HISD board member Anna Eastman is determined to see our school system’s LGBT employees and students protected and supported.
By Brandon Wolf
Late in the afternoon of August 11, 2011, Houston Independent School District board members cast their vote and adopted a new policy. The video display above their heads indicated a vote of 8–0 in favor.
There was no crescendo of cheers from the guests in the meeting room, and no unusual reaction from the board members. But many of the guests—and board member Anna Eastman—knew that history had been made. The nation’s seventh-largest school district had just adopted a nondiscrimination policy that protected LGBT employees and students.
That victory didn’t just happen by itself. Eastman had worked with members of Houston’s LGBT community for two years to bring the issue to a vote. It was also the culmination of a five-year effort spearheaded by activist Jenifer Rene Pool. “We needed the right board president in place, and we wanted there to be no opposition,” Eastman says. The mission was accomplished.
Growing Up Conservative
Anna Milliken Eastman was born in 1967 at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida. She was the sixth of seven children in a Catholic family. Her father was a skilled navigator who worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
When she was four, the family moved to Texas and settled near Dallas in Richardson, where she received an excellent public education. “The school district was noted for its solid academic record and its emphasis on accountability,” she says.
She enjoyed art, English literature, and geometry. She took piano lessons and played drums in the school band during middle school. In high school, she was a member of the Girl’s Service League. She had great fun as a member of the league’s clown troupe, entertaining hospital patients and nursing home residents.
Eastman was also a member of the Christian Young Life group, a teen organization founded on fundamentalist principles. She remembers that some members of the group would go into Dallas’ gay areas and attempt to save LGBT souls from the hellfire that awaited them. “I wasn’t interested in doing that,” she says. Instead, she focused on the friendships and good times that the group enjoyed together.
Then, unexpectedly, in the last semester of her senior year, the good times turned tragic. Eastman was in a car returning from a Young Life event when the driver lost control of the vehicle and ran off the road. Eastman’s seat belt broke, and she was thrown from the car. When her parents arrived at the hospital, they found her with broken bones and shattered ribs.
“It was a difficult exercise in truth-telling,” she says, having to admit that she and the others had been fooling around—just being silly, she thought. Eastman was confined to a wheelchair and housebound for the rest of her senior year. A home teacher was assigned to help her finish her studies. She was amazed at how many students regularly came by to visit her and keep her spirits up. When graduation day came, she says, “I walked across that stage to get my diploma.”
Eastman chose to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, using an academic scholarship. She majored in art history and minored in French.
After her sophomore year, she decided to take a year off for an au pair job in Geneva, Switzerland. It was a large family, and she helped the nanny take care of the children. She laughingly admits, “Yes, there were times when I led them in singing ‘Do, Re, Mi.’”
Returning to Texas, Eastman enrolled at the University of Texas. Her coursework included fine art, art history, studio art, and French. She especially enjoyed constructing three-dimensional assemblages in her studio art classes.
Eastman joined the UT Catholic Center, becoming involved in their social activities. She found one of her new friends especially attractive and developed a crush on him. One day he told her that he was gay. It broke her heart, but she still wanted to maintain a friendship with him. “I was so unbelievably naïve back then,” she admits. “I’d never known anyone openly gay before.”
In a short time, Eastman came to know a number of gay men as her new friend introduced her around. She found the men likeable and fun, and enjoyed their “underground lifestyle” in Austin.
It was the early 1990s and AIDS was rampant in the gay community, with no cure in sight. Eastman became involved in shopping for groceries and delivering them to men with advanced AIDS who could no longer get out on their own.
Eastman also developed a special friendship with a young gay man named Javier. She was devastated when she learned that he was fighting AIDS, and as his life ebbed away, she visited him often. After his death, she made an AIDS quilt panel in his memory.
Discussing fond memories of Javier during the interview for this article hit a chord in Eastman’s heart, and she found herself dissolving into tears. Witnessing the impact that relationship had on her was powerful—Eastman’s love and concern for the LGBT community is very real and very deep.+
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