Pride has a very special place in his heart.
By Brandon Wolf
His first visit to a gay bar wasn’t an epiphany for Brad Odom-Harris. Born post-Stonewall, he’s always known a world in which gays were visible. He lived in the Museum District for a while, and often went to Rich’s Disco on “straight night,” so clubbing with gay men wasn’t anything unusual.
But his first Houston Pride Parade in 1996 was a defining moment. “I’d never seen tens of thousands of gay people together in one place at one time. It changed my whole perception of being a gay man,” he says.
Growing Up in Richmond, Texas
Odom-Harris was born in Hermann Hospital in April 1973, and except for a few years in other cities, Houston has always been his home. His family lived in the Sugar Land area at the time of his birth, but moved to a 14-acre tract of land in Richmond when he was in the third grade. The land had a big house and a lot of pecan trees.
Middle school was an awkward period for Odom-Harris. While most of his schoolmates lived in the suburbs and could mingle outside of school hours, he was a “country kid” who was bullied for being different. That ended when he started fighting back. “But that really was not the best solution,” he admits.
Odom-Harris describes himself as a bit of a nerd in those days, and he hung out with just a few friends. He was smart and popular, but still didn’t sit at “the cool table.” “I saw other kids get called names and beat up, so I kept my feelings hidden.”
Being gay was simply not an option for him. “It was a dark and bad side of me,” he says, looking back. “There was a long spell I went through where I was deeply depressed and suicidal.”
Fortunately, when he was 12, his family started to attend the socially progressive Unity Church in Houston, and the depression lifted. “I became part of a youth group that was inclusive and loving of all people—more than just [with] words, but also in practice.”
In high school, Odom-Harris joined the school band. He wasn’t fond of the marching band, but it was required if he was to perform with the concert band, where he could indulge his real passion for playing a drum set. He also began to learn how to DJ.
Odom-Harris played basketball for two years before the coach took him aside and said, “Next year there won’t be a B-team.” That precipitated his switch to the swim team. During his junior and senior years, he earned medals at both the regional and state levels of competition before graduating in 1991.
On to College
Odom-Harris spent the next two years studying marine science at Texas A&M-Galveston. During his time in Galveston, he volunteered as a docent at Moody Gardens. In 1992 he was chosen to lead a 20-minute tour of the facilities for Robert Kennedy Jr., who was there to receive an environmental award.
“Just being a few feet from a Kennedy was quite awesome,” Odom-Harris says. He remembers that Kennedy took a special interest in the blind batfish that use sonar to swim.
Realizing there was more to becoming another Jacques Cousteau than he had imagined, Odom-Harris transferred to the University of Houston (UH) in 1993 to major in communications. His coursework included extensive training in video production. He also began working part-time as a marketing assistant at his father’s software company, Symon Communications. The company produced call-center management software that was becoming an industry standard used by such corporate giants as Discover and American Express.
1996—A Very Busy Year
Besides graduating from UH in 1996, the year was also memorable for Odom-Harris because he had finally accepted his sexual orientation earlier in the year.
He came out to his parents, and found them to be very supportive. “I wanted to be something for them that I wasn’t, and I feared rejection. I am fortunate that they are [among] the good ones, full of love and support. It felt good to no longer be hiding or parsing my pronouns when talking about relationships.”
In June of that year, Odom-Harris attended his first Pride parade. He was overwhelmed. “When I arrived at the parade, I was flooded by the undeniable fact that I was not alone. I finally realized that I was part of a community.”
The next month, Odom-Harris traveled to Atlanta and stayed with a friend to volunteer for the Summer Olympics. He worked with transportation for the media, getting members of the press to the right location at the right time.
Odom-Harris then began working for his father as a systems analyst. The job took him to Dallas, and for the first time he lived openly as a gay man. “It was wonderfully liberating,” he says.
Odom-Harris continued to work for Symon Communications through 2005. After a year as a systems analyst, he began doing marketing work that built the business with record sales. Utilizing video production skills he had learned in college, he produced training videos for the company’s staff, which resulted in substantial savings over instructor-led classes.
Following the installation of the Symon software at one company, Odom-Harris remembers sitting down with the supervisor of a company that had just installed Symon software. to show her incoming calls statistics on her computer monitor, including those in queue. “They are in queue right now?” she exclaimed and dashed out of her office. When she returned, she said, “My agents already knew.” Prior to the Symon software, she had to personally alert her employees about the workflow status, but now they could see the details of incoming calls at their workstations.
Sadly, Odom-Harris lost his father to leukemia in 2002. At his father’s memorial service at Unity Church, he talked about his high-school days when his father would tow a catamaran trailer to church on Sundays, parking it in the church’s lot so the family could go sailing in the afternoon. After the funeral, Rev. Howard Ceasar said to him, “I always wondered who was having fun on the water after church, while I had to spend the afternoon indoors in my office!”
