Meet Bill Hoelscher
By Kylie Cooper
Conversation by: Kylie Cooper Photo by: Lillian Rietz
How have you seen the conversation around the LGBTQIA+ community in the Coastal Bend shift throughout the years?
I have been a lifelong resident of Corpus Christi. Over the past few decades, I’ve seen a significant change in the way LGBT people are treated. It used to be many of us tried to remain closeted, especially professionally, because we knew we could easily lose our jobs. I feel there certainly are more opportunities for LGBT people to live openly, but upon saying that, the pendulum can easily swing the other way, when you have leadership that creates an environment of bigotry and hostility. A prime example are the laws that some legislators are trying to pass in Texas, which will allow for discrimination against LGBT people. The reality is that once you create legalized systematic discrimination of any sub-population, you open the door for discrimination against all minority populations.
I remember my own experience as I entered the professional world, being passed over for positions because they had concerns about “my kind.” It was always vague threats masked behind ambiguous words. That’s why I was determined once I was able to lead an organization: I wanted to create a safe environment where a person is judged by their achievements alone.
You’ve been involved in a lot of new advancements in the LGBTQIA+ community – not just the Coastal Bend, but South Texas at large. Tell us a little bit about that.
I am very excited and proud that the agency I work for is at the front of providing services to the LGBT community in the Coastal Bend. The Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation, for over 30 years, provides assistance to those most vulnerable in our community.
Research suggests that LGBT individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicide.
With the building of a new facility, we will be opening the Coastal Bend Pride Center, which will offer access to services and be a source for community resources. It will be a safe place for LGBT groups to congregate and support each other. This endeavor will be self-funded through fundraising, private donations and foundation grants; we are looking to our LGBT community and allies to keep the project on track. Another LGBT health initiative is providing open access to all services, such as primary health care, hormone therapy for transgender, counseling, and substance abuse treatment. We offer a safe environment, which is free of judgement, allowing for a better system of personal health and wellness.
In regard to education, how important is it to continue offering programs for people in our area to learn about various aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community?
Knowledge is always the key to self-awareness. The Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation offers a no-cost training called “Safe Zone,” which provides LGBT cultural competency by exploring labels and trends in the community. This training can be accessed by anyone wishing to learn more.
Let’s talk about the PRIDE Corpus Christi event. What is the importance of not just members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but allies of the community showing up in support for the celebration?
As Board President of the Mosaic Project, the non-profit that organizes Pride Corpus Christi, I hope to see this event continue to grow and attract people from other communities to our city. Every movement for equality has been successful, in part, due to the support of allies from mainstream society. By allies participating in Pride Week, it demonstrates their belief in the equal treatment of all citizens. In addition, on a more personal level, it shows they support their family, friends and colleagues who are LGBT. Celebrating Pride is celebrating the magnificent diversity of our community and highlighting what a wonderful place the Coastal Bend is to live.
What can people expect from this year's event?
Pride Corpus Christi is a weeklong celebration, June 3-8. All activities are posted on our website. There is something for everyone. We will be including a first run showing of the Elton John movie, Rocketman. We have a live theater performance of the one-man show “ICONS: Lesbian and Gay History of the World,” performed by Jade Esteban Estrada. Sandra Valls, the comedian, will be here from Los Angeles on Wednesday to perform stand-up. We have a pub crawl Thursday and on Friday two proms, one for youth and one for adults. Then we close the week with the parade and block party.
What message would you leave for people who might not understand or know about our local LGBTQIA+ community?
There are LGBT people across every spectrum of society, including race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and socio-economic level. In all likelihood, everyone knows someone who is LGBT, whether they are out to you or not.
Pride celebrations are more than just parties; they are a reminder that not all of us have the same rights as others, that there is still prejudice, discrimination, and fear, and that gathering together brings comfort and lessens the isolation and sense of disempowerment. Come out and show your support for your family and friends – it makes a world of difference.
Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation
5633 S Staples St.
cbwellness.org | 361.443.3035