In May 2009, Eric Hulsey was just a guy out of college, looking for some friends in Downtown Houston.
When Hulsey finally grabbed a few, it didn't take long before they found a common passion: video games.
From there, a few grew to many and Houston Gaymers exploded onto the scene, a nerd Mecca for the game-inclined and sexually-different.
It all started at small little coffee shop in Houston's midtown area: Aperture Coffee. Hulsey sat down with me as I was downing two different cups of hot chocolate (like a boss).
The idea of Houston Gaymers, it seems, was driven by what some would call a "hidden shame".
"We realized there's really not a way to meet other gamers as far as swapping gamer tags, meeting people at bars, it's always been a taboo," Hulsey said. "I mean, everybody has played videogames at some point in their life but it's not really a table topic to talk about."
Hulsey and company got to work on their first event, but they had to establish some ground rules first.
"We didn't want it to be at someone's house because it doesn't promote the openeness of people coming and going as they please," Hulsey said. "I mean new people felt uncomfortable about coming so we made sure to do it in neutral places, it's easily comfortable for gay, straight, lesbian, bi, transgender people to come and play videogames and enjoy the night as opposed to just being gay exclusive because we want it to be open to everyone: families and that kind of stuff."
Houston Gaymers drew a hearty number of followers when it started out. After that, they made plans to have their first meet-up at Aperture Coffee. They thought around 30 would show up. Turns out, an extra 15 decided to tag along for the ride.
"So we just wanted to keep it going," Hulsey said. "From then on, we've had a consistent meet-up, like we had to do it because it's a necessity. We have like 500 members now. People are leaving and going back to school and coming back and like, ‘Oh, I'm back, when is it, I wanna go.' We don't want to take a break."
Today, their meet-ups draw 75+ people. From the casual to the hardcore, Houston Gaymers make sure their games are up to snuff, including "Marvel vs. Capcom" and "Rock Band".
Regardless of gaming enthusiasm, it's also a haven for those who may feel unwelcome in the world outside the virtual box. While times are changing, they're not changing fast enough for some.
"There's such negativity about gay people in general; people don't usually feel welcome in those kinds of environments," Hulsey said. "When they play with other gay gamers, they feel more comfortable. In PSN, if you even mention that you are gay, you will get harassed. I think that gay gamers are being heard finally, but before it wasn't really a voice."
Houston Gaymers has a July 28 meet-eup at The Fairview in the 310 block of Fairview starting at 8 p.m. Check out their Facebook fan page for more details: