Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obama Awards Harvey Milk Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Barack Obama will posthumously honor assassinated San Francisco City Supervisor and pioneering GLBT rights activist Harvey Milk with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House on August 12, 2009. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor a citizen can receive. Milk became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
"Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens to live their
lives openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change society
and achieve social equality," the White House statement said today.
Harvey Milk is a hero to many in the GLBT movement still today, and he was recently immortalized in the film Milk. His recognition by President Obama marks the importance of political leadership in the fight for equality. The GLBT community is still waiting for President Obama to act as a civil rights leader for the GLBT community as he promised in his campaign by ending Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), pushing for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and expanding same-sex partner benefits to all federal employees. Today our community should celebrate this honor given by the President to one of our greatest elected leaders.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Caucus addresses City Council on harassment

There's been a lot of talk lately about the issue of workplace harassment in the Houston Fire Department. Knots that appeared to be nooses, which are seen as a symbol of racial hatred against the African American community because of their historical reference to the days of lynching, appeared twice in fire stations, and racist and sexist graffiti appeared on the lockers of another. The matters are under an internal investigation, and external investigations are being considered.

On Monday, Council Member Melissa Noriega called a special meeting of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee to discuss an evaluation of the workplace conditions for HFD employees. The Caucus, which abhors all types of discrimination and harassment, took the position that if an evaluation is being done, it should include sexual orientation and gender identity in those factors. Council Member Noriega invited the Caucus, and president Kris Banks made the following remarks to the committee:

“Thank you, Madame Chair, and thank you, Council Members. Thank you for taking
up this important issue. I am president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, an
organization that advocates for the rights of and for equal opportunity for the
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or GLBT, community. I come to ask that
the evaluation of the Houston Fire Department being considered today also
include an evaluation of the workplace conditions faced by GLBT fire fighters
and fire department employees.’

“While recent events have brought to the forefront issues of harassment based on race and sex, harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains a serious concern. A survey by Lambda Legal showed that 39 percent of GLBT people reported experiencing harassment or discrimination on the job. It is a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that we are often an invisible minority, meaning that cruel jokes can be made and slurs uttered while members of our community are in the same room. Harassment based on sexual orientation, both real and perceived, and gender identity is a serious threat to the workplace conditions of GLBT employees.’

“Federal and state laws do not address sexual orientation or gender identity in
anti-harassment employment matters, so it is incumbent upon our city leaders to
stand up for those public servants who put their lives on the line for our
citizens and happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. While the City
of Houston is examining issues of harassment, it should specifically look into
whether the Houston Fire Department is a safe place for GLBT employees to work,
both in the evaluation being considered today and in all others in the future.
Our public servants deserve it.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Peter Brown's shameful words

What was Peter Brown thinking?

Mayoral candidate Peter Brown – who is a member of our GLBT Caucus, who asked for our GLBT endorsement, who called himself “gay-friendly” in our questionnaire – took a not-too-subtle swipe at GLBT people in a press release this week.

In comparing the $477,000 he raised in the first half of 2009 to Annise Parker’s $810,000, Brown said that unlike other candidate’s, he’s not “combing San Francisco and New York for donations.”

It’s not hard to figure what Brown was driving at with that code language. Indeed, we are used to hearing the inevitable references to San Francisco when anti-GLBT politicians argue against GLBT equality.

So what was Brown thinking? Is it sour grapes for not receiving the GLBT Caucus endorsement he actively sought? Is it a flip-flop in the quest for right wing votes? Is it plain and simple hypocrisy?

The next time you see Peter Brown, ask him what he was thinking. Better yet, tell Brown he owes it to our community and all of Houston to stop attacking GLBT people – the City of Houston deserves better.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Caucus-endorsed Parker big winner on finance filings

From the campaign:

We're Thrilled!

Houston, TX – The candidates for mayor filed their finance reports today – and the big story here is Annise Parker.

Everybody thought Gene Locke would have three times as much money. But Annise Parker has more.

Because he has a limited base of support, Brown is having to spend his personal wealth to try to buy his way into the mayor's office. Let's remember, in 2003 Bill White started out with little name ID. That's the position Brown is in. It took White – who did have an actual base of support – $6 million to get into a runoff spot.

Bottom line – the big story is Annise Parker:

  • Parker has more cash on hand than Locke.
  • Parker has more than three times as many individual donations as Locke, and almost twice as many as Brown and Locke combined.
  • Locke is spending almost twice as much money per month as Parker – simply trying to catch up to the substantial lead Parker entered the race with and continues to grow.
  • Locke's campaign stated that the evidence of "campaign strength" was raising $383,000 in the last 30 days. But Parker raised more than that during the last 30 days. (If the last 30 days is the mark of campaign strength, it's worth noting that Parker raised 47% of her total contributions in the last 30 days of the period, while Locke raised 33% of his total contributions during that time.)

One thing is clear: Annise Parker is not only the candidate who started out with a strong lead – she's the candidate who continues to grow that lead. Parker's dollars were raised from more individual donors than any other candidate. Parker’s small dollar donors live on a budget, give wisely and will give again and again during this important campaign to steer Houston through tough economic challenges.

