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Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers 2010 Honoree: Cheryl Houk

SAN DIEGO -- They make a difference in our lives. Some are well-known activists in San Diego's LGBT community and others are working tirelessly outside the spotlight.

Ten key players in the LGBT community will be honored Feb. 26 at a Heroes, Pioneers and Trailblazers gala at The Center that is sponsored by Lambda Archives of San Diego (LASD).

In the days leading up to the gala, SDGLN will profile each of these individuals and provide our readers with an inside peak at what this award means to each honoree.

2010 Honoree Cheryl Houk

Cheryl Houk was born in Los Angeles. At age 12, she and her family relocated to Butte County in Northern California, where Houk remained for 27 years.

At age 17, Houk said she fell into the world of alcoholism, a journey that lasted well into adulthood and consumed 16 years of her life.

During this time, she said, many of her drinking excursions included blackouts. She drove while intoxicated dozens of times and totaled three cars, but was fortunate to survive each wreck. In 1983, at age 33, Houk overcame her alcohol addiction and has remained sober ever since. Her sobriety sparked an interested in working in the field of alcohol and drug recovery.

In 1985, Houk moved to San Diego, where she spent several years working in residential and day treatment programs that assisted alcohol and drug addicts with their sobriety. In 1989, she became executive director at Stepping Stone of San Diego, a rehabilitation center that specializes in the challenges of the LGBT community.

"Stepping Stone has a very special meaning for me,” Houk said. “As a lesbian, I know how hugely important it is to have LGBT specific alcohol and drug recovery services and Stepping Stone is one of very few such services in the state and the nation.”

During her 17 years as executive director, Houk increased the agency’s annual funding from $125,000 to $1.9 million, increased the staffing from 3 to 27, added five programs and two transitional living housing programs, wrote several successful San Diego County proposals and foundation grant applications, and raised $2.6 million in a capital building campaign that made the construction of a new state-of-the-art residential facility possible. Completed in 2000, the new residential facility became a model facility in the state and won several awards for its design and alcohol and drug programs.

The original facility was known to be one of the worst conditioned residential facilities in San Diego County and was a conglomeration of five dilapidated, high maintenance, crowded buildings. It was unacceptable to Houk and the board of directors because it conveyed to its LGBT residents that they were not important, that they did not belong and that they did not deserve better.

“It took me a year longer to get sober because I did not feel safe enough to be honest about my sexuality, and honesty is a major part of getting sober and maintaining sobriety,” Houk said. “I was completely motivated in helping to make Stepping Stone be the best it could be in providing the most comprehensive recovery services. I am forever grateful for the committed board members and staff that has participated in Stepping Stone's accomplishments over the years and Stepping Stone is in my heart and prayers always."

While employed, Houk continued with her education, earning a bachelors of science in business administration from the University of Phoenix in 1994. She also spearheaded the first efforts to successfully bring HIV/AIDS funding to Stepping Stone, enabling the agency to provide improved services to HIV-positive LGBT people in need of recovery from alcohol and drugs.

Houk has also participated in a number of committees over the years, including HIV/AIDS Planning Council, the Joint HIV/AIDS Housing Committee, the Methamphetamine Strike Force, and the state's Alcohol and Drug Programs LGBT Constituent Committee. She served two six-year terms on the Board of the California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources and was a founding member and past chair of the Alcohol and Drug Services Provider Association of San Diego.

Houk is a past recipient of the Crystal Heart Award, the Skip Byron Award (a statewide award honoring the Executive Director of the Year) and Woman of the Year award from The Center.

“The LGBT community in San Diego means so much to me and I feel completely honored to be recognized for something I dearly loved doing,” Houk said of her pending LASD award. “I really appreciate Lambda Archives of San Diego for working so hard to capture, store, and honor LGBT historical information. Without them our valuable history would be lost.”

Houk left Stepping Stone in January 2006 to complete and self-publish her book, What Are You Thinking? Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life. Promoted as a positive guide to responsible thinking, the book is available locally at Controversial and Obelisk bookstores. Houk now resides in Palm Springs with her partner of 25 years, Patty Bathurst, and two dogs, Addison and Sadie.

About Lambda Archives of San Diego

LASD’s mission is to collect, preserve and teach the history of LGBT people in the San Diego and Northern Baja California region. Although most of the collections date to post-1970, there are original materials dating back to the 1930s.

LASD believes that history is best served by the records and cultural artifacts of those people who are directly involved in its events, so its staff has dedicated itself to preserving and interpreting this important historical record since its establishment in 1987. LASD is an all-volunteer, nonprofit corporation governed by a volunteer board of directors and has one of the largest collections of LGBT history in the country.

LASD Honoree Selection Process

The fundraising gala -- which debuted in 2007 -- recognizes individuals, both locally and nationally, who have made a difference in the lives of LGBT persons through their dedication, commitment, financial resources and/or political participation.

The LASD board chooses honorees based on a criterion that focuses on diversity, by including individuals from diverse segments of the community and from a broad spectrum of individual characteristics such as ethnicity, race, LGBT identification, etc. As is customary for the board, nominees who had received other major honors this year or who could not attend the event, were held out for future consideration. Although no public call for nominations currently exists, the board considers any nomination from the community to be equal to those made by its members.

Previous honorees include business professionals, activists and people like state Sen. Christine Kehoe, Cleve Jones, Tom Reise, Fritz Klein and SDGLN contributor Ben Cartwright.

For information about purchasing tickets to the 2010 Gala visit SDGLN's Events Calendar.