life in the city / reflective

Accomplishing HERO

Last Wednesday, Houston’s City Council voted 11 to 6 to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). A great many of my friends (including fellow board members of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats) were in City Hall for thirteen-plus hours, for the second time in two weeks, to show support and get this done. According to Brad Pritchett’s tally, a total of 180 supporters each spoke for one minute before Council, while 27 spoke in opposition. (More numbers covering all the public hearings over HERO, thanks to Noel Freeman: 23 hours, 376 speakers. 309 in favor, 65 against — i.e., 82% in favor and 17% opposed.)

A number of factors kept me from signing up to speak with them, but as I watched the live feed on Wednesday for the last seven hours, none of those factors seemed very important. I profoundly regret not being there that day — I honestly feel like I would have become a different person, with a better regard for myself, if I had been there.

All the same. I am so damn proud of my friends and everyone else whom I don’t even know, but came from so many places in life to speak in support of the ordinance. There were high school students, teachers, business owners, psychologists, college professors, child advocates, philanthropists. Some were incredibly eloquent, some were not. And even from a distance, it gave me emotional whiplash to see some of them immediately replaced by hateful, ignorant bigots. I was shocked to hear there’d only been 27 of them — it felt like so many more, just by the way the words would ring in my ears even after their minute was up. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to sit in the hall with them, let alone to be part of the transgender community that they most viciously attacked.

And it gives me so much pride to see how much stronger we were than the opposition, in every way. In numbers, in endurance, in positivity. Of course, it’s hard to rally support for the right to discriminate, hard to sell that even to your own community. And those who are willing to go so far as to spend a weekday in a public place, to record their stance against a non-discrimination ordinance — well, you’ve narrowed down your representation to a very special type of person indeed. Their ugly shirts say it pretty clearly.

I wanted to share two of my favorite statements form this past Wednesday, at least of the portion I got to watch.

The first is by Daniel Williams, of Equality Texas:

I am Daniel Williams, I live in District I and on behalf of Equality Texas I would like to express our enthusiastic support for this ordinance with the Davis amendment.

Y’all’ve had a rough month.

You don’t know, when you pick up the phone, if the person on the other side is going to yell at you for something you have no control over.

You’ve had strangers from out of town come stand on your lawn and call you names.

You’ve had your jobs threatened.

Welcome – for just one moment – to what it feels like to be a member of my community.

Some of you are scared (look at Stardig)

Some of you are confused (look at Kubosh)

Some of you are torn between what you know to be right and the communities you come from. (look at Boykins)

Some of you feel compelled to represent yourself as one thing to one group of people and as something else to other groups. (look at Kubosh)

Welcome – for just one moment – to what it feels like to be a member of my community.

The overwhelming number of speakers have been in support of this ordinance – but as you prepare to vote I want you to remember the few who spoke against it.

I want you to remember the people who said that – without this ordinance – that they feel compelled by the things they choose to believe in to discriminate – in housing – in public accommodation – in employment…

Remember those voices – and vote “yes.”

The second is by Pastor Lura Groen:

Mayor Parker, Council Members — thank you for your service to this city.

My name is Pastor Lura Groen, and I think you’ve seen my face enough to know that I’m going to urge you to vote for the Equal Rights Ordinance.

We’ve seen a good deal of each other the past few weeks. As I’ve talked to you, and talk to your staff who represent you well, and watch these comment sessions, I’ve seen how compassionately you’ve responded to our stories. I’ve heard every single one of you say things like “I don’t believe in discrimination.” And I know you care for this city and the people in it. I see your good hearts.

I’ve also heard some of you say things like “no matter how this vote goes, know that I care about your community.” And I want to say to you, as gently and as respectfully as I can, I don’t care.

If you vote against this ordinance, your good hearts won’t help the homeless gay kid get a job, your good intentions won’t help the professional trans woman who wants to use a bathroom in peace, your good feelings won’t keep the elderly woman from being kicked out of a nursing home for being a lesbian.

We didn’t elect you to love us, we elected you to make Houston a better city. We haven’t spent hours and hours pouring out our hearts to you to get your sympathy, we did it so that you’d end our discrimination.

On this issue, we can’t afford to feel good and play politics. On this issue, I need you to listen to your good hearts, and vote yes.

I also have to give a big shout-out to Council Member Larry Green, who specifically addressed other council members’ weaselly excuses for voting against the non-discrimination ordinance, which were complaints about the “process” for how the bill was drafted, claiming it lacked transparency. As he said repeatedly, with emphasis: “Some things are bigger than you.” Thank you, sir.

(Also I am especially proud that Council Member Ellen Cohen represents me, and I’m going to give Council Member Mike Laster a big hug the next time he visits a HSYD meeting. Oh, and I’m proud to have helped campaign for Council Member David Robinson last December. I was so impressed, too, by Mayor Parker’s composure through all those hours, including the hate and incivility directed toward her.)

Pastor Groen also posted some excellent, insightful comments about the ludicrous privileged expectations of the opposition. As she summarizes:

More reflections on yesterday:

There are folks who really confuse “not getting my way” with getting discriminated against.

1)The woman who was insisting it was discrimination that she didn’t get a seat in the chamber, because there were too many supporters of ‪#‎HERO‬there. It was first come, first serve, and there were more of us, and we got there first. There will still those in opposition who made it into the chamber, just not her.

2) The people who called discrimination that “christians” weren’t getting their names called first to speak. When again, the list was based on who signed up first, and there just were more of us.

They’ve been taught, by virtue of their socially dominant position, that getting their way, having their say, having people agree with them, is their “right.” When it doesn’t happen for them, they feel like something they are naturally entitled to is being taken from them.

And I suspect it’s going to be a long time before we convince them that they aren’t just naturally entitled to those things, so we need to come up with a solid response to them using the language of discrimination.

Because of course it isn’t just the crazy folks using this language; there are far subtler examples than the ones above.

As Jon Stewart once said: “It’s this idea that the loss of absolute power is akin to persecution.”

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