Editor’s note: This moving speech was given by Judge Beau Miller on March 5, 2023, upon receiving the Mayor Parker Leadership Award during the annual LGBTQ+ Victory Fund Brunch at the Post Oak Hotel. Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker is the president and CEO of the Fund, which is the largest LGBTQ political action committee in the United States and one of the nation’s largest non-connected PACs.
Thank you, Mayor Parker and the Houston Committee, for thinking I am someone who deserves this tremendous honor.
Mayor Parker, I will endeavor to live up to the fine example you have set for our community.
I also need to acknowledge my parents and my appreciation for them, because they taught me by example that the greatest contribution any individual can give is through service to others. My parents’ example is a major reason I stand here today to accept this award.
Of course, the first thing you do before running for office is talk to your spouse—whose unconditional love and support I am most thankful for.
But then I decided my next calls should be to Mayor Parker and Richard Holt. I knew the strength and importance of having not only their personal support and the Victory Fund’s early endorsement, but also the importance of getting into the Victory Institute’s candidate-training program.
Their responses were immediate yesses, and “What can I do to help?”
Within weeks, I was accepted at the Victory Institute’s summer candidate training at a school-like campus near Seattle. There, I learned the essentials of how to run for office, I met lifelong friends, and I pulled at least one all-nighter preparing for our group’s presentation. We covered the gamut, from campaign staffing and budgeting to fundraising, and so much more.
When I returned back to Houston, we ran the largest judicial campaign ever! We could cover six simultaneous events across Harris County in one night, without blinking an eye. We sent hand-addressed mailers and raised a ton of money (for a non-incumbent). And in the end, we were successful—and the rest is history!
I became the first openly HIV-positive elected judge in Texas. And while I appreciate the significance of that, I don’t strive to be the best HIV-positive or the best LGBTQ judge, although that would be great.
I strive to be a judge who is fair, respectful, and respected—a hard worker who follows the law and rules timely. And my goal is that one day, I will simply be regarded as a great judge who just happened to be HIV-positive and who happened to be gay.
My path to today was not without challenges. And I would like to share a few of those challenges. It all started in 2006, when I was diagnosed with HIV. Although not a death sentence at that time, it was certainly life changing and life challenging. And I struggled—culminating in an AIDS diagnosis in 2009.
I had hit rock bottom. But it was only then that I could start to get my life back on track. The first question I had to answer was how I ended up where I was. And I realized that a large part of what happened to me resulted from self-loathing—which, in part, derived from my fear of being stigmatized because I am HIV-positive.
That is why, in part, I founded LIVE Consortium in 2009—a nonprofit founded to reduce and eliminate the stigma associated with HIV so that everyone, irrespective of their HIV status, can live a healthy, productive life. In 2009 when starting up LIVE Consortium, I had no idea how many people we would help, the lives we would help save, or how many incredible people I would meet on my journey.
Then in 2014, while still running LIVE Consortium and practicing law, a friend and I had a crazy idea that our Houston LGBTQ legal community should do better to help fund and advocate for LGBTQ legal efforts. So, we founded the Lambda Legal Houston Leadership Committee in 2014.
Each of these experiences prepared me for 2015, which I have not talked about in a public forum until today. So, what happened?
My dad, a conservative Christian, was serving his second term in the Texas House, representing a district largely based in Sugar Land. And the Legislature was in session.
Out of the blue, I received a voicemail at my office from a reporter at the Texas Tribune seeking a comment. I remember asking myself, and my friend who officed next to me, “A comment for what?” She immediately started researching until I heard, “Oh my God!” She then ran back into my office to show me what my dad had done. He was the first, and only, legislator in any state to file a bill that would permit people to discriminate against his own child.
Specifically, the bill would prohibit and nullify any non-discriminatory ordinance by a local government from protecting classes of individuals not already protected by the State of Texas or the federal government. For example, the bill would protect individuals based on race, religion, and national origin, but all other ordinances protecting LGBTQ individuals, students, veterans, and so many more would be eliminated.
This was a direct action against the idea of HERO—the 2014 Houston Equal Rights Ordinance—that was originally passed under Mayor Parker’s administration but later repealed in 2015.
So, before I called back to the Texas Tribune—and by that time to several other reporters—I had one decision to make: would I take a stand? The price of doing so could be high—placing more strain on an already strained relationship with my parents, and the inevitable negative emotional and physical toll on my body.
But I quickly realized I did not put myself in this position. My dad did. This was his making. He didn’t have to file that bill. And although I didn’t want to do it, it was my turn to step up.
So, I started making calls to people I met through events for the Victory Fund and Lambda Legal. Within a day, I was put in touch with LGBTQ political organizations that would help me navigate the process. And within a couple of days, we had a two-step strategy. First, I would travel to the Texas Capitol to meet with my dad to reason with him and members of his staff, to see if he would withdraw his bill. If that did not work, I would sit for an interview with the Associated Press—probably one of the scariest things I have ever done because I had no idea what they would ask or write.
With the aid of a media consultant, I practiced and practiced and practiced for that interview. And I would like to think I did a really good job because of it. In short order, the article was released and made the front pages of papers across the country—from the Dallas Morning News to the Chicago Tribune. It was a good article, balancing our two views and highlighting our differences.
I am relieved to report that my dad’s bill died in committee without a hearing.
But the process did take its toll on me and my relationship with my parents. I came down with a pretty bad case of pneumonia—the worst illness I have ever had—and my parents and I did not talk for a while. We never did reconcile on his filing of the bill.
And with regard to me and my dad today, we have a pretty good relationship. It’s not perfect, but we enjoy the time we spend together.
My very personal experience with my dad taught me that when the time comes, you have to answer the call. Step up, no matter how scary it seems. We have to act to make our lives better. And acting requires more than just showing up.
Do something affirmative. Don’t be a spectator. In Houston terms: Be Someone. Take some meaningful action sometime this year for something you believe in. Whether it is volunteering, donating in a way that is significant to you, or really putting your convictions on the line by running for office, our community gets better—or worse—by our action or inaction.
I want to end by stating that I stand here today fully recognizing that the challenges I just shared with you were easier for me to overcome than it would be for many others, for two reasons. First, my challenges were lessened because I was born with the privilege that automatically attaches to white men in our society. And second, I have the privilege of having so many incredible friendships—so many people who have helped me persevere and have made my life easier.
I accept this award not just for myself, but for you all, as well. Without you, I would not be standing here, on this stage, at this time.
I appreciate you. I honor you. I am privileged to have you in my life. Thank you—to each of you, to Mayor Parker, and to the members of the local committee—for bestowing this award on me.
The Honorable Beau A. Miller has been Harris County’s 190th Judicial District Court since 2018.