Friday, May 30, 2014

HEROs of Houston

S. Wayne Mathis and John Christian Bullit
LaRue, who both testified before the
Houston City Council in favor of the
HERO non-discrimination ordinance
This week the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. That simple sentence cannot possibly express the emotions that are going through the hearts of so many of us. I was born in Houston and I expect that I will die here as well. In my day to day life, I am never more than an hour away from downtown Houston. The city is in my blood and this week I have never been more PROUD to say that I am from HOUSTON, TEXAS.

The victory over injustice was hard-fought and very emotional. The testimony before the City Council was both heart-rending and frightening. The LGBTQ community and our allies spoke over and over again about the discrimination and hate that occurs on a daily basis. Our folks were willing to bare their souls and risk everything for a chance at equality. Most notably, the transgender community bore the brunt of the opposition’s anger and fear. Most disturbing of the opposition testimony was the number of "Christians" (often ministers) who openly testified that discrimination is justified. They vilified our community with false accusations and lies and could not back up their arguments with facts. They simply preyed on public fear. Attempts were made to make this all about bathrooms and yet, at the end of the last day of testimony, eleven members of council voted YES to equality. The six council members who voted against equality seemed to be voting purely out of reelection fears.

With trembling hands and an unsteady voice, I took my one-minute turn standing up for what I feel is right. Unable to read my notes, I simply spoke from the heart and spoke about (1) God’s Love for ALL, (2)our duty to respect the dignity of every person and (3) Integrity’s mission to take God’s love out into the streets and community.

At the close of my minute, Mayor Anise Parker acknowledged and commended the work of Integrity and stated that Integrity is one of the oldest organizations fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community. Councilmember Mike Laster then acknowledged and thanked me for my work within the Diocese of Texas. This brought home the fact that none of this work has been done in isolation. My own testimony would not have been possible without the Grace of God and the Love and support that I have received from Integrity. My spiritual peace was found at the altar rail during a Houston Integrity Eucharist. My grand sense of community was formed at the Integrity Eucharist during General Convention and my sense of FAMILY was anchored by the love and acceptance of the TransEpiscopal Eucharist. My activism has been spurred on by my chapter's willingness to allow me the opportunity to lead and the space to take a public stand for justice and equality.

It is important to note that I was not the only Episcopalian testifying. Fellow Episcopalians (both clergy and laity) were in the trenches and were a visible reminder to everyone that we as a church body stand with the oppressed and will do the right thing.

In Texas, we have watched the progress around the country (especially Oregon) and we banked your victories as OUR victories. I know from a Facebook posting of Oregon's Diocesan Organizer Charlene McCreight that you were watching us as well. When she mentioned that she had watched me live, it made me smile and realize that I too was part of the bigger picture. The postings from around the country from my Integrity friends and associates let me know that despite our geographical differences the work of Integrity is universal.

I learned late in the day that some of our local Integrity folks were down on the street carrying signs of support. In light of the angry protesters, this was an act of courage and witness.

I would also like to pause and give thanks to the countless folks who made this moment possible but are no longer here to witness it. Without our trailblazing predecessors, we would not have EQUALITY.

Even with this tremendous VICTORY, we must keep our eyes on the dangers waiting on the horizon. In Houston, it is the threat of a referendum to overturn this hard earned victory. With this threat in mind, we MUST do two things, educate and mobilize.

There is a tremendous opportunity to educate those around us about what it is like to be a member of the LGBTQ community. We must show that LOVE can conquer FEAR. We must show the value of living authentically and we must SHOW the world that gender-neutral restrooms will not signal the end of everything.

We MUST MOBILIZE our efforts and show the LGBTQ community that God loves them and that the Christian faith can rise above bigotry and hate. Our brothers and sisters have been wounded by "the Church" and it is up to us to repair this damage.

Thank you for welcoming me into the fold and showing me that not only do I have a place in God’s kingdom, but that I have a place in the Episcopal Church. Please join me this Pride Season and let folks know that GOD LOVES EACH OF US!!!!!

S. Wayne Mathis is Integrity's Province VII Coordinator and Convener of the Houston chapter.

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