UHD Alumni Brittany Perez Is A Voice For The Unseen
By Sheryl E. Taylor
Beginning in her early teens, Brittany Perez was becoming a statistic that is all too familiar these days.
She was homeless.
“Couch surfing was my thing,” she said. “I literally lived out of a box for five or six years. I didn’t have my first cell phone until I was 19,” the 32-year-old said.
Perez, who grew up in the Cy-Fair area, attended seven different high schools before graduating from Westbury High School.
As a homeless youth and not having anyone in her life to help her, she had to do whatever it took to survive even it meant getting involved with the wrong people. But she eventually had a wake-up call.
“I realized that I needed to do something different and change my life,” she said. “I needed to break away from these generational curses that have plagued my family and now my life. I didn’t want to be a statistic … and something had to change.”
Born with a birth defect (ventricular septum defect also known as VSD or a hole in the heart) and diagnosed with PSD (post-stroke depression), doesn’t hinder Perez to press forward in life. “I’ve always been a fighter who wants to make a place for myself,” she said.
Perez came from a large family in which she and her siblings experienced the trauma gamut from domestic violence to an alcoholic parent. “We all wanted to be better,” she said. “For a long time, I wondered … ‘what did I do?’… I’m just here trying to exist.” She also took on the role of parent to her younger siblings—from helping with homework to getting them ready for school. “My parents didn’t go to college and my siblings and I wanted our lives to be different and better.” Two of her siblings have recently graduated with their master’s degrees.
After graduating from high school, Perez worked at what she described as “dead-end” jobs. But she eventually forged a path as a Special Education paraprofessional for almost seven years. At one point, she wanted to be a special education teacher, but something was missing.
“I fell into social work and it completely changed everything about my life,” she said.
In 2019, Perez was completing her associate degree at Lone Star College-CyFair when she enrolled at UHD while homeless and working full-time.
Her coursework through UHD’s Social Work Program (housed in the College of Public Service) played a significant role in better understanding how trauma affected her life and family.
"The Social Work Program taught me transparency, speaking and living in your truth and how to use my voice correctly thanks to my social work family," she said.
She also credits her amazing professors especially Dr. Angela Goins (Lecturer, Social Work) and Dr. Heather Honoré Goltz (Interim Assistant Chair, Criminal Justice and Associate Professor, Social Work).
“I learned so much about the trauma that people endure and why they act a certain way,” Perez emphasized. “Learning all these things in social work made me re-evaluate my life by asking … ‘what have I done and why are these things happening to me?’ I realized that it wasn’t anything I’ve done, but that when situations have come my way, I have to adjust and look at the big picture. It made me understand with a different perspective … if it weren’t for these classes I don’t think I would have the outlook I do now.”
This past spring, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work (summa cum laude) with the ultimate goal to open a homeless shelter and community center for LGBTQ youth with strong emphasis on transgender youth of color.
“It’s very disheartening that there aren’t shelters out there for this population who fall through the cracks. I want to be a voice for them — from advocacy to policy change and legislation. I want to teach the community about who we are and what we face on a daily basis.”
Her activism is most evident in Houston as a longtime LGBTQ+ advocate. Presently, she serves on Montrose Grace Place’s Advisory Board and as a Direct Mentor Lead and a Youth Outreach Volunteer at the Montrose Center where she helps homeless and insecure youth as well as being the voice of youth in schools for the gay-straight alliances, or GSAs. She also is the Director of Outreach for the Houston Chapter of Epsilon Xi Gamma, Inc. (founded in Houston 10 years ago), which is the only all lesbian and Ally Greek Order dedicated to only serving LGBTQ+ first and LGBTQ+ in all four regions of the U.S. Perez also serves as on the Pride Houston Youth Scholarship and Rights Are Human! committee.
“I’m very passionate about LGBTQ+ advocacy,” she emphasized. “I want to give back to those who are misrepresented or unseen because I was one of them. I’ve never hid who I am and I know firsthand what it’s like to be discriminated against in school and the workplace. Systemic racism in education it’s not okay and I want to break those barriers,” Perez said.
Last year, Perez was featured in the Houston Chronicle on the effects COVID was having on the LGBTQ+ communities.
One of her immediate future plans is to continue to be an active Gator alumna.
“When you discover people with the same mindset that you can call your friends who respect the value of you as a person and the work you do … it’s life-changing," Perez said.
“UHD changed my life. My experiences at UHD encouraged me to look at the world in a more positive way. The friends I’ve made at UHD, which I will cherish for the rest of my life, are now an extension of my family. I’m so grateful and blessed to be a Gator. If they ever create a master’s in Social Work, I will definitely be there … 1,1000th percent! UHD’s diversity and inclusive community is something I needed that I didn’t know I needed.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second-largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.
As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates more than 15,000 students; boasts more than 60,000 alumni and offers 45 bachelor’s, nine master’s degree programs and 16 fully online programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service; Sciences & Technology; and University College).
For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report ranks UHD among universities across the nation for Best Online Criminal Justice Programs (No. 27 and No. 15 for Veterans) and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.
UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston and one of the lowest in Texas. U.S. News ranked the University among Top Performers on Social Mobility and a No. 1 ranking as the most diverse institution of higher education in the southern region of the U.S. The University is noted nationally as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution and Military Friendly School. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.