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Taking the Lead

Jovon Tyler is the new president of Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus.

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Jovon Tyler (photos by Alex Rosa)

2020 is a monumental election year for the United States. Choosing a new president is always a significant milestone for countries, as well as for community organizations like Houston’s historic GLBT Political Caucus. The Caucus held a presidential election of their own last month, and members selected Jovon Tyler, 44, to lead the South’s oldest LGBTQ political group.

“It’s going to take all kinds of people working together as part of the LGBTQIA+ coalition to get big stuff done in the next decade.”

—Jovon Tyler

Tyler, who is gay, is no stranger to the Caucus. From 1994 to 1998 he served as the organization’s youngest board member ever, working alongside storied LGBTQ Houston leaders like Pat Gandy, Terry Richardson, and Lane Lewis. He played a pivotal role in putting the Caucus on the map with a mayoral administration that did not have the same close relationship with the Caucus that more recent mayors have had.

“The Caucus didn’t have a relationship with [the late Mayor Bob] Lanier. He wouldn’t take meetings with us. He wouldn’t engage. I thought that was outrageous, so we came up with the Power Brunch. The Caucus invited each of the mayoral candidates to join us for brunch, with [former Mayor] Lee Brown being the first. Then, eventually [Mayor Sylvester] Turner, Gracie Saenz, and George Grenias joined us. We even had Rob Mosbacher, who came to thank us for the brunch but let us know that we would not be getting anything from his administration. Those meetings helped establish a relationship between the Caucus and the leaders at City Hall. That was the beginning of what led us to the relationships we have today, and I am proud that that is part of my early legacy at the Caucus,” Tyler notes.

After finishing his term on the Caucus board, Tyler took a break to become a member of AmeriCorps. That experience took him to Brazil—an appealing opportunity for a 22-year-old. When he returned to Houston and to the Caucus, many of the leaders he had worked alongside were gone. The institutional knowledge they carried with them was missing, and Tyler recognized that he now had a responsibility to bridge that gap between the activist voices of the past and the emerging activists of today.

He also noticed the positive change taking place with the organization’s growing diversity. “When I was invited back to the Caucus by my friend [and former Caucus president] Mike Webb, I was stunned that there was so much more diversity within the organization. That’s good, because if we are ever going to achieve anything of great significance, it will take more voices. More Black and brown people from all over the city. Even people we don’t know yet. It’s going to take all kinds of people working together as part of the LGBTQIA+ coalition to get big stuff done in the next decade,” Tyler says.

As the first nonbinary-identifying president of the Caucus from 2018 to 2020, Mike Webb was a groundbreaking leader in their own right.

September 2 will be Tyler’s first official Caucus meeting at the helm. As the new president, he will be responsible for helping the Caucus set priorities in its fight to advance social justice for the LGBTQ community in Houston and throughout the state.

“I think one of the major things Houston needs is a nondiscrimination ordinance. It has come up three times and has been rejected by the citizens three times. It hurts us as a city not to have one in place. We like to think of ourselves in Houston as a lovely blue dot in a sea of red, but I think that [history of intolerance] is a red stain on our blue dot,” Tyler says.

He is referring, of course, to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) that was passed by City Council in 2014. After anti-LGBTQ activists petitioned to get a repeal on the ballot in 2015, the ordinance was struck down by voters after a divisive and hard-fought campaign. HERO got national attention and became the rallying cry for conservatives who pushed the false claim that “it would allow men to enter women’s bathrooms.” That fearmongering rhetoric was based on one narrow aspect of the ordinance that allowed people to use public restrooms based on their gender identity. The HERO defeat was a significant political blow for Mayor Annise Parker’s administration.

Parker is a former president of the GLBT Caucus who went on to make history as the first openly lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city. She also happens to be Tyler’s mother.

“We worked really hard with all of our kids to make sure they were engaged in politics, but Jovon [especially] took to it. He cares deeply about what happens in the community. By taking on this leadership role, he is putting his money where his mouth is,” Parker says.

The Caucus has a long history of grooming its presidents for larger leadership roles in the community. Parker is probably the most recognizable example, but other presidents like municipal judge Fran Watson (2016–2017) and activist Kris Banks (2009–2010) have also ascended to positions of influence. Both have faith in Tyler’s ability to carry on the legacy.

“Jovon at the helm of the Caucus is pretty phenomenal. His intellect, experience, and care for the LGBTQ community will keep the Caucus moving in a way that ensures Houston will be at the forefront of achieving fully-realized equality for LGBTQ people,” Watson says.

“As someone who served on the board years ago and has remained active in local politics since, Jovon brings both a fresh outlook and a historical perspective to the role. I am excited to see what he does,” Banks adds.

With Tyler following in his mother’s footsteps to become a Caucus president, the natural question is whether he also has his sights set on much larger roles in the future. Both Parker and Tyler demurred on that question.

“He is more of a natural politician than I am, but he has plenty of time to figure that out,” Parker says.

And Tyler just wants to remain focused on the important task at hand. “All I really want to do is be the best president the Caucus has ever had—and that would include my mother. That’s a tall glass of water, but I hope every president feels that way.”

For more information about the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, visit thecaucus.org.

This article appears in the September 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.

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