Former South Florida resident Bryan Wilson is known locally as an LGBT rights activist, fundraiser and volunteer, who also worked for several years at SunServe in Wilton Manors.
He ran a gay social club and business-consulting firm in Fort Lauderdale as well.
But Wilson and his husband Clint took a leap during the early days of the pandemic and fast-tracked their dream of opening Pride Center West Texas in the city of Odessa. While the dream became a reality in 2020, 2022 is looking like a banner year for the center already.
Wilson and his board announced in early February the hire of its first therapist — a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)-registered intern. Luis Trajo will offer free or reduced-price therapy to the center’s clients. Wilson said Trajo is a queer competent therapist and will be overseen by board president Emily Parks who is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). The plan is that Trajo will eventually become a fully licensed LPC at the center.
Wilson, who is from Odessa, admits such a hire might not seem like a big deal to his friends and colleagues living in South Florida where such services are more available, but it’s a big deal for West Texas, and particularly for the center’s youth clients. Wilson said the center has had a youth focus since day one, and that’s where most of the programming has been directed so far.
“It was really one of our primary motivations out here — things that we take for granted in South Florida — the availability of queer affirming therapy — even down to our next thing we’re trying to tackle which is free HIV testing,” Wilson said.
As it stands right now, Wilson said the only place a person can get HIV or STI (sexually transmitted infections) testing is at the county health department — and on just two days of the week, in the morning hours, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Since its inception, the center has been operating out of a 1,000-square-foot rented office suite in a corporate building downtown, but that’s about to change in a big way.
Wilson said he recently got confirmation that the center will be able to move into a former Episcopalian church in a lease deal of $1 a month. The former church is 3,000-square-feet with multiple indoor spaces, a dedicated parking lot, playground and outdoor patio.
It’s owned by the Odessa Episcopal Community, and one of the center’s board members, Rev. Rick Lopez, who is a chaplain at the St. John’s Episcopal School, helped broker the deal.
It’s not lost on Wilson that a former church will be transformed into a gay community center — in West Texas no less.
“Here’s this formerly anti-gay Episcopalian church being handed over for our use,” he said in amazement.
Wilson said that while the space needs some work, he hopes to be moved in by the fall, with an increase in staff to help oversee the center’s programming.
Pride on Display
Meanwhile, Pride Center West Texas partnered with the local chapter of PFLAG to host an Odessa Pride celebration. Wilson said about 300 people came out in the summer heat, and while it was a dry (no alcohol) event, he said there was plenty of enthusiasm.
“It was a big family-friendly day of vendors and activities and a kids’ corner. There were very diverse performances — a death metal band led by an early 20s transgender singer — and a 65-year-old drag queen/Reba McEntire impersonator,” Wilson said.
The first Pride celebration ever held in the city was in 2018.
Wilson is also happy to report that the community, nonprofit agencies and local leaders have largely embraced the center since he arrived, even as clients have shared plenty of stories of rejecting behaviors and physical violence for being LGBT.
“In 2020, we were planning to move to Odessa in five to 10 years and adopt a child. But COVID presented this opportunity — to be closer to family and fast-track this passion — to create a safe community space in the middle of nowhere. It’s been remarkable.”
More information is at pridecenterwt.org.