When Jereka Thomas-Hockaday first saw the email, she thought it was a scam.
“Me?” she thought once she learned it was real. “Really, me?”
The Netflix series “Queer Eye” had selected her to be on the show. Each season, the “Queer Eye” cast, known as the Fab Five, visits a new city and gives a select few people lifestyle makeovers — revamping their wardrobe, hair and makeup; redesigning their homes; and teaching them new cooking skills and ways to take care of their mental health.
The show chose Austin for its 2020 season, which was quickly derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Filming started up again in early 2021, and the entire season was released Dec. 31. This season largely focuses on people who have experienced loss or given back to the community during this time of immense need.
People like Jereka Thomas-Hockaday. In June 2019, she co-founded the Central Texas Allied Health Institute, a medical training school geared toward students who are at or below the federal poverty level, with the goal of getting more people of color into the medical workforce. When the pandemic hit, she and her students set up a COVID-19 clinic.
They offered testing and eventually vaccines at the Ana Lark Center in East Austin, which has far fewer health care facilities than West Austin and is home to many low-income Black and brown residents. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of Austin’s health care inequities, and she wanted to ensure the communities that have been hit hardest by the virus had access to testing and vaccines.
“Most of these [patients] are people of color,” she said. “They’ve told us that they’re comfortable with coming to us. I have people who come all the time now to get tested because they know us, they trust us.”
Thomas-Hockaday was nominated to be on the show by her business partner and her husband. During her episode, titled “Community Allied,” her family and friends explain she’s a workaholic. She’s known to spend so much time working to help others, she has little time to take care of herself or do things she enjoys, like cooking.
“She cares very much about everybody else, but the problem is she puts 110% of herself in and she doesn’t really take care of herself,” her husband, Ben, explains at the beginning of the episode.
During the show, grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness gives her a makeover; fashion designer Tan France gives her a new wardrobe; culture expert Karamo Brown encourages her to celebrate her successes; chef Antoni Porowski shows her quick meals to incorporate into her busy schedule; and interior designer Bobby Berk redesigns her garden and the break room at the community clinic.
“It was a great experience,” Thomas-Hockaday said. “This was a Hollywood production-style filming. My whole street was lined up with people. … I don’t think I prepared myself for the level of activity that was going to be going on. But you know, it is really true that after a while, you just kind of forget they’re there.”
After being away from her family for four days as the Fab Five did their work, she returned home and to the clinic for the big reveal.
“I think the reveal day was probably the best day for me because I got to see the students enjoying the break room, and it was a really happy day,” she said.