How an 18-year-old LGBTQ ally took on Pearland’s establishment—and won.
“If they’re not willing to give us a seat at the table, we’re going to make our own table.”—Mike Floyd
By Kim Hogstrom
For many in the LGBTQ community, the past year has been debilitating. We’re at a loss to understand the rising demonization of our own community and other vulnerable populations, both at the state and national levels.
But for those listening closely, there’s a hopeful thunder on the horizon—the sound of an army of millennials stomping their feet and marching forward. This largest-ever population of young Americans is heading our way, and they mean business.
Most millennials have no intention of tolerating inbred, garden-variety American bigotry, and one eloquent voice for this generation is recently elected Pearland ISD Board of Trustees member Mike Floyd. A Democrat, the 18-year-old Floyd graduated from Pearland’s Dawson High School in May, but exhibits the polish of someone twice his age.
“There are a lot of bad things happening in our politics today,” Floyd says. “I stepped up because someone has to do something. This situation has dehumanized so many in our community that we must speak. One of my objectives is to put an end to that.
“It’s important to understand that most of us have grown up in an America that saw the Twin Towers fall,” he adds. “[Since then], we’ve fought three wars—and one was launched with faulty information. We’ve watched the economy tank, and we’ve seen college tuition go up 4,000 percent since we were born. Now our healthcare is a mess, and our planet is in danger. Millennials know we must step up.”
To fully grasp the significance of Floyd’s victory, one must study Pearland itself. The same Houston suburb that was once marketed (unofficially) as “the whitest town in Texas” is now the 15th-fastest-growing city in the U.S.
Pearland’s new citizens come from everywhere. Since its “whitest town” days, it has seen increases of 753 percent in its African-American population, 563 percent in its Asian population, and 287 in its Hispanic population. The former “Capital of Caucasia” is now a tapestry of races and religions whose diversity exceeds even that of nearby Fort Bend County, which is officially known as the nation’s most ethnically diverse county.
However, Pearland’s government continues to be dominated by conservative old white men. Many of the city’s public servants are frozen in time, and its small, reliable voter base is not much further along.
For example, the city’s 91-year-old mayor, Tom Reid, managed to hold on to his seat in last month’s runoff with Quentin Wiltz, a 36-year-old African-American. In another runoff, 69-year-old Woody Owens, a former City councilmember, easily defeated 30-year-old Dalia Kasseb, Brazoria County’s first Muslim candidate.
So how did Floyd, the son of a Pakistani mother and a Texas father, beat out six-year incumbent and 38-year Pearland resident Rusty DeBorde? “We worked hard and ran a good campaign,” he says. “We attended more than 40 events promoting protections for transgender students and increased transparency of school-board activities. These positions resonated with the public.
“We also spent a lot of time at the grass roots, knocking on doors,” he adds. “And we enlisted the support of fellow students, signing up hundreds of new voters [who then] brought out their parents. Each new student voter brought in three votes. In an election that normally results in about 2 percent turnout, we hit 10. We took the election with 54 percent.”
Despite Floyd’s victory, Pearland’s school district presents an uphill battle for those who support equality. In March, the superintendent, John Kelly, testified in favor of the Texas Senate Bill 6, the anti-transgender bathroom bill. In May 2016, after the Obama administration issued pro-trans guidance for public schools, Kelly was appalled. “What’s next, legalizing pedophilia and polygamy?” he said in a statement.
Kimberly Shappley is the mother of Kai, a 6-year-old trans girl who recently completed first grade in Pearland. Shappley continues to fight the district and the State of Texas for her daughter’s right to be herself—in safety. “When school started, Kai was required to use the restroom in the nurse’s office instead of the girl’s bathroom,” Shappley says. “One day, Kai went to the nurse’s office and the door was locked. The nurse was not there, so Kai waited and waited. Eventually she had an accident in the hallway in front of her friends. It was hard on her. It traumatized my daughter.”
How many children are affected by the position of Kelly and the school district? “I know of more than a dozen transgender children in the district. And there are many, many LGBQ students here, too. We are absolutely not alone,” Shappley says.
“I think Mike will make a big difference,” she adds. ”I know and support him, and I know for a fact that the majority of educators in Pearland do not support the cruel position of the superintendent. Sometimes, it takes only one brave person to stand up and be heard to give others the courage to do the same. That person is Mike Floyd.”
For Floyd, the issue is not about “tolerance,” a word he doesn’t like. “Many inhumane practices are ushered in under the guise of tolerance,” he says. “My generation expects nothing short of acceptance. I think Senate Bill 6 is the epitome of ignorance and hate—designed to demonize and dehumanize people, designed to divide us.
“I embrace our diversity and think it’s a strength. But we must get beyond the color of our skin, the religion we practice, or the bathroom we use,” he adds. “We have real, important issues to address. We’re not going to allow anyone to divide us. It’s exactly Pearland’s diversity that makes us stronger.”
An outstanding student, Floyd was accepted at both American and Georgetown universities, two prestigious Washington DC schools. But he’s chosen to enroll in the honors program at the University of Houston.
“I decided to stay because I think I can do the most good here,” he says.
This article appears in the July 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.