Politics

Will Words Lead To Action After Orlando Vigils?

Houston LGBT advocates are hoping to build closer political ties with groups that showed their solidarity in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shootings.

City of Houston's candlelight vigil

On June 15, Houston City Hall hosted a candlelight vigil, in remembrance of the victims of the Orlando massacre. City Council Member Ellen Cohen invoked Edmund Burke, saying that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

“For those of us who are elected officials,” Cohen said, “we have a responsibility to pass legislation that ensures equality for all.”

Cohen was the council member who drafted the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO. Speaking by phone, she said Orlando makes clear the need for Houston to adopt fresh protections, but, “we don’t want to repeat what happened previously, and that is, we’ll pass it around the horseshoe, and then because nothing has changed in Houston, we’ll end up with the same result if it goes to a vote.”

The opposition to a revived HERO, or anything like it, remains just as entrenched as it was before Orlando.

“Any effort to relate the act of terror in Orlando to the lack of any Houston type of ordinance, or any efforts to oppose those ordinances, is just simply irrational,” says Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council. There’s just no correlation between the two.”

The City Hall vigil and others like it that took place around Houston suggest there are many groups that disagree.

Lane Lewis, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, organized one of these events. Groups that showed up ranged from LGBT organizations, such as the Montrose Center, to the ACLU and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. I spoke with Lewis on the sidelines of the state Democratic convention.

“My message was simple,” Lewis said. “To the 2,000 people that sat there for two hours listening to speakers, I said, ‘I don’t care which one of these organizations you get involved in. If you don’t want to be partisan and get involved with the Democratic Party, then get involved in the health clinic. Get involved in the counseling center. Pick something, and call them tomorrow and get involved.’”

That’s the real question: Can these groups keep the spirit of solidarity alive to accomplish common goals?

“We’re able with this to see who’s standing up now, and those that are seeking our endorsement, we’re seeing where they stand on these issues,“ says Fran Watson, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. She says the politicians her group has endorsed in the past rushed to help after Orlando. That’s the yardstick she’ll be using when her caucus endorses candidates in August.

“There are just all of these issues that are coming out of this that really need to be addressed,” Watson says, “and it can only be addressed if all of these groups, populations, communities are in one accord or coming together to talk about these.”

Not all advocates are as hopeful as Watson or Lewis.

“The media’s going to stop talking about it in another week and a half. The news cycle’s going to die down,” says Ashton P. Woods, an LGBT activist and a member of the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter.

The victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings cut across multiple lines of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. But Woods says that doesn’t mean those groups will hold together in a common front.

“As a black man,” he says, “people equate being LGBT with whiteness, and because of that, it’s almost as if, all of a sudden, I cease to experience racism, I cease to experience discrimination in housing and in employment, but in actuality, I can go and get gay married, and still get shot by a cop. And people don’t understand that.”

Woods says words come easy. He’s waiting to see how people will act.

Karla Leyja contributed reporting to this story.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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