Newlyweds Mario Castillo, 36, and Joel Rottier, 33, who have been married for less than a year, are already making some major decisions together. No, it’s not a kid (yet), or even (another) pet. Castillo has launched his campaign to become Houston’s next District H Council Member, and Rottier will be by his side as they begin the long and sometimes daunting task of campaigning throughout parts of the Heights and North Houston.
Castillo is a native Houstonian who has dedicated his life and career to public service. For him, this campaign is a natural part of ensuring that the Houston he loves keeps moving in the right direction.
His decision to run developed during the summer of 2022. “As a longtime resident of the district and someone who’s been civically active, I started to see a number of areas where District H could be doing better. Joel and I started going on walks in the neighborhood during the pandemic to get out of the house and get some exercise and we saw a number of things about the district that could be improved, from consistent constituent services to safer neighborhoods, illegal dumping, and economic development.
“Over time, a number of ideas started to come to me, and that’s when I started thinking about running for City Council,” Castillo adds. “I’ve served in leadership positions over the years, and have a lot to offer to help make District H a place people are proud to call home.”
Rottier was fully supportive of Castillo’s decision to start campaigning for a City Council seat. “Politics has always been a very common topic of conversation in our household, so I always had a feeling that at some point we would have to be ready! It’s exciting for me to watch him start this process, and to see how excited he is when he gets to talk to people about his ideas and goals for the district. I know it’s what he is meant to be doing.”
Although the two men may be aligned on campaign strategy, they do have some disagreement about exactly how they first met.
“We met initially at Meteor in 2014 through mutual friends,” Castillo explains. “After a lengthy conversation, I found out Joel had a boyfriend. Shortly after that meeting, I moved to Austin to take a promotion. We didn’t keep in touch. It wasn’t until the summer of 2016, after I moved back to Houston, that we matched on Tinder and set up our first date.”
Rottier has a slightly different recollection: “We’ve told our separate versions of this story for as long as we’ve been together! But Mario’s answer is what we’ve boiled it down to. We met through mutual friends on a random weeknight and kind of hit it off. We talked for a while until I mentioned that I had a boyfriend at the time, at which point Mario quickly disappeared! When we matched on Tinder (shockingly, because Mario’s profile was very scarce on information) I quickly realized who he was and remembered our conversation from a year prior. I still joke with him that he didn’t remember who I was until much later. We had our first date at Backstreet Cafe, and then on to Boheme to keep talking. And the rest is history!” he laughs.
The two dated and eventually became engaged in February 2020, right as the pandemic started to bear down on the world. The couple took it in stride, however, and used the opportunity to plan their wedding. Rottier, who grew up just outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin, before moving to Houston 10 years ago, had family in the Midwest. Castillo’s family was Houston-centric, so they decided to get married in a neutral city and landed on New Orleans.
“Mario and his friends had been going to New Orleans since college,” Rottier explains. “And I had been visiting enough times separately that I knew I loved the history and the vibe of the city, so it was a no-brainer for us to have the wedding there. We got married on April 16, 2021, with 100 of our closest friends and family in attendance. [Our wedding included] the first Second Line parade the city had seen since COVID.”
Although campaigning will soon take up a large portion of their lives, the two still maintain day jobs that they feel passionate about. Rottier is the vice president of Love Advertising, where he oversees the firm’s digital projects including website design and development, social media, and email marketing. He went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and received a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in graphic design in 2013.
“I’ve always had a passion for web development, and I started building websites when I was in high school,” Rottier recalls. “I also focused on that throughout my time at UWM, including working for the college itself running their website. When I moved to Houston, I started as a web developer at Love Advertising and have worked my way up to VP over my 10 years there.”
Castillo is a graduate of Texas A&M University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2008 and a master’s degree in public health in 2011. He is currently the executive director of Your Houston, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Houston neighborhoods—a great fit for a man who wants to do exactly that for Houston’s District H.
The two are also fully invested in other forms of service. As a volunteer, Castillo currently serves on the board of the M.D. Anderson Family YMCA in North Houston, along with the Houston Police Department’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board. Previously, he served on the boards of the Hardy/Near Northside TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone), the Houston Land Bank, and the New Leaders Council-Houston. He also recently completed a term on the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus board, where he served as vice president and fundraising chair. The Caucus named Castillo their Larry Bagneris Leadership Team Member of the Year for 2022.
Rottier’s service résumé is also quite impressive. “I’ve worked heavily with the YMCA of Greater Houston on their nonprofit side, the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation, the Boy Scouts of America’s Sam Houston Area Council, and I’m currently working with Legacy Community Health. Outside of work, I’m also a member of the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus and the Human Rights Campaign.”
Although both men have proven their commitment to improving Houston, a campaign is an entirely different animal that opens candidates and their families to public scrutiny. And when that family also identifies as LGBTQ, things become even more intense and sometimes hateful.
“This was a conversation we had when considering the campaign,” Castillo admits. “Ultimately, you expect to receive some hateful comments at some point. This has happened to so many openly LGBTQ candidates that have run in Houston. We aren’t going to let those bother us, and we’ll keep a positive message and attitude about the campaign. We both are grateful to have incredibly supportive families and friends that we lean on for support. Thankfully, at this point, we have received nothing but positive feedback and encouragement.”
The men recognize that representation is especially important in a state like Texas, where increasingly hostile legislation is being debated at the state level, all aimed at LGBTQ people and their families. While Castillo primarily wants to give back to his community, he also understands that his candidacy sends an important message.
“At a time when the LGBTQ+ community, especially the trans community, is under attack from legislatures across the country, it’s vital for openly LGBTQ+ candidates to run and to provide representation where these laws are being discussed and debated,” Castillo emphasizes. “If my candidacy, or those of other out candidates, give LGBTQ+ youth the confidence to get involved in public service and be a voice for their community, then running for office is worth it. If it gives a depressed youth some hope to keep going through their troubles, or to reach out to someone for help, then everything we go through throughout this process is all worth it.”