The Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus (formerly known as the Houston GLBT Political Caucus) has changed its name in an effort to promote greater inclusivity.
The local organization—which was founded in 1975 to advance the rights of LGBTQ people by electing pro-equality candidates—voted 36-2 on September 1 to more accurately reflect its membership and the entire queer community.
“You really can’t say that you’re an inclusive organization if you leave anybody outside of the door of equality,” President Jovon Alfon B. Tyler tells OutSmart. “Everybody has to be welcomed in. If that requires a name change, then it’s the right thing to do.”
Tyler says he proposed a name change to the Caucus’ board after meeting a college student who was unsure what the group’s acronym stood for.
“We were passing out endorsement cards at universities last year and one person asked me, ‘What’s GLBT?’” Tyler recalls. “The kid had no idea what we were trying to say about who we were. I was embarrassed and ashamed.”
Caucus leaders Katherine Ligon, Austin Davis Ruiz, Toni Mascioni, Jeff Watters, Luis Adame, Stephen M. Miranda, Mario Castillo, Brandon Mack, Dee Dee Watters, and Judson Dunn were all supportive of the idea, so the group held a membership vote on September 1.
“One of the easiest things you can do to recognize people is by adding the whole LGBTQ+ acronym [when we] talk about the community,” says Ruiz, who serves as the group’s Board Trustee Position 1 and Communications Director. “It’s a simple way to make people seen and feel recognized.”
First known as the Gay Political Caucus, the organization has updated its name several times throughout the years. It wasn’t always easy for the membership to come to an agreement, notes Tyler, who began serving on the Caucus board 22 years ago.
Sue Lovell, who served as Caucus president from 1984 to 1985, was the first woman to lead the organization and the first president to propose a name change that would reflect its female membership. During Annise Parker’s presidency from 1986 to 1987, the name was changed to the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus (GLPC).
“The reason it was never the [more customary ‘Lesbian and Gay’] Political Caucus is because of the male members who threatened to leave if the name was changed, or [if ‘Lesbian’ was listed first]” Tyler explains. “As a compromise, it became known as the GLPC. The women from that time have said they felt that was sexist, but because of all they had done within the organization, at least they were being acknowledged.”
There were multiple attempts to promote bisexual and transgender inclusion in the Caucus’ name, but it wasn’t until Maria Gonzalez’s presidency in 2005 that the group’s membership voted to become the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Political Caucus.
Tyler says the move upset several longtime members, who ended their involvement with the organization. “One of the coolest things about being involved in the Caucus now is that there has been a rebirth of youth who believe the right time to do something is now,” he says. “It’s wonderful to work with a generation of young folks who [view expanding diversity] as part of their code of ethics. That’s made my job easier.”
In addition to the group’s most recent name change, the Caucus has made several efforts to improve diversity and inclusion under Tyler’s leadership.
“He created two positions on the leadership team that are specific to the trans and nonbinary community. One of the things we’ve struggled with is having trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming members in the Caucus,” Ruiz says. “He also recognized the lack of women members we had, so we held a women’s and gender-diverse membership drive at Pearl Bar earlier this year to help up the representation in our membership. Those two things should tell you what you need to know about Jovon, his leadership, and the legacy he wants to leave behind.”
If Tyler is reelected as president next year, he wants to focus on legacy-building for the organization and its board. “Every president we’ve ever had has gone on to do amazing things for our city, and I want to lead an entire leadership team that will do that,” he says. “We have brought in highly qualified, mentally gifted young activists from a variety of backgrounds. They’re going to be running for City Council, governor and, heck, maybe even president. I want to leave these young people fired up and ready to go.”
The Caucus is hosting a one-hour Texas Special Legislative Session debriefing with Representative Ann Johnson and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) Executive Director Emmett Schelling today at 7 p.m. The group is also currently selling tickets to its 12th annual Equality Brunch on October 30.
For more information, visit thecaucus.org.