By Lillian Hoang and Terrance Turner
George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao stood by. Floyd’s death sparked protests across the globe and in his hometown, where Houston’s Black LGBTQ leaders have been working to end police brutality and systemic injustice.
To cause change, Black Lives Matter: Houston (BLMHOU) keeps its followers up to date on news surrounding protests, discussions on police reform and disbandment, and more on its social-media accounts. BLMHOU’s founder Ashton Woods, an unapologetically Black, gay, HIV-positive Houstonian, believes that immediate change is possible.
On June 7, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). On June 12, the Council unanimously passed a resolution to replace MPD with a “community led” public-safety system. Nationally, Democrats in Congress have proposed legislation for police reform.
“Protests are meant to cause change, and we’re here to change laws,” Woods says. “The only way we can tell people what they can or can’t do is through policy and law.”
Houstonians can help end police brutality by calling Mayor Sylvester Turner and their respective City Council members and demanding that these officials vote for policies that will divest the police department and invest in community and social programs, Woods says.
Brandon Mack, a BLMHOU organizer, agrees with Woods and encourages people to both vote and find other ways to contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement since, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), voter-suppression efforts disproportionately impact people of color.
The ACLU discovered that one out of thirteen Black Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws that ban people who are incarcerated, on probation or parole, or with a felony conviction from voting. Black people often face harsher convictions and sentences than people from other communities.
“Voting is only one way for us to achieve what we want to achieve,” Mack says. “It’s gotta be all these other policy changes and protests in conjunction with voting.”
According to the Office of the Texas Secretary of State’s website, the next primary runoff occurs on July 14. July 2 is the last day to apply to vote by mail, and July 14 is the last day that ballots will be received by mail. Early voting runs June 29–July 2 and July 5–10.
Also in response to Floyd’s death, BLMHOU and Pride Houston, Inc. are co-hosting a march and rally on June 27 at City Hall, in place of the annual Pride parade and festival.
Kendra Walker, Pride Houston’s vice president, says the organization’s upcoming march and rally “It Started With A Riot!” echoes both the 1969 Stonewall Riots and Houston’s own “Stonewall” moment in 1977, when thousands marched through downtown Houston to protest Anita Bryant, a homophobic American singer who came to Houston to perform at a Texas State Bar Association meeting. Bryant led the “Save Our Children” campaign to uphold discrimination in housing, employment, and public accomodation based on sexual orientation.
The march and rally is a nod to both the past and present. The organization recently announced on its website that it stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Movement and recognizes the “brutality of the world we are living in today.” The organization added it is aware of its responsibility to Black and Brown people in the LGBTQ community and throughout the world.
“Because Black and Brown people are a part of the larger LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and are especially vulnerable [members] of our trans community, Pride Houston support for the BLM movement is appropriate,” Walker says.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ 2013 report concluded that trans people are seven times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with police, compared to their cisgender peers, and trans people are also 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence in general, compared with their cisgender counterparts. Trans people of color were six times more likely to experience physical violence from police than their white cis counterparts, the report also found.
To reduce these likelihoods trans people of color face, Walker says advocates should vote, support Black-owned businesses, and get involved to contribute to the fight against injustice.
“This is a time where no one can afford to leave or sit on the sidelines,” Walker says. “Don’t let police injustices and brutality fester, because, trust me, evil knows no bounds. Today, it’s me. Tomorrow, it could be you or someone you love. So join the fight now, so that doesn’t happen.”
As organizations such as BLMHOU and Pride Houston educate the public or host demonstrations against police brutality and violence toward Black people, Save Our Sisters United, INC (SOSU) works to protect Black trans women by connecting them to self-defense classes and raising funds to help them acquire concealed-handgun licenses.
The Human Rights Campaign reported that 27 transgender or gender non-conforming people died in 2019—a majority of whom were Black transgender women. The organization also found that “fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color—particularly Black transgender women.” In 2020, at least 15 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
After the murder of Chyna Gibson, a well-known Black trans female performer in the Montrose area, a local shooting range reached out to the Houston LGBTQ community and offered to help the community acquire concealed-handgun licenses. After a month of discussion, SOSU accepted the offer.
The nonprofit has since worked with the shooting range to create a five-hour concealed-handgun course for six to ten participants. The organization is collecting funds to support the initiative and develop an alternative self-defense program that teaches participants how to use non-lethal weapons like mace. SOSU is also looking for donations to support its ongoing online COVID-19 relief funds.
SOSU founder Atlantis Narcisse, a Black trans woman, has had a concealed handgun license for three years. While she has mixed feelings toward guns, she wanted a handgun to protect herself after multiple aggressive encounters with strangers.
“If people are not going to protect us, we’re going to protect ourselves,” she says.
Narcisse also has mixed feelings about the Black Lives Matter movement. “Black trans people, and Black trans women especially, are often left out of the BLM movement because of our trans-ness. They act like it dilutes our Blackness.”
Narcisse wants supporters to have the same passion for the murdered Black members of the LGBTQ community that they have for other Black lives lost to violence and police brutality.
“We are somebody’s loved one, somebody’s sister, brother, parent; we’re someone’s child,” Narcisse says. “To discount or dilute our existence is really the pathway to us not making it. You can’t pick and choose how you feel. You have to see the totality of our whole existence.”
For more information about Black Lives Matter: Houston (BLMHOU), visit blmhouston.com. For more information about Pride Houston, Inc., visit pridehouston.org. For more information on Save Our Sisters United, Inc. (SOSU) visit facebook.com/saveoursistersunited.