Houston’s Rebecca Robertson joins growing Equality Texas staff.
By Ryan M. Leach
Growing up as the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Rebecca Robertson says the LGBTQ community was not well regarded in her evangelical household.
However, Robertson’s family did instill in her a strong sense of standing up for what she believed in, and heeding the call to action.
“Little did my dad know that I would channel that message into fighting for [LGBTQ] civil rights and civil liberties.” Robertson says. “I think that experience of growing up [in a conservative family] allowed me to have greater empathy for folks.”
Robertson, a Houston attorney, was named chief programs officer for Equality Texas in December. Prior to joining the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, she spent six years as legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. She says she decided to join Equality Texas in the newly created position after working shoulder-to-shoulder with their staff in Austin as they fought for equality at the Capitol.
“What I love about the work Equality Texas does—and does better than any other organization—is that it does it with a Texas voice, Texas know-how, Texas volunteers, and Texas relationships,” Robertson says. “We won’t win this fight if Equality Texas is not the strongest it can be. All of the national organizations in the world won’t move the needle in this state if Equality Texas is not first-rate.”
Robertson is only the latest addition to the organization’s growing staff, which has tripled its annual operating budget from roughly $500,000 in 2014 to an expected $1.5 million in 2018. Although Equality Texas’ fundraising has benefitted to some extent from anti-LGBTQ attacks in the Legislature, much of the organization’s growth is the result of a strategic plan they implemented in 2014. That plan has allowed the organization to establish an executive team that includes a chief development officer hired in 2016, and now Robertson as chief programs officer.
Robertson’s path to Equality Texas seems to have been almost inevitable.
The 54-year-old moved to Houston when she was 15, before attending Rice University and Harvard Law School. In 1995, she went to work for the Houston-based law firm Baker Botts, where her case work focused primarily on securities litigation. Her pro bono work, however, included civil rights cases, and she was lucky enough to feel comfortable being out at work.
“I think people sometimes think Baker Botts is this very conservative firm, but I always found it to be an incredibly welcoming place, even though it was not a time when people thought you could [advance to the level of] partner as an out attorney,” Robertson says. “I decided to leave the firm because I realized that I didn’t go to law school to do [securities litigation]. I came to a place where I needed to start dedicating myself to [civil rights and civil liberties] full time.”
While at Baker Botts, Robertson advanced LGBTQ equality by setting up legal clinics for gay men living with AIDS who were planning for their own deaths. She also served on the legal team that worked on Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case that overturned the nation’s anti-sodomy laws in 2003.
Robertson and her partner of 27 years, Marty Orozco, were married in 2014. Orozco is also an attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid, where she works on environmental justice and fair housing. They live in Houston and plan to remain here, despite Equality Texas’ main offices being located in Austin.
Robertson will oversee the group’s public education, community organizing, and collaboration programs, including government relations, direct lobbying, and electoral work through the Texas Equity PAC. She will have her work cut out for her as Texans look to the 2018 elections and the 2019 legislative session.
Robertson says anti-LGBTQ attacks in the 2017 Legislature, as well as the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance eighteen months prior, were a wake-up call for LGBTQ advocates.
“The 2017 legislative session and, to an extent, HERO [the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance], taught us that we need to engage more.
“Texans are fair-minded people,” she says. “They believe that you should have a right to earn a living, a right to having a place to live, and a right to access public services,” she says.
However, Robertson adds, “Many Texans think that politics is ‘not for me,’ and we have to change that. It is that attitude that makes it easy for [lieutenant governor] Dan Patrick to focus on bathrooms rather than the real and serious problems that the Legislature should be focused on.”
This article appears in the February 2018 edition of OutSmart Magazine.