On September 12, handmade signs placed in the vicinity of Riverbrook Drive off the Southwest Freeway in Sugar Land directed guests along winding streets to the Greatwood subdivision home of Robin Brown and Fiona Dawson for an “LGBT event,” the inaugural membership drive of Fort Bend County’s first political caucus dedicated to eliminating prejudice, violence, and injustice against the LGBT community.
“What I absolutely love is that today we have the acronym LGBT all over Greatwood,” laughed Dawson, president of the organization that was founded in June. “We have come out all over.”
Guest speaker for the event was Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “We modeled our organization after the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, of which Annise is a past president,” Dawson told the gathering of about 60 guests. “She is the highest-ranking openly gay elected official of a major U.S. city, and of course has become a legend through her victorious rise within Houston’s political ranks. We are delighted that she is joining us in making history in Fort Bend County this year.”
Parker told the gathering, “A few great people can do anything. A handful of committed people can make anything happen.”
“We’re going to turn this state blue one voter at a time, one county at a time,” added Ryan Levy of Montrose. He and his partner, Ian Eastveld, contributed wine for the event, courtesy of their Houston company, The Nice Winery. Levy’s parents, Fort Bend couple Bob and Gail Levy of Quail Valley subdivision, were among a number of nongay allies who attended to support the LGBT community and the efforts of the caucus.
Several Democratic candidates also attended, but no Republicans, said Dawson. “We actually did write to Republican candidates, inviting them to attend. Our intent is to reach out to people regardless of their political affiliation.”
Donald Bankston, one of two representatives of Senate District 18 on the Democratic Party’s state executive committee, agreed that it’s wise for the Fort Bend LGBT Political Caucus to be nonpartisan, because “it gives legitimacy to the organization to spread its message and to influence city, local, and school board elections in the area.”
A 2006 study identified Fort Bend, which includes some parts of southwest Houston, as the wealthiest county in Texas with a median household income of $75,202 and an estimated 50 percent growth since the 2000 U.S. Census. Factoring in its local cost of living, the Council for Community and Economic Research ranked Fort Bend as America’s third wealthiest county.
Bankston’s wife, Susan, taunted, “Who would have ever thought we would see this large LGBT gathering in Tom DeLay’s back yard!”
The group plans to focus on three main areas—education, advocacy, and activism—“in order to achieve a world where all human beings are guaranteed freedom, equality, and opportunity,” said Dawson.
By living openly and sharing personal stories, through lobbying, holding district meetings and events, block-walking, and screening and endorsing candidates for political office who meet the organization’s established criteria, the caucus intends to be a powerful membership group working to effect change.
“Although Fort Bend County has traditionally been conservative ground, we now see new and real opportunity to elect candidates who will help advance equality,” said Dawson. “We are small, but we are mighty, and we are going to be huge!”
Dawson added, “As the party was winding down, a young man and woman rang the doorbell. They had followed the yellow brick road of signs through the neighborhood, and wanted to see what was going on. Recently transplanted from Utah where they were harassed for being gay, they were seeking solidarity and friendship from people who would accept them for who they are. We were able to provide them with numerous resources, and share our personal stories as well. There could not have been a more perfect ending to a perfect day.
“This is exactly why an organization like the Fort Bend LGBT Political Caucus is so necessary, and why we need continued support,” said Dawson.
Current board members include Januari Leo, vice president and chair of public relations and communications (Missouri City); Terry Hobbs, secretary (Missouri City); and Autumn Downing, chair of marketing and events, and Nick Hellyar, chair of political relations, who are former Fort Bend residents now living in Houston.
Those interested in joining the caucus may e-mail [email protected] The caucus is on Facebook at Fort Bend LGBT Political Caucus, and on Twitter at twitter.com/FBLGBTCaucus. —Donalevan Maines