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Bunnies on the Bayou: Houston’s Premier LGBTQ Fundraiser Turns 45 with More Big Plans Ahead

Bunnies on the Bayou president Jacques Bourgeois discusses the organization’s plans to shift their focus.

Jacques Bourgeois (Photography by Alex Rosa)

Spring has sprung and Houston’s bunnies are ready to come out to play! Bunnies on the Bayou, Inc., the local organization that hosts an annual Easter Sunday fundraiser of the same name, proudly marks their 45th anniversary this year. Jacques Bourgeois, president of the board of directors, assures that plenty of fun and exciting entertainment is in store at this year’s event. The community leader notes that he and his team will be hard at work advancing the philanthropic organization’s footprint in the LGBTQ community throughout their Sapphire Year. And they have big plans for the future.

Bunnies on the Bayou is the largest LGBTQ fundraising festival in Texas. To date, the organization has provided more than $2 million to over 150 local nonprofits that have empowered and positively impacted the LGBTQ community since 2000. Beneficiaries throughout the years have included organizations that focus on underrepresented members of the community, trans individuals, unhoused individuals, the food-insecure, people with disabilities, and others in the Greater Houston area.

Bourgeois explains that although Bunnies on the Bayou is now synonymous with its annual fundraising event, the origins of the organization are important to remember. “The organization started as the ‘Bunny Fuck Party,’ or the BFP,” he says. “It’s relevant to recognize that, because we are sex-positive. Instead of shying away from topics like HIV and AIDS, we talk about it. That’s our history, and you can’t remake that.”

The Bunnies on the Bayou board of directors

The organization’s inception was rooted in fun, but it evolved to support the community at large. “With the advent of the AIDS epidemic in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Bunnies grew into an Easter Sunday food pantry,” Bourgeois explains. “In the early ‘90s, we grew into the Bunnies event you see today. We started hosting our festival at Wortham Theater Center’s Fish Plaza, and we were eventually established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.”

Over the years, the organization has grown in size and in the level of financial support they are able to offer community organizations. “We’ve grown from giving away $20,000 to $30,000 to local LGBTQIA nonprofits, to where we gave away $210,000 to 15 different LGBTQIA nonprofits in 2022 and $200,000 to 20 different nonprofits in 2023,” Bourgeois proudly notes. “This makes Bunnies on the Bayou one of the most philanthropic LGBTQIA organizations in the nation, just by the sheer [dollar amount] that we give away in one day to one specific community.”

Bourgeois, a Black leader in the community, explains that his initial perception of Bunnies on the Bayou was that it was for a particular subset of the queer community that didn’t include him. As the board of directors and the festival evolved through the years, he was pleased to see it become a true representation of the LGBTQ community. “Bunnies is a Pride festival in its own right,” he says. “We’ve grown organically as an organization because leadership has started to reflect more of our community as a whole. Our leadership looks exactly how our city looks. I have a board of nine members, and it is mostly female led.”

 
Jacques Bourgeois (Photography by Alex Rosa)

The charismatic board president reflects on the diversity of the event’s attendees, as well as the range of causes that are supported annually by Bunnies on the Bayou. “Now I feel like I can be a part of this, which for me is amazing. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I could be part of it.”

Bunnies on the Bayou 2024 will encompass the largest footprint in the event’s history (an increase of 67 percent over last year’s fundraiser) and will benefit 12 organizations—down from the typical 20. “We reduced our number of beneficiaries significantly, so we can invest back into the community ourselves and actually execute service-based projects,” Bourgeois explains.

DJ Marti Frieson, Grammy Award-winning artist Tracy Young, and emcee Blackberri, the Bearded Queen of Houston, will all be there to get the party started and keep it going throughout the afternoon.

During this pivotal year for the organization, Bourgeois and his team are already planning for the future as they react to the political climate in our state. With DEI and LGBTQ resource centers being outlawed in educational institutions and beyond, Bunnies on the Bayou is shifting to be more proactive in the community.

“We’ve been shifting the focus from just being a great party to getting people to understand that we’re here supporting communities.” —Jacques Bourgeois

“These laws affect our community as a whole,” Bourgeois emphasizes. “My board recognized that we need to not just focus on writing checks while being hands-off. We’ve come to the decision that that’s no longer something we can do. We have a five-year plan to build and establish our own community LGBTQIA Resource Center. Despite these laws being passed, services still need to happen. They’re not happening in kindergarten through 12th grade or in higher education, so it falls back on us as a community. We want to establish our own community resource center. Being a hub where everybody comes to us, we will utilize our extensive knowledge of how to run these programs, because we don’t fund anything that we don’t know how to do ourselves. A lot of what we’ve been doing these past few years is really shifting the focus from just being a great party to getting people to understand that we’re here supporting communities. That’s the root of what we do. We’ve always been here, we’re always going to be here, and we’re always going to be giving the most money.”

Bourgeois knows his days as the leader of Bunnies on the Bayou will ultimately come to an end, so he is determined to make an impact, alongside his team, while serving as president. “This is the way nonprofits need to be run,” he says. “Bunnies was set up with such care for the future and with regard to the past and the people who came before us. I’m not here to stay forever. I’m here to plant seeds for the next generation and for the future.”


WHAT: Bunnies on the Bayou 45
WHEN: March 31, 2024
WHERE: Sesquicentennial Park
INFO: bunniesonthebayou.org

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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