Out Professionals was founded in 1983 as a place for LGBTQ professionals to meet and advance their careers,” says national board President Charlie Conard. “Early on, membership was driven by word-of-mouth invitation. Since it was not uncommon for people to be fired if they were outed, meetings were private, almost secretive, and photography was forbidden. Accordingly, the original name of Out Professionals was the somewhat “closeted” NYACN—the New York Advertising and Communications Network, which privately catered to LGBTQ people in advertising, marketing, and communications.
“In 1999, the board decided to ‘christen’ the organization with the new name Out Professionals to cast a wider net to other professions.”
Since those early days in New York City, Out Professionals has grown to include thousands of members, and this year the nonprofit is launching chapters in Los Angeles and right here in Houston.
“Houston is forecasted to soon replace Chicago as the third-largest city in the U.S. behind New York City and Los Angeles,” Conard says. “It made perfect sense to expand our Out Pro networking opportunities to the second-largest city, Los Angeles, in January 2020 and Houston in April 2020. Serving the local LGBTQ communities in the three biggest markets, from the East to the West to the Gulf coasts, sets the stage for future expansion, innovation, and coast-to-coast networking.
“We are also fortunate that Out Pro board member Pete Beausoleil has relocated back to Houston. While we were sad to see him leave, he is the perfect leader to help launch the Houston chapter because he understands the Bayou City and has strong local connections.” Beausoleil is CEO of a healthcare company and is very excited to help launch the Houston chapter with a meetup called Out Pro Lounge-Houston, to be held on Wednesday, April 8, at the Belvedere Lounge in Uptown Park. Admission, which is normally $10, is free with advance registration before March 20. A generous anonymous donor has stepped up to help the group get started in Houston. Annual dues are $65 a year and include free access to monthly mixers.
“Our New York meetup group mushroomed to almost 200 members in a flash,” says Beausoleil, “which suggests Houston’s LGBTQ professionals [would also welcome] a sophisticated and innovative networking forum on a regular basis.”
One of Beausoleil’s first Houston recruits for Out Pro was Jacques Bourgeois, a business development specialist who, along with Eric Hulsey, helped start Houston Gaymers and is on the board of Bunnies on the Bayou.
“Pete approached me about this in December,” he says. “This will be a chapter of the national group, but some of our focus will be a little different than New York’s. This won’t just be monthly cocktail parties. I want to focus on pushing legislation to protect LGBTQ workers’ rights. Texas is still a right-to-work state, and that means workers can be fired if they are out. And, we want to expand networking to all of the community, from oil and gas workers to artists and healthcare workers. We’ll also provide continuing-education classes.”
Here’s what you can expect at the April 8 mixer: when someone arrives at an Out Pro Lounge Networking Mixer, they receive a customizable name badge, color-coded for their industry. There is an extended rainbow of 15 colors that represent the major industries.
Attendees also have the opportunity to add an “Actively Hiring” or “Active Job Seeker” sticker to their name badge. These stickers help them stand out as having an immediate need.
“Out Professionals provides focused networking events for both established and aspiring LGBTQ professionals who work in corporate environments, which is approximately 87.6 percent of LGBTQ professionals (according to Community Marketing Insights & Research, 2018),” says Conard.
For more information about Out Professionals, visit outprofessionals.org/houston.
This article appears in the March 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.