Honoring these community members and their contributions.
By Megan Smith
As award-winning author and journalist Helen Zia once wrote, “With each individual who comes to realize that there are Asian queers and queer Asians, that space where the gay zone meets the Asian zone opens up a little more.” While Asian-Americans in Houston are constantly pushing the limits in medicine, business, music, fashion design, and more, they are also simultaneously changing the LGBTQ landscape for the better. To pay tribute to these movers and shakers, OutSmart reached out to the community for nominations of LGBTQ Asian-Americans leading the way in Houston. Below, a handful of our nominees discuss their current strides for community betterment, their visions for the future, and where they will be jetting off to for summer vacation.
This summer, Houstonian Rafferty Laredo is lucky enough to have not one, but two vacations planned—one to Mexico and the other to the Pacific Northwest for some much-deserved rest and relaxation. Laredo, who is an occupational therapist of 15 years, currently serves as the executive director of the United Spinal Association of Houston, a nonprofit that focuses on supporting individuals with spinal-cord injuries and spinal-cord disease, as well as others in the disability community. “Our programs exist when traditional hospital-based healthcare coverage is no longer available,” Laredo explains. “This may occur oftentimes less than 40 days after unexpected, permanent paralysis strikes.” The United Spinal Association of Houston’s three main service projects include Project Hope, Connections Peer Network, and Lazarus House, Laredo notes. “I am inspired by our disability community, whose strength and courage proves to me every day that the human spirit has no limits,” he says. “Paralysis and mobility-limiting diseases will spare no one over our lifetime. But, through a cohesive network of dedicated peers, family members, healthcare professionals, donors, and friends, a happy and purposeful quality of life can be achieved. We are better together.” Outside of work, Laredo also supports the work of the Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund. “It is critical that we continue to move forward in our advocacy work for fair, inclusive, and respectful rights for all,” he says. “This is imperative across the lines of disability, gender, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.”
While Phuctritam Nguyen may not be traveling this summer, she’d never turn down a trip to her favorite destination, Singapore. “It is a diverse country with many beautiful cultures,” she says. But Nguyen has also gotten to know many different people, cultures, and identities here at home, through her work as president of PV Spectrum, Prairie View A&M University’s newly established LGBTQ student organization. “It has been almost a year [since the organization started] and the experience has been amazing,” she says. “I have such great support from everyone, including my fellow officers and the organization’s advisors. I want people to understand that [those who either self-identify] or are called lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer can be professional, educated, creative, loving, caring, and much more—just like everyone else. While society has come a long way, we still need to make improvements. I believe that in order to improve, we need everyone, including allies, to stand up for what is right. When people come together as a strong community and fight alongside each other, equality and justice will be within an arm’s reach.” Beyond her campus advocacy, Nguyen also volunteers with C-STEM (Communication, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs, with her church’s activities, and with local animal shelters. “I want to help those in need, as well as animals, simply because it’s the right thing to do,” she says. “I am a person with compassion, and it is impossible for me to just walk away without doing anything to help.”
For most of his life, Kevin Nguyen has called Houston home. While California stole him away for graduate school (he received his master of science degree in college counseling in 2010), he made his way back to Space City to take a job at the University of Houston as an academic advisor for prospective students interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “One of the greatest assets that the City of Houston has to offer is its diversity,” says Nguyen, who is openly gay. “Throughout my time back in Houston, I have been able to venture out and see the development of the city’s LGBTQ community and how I could be involved.” As a result, he has volunteered with the UH LGBT Resource Center, the Houston Diabetes Walk, the Human Rights Campaign, the Houston Food Bank, Lambda NextGen, and Houston Pride. “I love finding new chances to get involved in the community, because they are great avenues to meet people within the different niches of the community, hear their experiences, and learn about how their organization is transforming and leading the community,” he says. “Within my work and my lifestyle, I want to produce a certain sense of inclusivity, curiosity, and mutual respect for those I interact with. I think one of the issues about Houston being so diverse is that sometimes in order to understand one another more systematically, the LGBTQ community starts sectioning off and enforcing labels for individuals, groups, and organizations. I think one way to combat this issue is to be attentive towards people’s perspective and goals, and one way to do that is volunteer experience.” Nguyen’s siblings have also been very supportive of his volunteer work, even joining him at numerous philanthropic events. “They’ve learned a lot about the LGBTQ community and love supporting our friends and causes,” he says. In June, however, Nguyen gets to show a little love to his sister as they travel to Las Vegas for her birthday celebration.
