JThese days, gay Houstonian Barry Mandel, 63, is both president and park manager of Discovery Green downtown. But this isn’t the first time he’s served his city and its LGBTQ community. He has, in fact, devoted most of his life to public service.
Mandel’s activism began the same way it has for so many LGBTQ leaders — in the early 1980s, when AIDS first hit. He decided to join the board of the AIDS Foundation Houston and start fundraising. “Back then, a fundraiser was to pass around a can of coffee at Mary’s and other gay bars around town,” Mandel recalls.
In 1985, then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire and a group of city council members passed the city’s first Equal Rights Ordinance. “A group of religious leaders collected enough petition signatures to take the issue to the voters, and we lost 3 to 1,” Mandel says. “These same religious leaders organized a group to stand against Whitmire and Council members who supported the ordinance, and they called themselves The Straight Slate. I couldn’t sit back and let them win, so I went to work for Kathy and helped re-elect her and all the board members.
Mandel served as president of the Houston Downtown Alliance and executive director of the Theater District Association. Additionally, he has served as a board member or volunteer with Casa de Esperanza, The NAMES Project, Houston Challenge Foundation, Houston’s Police Review Committee, United Way, Houston Food Bank, and AIDS Foundation Houston. He is a graduate of Houston Leadership Class VII and American Leadership Forum Class XX. Currently, he is a board member of the Holocaust Museum Houston and the Undies for Everyone program, as well as a director of the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.
Mandel was working at Legacy Community Health as chief operating officer and director of capital campaigning during the construction of their building on California Street when a headhunter approached him to become president of Discovery Green. “I told him I didn’t know anything about running a park.” She called him back two weeks later and said, “They keep mentioning your name. You should at least talk to them.
Because construction of the park had begun after Mandel left his position as director of the Downtown Alliance to go to Legacy, he had never even been to the park. “I told him to let me go see him and I would let him know. We visited the park on Easter Sunday in 2010 and was overwhelmed with its beauty and activity. He quickly agreed to speak to the park’s board, and has been at the helm ever since.
The park’s mission statement states that Discovery Green is to provide “an unusually beautiful urban green space in the heart of Houston that serves as a green village for our city, a source of health and happiness for our citizens, and a window about the incredible diversity of arts and traditions that enrich life in Houston.
But, Mandel admits, “we really didn’t have anything LGBTQIA+ focused. So in 2011 we imagined ‘Rainbow on the Green’ to take place the day before the Pride Parade. »
This year will mark the first large-scale, in-person Rainbow on the Green event since the pandemic. “Last year, Rainbow on the Green was promoted mostly virtually, with only a small number of people watching in person,” Mandel explains. “This year we honor a young activist from Houston.”
Kinsey Sicks Dragapella will perform a family version of their number. “They call themselves ‘America’s Favorite Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet.’ They perform original music and lyrics, as well as parodies of well-known songs. , is often very politically charged,” notes Mandel. Christina Wells, who has gained notoriety on America has talent, will also perform, as will a number of Houston’s top drag artists. “As always, it will be free and fun!”
Mandel realizes that being part of Rainbow on the Green is important to him “because representation matters. My LGBTQIA+ community is part of the fabric of Houston. Rainbow on the Green helps start the community [annual Pride] celebration that culminates in showing our pride as we march. he adds.
It might surprise people to learn that Anthony Rapp, of Lease and star trek fame, was on hand for the grand opening of Rainbow on the Green in 2011. During her performance that day, the New York Legislature announced the adoption of same-sex marriage in New York City. “He was able to get on stage and make that announcement,” Mandel recalled with a smile. “The crowd went wild.” Four years later, in 2015, as Rainbow on the Green was set up for that night’s concert, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
As for the future, Mandel is excited about the potential of Rainbow on the Green and Discovery Green. “We will continue to showcase the incredible talents of our community for the whole city to see, share and enjoy.”
Rainbow on the Green with Kinsey Sicks, Christina Wells will take place at Discovery Green June 24 at 7 p.m. The show is free and family friendly. For more information, visit discoverygreen.com.
This article appears in the June 2022 issue of OutSmart magazine.