Each year, the local queer community selects Pride Houston grand marshals to recognize the city’s top LGBTQ activists. It is among the highest honors to be named a grand marshal, and traditionally, those who are chosen also perform ceremonial duties and serve as community ambassadors throughout the year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pride Houston canceled its 2021 grand-marshals reception. However, these folks are still worth celebrating, especially in advance of the organization’s LGBTQ+ Fall Festival Montrose Block Party on October 9.
To mark the event, OutSmart sat down with Pride Houston’s 2021 grand marshals—Melanie Pang, Jacques M. Bourgeois, Kevin Nguyen, and City Council Member Abbie Kamin. Read on to learn more about what Pride means to these LGBTQ and ally leaders.
Female-Identifying Grand Marshal
Melanie Pang, 34
“For me, Pride is about the ever-growing, ever-enduring love we have for ourselves and each other. The celebration is so special to me because it’s a reflection of our journey. It makes us pause to take note of how far we’ve come and how much further we need to go.” —Melanie Pang
Melanie Pang’s road to LGBTQ activism began at the University of Houston (UH), where she served as president of the student LGBTQ group GLOBAL for two years. With the help of mentors and peers, she grew GLOBAL’s membership to over 100 students, who then advocated for more inclusive university policies such as a student activities office space. By 2010, Pang graduated and became one of the first two students to minor in what was then called GLBT studies at UH.
After receiving her master’s degree in social work from the UH Graduate College of Social Work (UH GCSW), she returned to UH to teach as an adjunct professor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She continued her advocacy and volunteering work, meeting with elected officials and testifying at Houston’s City Hall in 2015 to rally the community and help pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
Over the years, Pang has grown to understand the intersectional nature of LGBTQ rights. She has gone to City Hall to demand the removal of Confederate statues, fought harmful policies affecting those experiencing homelessness, testified in State committee hearings to protect the rights and bodily autonomy of transgender people, and taken to the streets to protest police brutality, stop anti-Asian hate, and advocate for the rights of those who are undocumented.
In 2016, Pang was appointed as a founding co-chair of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, helping establish the City of Houston’s first official LGBTQ advisory group. This fall, Pang will return to her alma mater, UH GCSW, as a clinical assistant professor and field-education faculty member.
“When I was younger, I used to believe that being a queer Asian American person would make me feel like an outcast for the rest of my life, but in the struggle for acknowledgment and respect, these identities have ultimately brought my life more connections and love than I ever would have thought possible. I’ve sought to share that love that I’ve received—in words, in actions, in service—and this honor helps me know that my community has felt the fruits of all that labor. I’m forever grateful, and I feel even more honored knowing that Kevin Nguyen and I are the first Asian American recipients of this honor, in our categories, in Houston history! To watch what has been happening at a political level over the last five years, and then to see so much love and support at a local level, helps me to continue the fight. Thank you, Houston!”
Male-Identifying Grand Marshal
Jacques Bourgeois, 37
“Pride is a beacon for our community. It should be the most welcoming, transparent, and the safest space to be empowered, to express yourself, free and natural as air itself, be brave as a bear to protect our rights as individuals, or the confidence to crawl out of your closet as you learn to celebrate and express your most authentic self.” —Jacques M. Bourgeois
Jacques M. Bourgeois says that he’s always been philanthropically oriented—a value his parents instilled in him during the annual Juneteenth celebrations at Bates Park in Angleton, Texas, where they worked with AWW, a local black-led nonprofit. He was born on June 18, the day before Juneteenth, so he associates nonprofit work with his birthday celebrations.
Bourgeois’ first brush with activism started with the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), working alongside legends and friends like “Dee Dee Watters, Brandon Mack, Ashton Woods, Synthia Walton, Mike Webb, Fran Watson, and our unapologetic matriarch Monica Roberts.” He had great mentors and takes everything he’s learned and unapologetically applies the lessons from his involvement with Bunnies on the Bayou, Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, and soon, Out Professionals Houston, an event designed to help those in the LGBTQ community network and make professional connections. Bourgeois wants to see a new equal-rights ordinance put in place in Houston and become the basis for future legislation in Texas and across the country. He also wants to stop and see the end of human trafficking in the trans community and the extremely high murder rates of “our Black trans sisters, because #BLACKTRANSLIVESMATTER.”
Bourgeois says bringing people together is who he is at his core. While he has been nominated as Pride Houston’s 2021 Male-Identifying Grand Marshal, his commitment to community is also why he has grievances with the nonprofit. “I’ve never been one to mince words, and being grand marshal means I need to continue to stand in my truth and call things out when they’re not right. Houston Pride, you still have a problem,” he says. “The vitriol and toxicity from the leadership needs to cease, because bridges cannot be built while they are burning.”
