FeaturesSlider on Homepage

Heroes of HERO

  • 10
  •  
  •  
  •  

Voices of a community in action
by Mark Eggleston

Return to The story of HERO

HeroesofHeroSlider
Strength in numbers: For weeks, citizens clad in red filled City Hall to testify in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Elected officials, community members, and faith leaders alike shared stories of love, pain, and bravery to reinforce their conviction that discrimination has no place in Houston. Photo by Mark Eggleston.

Over the course of four days, with more than 309 personal testimonies given in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) during 23 hours of testimony, the lives of countless Houstonians, including mine, were transformed.

I am grateful that Houstonians showed up in crowds that exceeded the number of seats in the City Hall chambers. The sea of supporters wearing red provided an unmistakable visual response to anyone who would falsely claim that discrimination and injustice does not exist, and the powerful personal testimonies countered misinformation and spiritual violence.

On the next several pages, you will find a sampling of the hundreds of powerful testimonies offered during the four days of HERO hearings. Some people spoke out for the first time in their lives, some became civil rights activists on that day, and others came out to family, friends, and the world after years in the closet. I encourage you to visit youtube.com/HOUequality, where you will find hundreds of individual testimonies, closing remarks from City Council members, and more.

Kristen Capps
Kristen Capps

Kristen Capps 
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“I’ve heard over and over that we don’t need these laws because they are duplicating existing laws—[that] these protections already exist. And, Council Member Stardig and others who are repeating this—and it isn’t true when you say that—what we’re hearing is, the people that already deserve protection are protected and that we don’t need new laws. What we are hearing over and over is that we are the people who are not worthy of this protection. These laws do not exist on a federal level, on a state level, or on a local level. Any one of these folks in red who’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender can be fired today. If Mayor Parker and I want to go to the IHOP, we can be kicked out because she’s a lesbian or because I’m a bisexual. And it’s time for that to stop. And there’s not 13 more years of debate that will change the sincerely held religious beliefs of the people who have testified today. But at some point, this is a deliberative body making public policy. People can practice their religions in their churches, in their synagogues, on their own time. But we are here making public policy for the good of the citizens of the City of Houston. Pass the ordinance.”

Manpreet K. Singh
Manpreet K. Singh

Manpreet K. Singh
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“I’m a part of the Sikh religion, which is the fifth-largest religion [in the world]. We’re an integral and growing part of this Houston community, and as you may know, many of our [traditional articles of dress] include the turban and the beard. And it has an outward appearance. This has caused many of my brothers to be rejected by public places simply for the way that they look. Rejection from public places enforces stereotypes and racial profiling. Public policy dictates equality. This hurts our general right to freedom. This has never been a bathroom issue. This is a fair-housing issue, a fair-employment issue, a treating-humans-fairly issue, an issue that our federal government is instilling through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Constitution of the United States. This Equal Rights Ordinance needs to be enforced for the most diverse city in the nation. Let us lead and not be led.”

Amelia Rose Miller
Amelia Rose Miller

Amelia Rose Miller
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“We have heard some say today that the transgender identity is a choice. I was born with both male and female genitals. And as an infant, a doctor’s scalpel removed my female organs and assigned me a gender. As I grew, it became very apparent that this forced gender was in direct conflict to my actual, innate, God-given gender identity, and finally resulted in myself leaning over a high-powered rifle and pulling the trigger. I am here today because that rifle did not go off. Gender identity, for me, was never was a choice. And my very existence invalidates any discussion which falsely claims it is.”

Autumn Packard
Autumn Packard

Autumn Packard
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“I am a proud mom of two children—a single mom at that—and a full-time student working on getting my master’s in the long run. I’m here to speak about my unique daughter. The Native Americans would consider her very special. They would consider her a two-spirited person, and she would hold the highest respect in their society. My daughter is transgender. I’m here speaking for her because she is four and a half years old.”

Bridgett Vinson
Bridgett Vinson

Bridgett Vinson
Testimony, May 6, 2014
“Because of my gender expression, managers have been called to the restroom to remove me. Store security and the police have been called to harass me. I have been screamed at by others in the restroom and have had people bang on the stall door to yell at me for using the ‘wrong’ restroom—all simply because I don’t wear clothing that some Houstonians believe is appropriate enough to go to the bathroom. I exist. This ordinance is necessary to protect people like me who have experienced a lifetime of abuse, discrimination, harassments, and threats.”

