OWith over 12 years of experience working at the University of Houston (UH) and volunteering in the local LGBTQ community, Kevin Nguyen is no stranger to being a supportive resource for those around him. This experience, both inside and outside of higher education, led him to become the new director of the UH LGBTQ Resource Center.
“I have been volunteering for local LGBTQ organizations and counseling University of Houston students for several years now,” says Nguyen, 37. “In this new role, I hope to be able to become a bridge between these two communities.”
A native of Houston, Nguyen, a gender non-conforming person who uses he/they pronouns, admits he had no plans to stay in the city long term. “I went to graduate school in California, and during that time I watched Houston grow. The LGBTQ community has made great strides in making the city more welcoming, eclectic and diverse, thanks to the efforts of activists like Monica Roberts, Mayor Annise Parker, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Montrose Center and so many others who m inspired. join these initiatives while being myself.
After returning to Houston in 2010, he served on the boards of Bunnies on the Bayou and UH’s LGBTQ Alumni Association, as well as Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Council and the Pride Houston VIP Committee. He has also volunteered with the Victory Fund, the Diana Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Montrose Center, among others. His efforts were recognized by the local LGBTQ community when Pride Houston 365 named him their 2021 Gender Non-Binary/Non-Conforming Grand Marshal.
Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, is the first Asian director of the UH LGBTQ Resource Center. Although he has worked with UH students in the past as an academic advisor, he is excited about the opportunity to support students in a more personal way.
“I want to focus on underrepresented student populations who intersect with LGBTQ identities and cultivate safe spaces for them to be themselves,” says Nguyen. “We’ve had feedback that some students of color feel like they can’t use our center, and I want to change that. Logistically, we need to reach as many students as possible, but everything is n It’s not a numbers game – we have to meet the needs of each of these intersecting student populations.
Founded in 2010, the mission of the UH LGBTQ Resource Center is to empower students to develop their authentic identities through multiple program initiatives and their local communities. The Center has made strides in changing the socio-political landscape of UH by providing scholarships, spaces for free speech and protest, peer-initiated “Rainbow Talks”, programs collaborative leadership, Cougar
allied training sessions and campus-wide initiatives to provide more resources to its diverse student population, such as installing single-stall restrooms and facilitating gender-neutral housing.
The center’s new director plans to expand its success by fostering increased visibility and collaboration among students, faculty, and the wider Houston community. “We want everyone to have a [physical and virtual] space at the Center and be equally represented and served,” says Nguyen. “I want a student to get the information they need without ever having to set foot in the building.”
Nguyen envisions several ways to implement these initiatives. He wants to train a liaison at the campus writing center who will help LGBTQ students apply for scholarships. He also hopes that a partnership with the Montrose Center will provide students with more resources and volunteer opportunities, and that by transforming the relationship between faculty and students, UH can provide broader support systems in disciplines that have always been less accessible to LGBTQ people. communities.
“It’s been a dream job for me for over a decade now,” Nguyen notes. “I had seen LGBTQ resource centers during my grad school in California, but in Texas they weren’t as common then.”
Prior to his time in California, Nguyen attended Baylor University, known for its anti-LGBTQ policies. Raised a Catholic, Nguyen was aware that some of his peers would stop supporting him after he came out. What he didn’t expect was the support he received from peers he considered to be the most religious.
“Some friends disowned me after I came out,” Nguyen says. “On the other hand, I’ve also had real acceptance from people you wouldn’t expect, and that was encouraging to see because it meant they were more inclusive in practicing their faith. We’re talking about loving your neighbour, and that means loving your trans neighbor, your black neighbor, and your disabled neighbor.
Nguyen’s experiences with acceptance from religious and LGBTQ communities have inspired him to live in his own truth, which includes rocking a pair of heels whenever he can. “I like to wear clothes that aren’t always male-centric.
I think there are cultural aspects of the expectations of men and women that can be a bit convoluted with Western ideals,” Nguyen says.
In her new role, Nguyen hopes to not only meet students where they are with their needs, but also empower them to change the foundations of their future.
“I always try to teach my students a lesson in geometry: if you cut enough corners, do you know what you get? asks Nguyen. “A circle. There are only a limited number of turns you can cut before you end up back where you started.
To learn more about the UH LGBTQ Resource Center, visit uh.edu/lgbtq and follow them @UHLGBTQ on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This article appears in the August 2022 issue of OutSmart magazine.