Rather than going out of town this summer, nature-lover L.K. Hight plans to opt for a staycation in Houston. “Hopefully I can take a tour of Buffalo Bayou and see what is left of the natural river,” he says. It was in Bayou City that Hight first became involved with the larger LGBTQ community, serving on the host committee for the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference in 2013. “Developing skills for behind-the-scenes organizing and helping to create something larger than myself was a rewarding way to serve my community,” Hight says. “However, I was left feeling that not all of the community was equally represented or served, and wanted to dedicate my time to local efforts advocating for the transgender community.” That opportunity presented itself three years ago when Hight was voted onto the board of Montrose Grace Place, helping to provide food, clothing, and affirmation to the area’s homeless LGBTQ youth. “As a mixed-race transgender gay man, finding community and narratives that reflect my experience is not the simplest thing,” Hight says. “When I came out as queer, I found the LGBT social scene, media, politics, and even LGBT support groups I attended, assumed being white and cisgender was the norm. The rift between the reality of my LGBTQ community, which is made up of boundless intersections of identity and marginalization, and the white cisgender fraction represented in mainstream culture, convinces me there is a great deal of work to be done within our community. I am inspired—[especially] by the youth (mostly people of color) that Montrose Grace Place serves—to advocate for and listen to all the voices of the LGBTQ community and to continuously educate myself on experiences that differ from my own.”
Houstonian Jasmine Dao is ready for adventure this summer as she heads to Monterrey, Mexico, to see the Cola de Caballo waterfall and Garcia Park, among other sights. “I hope to have lots of pan dulce and coffee while I’m there,” she says. While she may be taking care of her sweet tooth while in Mexico, Dao spends most of her days taking care of children as a doctor at NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care. “What I enjoy focusing on most is helping children be happy and healthy,” she says. “My passion stems from a desire for equality, healthcare, and education.” She also serves on the care center’s values committee, which includes planning the company’s community outreach. “Most recently, we’ve been at the Houston Children’s Festival supporting Advocates, Inc.,” Dao says. “We have also discussed having a mobile program [that would] provide meals and books to children. Feeding bodies and feeding minds. Most of all, I am lucky to be surrounded by like-minded, action-oriented people,” she adds. “We inspire each other’s creativity and innovation, coming up with new ideas and facing challenges together. With that support and unity, there is definitely a feeling of possibility and accomplishment.” Dao also notes the need to join forces to protect the environment. “Clean water, air, and land are just as important to health as vaccines and antibiotics,” she says. “It can be as easy as starting recycling in your own home or office, planting more flowers for bees, or participating in the cleanup weeks at the bayou. Get up and try, and you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to find ways to help.”
Acclaimed and out fashion designer Nicholas Nguyen knows what it’s like to be a dreamer. His dreams and aspirations are what gave him the courage to leave his home country of Vietnam and move to the U.S. when he was only 15 years old, and to further his education at the University of Houston–Downtown. Now, he is the founder of Mysterious by NPN, a highly successful luxury clothing company based in Houston. “I was born and raised in Vietnam where freedom was never a part of growing up,” he says. “I want to be someone who can inspire everyone to be who they are. The LGBT community is still fighting so hard for equality and teaching young people to express themselves. I want everyone to understand that being different is okay, especially within this community.” This summer, Nguyen will take some of that love and support back with him to Vietnam when he travels there for work. “If you have the chance, you must visit Vietnam at least once in your life,” Nguyen says. “It’s a beautiful country and has beautiful resorts with gorgeous beaches, and delicious seafood!”
Though he won’t make it there this summer, Paul Huynh loves to visit Tokyo, Japan. “My husband and I got to travel there last fall, and we had an amazing experience,” Huynh says. “It is basically the mecca for gaming and anime nerds.” That means Huynh was in heaven, because for the last five years he has served on the board of the Houston Gaymers, helping to organize the group’s events and gaming tournaments. “I enjoy bringing people together with my love of gaming,” Huynh says. “I’m usually the one going out of my way to get shy members to meet new people in the group. There’s a special bond between those playing games together. Sharing that gaming experience and culture really helps connect people on another level.” However, Huynh wasn’t always this outgoing, he explains. “My first couple of years with the gaming community, I did not have much of a social life,” he says. “I was limited to a handful of online friends that I only interacted with through the massive online multi-player game, World of Warcraft. But after joining Houston Gaymers, I had a reason to get out of the house and be social playing games with people in real life. Now, [as] a board member, I love facilitating and bringing this same experience to others.”
