With over 12 years of experience working at the University of Houston (UH) and volunteering in the local LGBTQ community, Kevin Nguyen is no stranger to being a supportive resource for the people around him. That experience—both in and outside of higher education—led him to become the new director of the UH LGBTQ Resource Center.
“I’ve volunteered for local LGBTQ organizations and advised University of Houston students for several years now,” Nguyen, 37, says. “In this new role, I hope I can become a bridge between these two communities.”
Originally from Houston, Nguyen, a gender-nonconforming person who uses he/they pronouns, admits he didn’t plan on staying in the city for the long term. “I went to graduate school in California, and within that time I saw Houston evolve. The LGBTQ community has made great strides in making the city more welcoming, eclectic, and diverse, thanks to the efforts of activists like Monica Roberts, Mayor Annise Parker, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Montrose Center, and so many others that inspired me to join these initiatives while being myself.”
After returning to Houston in 2010, he served on the boards of Bunnies on the Bayou and UH’s LGBTQ Alumni Association, as well as Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board and the Pride Houston VIP committee. He also volunteered with the Victory Fund, the Diana Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Montrose Center, among others. His efforts were recognized by the local LGBTQ community when Pride Houston 365 named him their Gender Non-Binary/Non-Conforming Grand Marshal in 2021.
Nguyen, who is Vietnamese American, is the UH LGBTQ Resource Center’s first Asian director. Though he previously worked with UH students as an academic advisor, he is excited about the opportunity to support students in a more personal way.
“I want to focus on underrepresented student populations that intersect with LGBTQ identities and cultivate safe spaces for them to be themselves,” Nguyen says. “We’ve received feedback that some students of color feel like they cannot utilize our Center, and I want to change that. Logistically we have to reach as many students as possible, but not everything is a numbers game—we need to address the needs of each of these intersecting student populations.”
Founded in 2010, the mission of UH’s LGBTQ Resource Center is to empower students through several program initiatives and spaces to develop their authentic selves through engagement with each other and their local communities. The Center has made strides in changing the sociopolitical landscape at UH by providing scholarships, spaces for free speech and protest, peer-initiated “rainbow chats,” collaborative leadership programs, Cougar
ally training sessions, and campus-wide initiatives to provide more resources for its gender-diverse student population, such as installing single-stall restrooms and facilitating gender-inclusive housing.
The Center’s new director plans to expand on its success in promoting further visibility and collaboration between students, faculty, and the larger Houston community. “We want everyone to have a [physical and virtual] space at the Center and be represented and catered to equally,” Nguyen says. “I want a student to get the information they need without ever having to step foot in the building.”
Nguyen envisions several ways to implement these initiatives. He wants to train a liaison at the campus Writing Center who will help LGBTQ students apply for scholarships. He also hopes that a partnership with the Montrose Center will provide students with more resources and volunteer opportunities, and that by transforming the relationship between faculty and students, UH can provide more far-reaching support systems in disciplines that have historically been less accessible to LGBTQ communities.
“This has been a dream job of mine for over a decade now,” Nguyen notes. “I had seen LGBTQ resource centers during graduate school in California, but in Texas they weren’t as commonplace back then.”
Prior to his time in California, Nguyen attended Baylor University, which is known for its anti-LGBTQ policies. Being raised Catholic, Nguyen was aware that a few of his peers would stop supporting him after coming out. What he did not expect was the support he received from peers he considered to be the most religious.
“Some friends did disown me after I came out,” Nguyen says. “On the other side of that, I also had true acceptance from folks you wouldn’t expect, and that was encouraging to see because it meant they were being more inclusive in the practice of their faith. We talk about loving your neighbor, and that means loving your trans neighbor, your Black neighbor, and your disabled neighbor.”
Nguyen’s experiences with acceptance from both the religious and LGBTQ communities has inspired him to live in his own truth, which includes rocking a pair of heels whenever he can. “I like to wear clothing that’s not always male-centric.
I think there’s cultural aspects of male and female expectations that can be a little convoluted with Western ideals,” Nguyen says.
In his new role, Nguyen hopes to not only meet students where they are with their needs, but to empower them in changing the foundations of their future.
“I always try to give my students a geometry lesson: if you cut enough corners, do you know what you get?” Nguyen inquires. “A circle. There’s only so many corners you can cut before you end up right back where you started.”
For more on the UH LGBTQ Resource Center, visit uh.edu/lgbtq and follow them at @UHLGBTQ on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This article appears in the August 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.