HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- While Jeffrey Campbell said he didn't always see a way, God did.
"I realized I was being called to ministry when I was 17," he remembered.
As church folks might say, the Cuero, Texas native is living in the overflow.
In March, after more than two decades working to eradicate HIV, Campbell became the first Black CEO of Allies in Hope, the organization formerly known as AIDS Foundation Houston.
Then, in June, Campbell was named as Pride Houston's 2023 Male Identifying Grand Marshal.
But for all the good news this year, he said none of it would have happened if he hadn't chosen faith over fear.
"From childhood, I knew that I was different, but I didn't have the language to really talk about it," he said. "I was struggling deeply with my sexuality."
Growing up as a church kid and then investing his life in ministry work in his 20s, Campbell wrestled for years with how to reconcile his faith and his sexual orientation.
"I remember having a conversation with God, and saying, 'God, if you want me to do this,' meaning to preach, 'then you need to take this, 'cause these can't co-exist,'" he said. "I remember hearing very clearly from God, saying, 'Don't worry about that. You just do what I'm asking you to do in this moment.'"
Watching over the least of these
After graduating from Texas State University in San Marcos, Campbell moved to Houston to begin his ministry.
He became the first openly gay, Black man to pastor a church in Houston, launching Fresh Start Church in 2002. For five years, he led his progressive congregation through studies focused on scripture, social justice, and sexuality.
Campbell also sought to care for the least of these, devoting his attention to HIV prevention.
"It wasn't about preaching, being a pastor, but being available to make a significant change in the communities I was called to minister to," he said.
In 2015, Campbell joined Houston Health Department as an HIV program manager, before taking the role of Chief Program Officer for AIDS Foundation Houston four years later.
Last January, Campbell became the organization's first chief program officer.
Fourteen months later, the rebranded Allies in Hope approached Campbell to help shepherd a historic expansion of Texas' oldest HIV prevention service provider.
"We're really on this definitive journey to end the HIV epidemic in the Greater Houston area," Campbell said. "We have PrEP, we have rapid-start ART, we can talk about undetectable equals untransmittable."
Allies in Hope recently began construction on its new 12,000-square-foot home in Midtown, which will allow it to serve more of Houston's most vulnerable residents.
The organization's Westpark facility will remain open to serve southwest Houston.
While AIH's mission to end HIV in Houston remains the same, Campbell also emphasized the compassionate work it does to feed and house people in need.
"I am glad to lead this organization at, you know, a very churchy tone, such a time as this," he beamed.
The importance of faith and Pride
Against a heightened climate of harassment toward and legislation against the LGBTQ+ community, Campbell said he believes Pride month is as important as ever.
"People often ask, 'Why is a Pride needed? Why is there not a straight Pride?' Because straight people don't need that level of validation," he said. "We have struggled so much with people's attempt to invalidate us, we need this space to validate ourselves and to validate each other."
He also said for anyone struggling, as he once did, you don't have to figure it out alone.
"Find mentors that can walk with you, that can support you, that can talk to you about their journey," Campbell said. "There are other people who are out, gay, and Christian - or in some ways spiritual - that I think are assigned to every one of us to help us grow."