FeaturesPride 2020

Political Powerhouse

Lillie Schechter defends democracy and LGBTQ rights.

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Lillie Schechter (photo by Alex Rosa)

Lillie Schechter is a woman of passion—for her family, her friends, her career, her political party, and for the causes she believes in. As a longtime ally of Houston’s LGBTQ community, Schechter is being honored this year as Pride Houston’s Ally Grand Marshal.    

A Montrose Upbringing

Schechter was born on February 3, 1980, in Houston, and her family lived in Montrose (near  Crocker and Stanford) before moving to the West University area when she was four. She later graduated from Jesse H. Jones High School, an HISD magnet school in South Park. 

Schechter grew up in a political environment. Her mother, Sue Schechter, was a state representative from Texas House District 134 and later became the chairperson of the Harris County Democrats. Her great-uncle Arthur Schechter was an ambassador to the Bahamas under President Clinton. Her cousin Alan Rosen is the Harris County constable for Precinct 1 who was chosen as Pride Houston’s 2019 Ally Grand Marshal.    

After taking some community-college courses, Schechter eventually attended the University of Texas in Austin, where she earned a degree in American studies. In 2009, she founded Bayou City Strategies, which offers strategic planning and support services for fundraising and communications campaigns. She still serves as president of that organization.

Schechter now lives in Montrose once again, near West Gray. She is engaged to be married in 2021, when she will become an official step-mom to “three amazing step-children.”

Leading the Harris County Democrats        

In March 2017, Schechter was elected chair of the Harris County Democrats (HCD). She made the decision to run after Trump’s election, and because she has been an active Democrat for her entire life. “After Trump got elected, I wanted to make sure that we got him out of office. In order to do that, the Democratic Party needed to be built up. I had the skill set, and felt we needed to build everyday relationships around the county.”   

“We live in a time when we all have to stick together. When one group is persecuted, we are all persecuted.”

—Lillie Schechter

Under her leadership, the party opened an easily accessible Fifth Ward storefront two blocks from  I-10, just east of downtown Houston. Schechter notes that “it’s in a neighborhood that we have historically undervalued.”   

Schechter says it’s an important time to be a Democrat in Texas. “There is a huge motivating force because of the man who is in the White House. We have been able to recruit thousands of volunteers. We are a major battleground state in 2020—the metropolitan areas of Texas are Democratic, and the majority of the population lives in these counties. But still, winning is not a slam dunk.”

Schechter encourages the LGBTQ community and its allies to vote Democratic because “it’s the only party fighting for LGBTQ rights.”   

COVID-19 has forced Schechter to work from home since mid-March, so she has turned her garage into an office. That kind of improvising during the pandemic has allowed Party officials to forge ahead toward November. “It’s a true testament to Democratic Party staff, who have all adjusted to the virtual world. We are calling 5,000 voters a week and doing online training for volunteers. It’s the new normal, but I miss the people and the big meetings and being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded citizens.” 

A Longtime LGBTQ Ally

Schechter recalls one of the defining moments in her life when she became deeply involved in the effort for LGBTQ rights at age 16. Her gay uncle and his partner had been killed in a helicopter crash during a cruise in Alaska, and her uncle had never told his parents about the relationship because he worried that he would not be accepted. She was devastated when the two men were not buried together simply because his parents did not know about the relationship. 

Schechter says it was “really cool” when she heard her name announced as this year’s Ally Grand Marshal. “It’s incredible to celebrate how far we’ve come, and to remind people we are still fighting for more. People need to remember that LGBTQ people were once [and still are] criminalized, demonized, and penalized. [As soon as we forget that fact], we start to slide back.” 

As the HCD chair, Schechter has continued the Party’s involvement in Houston’s annual Pride parade. “We’ve grown our presence in the event, including the size of our float. Pride is a favorite activity of mine because it is fun. But we are also building programs around issues. We have had events at Hamburger Mary’s and featured speakers about gender-nonbinary and transgender issues.”

She adds, “We live in a time when we all have to stick together. When one group is persecuted, we are all persecuted.”

Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement, Schechter issues a clear call to action. “Our vision is a society that inherently guarantees equality and justice for all. That cannot be achieved until there is equality and justice for the lives of Black Americans. We must demand a complete and transformative restructuring of our legal and justice system so that Black lives are not taken with impunity.

“Right now, none of us can afford to look away from the pain, grief, and frustration of Black Americans. And at this moment, we are all being called upon to gather the strength of our shared values and come together to bring about the change that this mass mobilization of Americans demands. Showing up in this moment looks different for all of us. The only wrong way to do it is to not show up.”

For more information on Harris County Democrats, visit harrisdemocrats.org.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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