Lambda NextGen Houston connects LGBT young professionals.
by Megan Smith
So, you’re fresh out of college. You’ve just moved to Houston to accept your first real “adult” job and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Soon, you’ll have a ton of new friends and be that in-the-know socialite you’ve always dreamed of being—right? Wrong. Let’s be honest—it’s tough to adjust to being a young LGBT in a brand-new city. In reality, your social life probably consists of binging on Netflix and going to the bars with your one gay friend, praying to be picked up by someone who isn’t a complete creep.
Luckily, there’s a better option—Lambda NextGen Houston, the city’s first and only organization for young LGBT and allied professionals.
During his time as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, Lambda NextGen founder Alan Prewitt was a self-described “quirky nerdy guy” who was “always involved on campus and in student life.” He came out as gay during his senior year of college, moved to Houston upon graduation, and now works in information technology for an oil and gas company. “So I stuck to my nerd roots,” Prewitt laughs.
But like many young professionals, Prewitt found it hard to meet others in Houston who were on his same level. His coworkers were significantly older, he didn’t enjoy the bar scene, and he didn’t know any other LGBT people in Houston. “When I came to Houston, I knew nothing about the gay community whatsoever,” he says. “I was completely sheltered. I realized quickly that I needed to make my own niche within Houston and figure out how to get involved in the community in my own way.”
After attending numerous young-professionals groups to meet others—including ones that were outside his profession—Prewitt began wondering why there wasn’t a similar group that was LGBT-specific. “I noticed there wasn’t anything for LGBT people, and I thought how odd that of all the young-professionals groups, you would think that [an LGBT group] would be one of the most prominent because it’s typically a very niche demographic,” he says. “A lot of LGBT young professionals are not out at work, so you would think that need would be there.” As he soon found out, others were wondering the same thing.
Prewitt sat on the idea for about a year before finally taking the advice of one of his college mentors—“If there’s not something that fits you, make it yourself.” Friends were assembled, a Facebook page was created, and Lambda NextGen Houston was born with the goal of having a monthly happy hour for LGBT and allied professionals age 22 to 35 to connect with one another. “Houston is a thriving young-professionals city,” Prewitt says. “They’re everywhere, but they’re not really readily visible. So [a group like this] really provides a bridge for people to meet others who are also in their 20s or 30s, who are new to Houston, new to their careers, maybe networking for new ones, or maybe coming out of school. It really helps them launch into who they are as young adults. It’s kind of a morphing time for everyone. They’re out of college and trying to figure out what their interests are, and they need a place that can help plug them into potential interests that they may not have known about.”
The group’s first happy hour was held in January 2013 at BlackFinn American Grille. About 35 people attended. “It was a good turnout for us,” Prewitt says. “We thought it might only be five. We had no idea what to expect.” He still recognizes some of the faces from those initial happy hours at the events held today—including that of Kyle Santolini, who now serves as the group’s cochair.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Houston, Santolini moved back to the city in 2012 and now works for John Daugherty Realtors. “After I kind of got acclimated here, I started reaching out, looking for extracurricular things other than work—which is how I found Lambda NextGen Houston,” he says. “The reason I kept coming back is that this is very different than going to a bar and talking to a lot of gay people. These are individuals who really want to meet like-minded people in the community and want to make change [happen].”
Lambda NextGen has grown exponentially since its 2013 beginnings and currently has almost 400 members. The group holds its happy hours on the last Tuesday of every month at different locations inside the loop. Past venues have included Under the Volcano, Rosemont Social Club, and Lowbrow. The events are typically not hosted at gay bars, Prewitt says, because the group wants to encourage its members to explore places in Houston that they may not usually frequent.
Don’t expect pressure to constantly network at these events either, Prewitt says. Although attendees are encouraged to bring business cards, the atmosphere is casual and more about connecting with others, having fun, and building a social foundation. “We have a really mixed bag,” Santolini says. “I come in a suit a lot, but the vast majority are very casual, and they’re all doing different things in their lives—professionally and outside of work as well.”
“You have people of all different races and orientations,” Prewitt adds. “There’s a good mix of men and women as well.”
As the number of members continues to increase, Prewitt is excited about the next phase of Lambda NextGen. The newly formed leadership committees and volunteers have made it possible for the group to expand beyond just the monthly happy hours. Lambda NextGen raised $1,300 for AIDS Walk Houston, had a table at the Human Rights Campaign’s Houston gala in April, and has held benefits for organizations like the Buffalo Bayou Partnership.
Santolini heads the group’s latest addition, a new series of events called “Dog Days,” a type of “dog happy hour” that is geared toward dog owners and lovers. These canine happy hours, the first of which was held in April at the Boneyard Dog Park and Drinkery, allow Lambda NextGen members who share a love for their animals to connect on a different level. They are held on the first Saturday of every month at various dog- and LGBT-friendly locations. “That’s a common ground that a lot of people don’t understand if they’re not a dog owner,” Santolini says. “They don’t understand the love we have for our animals. So I thought it would be fun to connect with people on that level within the group.”
The group is also hoping to add monthly events for members interested in the arts and intramural sports. “Happy hours aren’t always everyone’s thing,” Prewitt says. “If the happy hour is the only thing available in Houston, it’s going to get old and people are going to get burned out.”
Lambda NextGen Houston has no membership fees and does not require members to have a college degree to join. “As long as you come with an open mind and a common purpose, everyone’s happy,” Santolini says.
Lambda NextGen Houston’s May happy hour will be held at Proof Bar and Patio (2600 Travis) on May 27 at 6 p.m.
More info on Lambda NextGen Houston:
Facebook Group: facebook.com/groups/LambdaNextGenHouston
Facebook Page: facebook.com/LambdaNextGenHouston
E-mail: [email protected]