Houston: Out, Proud, Loud

There is no doubt that Texas is one of the reddest states in the nation. During the presidential election in 1972, Texas turned Red with Richard Nixon. Texas turned Blue again for one presidential election cycle in 1976 with Jimmy Carter — the last time Democrats won Texas in a presidential election. Since the 1980 presidential election, Texas has been red throughout every presidential election. The last time Democrats have won a statewide election was 1994.

Electoral College Votes of Texas. Source: 270towin.com/states/Texas

All statewide Texas offices are controlled by Republicans, as well as both houses of the state legislature. Republicans also have a majority in the Texas congressional delegation.

Crimson Red Texas

Texas state lawmakers have filed 400 proposed bills ahead of the 2017 legislative session which included a proposal to ban sanctuary cities in the state, and a pair of bills that would bring the battle over trans bathroom use in the state of Texas — Women’s Privacy Act.

Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas who suggested that the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history — “deserved it because they were LGBT,” has made it a top priority in 2017 to chip away at equal protections in Texas, focusing on the trans community.

“I’m a femme, white, liberal, queer, vegetarian woman” explains Jennifer Free, a Houston-resident, student, and a poet. “I get challenged at pretty much every corner. I don’t feel in danger because of my lifestyle a majority of the time but I also have social advantages and privileges queer people of color don’t have.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, it is legal to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most of the state. Approximately 90% of transgender Texans have been mistreated in the workplace.

“Texas, a hothouse for Republicans, is a decidedly hostile environment for Democrats.” — Ross Ramsey of texastribune.org

Red State, Rainbow Cities

Despite being one of the most Republican states in the US, Texas is also home to some of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the nation, including its capital — Austin. Houston, known for the LGBT openness and acceptance within its community, has a diverse and eccentric LGBT population. Houston has the first openly homosexual person elected as mayor — Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker (right) married her long-time partner, Kathy Hubbard (left), in a private ceremony in California. Source: abc13.com

Houston hosts the 4th largest annual pride parade in the country.

Houston Pride Festival Grounds (2016). Photo by Christian Rea
Houston Pride Float (2016). Photo by Christian Rea
Houston Pride Parade (2016). Photo by Christian Rea

With the largest LGBT community in the state of Texas, Houston has a rich LGBTQ history and a plethora of social and philanthropic organizations like OutSmart, an award-winning Houston LGBT magazine, Hatch Youth, a Houston organization dedicated to empowering the LGBTQ+ youth, the Montrose Center, and a multitude of other LGBT nonprofits and social organizations.

“A study from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation revealed Houston is the Texas city with the most gay-friendly employers” writes Douglas Matus of USA Today. “Houston has a vibrant gay culture centered on the pedestrian-friendly Montrose neighborhood.”

Houston has thrived and remained to be a gay-friendly city while surrounded by areas that remain either discriminatory, unaccepting, or indifferent.

Invisible Walls of Separation

Geography is a big contributing factor to this landlocked LGBTQ-love. The size of Texas and Houston itself are so vast that it allows different groups of people with very different ideologies to coexist in the same state.

Houston: A Melting Pot

Another significant factor for the LGBTQ openness and acceptance is the tremendous diversity of the city.

“I agree that Houston is accepting of the LGBTQ community. Large cities tend to have people from all walks of life. There are many communities within the community” admits Carlos Vargas, 34, Houstonian for almost five and a half years. “I am a Republican, originally from California. I come from a small farming community located in the San Joaquin Valley. The people in the area I am from have a great diversity of views. My views are often supported and challenged.”

“Discrimination bothers me more than most anything else. I was raised to place myself above others and quickly learned in my late 20’s, that I was no better than anyone” reveals Grey Stephens, 51, a performer at TC’s Houston’s Premier Show Bar. “I see dozens of cultures being discriminated against and discriminating against others. These groups, including the LGBT community, are forced to coexist in Houston. Seeing a different way of life and thinking helps the open minded realize there is more to this world than just ‘us’.”

A study from the Rice University found that the Houston region is now the most ethnically diverse large metropolitan area in the country, surpassing New York City. Houstonians speak at least 145 languages at home, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data released in November 2015.

Ms. Lorraine Schroeder, 54, an LGBTQ+ issues activist, shares her opinion on the matter: “I am part of the LGBT community. My experience is that it is open and accepting. I frequently hold hands or am affectionate towards my partner in public. My attitude is that for the most part I don’t care if I make others uncomfortable… I don’t think others are uncomfortable. That said, I am still very aware of my surroundings and know when I sense that it would not be a good idea to be open about my sexual orientation. Of course, I mostly surround myself with people who are accepting and try to ignore everyone else… When you are in a large city with lots of different people and lots of opportunities to interact with those different people thus realizing that different people can be good people too, you become more accepting of all types of differences. But when you are out in the country and just choose to associate with people that are like you, you don’t have the opportunity to interact and therefore understand people that are different than you.” Ms. Schroeder is also the Director of the LGBTQ Resource Center at the University of Houston and has lived in Houston since 1989.

Atheist (former devout religious) and activist Gerald Johnson, 66, on the diversity in Houston. Video by Christian Rea

LOOKING FORWARD

With this much growth and progress, what would be the future of the city under a Republican-dominated government on both state and national levels?

A new poll shows that a solid majority of Texans now support same-sex marriage. Houstonians are hopeful.

“Although I do not know the immediate future of major cities like Houston, I do know that the world continues to be a better more peaceful and more loving place” Ms. Schroeder affirms. “…people have become less violent and more civilized and I know that it will continue on this path. I doubt that I will see total peace and acceptance of all differences in my lifetime, but again I know the world is heading in that direction.”

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