Pastor Lura Groen
Pastor Lura Groen

Pastor Lura Groen
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“Here’s why there’s urgency to this ordinance. My congregation, as an expression of our faith, every Thursday hosts Montrose Grace Place, an outreach to the homeless youth in the Montrose, of every sexual orientation and gender identity. And every Thursday we sit down with them at tables for a family-style meal. And every Thursday I watch them play the piano with amazing talents, and I watch the artwork that they create. And every Thursday I hear from them about getting turned away from shelters and case managers trying to get them into apartments because of their sexual orientation. And every Thursday I get out the first-aid kit to help them with the bruises on their beautiful faces, because they are the victims, and not the perpetrators, of violence. And every Thursday I hear about them getting turned away from jobs that would get them out of homelessness [after being] kicked out of their homes. And every Thursday is one Thursday too many.”

Randy Porres
Randy Porres

Randy Porres
Testimony, May 6, 2014
“I have never been denied a house or not allowed to enter a restroom, but that’s because for the past 25 years I hid my heart from society. But today is the very first time I come in front of you as my true self, a gay man. This is the first time those words come out of my mouth. In my family only my sister knows, and that’s since this past Saturday. Back home in my country, I was bullied by nearly everyone. My childhood was one of the worst moments in my life. But then I came to the United States and I had the chance to start again. And I choose to put up a show so people would accept me and not judge me. Well, until today, I have always been afraid to face who I am, in fear of the repercussions that it may have. I know that after today I will probably get kicked out of my congregation and I will lose many of the ones I thought were my friends. But I believe that things will get better. There are three things that will last forever: that’s faith, hope, and love. And love be the greatest of them all.”

P. K. McCary
P. K. McCary

P. K. McCary
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“Most of the opposing argument to this ordinance is based on ignorance, pursuing a line of reasoning that is seriously flawed, lacking both compassion and grace. Let’s rectify this situation. Let’s end decisions based on bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and other detrimental-isms of today’s America. This is an opportunity to stand for the rights of all, no matter how [people are] labeled. If you don’t understand, reach out and meet someone with your human heart, rather than a narrow mind. Are we ready to change our thinking to change our future selves? I am. And this ordinance does.”

Rosemary Cloud
Rosemary Cloud

Rosemary Cloud
Testimony, May 28, 2014
“I’m the past president of PFLAG. I’m a Christian, a lifelong Methodist, and native Houstonian. I am also the proud mother of a gay son who has been bullied before ‘bullying’ was even the buzzword. This gifted student changed high schools four times, dropping out. He’s been verbally abused, physically threatened. He’s a taxpayer, a prominent member of the arts community, and a tireless community volunteer. I implore you to protect my son. Please do the right thing. We’ve been on the wrong side against Afro-Americans, Hispanics, and even women. Please do the right thing. We’re asking not for extra rights, [but] equal rights.”

Sarah Schimmer
Sarah Schimmer

Sarah Schimmer & Madeleine Schimmer
Testimony, May 6, 2014
“Being a parent gives you so much clarity and perspective, and as a mother of small children, I am teaching them to be good, productive citizens, to see the value in all kinds of people. No matter what kind of people my children grow up to be, I want the best opportunities available for them, and this ordinance offers that opportunity. [To] the LGBT youth who are watching, as a mother, I want you to know you are not broken. You are loved and there is a whole community working for you to have a brighter future.”

Lou Weaver
Lou Weaver

Lou Weaver
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“For 44 years, I’ve been told I’m a second-class citizen. I was designated female at birth. I came out as a lesbian six weeks shy of my 19th birthday in 1989, before Melissa Etheridge, before Ellen DeGeneres. I had no role models. I came out as a transgender man six years ago. The amount of male privilege I have now is [much greater than] what I grew up with. But I still get discriminated against. The fact is that if we don’t pass this now, I will continue to be told that I am a second-class citizen. I continue to hear it every day that I get discriminated against. I hear it when I go to the doctor and I don’t get adequate health care because of the fact that I am a transgender person. I’ve been denied care at Ben Taub. I’ve watched loved ones be denied care in the emergency room at St. Luke’s. I stand here today before you as a proud Houstonian, as a proud transman, in hopes that other young people are able to stand up and speak for themselves.”

Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz
Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz

Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz
Testimony, May 6, 2014
“As one of the pastors of Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in the Heights, I am here in support of the proposed Equal Rights Ordinance. This past week I was asked how could I, as a Latino and as a pastor, support laws that ban discrimination against LGBT people. First, I am very aware of the discrimination that my family has been subjected to because of culture and skin color. I am reminded of the devoutly Catholic activist Cesar Chavez, who fought for Latinos and actually helped lead the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. I am reminded of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inviting openly gay African-American Bayard Rustin to organize the 1963 March on Washington. When [Coretta Scott King was] asked, in [the year] 2000, if her husband would be supportive of LGBT rights, she said, ‘Of course. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination.’ I am also reminded of Jesus, who said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Margarita Perez
Margarita Perez

Margarita Perez
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“[Today I speak] as a Christian, as a Latina, as a lesbian, as a woman, and as a proud employee of AIDS Foundation Houston. Council members, today’s decision will not be an easy one, and I want to thank you all for your careful consideration. We look to you to make the right decision and vote for the ordinance. A leader is one who knows the way, who goes the way, and that shows the way. Today is the day to showcase and embrace all of Houston’s diversity.”

Dr. Colt Keo-Meier
Dr. Colt Keo-Meier

Dr. Colt Keo-Meier
Testimony, May 6, 2014
“I work here at the Houston VA as our LGBT Health Care Fellow. As a devout Christian, and as an out transgender man, I urge you to support this ordinance. Let me start by laying the bathroom safety issue to rest. The VA has a nondiscrimination policy and they added gender identity and expression in 2012. Since then, we have had zero issues with sexual predators. Let me repeat that. This is not an issue. It is a made-up issue. If there are any safety issues in our bathrooms, the people who are most likely to be victims of [predators] are people who are gender-nonconforming—transgender, lesbian, gay, or bisexual—and that includes our LGBT children.”

Dee Dee Watters
Dee Dee Watters

Dee Dee Watters
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“The reality is that we all stand with each other. And if we all believe in a God that says we are all welcomed into the gates, as many of us say—if I am welcomed into the gates, then I should be welcomed into your facilities. Understand something: if you are a person that believes in God, you should believe in love, and you should believe in love abundantly, so therefore you should love me.”

Chris Hicks
Chris Hicks

Chris Hicks
Testimony, May 28, 2014
“I am here because my support for the Equal Rights Ordinance is greater than my fear of public speaking. I didn’t think I had a story to tell, but I realized there are a lot of people like me and we need to speak out, too. Tomorrow is my 37th wedding anniversary. . . . My husband worked for a major oil company, and we lived all over the world with our two children, including many places where equal rights were not even considered—where discrimination was seen and experienced on a daily basis. But Houston is home for us now. I am white. I am straight. I’m a Christian. I’m a City of Houston voter. And not one of these statements, not one, entitles me to more rights than any other person. I urge you to vote for the Equal Rights Ordinance.”

Matthew Clay Williams
Matthew Clay Williams

Matthew Clay Williams
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“I come at one of the most vulnerable times in my life. My family does not know about my sexuality, and they live in another city. I work within the LGBT community, but I work hard to keep it a secret from my family. With my father as a pastor and my mother a director of a Christian day care in Beaumont, Texas, I long ago decided that I would tell them when I am completely independent from them—and I am nowhere near that position right now. But it doesn’t matter, because an opportunity has come up that I cannot pass up. They will know after today about my sexuality. I have no idea how they will react. I will do whatever I can for them to see this, because I want them to know I am completely proud of it, and I am working within the community, and I want to help other people in my community—not just LGBT people, but also African-Americans and anyone else that might be discriminated against. I gave a lot of preamble just because I wanted to come before you to say, with the Bible in my hand: I support this ordinance—with the looming effect that I might just be on the streets from my family throwing me out.”

Monica Roberts
Monica Roberts

Testimony, May 28, 2014
“This is the best reason that HERO needs to be passed tomorrow, without delay. Thirty years ago, when there were two less City Council seats here, there was a Human Rights Ordinance that was passed that only protected sexual orientation. Our opponents didn’t like that then! And they decided to put a referendum together to repeal it. So 30 years ago we were hearing the same arguments coming from our opponents when I was a 22-year-old that I’m hearing today as a 52-year-old. Bottom line is that we’ve been waiting 30 years in the LGBT community to be covered and have the same human rights that many of you sitting behind this podium and in this room take for granted. Your Christianity does not justify you discriminating against LGBT people.”

