by Brandon Wolf • Photo by Dalton DeHart
Nick Brines, Houston’s 2012 Male Pride Marshal, reminisces, “I’ve known the last four Houston mayors, a score of Houston council members, and the CEOs of Houston’s most powerful companies.” It’s been an exciting ride for a boy who still remembers the days when he was regularly swatted in the face by cow tails during milking hours.
“I was a farm boy,” he says. “I milked cows, pitched hay, drove tractors, and was a member of Future Farmers of America.”
Born in Wisconsin in 1970, Brines grew up in an atmosphere of civic responsibility and activism. His father was president of the Lion’s Club, and organized the annual Fourth of July Parade.
Living on a dairy farm meant milking cows at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. every day. However, by high school, Brines was on the track and basketball teams, and served as editor of the yearbook. “If I was busy and involved, I could escape those cows,” he laughs.
The Big City Beckons
But Brines felt like “a fish out of water.” He longed to live in a big city, not do manual labor, and mix with people of accomplishment.
Visits to his eye doctor provided him with his only chance to temporarily escape to that world. So when it came time to attend college, he chose to leave his small hometown in Wisconsin and study to be an optometrist.
“The University of Houston offered a degree program,” Brines says. “Houston was a big city, didn’t have snow, and was far removed from Wisconsin.”
Brines lasted two years in the UH optometry program. Spending a semester with a human cadaver provoked a re-thinking of his education. “I was handling it until I realized she was still wearing nail polish,” he remembers.
He entered his junior year as a psychology major.
After graduation from college, Brines continued on at UH, as an employee. During his 12 years there, he progressed from admissions counseling to organizing orientation weekends and visiting high schools.
The UH alumni office soon recognized his social skills and hired him. While he quickly rose through the ranks of their fundraising department, “I did get rather tired of red and white,” he says with a smile.
In 2000, Brines joined the staff of the American Heart Association where he was responsible for raising millions of dollars each year. By the time he left in 2007, he was vice president of corporate relations.
After departing from the American Heart Association, Brines took over as full-time manager of a business venture he had entered into with his partner at the time. They set up a salon, located at 3425 South Shepherd Drive, above the Issues Magazine Store.
Their Azur Salon grew exponentially, until it took over a whole floor. In 2011, Azur West was opened as a second salon, in the West Avenue Urban Center located at Westheimer and Kirby. The upscale complex includes commercial and residential units, and a variety of new restaurants.
The Process of Coming Out
Brines is a long way from milking cows as he sits in his office at Azur West, reflecting on his life for OutSmart. It’s obvious he is indispensable. Every 10 minutes, there is a knock at the office door and a head peers in shyly. An apology is offered for interrupting him, followed by an explanation of why he is needed immediately. With calm dispatch, he finds solutions and returns his attention to the interview.
“I knew I was different in high school, but didn’t attach the word ‘gay’ to myself yet,” Brines recollects. “I was aware of AIDS from television news, and I thought that everyone who was gay had AIDS.”
His best friend in high school also doubled as his dating partner now and then. “As it turns out, she is a lesbian,” Brines reveals.
In his freshman year at UH, Brines had another female friend who eventually introduced him to the first openly gay man he had ever met. “He was a DJ,” says Brines. “I found him intriguing. I’d never known anyone who was comfortable with his sexual orientation being public knowledge.”
Brines went through a slow process of coming out. But by his sophomore year, he knew where Houston’s gay bars were. “I never missed a Thursday night Trash Disco at Rich’s,” he says.
The Activist Emerges
“My first Pride Parade was 1989,” Brines recalls. “I was so happy, seeing all those people just like me coming out to celebrate.”
By 1992, Brines had become a part of the Planned Parenthood activist crew. “We used to link arms and surround the Fannin Street facility, protecting women patients who were being hassled upon arrival by anti-choice demonstrators.” That summer, he was part of the pro-choice demonstrations at the Republican National Convention, which was held in Houston.
In 1994, Brines responded to a Houston Pride Committee ad in The Texas Triangle. For the next three years, he organized “Pumped Up on Art”—a glittery auction of celebrity high-heel shoes autographed by their owners. “We had shoes from Cher, RuPaul, and Gloria Estefan—to name just a few.”
In 1998, Brines took over the role of managing corporate sponsorships. He helped bring to reality the giant disco ball and later the rainbow chandelier that hung over the intersection of Montrose and Westheimer.
“I had to keep coming up with something different to keep the media interested,” he says. That included acquiring Chase Bank’s five-story-tall Art Deco lobby downtown for the Pride Month kickoff—and bringing in The Lady Chablis, of Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil fame, as a celebrity guest.
From 2004 to 2007, Brines shouldered the responsibility of being president of the Houston Pride Committee. “Every year, I’d swear it was my last year,” he says. “But the day after the parade, I was so pumped up, I’d choose to stay on for yet another year.” In 2008 and 2009, he began to slowly pass the torch, serving as a consultant to the Pride Committee Board.
Memories of Parades Past
Brines says that the most exciting moment during his 15 years with the Houston Pride Committee was in June 1997. “Watching the first nighttime parade pull onto Westheimer was incredible,” he remembers.
Seeing the evolution of the Pride headquarters has also been a source of inspiration for Brines. “When I started, we met in private homes,” he recalls. “Then we rented space at the Community Center on Hawthorne, and later moved to a location on California Street [where Legacy Community Health Services now stands]. Finally, our move to the Montrose Counseling Center building was the fulfillment of over a decade of dreams.”
But even someone as professionally polished as Brines has their moments of embarrassment. “Years ago, I sent a rather sarcastic e-mail to one of the Pride volunteers, about the corporate account he was assigned to. Seconds after I hit ‘Send,’ my face began to heat up and turn bright red. I had mistakenly addressed the e-mail to the corporate contact!” He learned quickly what “damage control” means—and how it’s done.
Brines says he is “honored” to be the 2012 Houston Male Pride Marshal. The most important aspect of the honor is the chance to encourage members of the community to become activists. “Find an opportunity to be involved,” he says. “Get active and be passionate. There is nothing better that a person can give to their community than their time.”
Looking back, Brines remembers that before each year’s parade started, he would walk out into the middle of Westheimer and take it all in. “No one else was allowed on the street, but as an organizer I was able to. In that moment, I realized that all the work of the past 364 days was worth it!”
After years of coordinating the marshal vehicles, this year Brines will be in one of the convertibles as it slowly rolls down Westheimer. He plans to bring his 10-year-old niece along with him, to share the excitement of the evening.
Our 2012 male marshal says that the most important thing in life is fun. “It’s the one over-arching element of my life—being with people I want to be with, doing the things I want to be doing.”
Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.