grew up a very shy kid in Mississippi," she said. "I moved to Houston in 1986 from Mississippi. Part of my story is that I actually moved here to go to Bible school. I was part of the United Pentecostal Church, and so I thought my life's work was to move to Houston to be a missionary's wife and that I was going to go to another country as a missionary. That's what I thought God had for me and for my life."

But then her attraction toward women intervened, and that was not compatible with her missionary lifestyle.

"I was thrown out if Bible school because they thought I was a lesbian ... and I was," she said. "I had struggled as I was a kid and a teenager. Certainly, I knew I was different. I knew I was attracted to women, but I didn't understand it. I thought because I was in this deeply religious environment, I couldn't come to grips with [my sexuality], much less explain it with anybody else."

That fear was something her mother immediately picked up on ... and addressed when Wallace drove 12 hours from Houston to her hometown in Mississippi in an attempt to figure out her life's next steps post-Bible school.

"I went to dinner with my mom, and I'll never forget this conversation," Wallace said. "My mom said 'You're struggling with whether you should have stayed in Houston?' And I said, 'Yeah, I'm scared.' And she looked at me and she said, 'Well, if you're always gonna wonder, maybe you need to find out the answer. You know, you can always come home.' When she said that, it was like throwing out an emotional security blanket for me, and I knew she was right."
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Tammi Wallace heads up an annual luncheon that awards LGBTQ+ businesses and allies for their work to elevate the Houston-area's business community.
Photo by Chandrayee Soneja

Armed with her mother's guarantee of a safety net, Wallace found the courage to forge her own way. Houston has now become her chosen home. She's also been quite successful in planting and harvesting the seeds she has planted in the Houston community.

"Without a doubt, the work that we're doing at the chamber has become my mission," she said. "This intersection of business and community and what I see we can do absolutely ignites me every day. It's what gets me up, knowing what we can do to make sure that we're making a better today and a better tomorrow for our community."

"We play an important role in helping those who are not from Houston, and looking from the outside and to understand how the city values our community, how the city values diversity ... we're a part of that. That's incredibly important."

Looking back, Wallace reflects that the struggle has been worth it, and possibly even made her stronger because even though she was still trying to find her footing in her late teenage years, she gained so much more knowledge about herself and her capability despite the challenges.

"I remember somebody saying, 'This is all gonna make sense for you one day. It will. I know it's incredibly painful now, but it will make sense.' And of course, all these years later, it makes complete sense to me," she said.

For more information about the Greater Houston LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, visit houstonlgbtchamber.com.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd