Bryan Hlavinka, a ‘Queer Voice’ keeping the community informed.
by Brandon Wolf
“There were three big flags,” smiles Bryan Hlavinka. “I didn’t date girls, I was in the high school marching band, and I loved being in school plays . . . but I still didn’t accept that I was gay.”
Now in his late 30s, Hlavinka can laugh as he reflects back on life in high school. He has become so comfortable with his sexual orientation that he has been honored for his community activism by Houston’s LGBT community, and was elected to serve as the Male Grand Marshal for the 2011 Pride Parade.
A Native Texan
Bryan Hlavinka was born in 1974 in Freeport, Texas, where his father worked for Dow Chemical Company. He and his brother grew up in Brazoria, and in high school he took as many honors classes as possible. “I wanted to be a chemical engineer, so I knew I had to stand out in order to get into college.” And along the way, he played the trombone in the school’s marching band and was a cast member in school plays.
“I fell in love with the theater,” he says, “and I was also very competitive. I entered projects in local science fairs. I once conducted a fermentation project that produced an all-natural insecticide based on oil.”
Upon graduation from his “redneck” high school, his hard work and diligence paid off and he was accepted at both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.
His mother convinced him to choose A&M. “I think she thought A&M would make me a man,” he says with a smile. “For an engineering career, it was indeed the better choice—I had more chances to network and the courses were more in-depth.”
After college, Hlavinka went to work for a chemical oilfield manufacturer in Sugarland. He’s remained in the oil industry throughout his adult life and is currently a consultant for a firm in the Greenspoint area.
“I specialize in floating production, storage, and offloading,” he says. “I work with oil tankers that have been converted into offshore oil refining plants. I love being able to travel—recently I’ve been to Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan.”
Coming Out in ‘Closet Station’
During his senior year in high school, Hlavinka says his mother asked him if he was gay. “We had gone to the Kettle Restaurant in Lake Jackson for dinner. I told her ‘no,’ because I wasn’t even out to myself yet.
“I was gay when I was in kindergarten,” Hlavinka admits, “but I kept thinking the right girl would come along and
I’d get married. However, I felt very isolated, and I finally realized there wasn’t a ‘right girl.’
“So I finally went to Club 202, the only gay bar in College Station,” he recalls. “I had thought I was the only gay person at A&M. Boy, was I wrong! There was a sea of gay men at A&M. We nicknamed the town ‘Closet Station.’”
During the rest of his stay at A&M, Hlavinka spent every weekend visiting gay bars in larger cities. “I alternated between Austin, Houston, and Dallas,” he says, “and got to know a lot of wonderful people.”
The Activist Emerges
Hlavinka finally decided to make Houston his permanent home several years ago. After coming out of the closet, he became more outgoing. Today he serves on the board of the Center for AIDS and on the national board of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, whose mission is to increase the number of openly-LGBT leaders at all levels of government.
But it is in his role as a co-host of KPFT’s weekly Queer Voices show that he is best known in Houston’s LGBT community. “Three years ago I was invited to the show to talk about the Jungle Party, a fundraiser staged by the Bayou City Boys Club.” That visit, and his love of theater, led him to become a regular co-host on the radio show.
Queer Voices is one of two weekly KPFT news programs that highlight Houston’s LGBT community.Hlavinka works with host Jack Valinski to put together stories for the show. “I’m always looking for stories, but now people have begun calling me out of the blue.”
The shows are planned weeks in advance, but if a big story comes along, it is pushed to the front. “We were able to get news out quickly about the recent Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition Town Hall—and also about Proposition 8 rallies. The most exciting show was the night Annise Parker visited us and announced her candidacy for mayor of Houston,” Hlavinka says.
He later worked on the finance committee for the Parker campaign. “Because of my involvement, I was invited into the VIP area the night of the victory party. When news came that Annise had won, she reached over and squeezed the hand of her partner, Kathy Hubbard. I burst into tears—it was a vision come true that night.”
Working with the Victory Fund has brought Hlavinka into contact with many other high-visibility gay personalities. “We had a sold-out audience come to hear Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped save Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s life after she was wounded in Tucson by a rampaging gunman during an outdoor event.”
Recently the Victory Fund hosted a party for Fort Worth councilmember Joel Burns, whose impassioned anti-bullying plea during a city council meeting went viral across the Internet. “I knew him from a phone interview on Queer Voices after the Fort Worth Rainbow Lounge raid, but finally I got to meet him in person.”
Hlavinka feels that marriage equality is the most important LGBT issue today, but he also has concerns about bullying and HIV prevention. “We need legislation that places emphasis on protecting gay students. We need to go after the bullies and protect the victims.”
Hlavinka remembers hearing about AIDS while in the first grade, and thinking that he would one day die from it. “If I’d been born 10 years earlier, I wouldn’t be here today,” he says. “I worry about today’s apathetic attitude toward safe sex. There could be a drug-resistant strain of the virus that will yet emerge. The younger generation has little knowledge of what the 1980s and 1990s were like.”
Romance and Marriage
The most important person in Hlavinka’s life is his partner of six years, David Theisen. “He helps keep me focused and grounded. He gives me a home base. I call him ‘my Kathy Hubbard.’”
Hlavinka says that he met Theisen at Meteor Bar. “I was staring at him and couldn’t believe how good-looking he was.” Two months later he saw Theisen again, this time at South Beach, and summoned up the courage to introduce himself.
“We want to get married,” Hlavinka says. “Texas will always be our home, and we want to get married in our home state. It’s what we’re fighting for—it’s about equal rights.” He is optimistic about the issue and believes marriage equality will come to Texas within the current decade.
Hlavinka will ride in the Male Marshal’s convertible at the 2011 Pride Parade, and though his partner is a very private person, he will join Hlavinka on the back of the car. Hlavinka says that the night he was named Male Marshal was “a surreal blur. It’s the highest honor in our community, and it’s inspired me to do even more.”
Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.