Tell me about your journey to becoming HRC’s Texas state director.
I previously worked at the ACLU of Texas for some years, focusing on LGBTQ and reproductive rights. I advocated against the 2015 anti-trans attack in Houston around the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and the bathroom bill filed during the Texas legislative session in 2017. That sparked something really important to me—that LGBTQ rights were going to be on the forefront of which direction Texas goes for the next few years. During this time, I got to partner with the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), Texas Freedom Network (TFN), and Lambda Legal. As coalition partners, we’ve worked very closely since 2015. While we were working side-by-side with the Human Rights Campaign, I really saw the investment that they were bringing to the table here in Texas. They were looking for a Texas state director, and I’m happy to say I’ve been working in this position since about 2018.
What do your day-to-day operations look like?
It depends. This year, we are looking ahead to November and the elections. We think this is going to be a very critical election for the future of Texas and our country. We had seen the most egregious legislative session last year in Texas. We had more anti-LGBTQ bills—and specifically more anti-trans bills—than any other state in the country. It’s going to be a difficult midterm, but we have to give it our all to make sure we are in the best position for the next legislative session by supporting pro-LGBTQ candidates.
Right now, our day-to-day looks like working with our state partners like Equality Texas, TENT, and TFN, and our cross-movement partners like Planned Parenthood and the Texas Organizing Project. We’re making sure we are prepared to support pro-equality candidates and hold anti-LGBTQ candidates and elected officials accountable. Right now that’s really where our focus is, but it really depends. Last year we were in a legislative session that lasted 10 months, which is really unusual. For 10 months of the year we were fighting back anti-trans laws specifically, every single day at the Capitol with our partners.
What was your role in advocating against that unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ bills last year?
As a state director, you coordinate a team of our national advocates and professionals, including our legal advocates. You provide bill analysis and testimony for the anti-LGBTQ bills in question. Of course, we also coordinate with our partners. We have a really strong state coalition table with Equality Texas, TENT, TFN, and Lambda Legal. This has been a core group, so we work really closely every day with a mixture of lobbying and grassroots mobilization. We spend a lot of time making sure that folks are talking to the representatives and letting them know that they oppose the pieces of legislation coming down, and also advocating for our constituents’ needs at the Capitol directly.
You’re going to be talking about your work at SXSW this month, joined by leaders from TENT, Equality Texas, and Texas Competes. Can you tell me about how that panel came together?
The panel came together by looking back at the session and how difficult it was, as well as the journey our state has been on for the last 10 years. In Texas in 2017, and even before that, a focus on anti-trans legislation began to take shape here. Unfortunately, what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. If we are not successful at defeating as many of these bills as possible, it won’t just impact LGBTQ Texans, but LGBTQ rights across the country. That’s why the role that Texas and our advocates play is so important. One bright spot in these difficult past few years is our state coalition. We have a really strong trans-led statewide organization with TENT and its executive director, Emmett Schelling. TENT has played a key part in fighting back against these bad bills and making sure that we have a strong statewide trans-led organization. Having partners working so closely with folks and organizations, day in and day out for this many years, has been really helpful. It shows the legislators that there is a united front as we move through each legislative session. A lot of states have looked to what we’ve done in Texas to defeat their own bills, because even though Texas had the most anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills in the country, we defeated the majority of these bills. There’s still something to look back on that’s really powerful.
Are you anticipating people from across the state attending your SXSW discussion?
Definitely. Something SXSW does that is really helpful is to broaden our message outside the state. There are going to be a lot of folks wanting to hear what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in Texas, and how they can implement our strategies in other states so that we can fight back against anti-trans legislation across the country.
In addition to the large number of anti-trans attacks here in Texas, are there any other issues that you identify as impacting our community?
There are two examples that come to mind. One is the anti-abortion legislation that passed last year. SB8 has done tremendous harm to Texans who seek abortion access. We are very concerned about it. Our legal director has been watching very closely as the events unfold in the courts. Of course, everybody knows people within the LGBTQ community also need access to abortion, particularly the bisexual community and trans men. This is an incredibly important issue for our community, and Planned Parenthood and other reproductive-rights groups had our back at the Capitol fighting these bills. We’re very invested there, so we’re going to be engaging the community around SB8 a lot in the coming year. We’re also very concerned about voting rights. We opposed all of the attacks on voting rights that happened in the last legislative session. We’ve been working with our partners there—like the Texas Organizing Project, ACLU of Texas, and Move Texas—and really following their lead, because our community absolutely needs equitable access to the ballot box. We’re thinking with our partners on how to best educate our community around these bills that have passed, because they are two examples that directly impact our community.
Since SXSW is happening in your home city, do you have any spots around Austin you recommend to folks visiting for the festival?
Cheer Up Charlies is my favorite queer bar. There’s also a lot of outside patio seating, so if you’re like me and are still concerned with COVID, it’s a great option. It’s also really welcoming, chill, and they have really good music and a vegan food truck.
Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
HRC is really grateful to work with amazing state partners. I know how hard this last year has been in Texas for everybody, so I hope people in our community are getting rest and preparing for more challenges. We have an opportunity to fight back, and I’m looking forward to that.
For more info on the LGBTQ Rights and Politics panel at SXSW, visit tinyurl.com/4hm8nhum.
This article appears in the March 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.