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Equality is on the menu in May elections
by Noel Freeman

W

ith all of the attention being paid to the presidential election this year, it can be easy to gloss over the fact that we have a primary election coming up on May 29 that stands to affect our community in very real ways.

In recent years, the LGBT community has begun facing a strong backlash from social conservative groups that was greatly accelerated by the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Those groups have discovered that if they can force LGBT equality issues onto the ballot, they can influence elections with enormous amounts of cash that dwarf the fundraising efforts of pro-equality forces. This is why we have seen an increase in attention being paid to organizations like National Organization of Marriage (NOM), Family Research Council, and others.

While we must continue to fight the
efforts of these organizations to destroy our rights and deny us equality at the state and national level, we must also
recognize that some of these battles are taking place right here in Houston and Harris County in this month’s primary election. At the local level, we elect the judges that make decisions about our families and protect our other legal
rights. We elect the state representatives who fight for equality in Austin by working to keep anti-LGBT bills from ever making it out of committee, or by passing legislation that gives us important rights like the ability to be granted parental rights for a surrogate child—something we couldn’t do until 2011. We elect the county sheriff who sets policy that determines how our community is treated by deputies, and the district attorney who decides whether or not LGBT individuals are treated fairly when accused of a crime. We elect school board trustees who decide if even the mere mention of anything LGBT gets banned from classrooms. The list goes on.

These local officials affect us and the people we know every single day, and it is vitally important that we get engaged in the process by exercising our right to vote. There is an old saying, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.” This year, equality is on the menu. District Judge Steven Kirkland, the first openly gay judge in Harris County, is the only incumbent judge in the Democratic primary facing an opponent. He has served Harris County well as an excellent judge, yet he was being targeted from the day he was sworn in because he is openly gay. Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis is also being challenged because he is openly gay. The vicious anti-LGBT attacks against Lewis have made national headlines.

In addition to our LGBT-elected officials, allies such as representatives Borris Miles and Alma Allen are under attack. Miles has been leading the charge against HIV/AIDS in the African-American community, and Allen has been a staunch advocate for establishing sexual orientation and gender identity/expression as a protected class in Texas. We cannot afford to lose the representation of members of our community and our strong allies.

Equality is an extremely important part of the national political discussion, and we must continue to fight for issues like marriage equality and equal protection in employment and housing, as well as hold our elected officials in Washington accountable for their commitments to our community. Nonetheless, it is absolutely essential that we do not forget the people here at home who are standing up for us where it matters most. They need our support and our votes right now. On the day after this May election, our community should be able to stand together knowing that we all exercised our duty to go out and vote for those candidates who will best represent our interests from the courthouse to the statehouse, the schoolhouse, and yes, even the jailhouse. Vote for equality on May 29.

Noel Freeman is the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus (HGLBTPC), the South’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated solely to the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights.

 

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