By: Jacq Taylor
As we wrap up celebrating a more traditional Pride season full of parties and parades after a year of staying at home, I want to highlight how last year’s Pride season returned to its roots with the Uprising for Black Lives. Folx were in the streets protesting police brutality and calling for the rights of their fellow community members just as our elders were pushing back for three nights at the Stonewall Inn beginning June 28th, 1969–now remembered and celebrated with the Pride parades we see today.
I begin with this reminder because activism is at the heart of the LGBTQ+ community, and for good reason. We have had to fight to get to where we are now with marriage equality and Pride celebrations becoming more accepted pillars of our cities summer calendars.
However, since the Supreme Court ruled to guarantee the right to same-sex marriage in June of 2015, we have seen policies pushed that make it more difficult to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Texas, specifically for transgender or gender-nonconforming Texans. And much like the cycles of poverty and homelessness more broadly, the intersections of one’s identity matter a lot on if one can exist as a full functioning citizen in our society, let alone how.
LGBTQIA+ folx are greatly overrepresented in homelessness. LGBTQIA+ youth account for an estimated 40% of homeless youth and roughly 30% of foster youth. The total number of both LGBTQ+ youth and adults experiencing homelessness is likely severely undercounted due to fear surrounding disclosure of their gender identity, relation to the “binary”, sexual orientation, and/or expression. As queer folx continue to exert our collective power, the backlash against our existence continues to grow.
A prime example of this backlash can be seen in the referendum to veto Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have been the first in Texas to prevent community members from being discriminated against based on 15 different “protected characteristics” including [disability], sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The electorate of Houston voted to repeal HERO in November of 2015 despite all the net good it would do for a community and state that does not, for example, have protections in the books that prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or and/or gender identity. The kicker is that all this hinged on rhetoric and bathrooms.
At this point, unless you live under a rock or do not live in Texas, I am sure anyone reading this has at least heard of Texas’ SB6, more commonly known as the “Bathroom Bill,” which passed back in 2017. VICE’s special segment from 2019, “Trans in Texas” shines the light on how the laws and rhetoric against trans folx that have now become commonplace in our political conversations began in the Houston area. As a queer college student relatively involved in Houston’s LGBTQ community, I had the privilege of interacting with both Monica Roberts and Dana Hinton, two pillars of Houston’s transgender community, over the years.
Dana was a facilitator at the trans support group I attended semi-regularly from the summer of 2015 through 2016, so I got to witness her navigating the process of coming out and the eventual impact it had on her life which she shares in the segment.
”I am recovering from a stroke. I have had my car repossessed. I have almost no money. I live on social security and I can trace that back to one decision. I came out at work.”
It feels (and is) simplistic to boil her story down to employment discrimination, but as she says herself, her story wouldn’t have been interesting otherwise because she “went from being the top rung of the privilege ladder to being one from the bottom. The only other person below me on that ladder is a trans woman of color.”
Cue Monica Roberts, probably one of the strongest women I have ever met and watched from afar. It is an understatement to call her a pillar of Houston’s trans community as she founded and was TransGriot, “a proud unapologetic Black trans woman speaking truth to power and discussing the world around her since 2006,” and that’s exactly what she did. Using the West African tradition of storytelling–griot–to share the history of our community, Monica fought for equity at all levels, as one can hear for themselves in her segment of the VICE piece at the National Black Trans Advocacy Conference:
“We beat back SB6 twice. We are tired of the debate being about bathrooms period. We’re wanting employment. We’re wanting the discrimination to stop. We’re wanting the murders of black trans people to stop.”
Because Monica knew the compounding impact of inequity, how IDs, name changes, inclusive medical care, and general acceptance prohibit many transgender folx from the workforce, housing, and engaging with our society more broadly.
Monica also named this work as a relay, and with her passing others have had to step up, including Dee Dee Watters, the current runner of TransGriot. As a Houston native from the historically Black Kashmere Gardens neighborhood, she started community work rooted in her lived experience as a black trans woman who has experienced homelessness. She told the Texas Observer she started this advocacy work not ”because I felt like I was the leader or the big activist. I did it because the reality is that it could have been me, it will be me, or would have been me.”
Though I am from the Lubbock area and once again call it home, Houston’s LGBTQ community raised and influenced my activism and rooted my organizing and advocacy in storytelling. This is why I give respect to two of my elders, Monica Roberts and Dana Hinton by name for all they have done for our community. Both passed last year and have left big shoes to fill. May they rest in power.
I am thankful for all the elders that came before us and laid the foundation for our fight for equity, from Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, founders of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a formerly incarcerated Black transgender activist fighting for the abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex. Trans women of color are leaders from the Stonewall era and queer women of color continue to lead movements for justice today because this work is inherently intersectional.
I will continue to pay respect to our elders by sharing our history, our stories, and fighting for all our rights as long as I am breathing.
Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide (The New York Times, 2015)
Why Houston’s gay rights ordinance failed: Fear of men in women’s bathrooms (The Washington Post, 2015)
Bathroom Fears Flush Houston Discrimination Ordinance (Texas Tribune, 2015)
Trans in Texas (VICE, 2020)
The Next Trans Griot (Texas Observer, 2021)
From the start, Black Lives Matter has been about LGBTQ lives (ABC News 2020)