Activist Lou Weaver makes history as first trans man selected as male grand marshal of Houston Pride parade.
By Brandon Wolf
Lou Weaver’s epiphany occurred at a drag show in 2008, when he happened to strike up a conversation with another man who identified as transgender. At one point, the man said, “Oh my God, I must call you ‘he.’”
Weaver says it was the first time he’d felt truly validated for who he was. That simple statement managed to change his life and propel him forward.
He hasn’t stopped since.
This year, Weaver received another major validation—being selected as the male grand marshal for the 2017 Houston Pride parade. On the night of the grand-marshal announcements, he was in Dallas for his job as a coordinator for trans programming at Equality Texas. But he watched via Facebook Live on OutSmart’s Facebook page.
“I was very excited and very happy—especially that Houston elected a transgender man for this honor for the first time,” he says. “Ninety percent of people know someone who is gay or lesbian, but only 10 percent know a transgender individual. We want to change that.”
In addition to his work at Equality Texas, where he oversees the award-winning Texas TransVisible Project, Weaver is a popular speaker on trans topics, especially healthcare. He’s advised several Fortune 500 companies and law-enforcement agencies on trans-inclusive policies, and he currently serves on the Human Rights Campaign’s National Board of Governors as co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
For Weaver, like many trans people, it’s been a remarkable journey. He was born in 1970 in southern California and moved with his family to Colorado when he was seven.
By age 19, Weaver was self-identifying as a masculine lesbian. He knew he was attracted to women, but he didn’t feel like a typical lesbian—and didn’t know there were other options.
“I saw Boys Don’t Cry,” Weaver says, referring to the iconic 1999 film about the hate-crime murder of transman Brandon Teena. “That occurred in Nebraska. In Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was murdered. I didn’t feel very comfortable in Colorado, right between those two incidents. People I knew were nervous, too.”
In 2002, he moved to Houston to be close to his mother. After being validated by the man at the drag show, Weaver began using male pronouns. He started hormone therapy, eventually underwent “top surgery,” and legally changed his name and gender marker.
In 2009, Weaver accepted an invitation from his friend and community leader Lilly Roddy to speak about trans issues as part of a panel discussion at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, which he called an “amazing experience.” He later joined the Houston-based Transgender Foundation of America, and attended his first Houston Transgender Unity Banquet.
“I’d never seen that many people celebrating transgender Houstonians,” he says. “I was overwhelmed—seeing allies, spouses, friends, and even Mayor [Annise] Parker.”
Weaver also joined the local group STAG (Some Transgenders Are Guys). “It was wonderful to see other guys just like me, and to see myself reflected in them,” he says.
In 2013, Weaver helped lead a successful effort to add a trans marker at the Montrose Remembrance Garden, the memorial honoring LGBT victims of violence. A trans woman, Myra Ical, had recently been brutally murdered and dumped in a field in Montrose. “At the memorial service in that field, so many people showed up to honor her. It was the first time I spoke publicly, and it was a turning point for me,” he says. “I realized I couldn’t forget those who are fighting daily. I walk through the world with privilege, while others are struggling day-to-day just to survive.”
In 2014, Weaver co-chaired the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Houston. And in 2015, he was very active in efforts to pass—and later defend—the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. “Our opponents were attacking part of my community, saying trans women were predators,” Weaver says of the HERO fight. Before transitioning, Weaver had been told to get out of women’s restrooms. But when he started using men’s rooms, there were no problems.
“I’m invisible as a transgender man, but my transgender sisters need protection,” he says, adding he was devastated by the repeal of HERO. “I really didn’t see that coming.”
Fran Watson, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, says Weaver “did not stop” during the HERO fight. “He worked tirelessly to lobby City Council, and he worked even harder until the last vote was cast on November 3, 2015,” Watson says. “Lou wore several hats, educated the masses, slept few hours, and drank a lot of Dr Pepper.”
Weaver joined the staff of Equality Texas in 2016 as the group’s first coordinator of trans programs. He travels the state educating people through presentations and workshops, and seeks out others who are willing to share their stories. The Texas TransVisible Project, which uses photographs and videos to present the trans community in a realistic manner, recently won a bronze recognition from the national Telly Awards in the Online Video/Web Series category. “We need to expose people to trans people, so they realize who we are,” Weaver says.
In addition to promoting visibility, two of Weaver’s top priorities are combatting violence against trans women of color and advocating for trans healthcare. “They are so rejected, and often have to turn to dangerous situations like sex work just to survive,” he says of trans women of color, adding that healthcare is also “a huge problem.”
“We live in the third-largest U.S. city, with a world-class medical center, and yet the doctors aren’t even trained about transgender health issues such as hormones,” he says.
Nevertheless, Weaver believes the tide began to turn in favor of trans rights about five years ago, and people are now willing to be educated on the issues.
“Historically, all homophobia is transphobia,” he says. “Homophobia is [rooted in gender-based] standards of behavior, and those who don’t conform are rejected.”
But he avoids labeling those who oppose trans rights as “haters.”
“They just live narrow lives,” he says. “Labeling them ‘haters’ is just going to make them angry and harder to reach.”
Weaver says the presence of trans celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, as well as trans characters on popular TV shows, have made his work easier. He adds that he was “amazed” by the recent election of 18-year-old Mike Floyd (who ran on a platform of support for trans rights) to the Pearland school board.
Despite occasional setbacks, Weaver says his faith is renewed “every time I get to have a conversation, or if I see parents supporting their trans children, or when I go somewhere and I’m not the only trans person there.”
Overall, he calls the state of the trans movement “pretty exciting.”
“If you don’t grab on, it will pass you by,” he says. “We are on a trajectory for success. Sometimes life is tough, but we are so much further ahead [in 2017 than I predicted] we would be two years ago.”