Transform Houston aims to change hearts and minds on LGBTQ rights.
Block-walking typically means spending a minute or two at each house, talking to people about the candidate or initiative you’re asking them to support. But volunteers with a new campaign called Transform Houston are block-walking to talk to people about prejudice reduction.
Brad Pritchett, cofounder of Transform Houston, says the LGBTQ community needs to transform the way Houstonians think about LGBTQ rights and nondiscrimination laws—especially about how those laws impact people who are transgender, gender-expansive, intersex, and queer. Pritchett says this is how the LGBTQ community can dismantle the “bathroom myth” and make people understand that opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance sold voters a pack of lies in November 2015.
Pritchett and Transform Houston co-founder Fran Watson, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, visited Miami to work with the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center’s Leadership Lab, learning how to use long-form canvassing to talk about trans rights. They came home with the desire to adapt what they’d learned into a strategy for talking with Houston voters about equality for all.
Those of us who lived through the HERO fight know how painful it was. We heard the slogan “No men in women’s restrooms” over and over again. We saw the trans community being attacked.
Still, within our bubble, it looked like we had the votes to win. It looked like Houston would finally have a nondiscrimination ordinance we could be proud of, protecting people based on 15 different classifications so that all Houstonians and visitors would be treated equally.
But it wasn’t to be. Thanks to fear-mongering from opponents, voters repealed HERO by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.
Watson and Pritchett took lessons from both their Miami visit and the failed HERO campaign, and put them together to come up with Transform Houston. The name of the campaign represents exactly what they’re trying to do: bring about a fundamental transformation in how people think about the LGBTQ community.
At this point, it’s not about voter turnout. It’s about changing hearts and minds.
Watson and Pritchett have set out to create a grassroots effort in which everyday citizens go out, knock on doors, and have conversations with folks on their doorsteps about discrimination and prejudice.
“People recognize authenticity,” Watson says. “They may not always agree with the message or what people are saying, but we believe the power of one’s story is a way to help identify with each other. Starting a conversation with facts and figures could lead down a different road. But [everyone knows what it’s like to feel like they’re being] judged. The stories may not be the same, but the sentiment is there. Many people have been in those situations, and that’s what we want to get across.”
Part of the work is training. The campaign takes individuals who are passionate about changing Houston and teaches them how to stand in front of others—perhaps for the first time ever—and have a conversation. It teaches them how to go into neighborhoods, share stories, and break down myths.
Jessica Zyrie, a black trans woman, is a volunteer with Transform Houston who seems like she’s up to the challenge. “I enjoy educating members of society about misconceptions within the transgender community,” Zyrie says. “A lot of times, people tend to make assumptions about certain areas of life that they may not understand. Canvassing with Transform Houston allows individuals to share their personal stories by using an emotional approach to humanize the transgender experience.”
Watson notes that Houston is the most diverse city in the nation. “We are a community of difference,” Watson says. “[Those right-wing] opposition campaigns used difference as a tool to target. This is an opportunity for our communities of difference to talk to one another and break down the myths from a 30-second commercial—which was shown 10 times a day for 10 weeks—by having one-on-one conversations.”