By James Lee
In recent weeks the death of Sandra Bland has caused a great stir in Houston. The event and the revelations that followed have been shocking. No matter how you feel about her arrest, or her death, the reality is the event highlighted a struggle not so different from our own.
In the 1980s LGBT Houstonians were often targets of gay bashing, harassment, and even murder. At the start of the ’80s a police officer shot a gay activist in the back of the head, execution style.
In his day, Fred Paez organized against injustice and helped set up what would become the Montrose Patrol, an LGBT response to police brutality in Houston. Together with the Montrose Patrol, Paez devoted himself to educating LGBT Houstonians on how to safely engage a hostile authority figure.
On the day of the 1980 Houston Pride Festival, Paez was murdered by a police officer. Reports varied in response to his death. Some sought to demoralize Paez’s character, claiming he tried to sexually harass the officer and that the officer’s gun went off in the struggle. Others claimed he resisted arrest and his death was an accident.
Paez’s murder led to distrust of the Houston Police Department and many demonstrations against police brutality. In the end the demonstrations and outcry led to an investigation and an indictment by a grand jury. However, the officer was acquitted and resigned from HPD shortly after.
Like Paez, Sandra Bland spoke out against injustice. And no matter what the cause of her death may be, the reality is black and African-American people are living under intense scrutiny in our lifetime, not in centuries past.
Sandra Bland, like Eric Gardner and many others, did not deserve the scrutiny placed upon her that eventually led to her death. As a community that knows persecution well, and one that still fights against injustices today, we must not continue to turn a blind eye when we see these acts of discrimination and abuse of power. Now is the time to remember our story as LGBT Houstonians. Now is the time to say #BlackLivesMatter.
James Lee is the president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, an organization dedicated to ensuring each generation of the LGBT community may take its place as equal citizens of society.