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Harper Watters

“I want to say I lived each day, until I die … And know that I meant something in somebody’s life … The hearts I have touched, will be the proof that I leave … That I made a difference, and this world will see.”  – From “I Was Here” by Beyoncé

My name is Harper Watters and I’m a 26-year-old gay male. I’m currently a soloist with the Houston Ballet, the fourth-largest professional ballet company in the United States.

I was born in Atlanta, adopted at two weeks old, and grew up in Dover, New Hampshire. I grew up in the dance studio, graduated high school in 2010 and chose to pursue a career in dance following my education. Attending a performing arts high school was a pivotal moment not only in my dance career, but in my life as an out-and-proud individual. Having attended private school for grades kindergarten through 12, I came out the summer before my sophomore year of high school, and decided to switch schools. My search for a supportive community led me to a performing arts high school. I was able to focus on my academics and begin my pursuit of classical ballet, all while being among like-minded LGBTQ youth. It’s ironic that my career in ballet started out simply by seeking acceptance. I currently teach and volunteer in outreach programs with the Houston Ballet to help diversify and make our art form more accessible.

My personal goals are to have made a difference and to have my message heard by as many people as possible. More specifically, I want to be the ballet version of Wendy Williams, to dance with Beyoncé, to create a dance facility open to all shapes and sizes, colors and backgrounds, and to walk a runway with Naomi Campbell.

I also like collaborating with different art makers and thinkers and constantly challenging myself to see how my world can merge with someone else’s. I believe my entire life has made me embrace who I am. I took a risk to move away from home at 14 to pursue ballet, overcoming the fear of coming out. In dancing my first principal role as an African-American gay ballet dancer, every hurdle and obstacle has taught me that I am worthy, I am capable and I am fabulous.

My family are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. It takes a loving and caring family to not only let me move away at 14 to pursue ballet, but also to sit and watch all my gymnastics and ballet routines I would do at home. My parents are both former college English professors. They met in grad school at Brown University, so you can imagine the panic when I said I wanted to drop out of high school to wear tights and kick my legs.

They had apprehension, which as a teen-ager, I interpreted as them holding me back. But now, I fully understand it was a lack of knowledge of what being a ballet dancer was all about. To be honest, I didn’t know either. But they’ve been with me every step of the way — from me coming out, to career milestones. I am me because of my parents and I owe everything to them.

Just like in ballet, there is a misconception of the LGBTQ world among some that makes them treat us a certain way. I instantly wanted to be a part of Project PrIDE because of the extreme power of visibility. I empower through example as an openly gay African-American ballet dancer. I hope to open doors for the next generation and inspire them to try. Project PrIDE sheds light on a difficult topic by educating and informing my community. It’s about providing answers and showing that you can live a safe and healthy life and prevent the risk of not living one. This platform will resonate and has the capacity to reach people who think they know all there is to know about HIV and AIDS prevention — and change their perception.

Testing yourself for HIV is important for your health, your relationships, your life and your future. HIV is preventable, and you can reduce or eliminate your risk. And early detection can lead to early treatment and better outcomes.

I want to affirm to everybody that despite the color of your skin, whom you love, or your sexual orientation, that everyone belongs and everyone deserves equal rights. The rights of queer and other marginalized groups have leapt forward over the past decade, but the fight for equality is just getting started. My mission is to protect the gains our community has made and hold accountable those who wish to silence us.

The attempted national silencing of the LGBTQ community and other minority communities stands to continue unchecked if we don’t ban together. Gay marriage, funding for health care, trans representation in the armed forces, HIV research — all these are at risk, and these are the issues I care about. But the future is ours, and Project PrIDE is helping us reach it.

The term, “Live Healthy, Live Longer” means doing the most to better myself and taking care of myself. Not only making sure I’m safe, but preventing the chances of any sort of health risk. Being the best version of yourself can be challenging, but it’s worth it. It’s both body and soul.

“I am here. I exist. I matter.” The words confirm that we all have a purpose. The fact that we’re all sashaying and twirling around on this earth is reason enough to have drive, make a difference and show we are worthy of pursuing and achieving our desires. We each have value, and there is extreme power in the simple act of being yourself.

Being who I am, and with the way that I look, I know I fall under many stereotypes. The sassy, gay, black boy who knows all the lyrics to Beyoncé songs, or as a ballet dancer, I’m obviously over-the-top flamboyant. Well, those are both true, and I’m still slaying the game. I want people to know that in ballet, whether you are living with HIV, or just being who you are, it’s just as difficult to fight a stereotype as it is to fit in. What matters more is our internal fight and drive.

Confronting people’s preconceived notions has been at the root of my motivation. My story is just as much about overcoming as it is about confirming. I’m so proud to be part of Project PrIDE to introduce my community to so many, giving us the chance to prove that despite what you think, we are still thriving.