Oliver Buck
Oliver Buck

Oliver Buck
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“I am 15 and I’m a student at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and I would like to speak in support of HERO. As a transgender youth, I am blessed for my school, where I am accepted and [the pronoun I prefer is] used by my peers, teachers, and counselors. Unfortunately, not all people have the same circumstances. Even some of my close friends are disrespected for expressing themselves in a way most comfortable for them. And while I can’t speak for their experiences, I can speak some of my own. Sometimes, some things like even going to the bathroom or at a clothing store’s changing room can be nerve-wracking, because I don’t want to be called out or outted by someone who notices me. So this ordinance would lessen that stress significantly and make me feel a lot more comfortable in many everyday situations. So I would like to ask you to support HERO as well.”

20 DanielWilliamsDaniel Williams
Testimony, May 28, 2014
“Y’all have had a really rough month. I know that you [Council members] don’t know when you pick up the phone if someone is going to be yelling at you. I know that people who came in from out of town have stood on your front lawn to yell at you. I know people have threatened your jobs. Welcome, for just one moment, to what it feels like to be a member of my community. I know that some of you are scared. I know that some of you are confused. I know that some of you are struggling with the conflict between what you know is right and the communities you came from. I know some of you are feeling compelled to represent yourselves as one thing to one group of people and something else to another group of people. Welcome, for just one moment, to what it feels like to be a member of my community.”

Brad Pritchett
Brad Pritchett

Brad Pritchett
Testimony, May 13, 2014
“Senator Wendy Davis and Senator Leticia Van De Putte both came out publicly today in support of this ordinance. And I plan to vote for both of those women, because I like to vote for people who respect me as a human being. Another elected official that I respect would tell you that when you were sworn in, you put your hand on a Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution—not the other way around. I respect anybody who is here who has faith. I think it’s a wonderful thing to have faith. But I don’t think your faith should be used against me to keep me or my friends and family from being equal. And so I ask you to do your jobs and protect the people.”

Mayor Annise Parker
Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker
Closing Remarks, May 28, 2014
“While much of the debate has centered around the gay and transgender protections of the ordinance, it is a comprehensive ordinance. And I want to remind everyone in this chamber that I have an African-American son; I have biracial daughters who are clearly of color. I have daughters, and I care about what happens to them. My beautiful son is also gay, and the reason he is my son is because his family rejected him. I don’t want him discriminated against because he is black. I do not want him discriminated against because he’s a man. I do not want him discriminated against because he is gay. This ordinance covers all of those categories.”

Council Member Larry Green
Council Member Larry Green

Council Member Larry Green
Closing Remarks, May 28, 2014
“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ Sometimes in life, you will have occasions, if you will, that are bigger than yourself. And while I may not agree with the process, while it probably could have been more inclusive, while it could have been handled differently, some things are bigger than yourself. And to support an equal rights ordinance is something that’s bigger than myself. As Dr. King stated, the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in a moment of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at the time of challenge and controversy. Some things in life are bigger than ourselves. So today, I will support something bigger than myself. I will support equality.”

Council Member Richard Nguyen
Council Member Richard Nguyen

Council Member Richard Nguyen
Closing Remarks, May 28, 2014
“On this journey and adventure that we call ‘life,’ there are times when we come to a split in the road and are forced to choose which path to take. I came to that split and I struggled with the decision. I prayed and asked others to pray for me. I searched my soul and I asked God to help me navigate my way. I asked my head for wisdom and I asked my heart for compassion. Surprisingly, the answer did not come from my head nor my heart. It came from the eyes of a six-year-old, when my daughter looked into mine, saw my struggle, and said, ‘Daddy, be brave.’ My sweet six-year-old mentor not only gave me the answer, but also taught me a lesson. I look around this chamber. I see not only colleagues and friends, but also brothers and sisters. So, brothers and sisters, we are given the honor to serve, but most importantly, we are bestowed the responsibilities to lead. I want to serve, and I want to lead. I listened to a pure, innocent heart. I opened mine up and allowed compassion to support this equal rights ordinance. We have nothing to lose, but much to gain. Let us continue our journeys with love and peace.”

Mark Eggleston is an advocate and organizer and serves as director of outreach at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.

Comments

Show More

Mark Eggleston

Mark Eggleston is an advocate and organizer and serves as director of outreach at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.

Leave a Review or Comment

Related Articles

Check Also
Close
Back to top button