As a new 2021 graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown, Brandt Wild is looking forward to a bright future in the legal profession. But that future seemed almost impossible to him when he dropped out of high school as a troubled gay teenager.
“When I was younger I had good grades, but I didn’t care in high school,” Wild recalls. “One thing led to another. I made poor choices.” After dropping out of Katy’s Cypress Lake High School in his junior year, Wild said he began “running with the wrong crowd” and wound up in jail for a few days. “That was the turning point for me,” he says. “It wasn’t fun at all.”
The ambitious 25-year-old’s story is an example of how the criminal-justice system can actually succeed in turning a person’s life around.
Why he “acted out” as a youth is a bit of a mystery to Wild these days. He doubts that it had anything to do with his sexual orientation, since he always knew he was gay and he doesn’t recall experiencing discrimination or bullying. His family was mostly supportive, except for a now-resolved rough patch with his father. If being gay had anything to do with his problems, he notes that it would only have been on a subconscious level. “I’ve never unpacked that. I’ve kind of always been myself. I never had a ‘coming out.’”
“I would like to be an [advocate for that] young person who is in trouble. That seems to be in line with how I want to help and advocate for the community.”
Wild’s criminal record was expunged after he successfully completed his probation, so he has put that episode behind him while expressing gratitude for the outcome. His community-service assignment turned out to be at the Special Pals animal shelter, where he took care of homeless pets and cleaned their cages. He enjoyed the time there so much that he continued volunteering after completing his court-ordered service. “I was lucky that it was not hard labor,” he notes. “It was nice.”
After the court granted Wild an early release from probation for “doing everything by the book,” he came to realize that an education was essential to his ongoing plans for self-improvement. He enrolled at Lone Star College-Cy Fair to earn his GED, and a professor there urged him to complete an associate’s degree with an emphasis on criminal justice and philosophy. “I had a slow start,” he notes. “I had no idea what I was doing. In hindsight, it looks like it was a good decision for me.”
He went on to UHD after community college and became involved in the school’s Center for Community Engagement & Service Learning (CCESL) before his graduation last month. In the CCESL program, Wild volunteered with animal shelters, elementary schools, and local organizations, earning a grant to continue his work. He also served as president of Texas Rising’s UHD chapter. That volunteer organization of young people engages in community organizing, election politics, and policy advocacy. He recently testified against the anti-trans bills at the Texas Capitol, and he has also researched the rise in violence against transgender people and the controversial “gay panic” defense that attorneys often invoke to excuse their clients’ violence against LGBTQ victims.
Through the UHD honors program, Wild helped to build a closer relationship between City government and the LGBTQ community. He was recently nominated to Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, and he will begin his board service this summer.
Wild has earned the respect of UHD officials and other students, according to Caroline Smith, associate director of CCESL. “He is a success story for himself, and a great inspiration to others. He’s got the heart, the soul, and the drive.”
Wild has lived at home throughout his college years, so law school would be his first time living on his own. He is single, but that could change now that his graduation has taken a big weight off of his shoulders. “I wouldn’t shun the idea. You never know. I have some free time coming.”
Wild’s immediate plans are to continue with his job at Amazon while he applies to law schools and prepares for the LSAT exam, with the goal of enrolling in the fall of 2022. He has an eye on nine schools, including the University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University, South Texas College of Law, and a few out-of-state schools.
After graduation from law school, Wild wants to work in civil-rights law with an emphasis on the LGBTQ community. “I would like to be an [advocate for that] young person who is in trouble. That seems to be in line with how I want to help and advocate for the community.”
This article appears in the June 2021 edition of OutSmart Magazine.