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Harris County’s First LGBTQIA+ Commission

Championing inclusivity in the face of rising anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones (Image courtesy Harris County Precinct 4)

On June 6th, Commissioner Lesley Briones of Precinct 4 introduced a measure to create Harris County’s first LGBTQIA+ Commission. It was history-making for gay rights in Harris County on a day when the Human Rights Campaign was making history for a different reason.

“The Human Rights Campaign has declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQIA+ people for the first time in its history following a slate of harmful and discriminatory legislation across the nation,” said Commissioner Briones. “Representation matters. This Commission will ensure voices of the LGBTQIA+ community are front and center in the County’s decision-making processes.”

The report released by HRC, LGBTQ+ Americans Under Attack, details more than 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been signed into law this year alone, more than doubling last year’s number, which was previously the worst year on record. 

The fact that both the Commission vote and the HRC declaration happened on the same day was not overlooked by Commissioner Briones.

“It signifies why it is so important for Harris County to make a stand,” the Commissioner said. “It was a very symbolic day. Harris County still has a way to go on equality, but I just hope one day Texas and the rest of the country is more like Harris County.”

The approval of the LGBTQIA+ Commission came on the heels of the Court’s historic appointment on May 16 of Commissioner Briones’ nominee, Dr. Cody Pyke, to the Harris Health System Board of Trustees.

Dr. Cody Pyke (she/they) will be the first openly transgender and nonbinary individual to serve on the nine-member board, which oversees a $2.3 billion, fully integrated healthcare system that includes community health centers, same-day clinics, multi-specialty clinic locations, a dental center and dialysis center, mobile health units, and two full-service hospitals in Harris County.

“I was very pleased that Dr. Pyke’s vote was unanimous,” said Commissioner Briones. “To be frank, I was kind of surprised by that, so it wasn’t surprising to me that the LGBTQIA+ Commission vote was not unanimous.”

That vote was four to one, along party lines, with lone Republican Commissioner Tom Ramsey of Precinct 3 voting no.

“Gay rights shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said Commissioner Briones. “It should be a human rights issue, but the reality is that it has become a partisan issue.”

“At a time when we are seeing various governmental entities erode support for LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, Harris County is making a bold statement that every voice is important and should be included,” said Ray Purser, Government Relations Liaison for the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

“The Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus commends Commissioner Briones on the creation of this county-wide LGBTQIA+ Commission, as it will help the county focus on creating equity and inclusion for all Harris County residents,” added Porscha Brown, Vice President of The Caucus. 

“Harris County has a responsibility, not only as a matter of principle but also as a display of, and commitment to, supporting its constituents to ensure LGBTQIA+ voices are heard and represented,” said Landon Richie, Policy Associate, Transgender Education Network of Texas.

The Office of County Administration, the County Attorney’s Office, and other relevant departments will work with Precinct 4 to write bylaws and a membership structure for the LGBTQIA+ Commission before returning to Court at a later date to request nominations.

Members of this Commission will be volunteers who are appointed by Commissioners Court and who will provide recommendations to improve economic, social, health, and safety outcomes for the community.

“We are looking for community leaders to serve on this commission,” said Commissioner Briones. “We need people with hustle and high standards. This commission will not change Texas, but it will contribute to local decision-making and allow the LGBTQI+ community to have a say in those decisions, to have a seat at the table. This has been a long time coming, but now it’s here.”

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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