Trans VisibilityWomen in Power

Leading with Purpose: Avery Belyeu is the New CEO of the Montrose Center

Avery Belyeu, has joined the Montrose Center as its new CEO. Photos by Frank Xavier for OutSmart

Avery Belyeu, 38, has joined the Montrose Center as its new chief executive officer, following Ann Robison, who retired after serving in that role for 35 years. Belyeu brings with her a skill set developed over the course of an impressive career that has included years of LGBTQ-centered work. She also brings her perspective as a transgender and queer woman, whose total life experience gives her unique insight into the community served by the Montrose Center. As Belyeu assumes her new role, she intends to lead with not just her expertise, but also with her heart.

March 2024 cover

“I think all of us who work [at the Montrose Center] are here because we have a story that leads us here. This is a building full of helpers, and they are here because they have a story of their own, or they are inspired by the stories of the folks we serve. My story is that I was very much like a lot of the LGBTQ young people who come to our doors, in that I was raised by a very conservative family that didn’t accept who I was. I was marginalized from that family. I experienced homelessness and housing instability because of that. That has been the journey of a lot of my friends who were raised in small towns like I was raised in. That is something that I bring with me to my desk every day—both my expertise I have across this career that I have built, and also my heart from my own personal lived experience,” says Belyeu.

Avery Belyeu • Photos by Frank Xavier for OutSmart

A Career Leading to Texas
Belyeu is originally from North Florida. She describes where she grew up as “cattle ranches and tobacco farms” more than South Beach or Miami. Her family, she says, has been in that region since the late 1800s, but she now considers Texas home—the place where she has lived and worked the longest.

Her Texas journey began with Lambda Legal, a civil-rights organization focused primarily on LGBTQ rights. For four years, she was the regional director for the South Central Region, overseeing eight states. She left that position in 2022 to pursue a career as a private consultant before the opportunity at the Montrose Center came open.

“This is a building full of helpers who each have a story of their own. My story is that I was very much like a lot of the LGBTQ young people who come to our doors.” —Avery Belyeu

Belyeu says that leading an LGBTQ organization like the Montrose Center is a rare opportunity, and she considers it a dream job. “I just finished week one, and I still have so much to learn. But one thing I can say already is that I am blown away by the impact of the Montrose Center. From our counseling services to HIV testing, housing support, youth groups, and support for aging LGBT folks, the Center’s staff is working holistically to fulfill our mission of empowering our community—primarily LGBTQ individuals and their families—to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.”

Belyeu’s 14-year career as a nonprofit leader includes a stint as The Trevor Project’s education director, followed by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and The National Alliance, a federal program that gave Belyeu the opportunity to better understand how resources for issues like suicide prevention are funded, and how to ensure that LGBTQ and other marginalized voices are centered in that work.

As she embarks on this new role, Belyeu says her first point of order is to take time to listen to the community and also build bridges that will help people to listen to each other.

“One challenge I see for the Center is that, because our community is so diverse, many folks may have a hard time understanding each other in the moment. Whether the differences are across the lines of age and life experience, gender identity, sexual orientation, or the intersections of race, our community is a beautiful tapestry of diversity. I believe that is a huge part of our strength, and it also presents an opportunity for us to open our hearts and do some deep listening [that might] feel confusing or challenging.” she says.

An Intersectional Point of View
As someone who has experienced life from many different points of view, Belyeu’s perspective on the Montrose Center’s work is unique.

“Like all of us, my story is more complex than just the labels of being a ‘queer’ and ‘trans’ woman. I lived my twenties as a gay man in New York City and in Boston, where I started my career. So while ‘trans’ and ‘queer’ are primarily the terms I use today to describe myself, my life story of living and loving as a gay man is also a crucial part of who I am. In some respects, I think that I live at the intersection of many different parts of our community. I came out [before we had] many of the rights we enjoy today, and at a time where the HIV and AIDS crises were still looming large for many of us. That gives me some insight into parts of our community that were shaped by the battles of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s that led to many of our gains across the early 2000s,” says Belyeu.

“At the same time, I have spent a lot of my career working with LGBTQ+ youth,” she explains, “and I am inspired by the ways they are re-imagining what it means to be part of our diverse community. They remind me that it’s OK to explore, to reimagine ourselves, and be creative. They remind me that this journey can be about overcoming hardship, and also about joy. As I live at the intersection of different generations, and different identities—gay, queer, trans—I hope that in this role I can listen and work to support all parts of our diverse and beautiful community, because all of us belong.”  

Avery Belyeu • Photos by Frank Xavier for OutSmart

Belyeu officially began work on February 19. She has already seen for herself that the Montrose Center is a place that the community accesses seven days a week. On the Saturday that she spoke to Outsmart, Belyeu had come into the office to get settled in and encountered a clothing swap taking place. Clothing swaps are often great resources for members of the transgender community who find themselves in need of a new wardrobe as they transition—a necessity that can create unexpected and overwhelming costs. The clothing swap is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Montrose Center services. Belyeu wants to make sure more people become aware of what is being offered, and she plans to use the status of her new role as an opportunity to share her discoveries about Center services with others on social media.

“One thing I hear from the community is that many folks aren’t aware of the full scale of our programs, and also how to get involved,” she says. “Over the next few months, I will be taking a journey of learning about the Center and I’ll be sharing the things that excite me across our email and social media. I hope that our community will join me on that journey and rediscover their Center, or maybe even discover it for the very first time.”

First Things First: Listen
As the sun sets on her first few weeks, Belyeu, who is still in the process of moving from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has a lot on her plate. However, she remains clear on her first point of order.

“My first goal is to listen. First, I’ll listen to my staff, who are some of the most dedicated and brilliant folks I have ever met. And at the same time, I’ll listen to our community—folks who currently look to the Montrose Center as a resource. And finally, I’ll listen to our broader LGBTQ+ community and allies at large who, for one reason or another, aren’t currently involved with our mission,” she says. “I will be in intense listening mode for the first six months, and then I hope to collaborate with our board and staff to lead us into a strategic planning process that will help us decide together, as a community, who we should become in our next 45 years. I am sure that process is going to help us set some lofty and exciting goals, and I can’t wait for the community to help us decide where we should go next.”

For more info, visit montrosecenter.org.


Watch our exclusive interview with Avery Belyeu, our March ‘Women in Power’ cover feature and the new CEO of the Montrose Center. With over a decade of experience in national nonprofit leadership, Belyeu brings an abundance of perspective to Houston’s largest LGBTQ resource center. Presented by Eklektik Interiors .

 

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
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