Houston’s largest LGBTQ political group elects first genderqueer president.
By Brandon Wolf
Mike Webb, the newly elected president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, says 2018 will be “the year when the resistance strikes back.”
“This is one of the most important elections in decades, for the U.S. and for Texas,” Webb says.
The 32-year-old spent the last two years as vice president of the Caucus before being elected this month to replace interim president Frances Valdez. Valdez took over last year after Fran Watson stepped down to run for the Texas Senate.
Webb identifies as genderqueer and prefers the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “theirs.” The first genderqueer president in the Caucus’ history, Webb views it not as a label, but as a liberation from expectations related to gender.
“I just exist as ‘me,’” Webb says.
Webb defeated Alexis Melvin, a transgender activist and former Caucus board member, in the race for president, during a standing-room-only meeting at the Montrose Center.
“The Caucus is well positioned to expand our influence over the next year, so we all need to move forward together,” Melvin said after the election.
A Houston native, Webb was raised in the city’s Third Ward by a single mom. As part of a religious family that attended a homophobic church—Webb finally found empowerment in HATCH, Houston’s program for LGBTQ youth.
Academic achievement earned Webb a scholarship to Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Through an exchange program that involved a year at Howard University in Washington DC, Webb worked as an intern in the office of congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston).
Last year, Webb served as an aide to State senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) during the 85th Texas Legislature in Austin, which featured attempts to pass dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills. Webb describes 2017 as “a year of aggressive bigotry.”
“I’ve seen what happens when hatred wins,” Webb says. “[The Caucus’] goal is to achieve equality for everyone in our community by electing strong, passionate, pro-LGBTQ candidates.”
In addition to Jackson Lee and Garcia, Webb has worked for former Houston mayor Annise Parker, as well as for Legacy Community Health. Webb’s heroes include the late Houston congresswoman Barbara Jordan and the gay black civil-rights pioneer Bayard Rustin.
Webb lists improved outreach to black and brown communities as a priority for the Caucus. Too often, people simply assume that those communities will support progressive candidates, according to Webb. “They need to hear from us. They need to be included and respected—involved from beginning to end. They should be part of the leadership and included in every meeting.”
Webb also hopes to deepen the Caucus’ relationships with organizations like United We Dream, Black Lives Matter, trans groups, and others.
Webb believes some progressive voters have forgotten that politics can be intimidating for people who have never been involved, adding that the Caucus should be “intentionally inclusive” and welcoming. Webb also wants the Caucus to refocus on HIV/AIDS, and include questions in its candidate endorsement screening process about what candidates will do to address the issue.
“We can’t operate in a silo,” Webb says. “We can’t just focus on our issues. We have to expand and be victorious with [issues that we have in common]. As we attack hatred and bigotry together, we will be more effective.”
Webb points to the Caucus’ Houston Advocacy Day during last year’s legislative session as a good example of coalition-building. “Our coalitions should include communities and organizations most impacted by racism, homelessness, transgender violence, and sexism, because all of these issues impact our LGBTQ+ community,” Webb says. “Our community is so amazingly diverse with an inclusive culture, we are in a unique position to actually lead the progressive movement.
At the time of Webb’s election, candidate screenings were already underway for the March 6 primary election. With a record number of people seeking the Caucus’ endorsement, Webb gave high praise to members of the screening committee who are racing against the clock to complete that process in time for the group’s February 3 endorsement meeting, set for 11 a.m. at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 1805 West Alabama.
“The Caucus endorsement is one of the most sought-after by progressive candidates,” Webb says. “The process is very transparent and well thought-out. The committee looks for a candidate’s level of knowledge of LGBTQ policy areas, and asks them what they are willing to do to raise the quality of life for local LGBTQs.”
Webb emphasized that the Caucus is nonpartisan, and that invitations to screen were sent to all candidates—Democrats, Republicans, and third-party candidates. Noting that progressive voters often look for the Caucus card at polling places, Webb says the group plans to expand distribution of its endorsement list to all of Harris County, and even into Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.
To get out the vote, Webb says Caucus volunteers are eager to begin phone-banking on behalf of endorsed candidates. The endorsement card will be mailed to more than 30,000 households (and counting) as the group expands its geographical reach.
“We should welcome common-sense Republicans and independents who are committed to fighting LGBTQ+ discrimination,” Webb says.
“If we truly believe in civil rights, we have to aggressively fight racism in all its forms. Ultimately, issues like immigration are human-rights issues. The Caucus is a human-rights organization, and has always fought on the right side of history.”
This article appears in the February 2018 edition of OutSmart Magazine.