Alumnus has long history of Pride
It didn’t used to be like this for Nick Brines.
Before he ran Houston Pride, before he set foot in Azur Salon and before he ever came the University of Houston, he was just a boy trying to figure himself out.
“I grew up in Wisconsin on a dairy farm. The word ‘gay’ was not even in my vocabulary,” Brines said.
“My introduction to the concept of homosexuality was news reports in the mid-80s of gay men dying of AIDS in huge numbers. I was just coming of age and just beginning to have feelings about other boys. I didn’t understand. I just knew I liked boys and that boys who liked boys died of AIDS.”
At UH, life changed for Brines. He learned what being gay really meant.
“My first week on campus, (UH) had an organization fair. I was walking around looking at tables, and then, all of a sudden, in the corner I saw GLSA — Gay and Lesbian Student Association,” Brines said. “I remember this weird feeling when I saw the sign, and my face flushed, and I probably stopped, and my jaw dropped and then I scurried in the other direction as fast as I could.
“I made a point to walk past that table three or four times. I wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t dare to even let people know I was looking in that direction, but I would glance and just look at who was standing behind that table. They caught my eye. Who are these people standing around announcing they’re gay?”
From that point on, Brines discovered himself and the culture he belonged to.
“I remember one morning looking in the mirror in the dorm … I was just standing there, and I had to say out loud to myself for the first time in my life, ‘You’re gay.’ I finally had the vocabulary to figure out who I was,” Brines said.
On campus from ’88 until 2000, Brines started to attend and then volunteer at Pride. After a few years, his effort to get off campus had intertwined him enough with the event that he became president.
“I was involved for 13 years, and I was president for four of those years. It was awesome, it was fun … It’s a full-time, year-round job that you don’t get a penny for,” Brines said. “You do it because you love it.”
During his tenure, Brines watched as the world changed. The Supreme Court destroyed “the sodomy laws.”
“Before 2003, you could be arrested in the state of Texas for gay sex. It was illegal to have gay sex, which is ridiculous to think about,” Brines said.
“When Lawrence v. Texas was overturned, I was positively glowing. It was the first time I was not illegal in my own state. Up until that point I would joke about it, but it also kind of hurt. Every time I (had) sex I (was) breaking the law.
“It was one of those things that had to be overturned for us to progress.”
And they have. This year, staff estimates that 400,000 people will attend Pride — so many, in fact, that the festivities will move downtown. Montrose is no longer big enough.
“I love that it’s around city hall this year,” Brines said. “It’s for the city of Houston; it’s not just for the gays.”
Although he stepped down from the presidency in 2007, Brines didn’t step out of sight. He acts as president of the UH LGBTQ Alumni Network.
“That was not supposed to happen,” Brines said. “Some university people asked me to lunch at Eric’s in the UH Hilton and I knew … when someone asks you to lunch, you know you’re getting asked something. And they said, ‘We want to start an LGBT alumni network. How do we do that?’”
It almost seems inevitable, in hindsight. Brines’ event planning skills that he learned from Pride, and his experience working in the Alumni Association Office in his last years at UH, made him the choice candidate, and he knows that. Through the organization, he aims to support and connect with students even after graduation.
“We can give back and help other LGBT students to not feel alone (and) make sure that they have support that they need,” Brines said. “There are still kids that come out and their parents say, ‘No more money for you.’ So how do we make sure they get through school and graduate? How do they have the emotional support and financial support?”
Now it is 2015. Brines owns a hair salon, and helps support students in school and in life. Progress for the LGBT community has made its own way too, parallel to Brines’ growth. Not only has society grown more accepting, but now the law legitimizes marriage for men and women like Brines.
Brines thinks it’s time for younger people to find their way up to happiness.
“I have not missed a parade in Houston since 1989, and there are years where I’ve gone and gotten a little ho-hum about it,” Brines said. “But it’s somebody’s first Pride. It’s not my first Pride, but there’s some young kid who has never been exposed to the size of the community.”