One day before Women’s Equality Day was celebrated in the United States last month, the City of Houston launched a new effort to improve the quality of life for its female residents.
During a meeting on August 25, City Council members voted unanimously to create a permanent women’s commission that will examine local gender disparities and devise policies to address them. The volunteer board—which is made up of 25 female leaders—includes pioneering LGBTQ activists Phyllis Frye and Tammi Wallace.
Council Member Abbie Kamin, a longtime ally who represents District C, spearheaded the women’s commission and worked with Mayor Sylvester Turner to get Council approval.
“After over a year of planning, to see this effort come to fruition is very special,” Kamin said in a statement. “This is the first time we will have a board specifically looking at women’s equity in our city; something we must have if we want to address the substantial disparities women continue to face day-to-day.”
Full-time working women in Harris County only earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to a study by the University of Houston’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender & Sexuality. Women are also more likely to experience poverty than men—a gender gap that is more pronounced in Harris County than at the national level. These disparities are even larger among Hispanic and Black women.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these existing inequities in the United States. From March 2020 to the present, over 2.6 million women have left the workforce (compared to 1.7 million men), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The virus has also disproportionately impacted women’s health.
“Many women have unfairly fallen even farther behind,” Kamin said. “It is critical to bring industry to the table to come up with creative solutions. The Women’s Commission will help ensure this stays at the forefront, and I am grateful to Mayor Turner for championing this.”
Turner congratulated Kamin for proposing the commission.
“As an attorney, wife, and mother, she brings a unique voice to public service,” he said. “Women play a vital role in my administration, and are leaders who are making a significant contribution in all aspects of our diverse community. I look forward to seeing the Commission’s recommendations and working to enhance the quality of life for all women.”
Members of the inaugural board, who volunteer for staggered four-year terms, are Beth Matusoff Merfish, Carmen Peña Abrego, Elsa Caballero, Carvana Cloud, Elizabeth Gregory, Chau Nguyen, Angie Wiens-Talbert, Elizabeth Gonzalez Brock, Codi Wiener, Eureka Gilkey, Alison Young, Haley Crain Carter, Juliana Garaizar, Barbara Burger, Lori Choi, Tammi C. Wallace, Phyllis Frye, Rogene Calvert, Glenda Joe, Kristy Bridges, Christine S. Willie, Janalia Moreno, Nancy Macgregor, Tanuke Smith, and Sima Ladjevardian.
“The 25 women serving on the Houston Women’s Commission represent a diverse cross-section of Houston,” the City announced in a statement.
The two out women appointed to the
commission have both made major impacts on the LGBTQ community, both locally and nationally.
As the first openly transgender judge in the nation, Phyllis Frye made headlines for her pioneering activism in the trans community. Tammi Wallace, the co-founder, president, and CEO of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, works to strengthen a network of queer-owned businesses in Houston.
“The Houston Women’s Commission is a voice that is needed in our city to ensure that there is a dedicated focus to advance equality and equity for women,” Wallace said. “Thank you to Mayor Turner and Council Member Abbie Kamin for this nomination, and for your vision and leadership in establishing this important commission to address solutions in supporting women across our great city.”
“The City’s Commission on Women will focus on many items of interest for both trans women and trans men,” Frye added. “Health, employment, and racial discrimination are chief among them. I hope that with my history of advocacy and as an out role model I can help bring discussion of these issues to the table.
Commission members will spend its first year addressing the issues Houston women have faced during the pandemic, including job loss, health care, family-leave coverage, childcare needs, and wage disparities.
For more info on the Houston Women’s commission, visit houstontx.gov.
This article appears in the September 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.