by Josef Molnar
With all of the social advances affecting LGBT people over the past few decades, it might be tempting to think that change is coming more easily, or even that the fight for equality isn’t all that important.
Not so, said Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, an organization that advocates for legal equality and gender inclusiveness in Texas. He explains that the benefits of equality are not evenly spread among all LGBT people.
“People feel like things are good enough as they are, and that they don’t necessarily need to be involved,” he said. “Our quality of life has improved—particularly in the urban centers—but we forget that our life here in the city is very different from what life is like 10 or 15 miles down the freeway.”
He said work still needs to be done on issues such as legal protections in the workplace, and apartment lease or home mortgage denials due to sexual orientation.
“In Texas, we have no residential or employment guidelines,” he said. “We still have a long road to travel to become equal citizens with equal protections.”
The HSYD actively recruits members from 16 to 40 years of age, but people of any age are welcome to join and contribute to the group’s work, Shipman said. The group has a current membership of about 125 people, most of whom are in their late 20s to early 30s.
“Even if someone is outside of our membership age, we do allow them to become honorary members,” he said. “The only restriction is that they can’t hold office or vote.”
Josh Cory, a student at Rice University and a member of the HSYD, said he was drawn to the group’s hands-on approach to its activism. While he has worked as an activist at Rice and elsewhere, he decided to expand his volunteerism because of the HSYD’s tight organization.
“I’m more into the whole personal contact aspect of it,” he said. “I wanted to get involved in the community, and [Shipman] really explained the importance of being politically active, so I started coming to the meetings.”
Shipman is looking for more enthusiastic and energetic college students, many of whom have the time and energy to help create change for LGBT people. The group needs volunteers to solicit votes by telephone and on foot, to organize materials, and for many other LGBT outreach projects.
With almost 150 judicial positions available in the fall elections, Shipman said the gay community needs all of the help it can get to ensure that progress continues.
“The reason [judicial races] are important is because civil, probate, and family courts rule on issues that can impact LGBT individuals and the community,” he said. “Adoption, child custody, and property cases go through these courts.”
While not everyone has the time to volunteer, he encourages everyone who is supportive of LGBT people to do something to help, either through donations or by voting for supportive candidates.
“Even if people just register to vote and hit a straight vote for Democrats, that could help,” he said.
The next meeting of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats is on Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Stag’s Head Pub, 2128 Portsmouth near Shepherd and Richmond. For more information about the HSYD, visit houstonstonewallyd.org or find them at facebook.com.