Venturing Outside the Box
By 2005, Odom-Harris and his brother had decided to sell their father’s company and open a wine bar. Salud! Winery and Bistro opened the next year in the 3939 Montrose Boulevard shopping strip. The interior was remodeled to look like a small Italian street exterior, with the bar and winery as two street-level businesses and the main dining area under 25-foot ceilings painted black.
Salud! became a unique corporate “team building” venue. Many of their clients were among the leading companies in Houston’s business community.
In 2005, Odom-Harris also joined the board of Pride Houston. Years earlier, in 1999, he had been asked by his friend and then-Pride president, Nick Brines, to join the new Friends of Pride group. He did join and had remained a member over the years. Now he was given the opportunity to further that initiative and to develop community events.
In 2006, 10 years after attending his first Pride parade, Odom-Harris met attorney David Harris at a Pride event. They started dating and fell in love, and the following year they moved in together as a couple.
After two years on the board, Odom-Harris was elected president of Pride Houston. In that role, he oversaw the 2008 and 2009 celebrations. One of his proudest accomplishments was the decision to make the Pride Festival free. The attendance jumped from the usual 5,000 people to over 50,000 in the first year.
Under his leadership, fencing was extended along the entire parade route to improve spectator and participant safety. Also, the letters “GLBT” were removed from the official name of the organization. “It is my sincere belief that, in relation to a day meant to celebrate our community’s strength and unity, letters which define us as different from each other and divide us into groups have no place,” Odom-Harris explains. “I believe that Pride is about celebrating our one beautiful and vibrant community.”
In 2008, Salud! was voted Best Wine Bar in OutSmart’s Gayest & Greatest awards, and Odom-Harris was the runner-up to Charles Armstrong as Favorite Male Business Owner.
Unfortunately, in 2009 the business closed as a result of Hurricane Ike and the severe national economic downturn. Team-building experiences were among the first things to be struck from corporate budgets.
A New Career and a Wedding
After the demise of Salud!, Odom-Harris joined Primas, a call center software firm, as director of sales. In 2011, he moved to CXM, also a call-center software firm, for a similar position that he currently holds. CXM ended 2015 with their highest sales in five years.
In 2011, Odom-Harris and his partner traveled to New York to get married. “It seemed like marriage equality would be a long time coming to Houston,” he says. They were married on 11/11/11, a date the couple liked because of the folk saying, “It’s 11:11. Make a wish.”
The men decided to take the same last name, Odom-Harris. “Deciding which name came first was easy,” Odom-Harris says with a slightly wicked smile. “We considered the abbreviation and decided ‘OH’ was more acceptable than ‘HO.’”
Returning to Houston, the couple went to the Division of Motor Vehicles to change the names on their driver’s licenses, but the request was rejected. “We talked with the supervisor, and although she was warm and polite, she indicated that it was a matter of Texas state law.” They were left with no option but to go through the costly process of legally changing their names.
Giving Back to His Community
One would suspect after talking with Odom-Harris that he is an extrovert. “My Myers-Briggs Personality Test scored me at the top of that classification,” he confirms. This is fortunate for Houston’s LGBT community, because of the long list of volunteer efforts that Odom-Harris has involved himself in during the two decades since his coming out.
In addition to his involvement with Pride Houston, Odom-Harris has been (and is now) an active member of the Executive & Professional Association of Houston (EPAH) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Houston.
He has supported, with time or money, The Montrose Center, the Montrose Softball League, World AIDS Day, and the HERO campaign, to name just a few. He has used his DJ passion over the years to provide music and lighting for countless events, free of charge, saving organizations and political campaigns thousands of dollars in rental charges and service fees.
In 2010 Odom-Harris became aware of the crisis of LGBT youth homelessness in Houston. He helped open the Safe Affirming Family Environment (S.A.F.E.) Spot, a daily drop-in shelter for homeless teens. “On any given night, there are over 150 kids between the ages of 13 and 21 without a home, who self-identify as LGBT. Sixty percent of them were kicked out after coming out. These are good, smart, loving kids in bad situations,” he says.
Odom-Harris is currently focusing on implementing the HRC Foundation’s “Welcoming Schools” program, helping children feel more comfortable with being themselves—which leads to better student performance and reduced dropout rates.
Odom-Harris is humbled and grateful for his election as the 2016 Male Pride Marshal. This is a perfect year for him to receive that honor, because it marks the 20th anniversary of his first Pride parade—an event that is near and dear to his heart.
He is excited about riding down Bagby Street in a parade convertible in June with his husband, David Odom-Harris. During that ride, he will be thinking about his first parade two decades ago—and also about all the people who will remember 2016 as the year they first attended their first Pride parade.