For the past 10 years, Lakshmi Kennar has been a dedicated advocate for trans women of color across the world. “I am inspired by the untapped courage of every individual on this gender journey,” she says. “I get inspired because there’s a need to increase the visibility of people of color in the LGBTQIA community and to achieve a beautiful balance of living in diversity, and acknowledging ethnicity. When a person transitions, everyone around them also transitions—which gets threefold-intense in ethnic communities.” Kennar also strives to reach the larger community to create allies for the transgender community. She has worked on related research papers, health surveys, educational and professional panel discussions, and hosts fundraising events to showcase the beauty of South Asian dance forms. Activist work surrounding the transgender community is extremely critical at this time, Kennar says, because of the upsurge of discriminatory so-called “bathroom bills” currently plaguing the country. “This affects trans women of color, as they have the least protection given the preconceived bias of authorities and barriers of language, isolation, skin color, ‘passability,’ and immigration status that makes them most vulnerable,” she says. “[We need to] educate the greater society beyond the LGBTQIA community through a focused awareness campaign before clear minds are further maligned.” She encourages trans women and their allies to contact her at [email protected]. Kennar may get a well-deserved break from her advocacy this summer, as she hopes to travel to her favorite place, New York City.
Dr. Terence Chang
As a member of the Lone Star Volleyball Association, Dr. Terence Chang is hoping to bounce around to a lot of different cities for tournaments this summer. But until then, he’s busy bouncing around treating patients. A little over two years ago, Dr. Chang started a house-call practice as a general-practice doctor seeing patients at their homes, offices, or hotel rooms. “I wanted to simplify things for the sick mom in her own bed with the flu, the out-of-towner streaming Netflix on his couch at home rather than in a waiting room, and the sick kid home from school with the grandparents while both parents are stuck at work,” he says. “People are always a little shocked when I tell them I do house calls as a doctor, but honestly it’s very rewarding work. What inspires me are the people of Houston and their stories. When I travel to see a patient, they welcome me into their homes. Symbolically they welcome me into their lives, their community, and their stories. I once took care of a bartender in the back office of the restaurant, because he couldn’t afford to be sick and take time off from work. I’ve been called to someone’s home to start post-exposure HIV prophylaxis medications, because he was too embarrassed and traumatized to seek medical care at a clinic. When I see patients at the hotels, I meet some amazing people who come from all over the world. As an out-of-the-closet Taiwanese-American who grew up in Alief, I can appreciate a lot of these stories, and I love serving the people of this great city.” For the gay community, Dr. Chang says it’s important to get proper treatment for “The Big Three”—depression/anxiety/suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse, and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. “There’s a central theme in all three, the way I see it,” he says. “I think it has to do with how we form relationships and friendships, individually and as a community. As we become a more open and accepting society, we bring a lot of people who suffer with these conditions out of the shadows. We get them the help they need.”
In 2009, a little over a year after William Fu came out, he joined the Houston Pride Band as a clarinet player. After immediately being welcomed with open arms, he knew he had found his second family. “I loved the fact that no auditions were required to join and we welcomed anyone that could read music and play an instrument,” Fu says. “Our concerts are also free, so anyone with a love for music can come enjoy them. Connie Moore and Debbie Hunt were two of the many wonderful people I met when I joined, and it wasn’t until later that I learned how much of an impact they’ve had on the Houston LGBT community. They inspired me to become more involved and run for the Houston Pride Band board of directors in 2010, and I’ve been on the board ever since.” Fu currently serves as the board’s vice president and on the organization’s membership and fundraising committees. “Finding ways to give back to the community is very important to me,” Fu, who is also a nurse, says. “Playing with the band these past seven years has been such a joy, and I hope to continue to use my skills and talents to help spread the love of music to the Houston community. A great way to become more involved is to seek out one of the many great nonprofits within Houston and donate some of your time and skills. You may find that it lights a fire within you that you didn’t even know you had.” And while he’ll spend the summer practicing for the Houston Pride Band’s march in Houston’s annual Pride parade, Fu hopes to travel abroad soon. “I hope to eat my way through Europe and Asia,” he says. “They have some delicious cuisines that I’d love to try.”