As a black trans activist, I’ve gone from ambivalence to appreciation for Houston Pride.
During last year’s Houston Pride—only the second one that I had participated in—I received the honor of carrying a transgender-pride flag at the front of the parade.
While marching through the streets of downtown, I wore a trans-themed shirt that said in Spanish, “My existence is resistance.”
It’s taken me some time to move from outright ambivalence about Houston’s Pride celebration to the point of being able to appreciate it.
Next year will mark 25 years since the day in April of 1994 when I started my public transition to the unapologetic black trans woman you see now. And this month marks 20 years since I stepped on a Washington DC-bound flight to participate in the first of two GenderPac Transgender Lobby Days.
As an activist, I have not only witnessed history, but have also made it. What I observed during the ’90s was anti-trans hostility, both in Texas and nationally, that soured me on this community and its Pride celebrations, to the point of ambivalence.
As I became “woke” about LGBTQ history, my ambivalence only increased. Why should I feel pride in a community that, when I first encountered it in the mid-’90s, was gleefully throwing trans people under the human-rights bus at all levels of government, while dismissively shouting “Wait your turn”? Why should I feel pride in a community that, as James Baldwin admonished in his last Village Voice interview in 1986, was no more ready to accept black people than society as a whole?
But after perusing that same LGBTQ history and seeing stories about Marsha P. Johnson, Lucy Anderson Hicks, the 1965 Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit-In in Philadelphia, and other LGBTQ trailblazers, my ambivalence about Pride celebrations began to break down.
The reason we have this celebration in Houston is that on June 28, 1969, black trans woman Marsha P. Johnson threw the shot glass that kicked off the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City—that defining civil-rights uprising that we celebrate each June as the start of the TBLGQ-rights movement.
I’ve also learned and observed over time that many Texans have played a major role in shaping that movement. Ray Hill was one of the “Big Five” leaders. The plaintiffs and attorneys in Lawrence v. Texas were Houstonians. Phyllis Frye, who helped finish in August 1980 what Toni Mayes started in the early 1970s by getting the Houston City Council to repeal an odious anti-crossdressing ordinance, is considered the godmother of the modern trans-rights movement.
Houston was the host city for the series of six International Conferences for Transgender Law and Employment Policy, which Frye started in 1992 to lay the foundation for our modern trans-rights movement.
From 1988 until 2000, before Southern Comfort took that title, the largest trans convention in the nation was the San Antonio-based Texas “T” Party organized by Cynthia Phillips and her wife, the late Linda Phillips.
That spirit of Texas trailblazers continues to this day.
Carter Brown started the Dallas-based Black Trans Advocacy Conference in 2012. This gathering for trans-masculine people has grown exponentially to become a weeklong black trans reunion, with attendees from across the U.S, as well as African-diaspora trans people from Panama, Venezuela, Jamaica, and Brazil.
In 2009, Josephine Tittsworth founded the Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit (TTNS), which will host its 10th anniversary in July on the campus of the University of Houston, where the summit first began. TTNS focuses on enacting trans-friendly nondiscrimination policies at colleges and (increasingly) in local school districts.
Houston’s Colt Keo-Meier started the Gender Infinity Conference, which takes place in October and focuses on trans youth and the parents and allies who love and support them.
There’s also Ana Andrea Molina, who in three short years has built the Houston-based Organización Latina de Trans en Texas into a nationally and internationally recognized entity with chapters in Dallas and Austin—in addition to Casa Anandrea, Houston’s only shelter for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.
It was also a trans Texan by the name of Nikki Araguz who tenaciously fought a six-year court battle in the Araguz v. Delgado case to win back marriage equality for trans folks after that right was lost due to the odious 1999 Littleton v. Prange case.
And that’s just scratching the surface of all the history and accomplishments of trans Texans.
Can we do better as LGBTQ Houstonians and Texans in our diverse community? We sure can, and we must. This community is as diverse as our 660-square-mile city—that flat piece of southeast Texas we call home.
We must do better to ensure that all LGBTQ Houstonians not only feel like they are wanted and needed, but that their voices are respected and corrective action is swiftly taken when they express themselves about the problems they see in this community.
I am a proud, unapologetic black trans Texan and Houstonian. I’m proud of my state, my community, and the fact that Houstonians and Texans are continuing to put our brand on LGBTQ history. I can’t wait to see what happens with the next generation of young LGBTQ leaders who will follow in our footsteps.
Thinking about that can’t help but give you warm thoughts and feelings as you watch thousands of people march through downtown Houston during this year’s parade.
Happy Pride, y’all!