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Story and photos by Andrew Edmonson
Hundreds of Texans from across the state converged on Austin for The Texas Equality March for Unity and Pride on Sunday, June 11, in a buoyant protest featuring drag artists performing “We Are Family” and a marching band to serenade march participants.
The event was one of dozens of marches stretching from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles under the umbrella of The Equality March for Unity and Pride, a national series of protests organized in response to the policies of the Trump administration. The event was the brain child of New Yorker David Bruinooge, who posted about the idea on Facebook in late January after being inspired by the Women’s March, and saw the event spring to life in five short months.
While nationally, the marches offered critiques of Trump, many of the speakers on the steps of the Texas Capitol took aim at politicians closer to home, and the raft of two dozen anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in the recently concluded Texas legislative session.
“Together, let’s send a strong message to the people in power, Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and the Trump administration that LGBTQ people demand equality now,” said transgender activist Meghan Stabler, who serves on the national board of the Human Rights Campaign.
She also looked forward with foreboding to the special legislative session starting July 18 to address further restrictions of women’s rights, abortion rights and House Bill 2899, which would restrict which bathrooms transgender children may use and strip away local nondiscrimination protections.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler denounced Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities bill” which allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during detainment. He vowed to battle it at every turn and urged Houston to join other cities—including Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso—to mount a legal challenge.
Adonias Arevalo, a Houston immigrant rights activist with United We Dream and UndocuQueer, issued a clarion call for an “intersectional racial justice movement led by black and brown trans queer people.”
He condemned for-profit detention centers which, in some cases, hold trans immigrants for years, where they sometimes suffer sexual harassment and are subjected to solitary confinement before being deported to countries where they might be killed. He also criticized Pride marches for accepting sponsorships from corporations that own or invested in for-profit detention centers.
The march included Houstonians, both marching and addressing the crowd at the rally.
“My family and I drove from Houston to Austin to attend the Equality March, to show our support for the LGBTQIA communities, to be visible for those who can’t be, and to be among our friends and loved ones,” said Erika Richie, a board member of P-FLAG Houston who serves on Houston’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee.
In March, her 14 year-old transgender son, Landon, testified against Senate Bill 6, the discriminatory legislation that would have required trans Texans to use bathrooms that correspond with the gender assigned to them at birth.
“This last year has been really tough and draining for many. Events like this bring the communities and allies together, get us refocused, and re-energized to continue to fight for equality,” Richie said.
Annise Parker spoke with a fervor, freedom and fire that stood in marked contrast to her more reserved public persona during the six years she served as Houston’s mayor.
“I attended my first LGBT organizing event in 1975,” she recalled. “And I thought by now that I’d be done with stuff like this. What the hell are we still doing here?
“Too many people can say that they don’t know anybody who’s trans,” she continued. “As long as we don’t put our transgender brothers and sisters out front and support them and make them visible and make them known, they can always be the target [of attacks from anti-transgrander opponents].”
While many lambasted Texas legislators for passing discriminatory legislation, veteran LGBT activist Ray Hill paid homage to lesbian legislator Barbara Jordan. She started her political career in the Texas Senate in 1966 and went on to great national prominence as a member of the House of Representatives during the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
The Texas Equality March for Unity and Pride was sponsored by Austin Pride and Queer Rights ATX. Equality marches were also held in Dallas, Fort Worth, Abilene and Texarkana.