Pride Houston sues New Faces of Pride Houston in federal court, alleging trademark infringement

The competing nonprofit organizations, one of which was created earlier this year, both have scheduled parades and festivals for next June to celebrate Houston’s LGBTQ+ community.

Houston Pride Parade 2023
Rob Salinas/Houston Public Media
A participant in the Houston Pride Parade holds a rainbow-colored umbrella on June 29, 2023.

Pride Houston 365, which for years has organized parades and festivals celebrating the city's LGBTQ+ community, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit this week against a new, similar nonprofit that has planned its own Pride events for next summer.

Pride Houston, in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Houston, also accuses New Faces of Pride Houston of trademark dilution and unfair competition. The suit asks a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the latter organization, which formed earlier this year, as well as temporary and permanent injunctions that would prevent New Faces of Pride Houston from "marketing, advertising, soliciting donations, or offering for sale services."

New Faces of Pride Houston recently began promoting a downtown parade and festival on June 22, 2024 – one week before the events scheduled by Pride Houston. The longer-tenured group claims the dueling events, along with the new organization's similar name and logo, have created confusion among prospective vendors, supporters and attendees.

"(New Faces of Pride Houston) has contacted (Pride Houston's) consumers directly under the guise of being identical to (Pride Houston's) organization," the lawsuit states. "Defendant's actions were made in an attempt to secure a competitive and commercial advantage over Plaintiff. Such actions are tortious, wrongful and illegal. Defendant's actions are contrary to honest practice in commercial matters. Defendant's acts have directly caused, and will continue to directly cause, harm to Plaintiff."

A court hearing about the requested temporary restraining order is scheduled for noon Monday, court records show.

Bryan Cotton, the founder and president of New Faces of Pride Houston, said in an email Thursday, "There is no monopoly on Pride celebrations."

He added that Lori Hood, an attorney and advisory board member for the new organization, had agreed "weeks ago" to meet with Pride Houston attorney Erik Osterrieder to "discuss any trademark issues." Such a meeting has not yet happened because of scheduling conflicts, according to Cotton, who said he would have preferred that the attorneys discussed the matter before a lawsuit was filed.

"Lawsuits do nothing but divide our community," Cotton said. "New Faces of Pride, LLC in Houston would have rather used its time and resources raising critical funds for the LGBTQ+ community rather than spending time in court."

Pride Houston, in a news release about the lawsuit, said it “isn’t about igniting a feud” but rather “safeguarding our legacy and the values that make us who we are.” The organization also said it is “open to resolutions that uphold our legacy and prevent confusion among our community, sponsors, and supporters.”

“This lawsuit is a testament to our commitment to preserving the integrity of the name and reputation we’ve established over the decades,” Pride Houston president Kendra Walker said in the news release. “Our aim is not to engage in a feud but to ensure the community can continue to associate Pride Houston with the same values of diversity, transparency, and accountability it always has.”

Cotton previously told Houston Public Media his organization was created in response to turmoil within Pride Houston, which scrapped this year's festival after the 2022 event was marred by high heat and capacity issues. Pride Houston also has been embroiled in a 2021 lawsuit filed against three former staffers, including former executive director Lorin Roberts, whom the organization accused of fraud, embezzlement and breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims.

Additionally, Pride Houston was sued in May by a local marketing agency, Mad Hat Maven, which accuses the Pride organization of breaching their contract. Mad Hat Haven is represented by Hood, court records show.

Multiple people previously involved with Pride Houston – including Dustin Sheffield, one of the other defendants named in the 2021 lawsuit – now is associated with New Faces of Pride Houston, Cotton said earlier this week. He also said his organization was benefitting from their event-planning experience and City Hall connections.

But Cotton denied trademark infringement claims asserted by Walker, who told Houston Public Media last week that her organization had sent a cease-and-desist letter to New Faces of Pride Houston.

"Those are very vague trademarks," Cotton said earlier this week, before the lawsuit was filed. "Our lawyer has already spoken to their lawyer, letting them know we have every intention to challenge it. We will do so in court if necessary. They will lose in court if they have the intention of pursuing it that far."