He says the only way to restore community confidence in Pride Houston, a “hallowed institution,” is through the establishment of a temporary three-party independent community-oversight committee until the organization is stable, transparent, and what the community, the city of Houston and beyond deserves.
“All of that takes work—sometimes just a little and sometimes a lot—but I’m not afraid to put in the work where I can,” he says. “I want to call on the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond to come and help where you can, too, because we are stronger together when we are united.”
Gender Non-Binary/Non-Conforming Grand Marshal
Kevin Nguyen, 36
“As a younger queer person, Pride to me was about rainbow everything—parades, and some frivolous fun with other fabulous folks. As I get older and more involved in the community by volunteering for organizations, Pride to me is now about unifying every color of the rainbow for a common goal of acceptance, being unapologetically authentic, and validating/valuing every aspect of a person’s identity and journey. When one realizes that they are, in fact, LGBTQ or anywhere else on the spectrum, they often find themselves amidst fear, anger, loneliness, self-hatred, doubt, and most of all, in what can only be described as the pit of misunderstanding.” —Kevin Nguyen
Nguyen is a first-generation, Texas-born, gay Vietnamese American who has lived in Texas, New Jersey, California, and Thailand. All of that moving came with challenges, but it also let them interact with a variety of community groups that had different lived experiences and personal identities. These moments gave them the opportunity to mature, empathize, and learn self-love and respect for others.
Nguyen has hosted for Bunnies on the Bayou, Inc. for the last four years. They’re in their fifth year of serving as a board member. They are also a member of Mayor Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board and a group called OutChristian, an LGBTQ-friendly nonprofit founded to “explore the interconnection of LGBTQ life and the Christian faith,” according to its website. Nguyen has served as a co-chair for Pride Houston in the past, and has enjoyed helping out as a volunteer at events like the Victory Fund’s brunch, the Houston Human Rights Campaign’s gala, and anything (time willing) in support of the Montrose Center.
“I have been fortunate to have a lot of amazingly interesting individuals throughout my life that have inspired me, influenced me, and, most importantly, included me. My younger self would not have imagined becoming a Pride grand marshal, and I am in awe and admiration of those that voted for me. Now, I hope that I can be an edifying example of compassion, courage, and celebration of intersectional equity and belonging for others.”
Ally Grand Marshal
Abbie Kamin, 34
“Pride is a celebration of love and recognizing the struggle for inclusion and equity for the LGBTQ+ community. I can still remember my first Pride parade when I was a little girl, and the joy and self-expression of everyone around me. I still get an overwhelming sense of happiness when I think about that day—it was an unbridled honoring of each other as perfect and whole as we are. I cannot wait for my own son to learn about Pride and recognize, each year, the barriers that continue to be broken down.” —Abbie Kamin
A civil-rights attorney, Abbie Kamin is focused on voting rights, including drawing attention to the discriminatory Texas voters photo ID law that the trans community faces. When she served as committee director and clerk for the Texas House Human Services Committee, she fought anti-LGBTQ bills, including one that permitted foster-care providers to discriminate against LGBTQ partners and their families. She continues to join countless others in speaking out against the state’s outrageous attacks on trans children and their families.
Since her first term on Houston City Council in 2020, Kamin has fought for the LGBTQ community. She pushed for the inclusion of LGBTQ experts in examining the diversity of Houston’s arts acquisitions, she nominated LGBTQ advocates and community leaders to City boards and commissions, and she supported the Greater Houston LGBTQ Chamber’s efforts to make Houston the first city in Texas to recognize LGBTQ-owned businesses in Minority & Women-Owned Business Enterprises programs. Her office proudly partners with our district organizations, including the Montrose Center, Legacy Community Health, and PRIDE Pantry.
“Simply being nominated as an ally grand marshal alongside so many incredible community leaders and activists is an absolute honor. There should never be a need to honor allies. Everyone should be one. Period. My hope is that there will be a day when that is a reality. Until then, it’s a privilege to be recognized by friends, family, and the community, with this extraordinary honor. I hope to use this as an opportunity to bring even more people together, embracing intersectionality and one another as we push equality forward.
“My commitment is to be a steadfast ally in all that I do. Whether it’s small things like ensuring that COVID vaccine forms are gender- and nonbinary-inclusive at the City, or larger efforts like responding to hate crimes in our region or fostering community partnerships. It’s imperative to use what platforms we have to drive social justice.”
“There is always more work to be done, and my hope is that we can tackle a local ban on conversion therapy and push for HERO 2.0,” Kamin says.
For more information on Pride Houston, visit pridehouston.org.