Keep up the good work!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gay couple kicked out of El Paso restaurant for kissing

In a disturbing story out of El Paso, a gay couple and their three friends were asked to leave a popular Mexican restaurant after the couple was seen kissing. A contracted security guard, hired by Chico's Tacos, asked the group to leave after seeing the couple kissing. The group was told by the security guard,

"Si seguian con sus payasadas, los vamos a sacar de aqui, no permitimos que anden haciendo cosas aqui de jotos. (If you keep clowning around, we are going to get you out of here. We don't permit doing gay things here)."

The group then called police to help them once they had been removed from Chico's. El Paso has a non-discrimination ordinance that prohibits businesses from denying service due to sexual orientation.

The situation was then made worse by the fact that the El Paso police officer responding to the scene stated that the group could be forced to leave under the Texas law on homosexual conduct, Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code. This is the section was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas. The El Paso officer's lack of knowledge of the city non-discrimination ordinance and the State Penal Code is inexcusable. Worsening matters, the day after the incident, the El Paso Police Department released this statement,

"While there is a homosexual conduct ordinance in the state's penal
code, We don't enforce that law, there's been court decisions about Texas' law
on that. We don't enforce it and what happened there wouldn't have even have met
the elements of the offense, even if it had been enforceable."

The El Paso Police Department's decision to reference a law that has been ruled unconstitutional as an excuse for their actions shows a lack of understanding of sensitivity to the GLBT community and extreme poor judgement. It also is an example for the need of sensitivity training for law enforcement officals.

El Paso City Council Members were quick to denounce actions of the restaurant and El Paso Police. After investigating the incident, Eastridge Mid-Valley City Rep. Steve Ortega said he was troubled, not only by the incident itself, but the response by the police spokesman that the restaurant had a right to refuse service though El Paso has an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. "That highly incorrect," Ortega said in response to the Police Department's statement.

There are multiple disturbing issues that are of concern to the GLBT community which arose from this incident. First being the lack of knowledge of the responding officer of the El Paso
ordinance banning discrimination of people due to their sexual orientation. The Police Department's response was also in poor taste. Trying to defend their officer's actions by referencing an unconstitutional law is insulting. The department then tried to explain the mishap by later admitting the responding officer had very little experience.

The fact that Section 21.06 is still on the books as a law in Texas even though it is unconstitutional is something that should be taken up by GLBT supportive State Representatives here in Houston, and the law should be removed from the Texas Penal Code.

A bright spot here is it sounds as if the members of El Paso City Council were extremely upset with the response of their police department, acting swiftly to condemn the incident and ask for better training for their police officers.

One of the members of the group tossed from Chico's, Carlos Diaz de Leon, has filed a complaint with the El Paso Police Department's Internal Affairs Division. We hope this complaint will get to the cause of the sloppy police work and ensure a similar situation does not occur again.

The El Paso Times has the story on the events here and on El Paso City Council's action here.

Equality Texas, Texas' statewide GLBT advocacy group, blogged here on the story.

A local GLBT group in El Paso, Puentes LGBT Resource, released this statement after the incident:

Puentes LGBT Resources Press Release

July 7, 2009

Dear Community,
I am writing you today to bring to light a recent
incident of anti-gay discrimination, which occurred last Sunday night (07-05-09)
at a Chico’s Tacos on the eastside. A group of young gay men were ordered
to leave the restaurant by the security guards because a couple within the group
was kissing inside the restaurant. Outraged by the security guard’s
orders, the group called El Paso Police Department for assistance, but the
police officer who responded to the call defended the security guard’s actions
by stating to the group of men that it was against the law for two men or women
to kiss in public. This is simply untrue. The City of El Paso holds
a city ordinance that protects all individuals from discrimination in public
accommodations. Below is an excerpt of this ordinance. You can find
a full copy of the ordinance at

It is unlawful for any person, firm, association or corporation, or any
agent, servant or employee thereof within the City [of El Paso], to refuse, deny
or withhold from any person, for any reason directly or indirectly relating to
the race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, religion, ethnic
background or national origin of such person, any of the accommodations,
advantages, facilities or services offered to the general public by place of
public accommodation.

In closing, everyone has varying views on public displays of affection
(kissing). Some do it; others don’t. Yet we should not lose sight of
the real issue. This story surpasses the question of whether or not any
two individuals kissing is inappropriate in a public place. The core issue
is about equal rights to public accommodations for everyone, including lesbians,
gays, bisexuals and transgender persons. For all the details on this story
please visit

Cesar M. Campa
Board Chair

The Houston GLBT Caucus stands by Puentes LGBT Resources in their efforts to fight discrimination.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Injured patron and Fort Worth Mayor release statements on gay bar raid

Chad Gibson, the patron who was admitted to the hospital with severe injuries after Fort Worth police and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) agents raided a Fort Worth gay bar, has released a statement about the incident.

In an interview, Gibson states, "You know what, they need to accept responsibility of what they did to me and to everyone," Gibson said. "That's all I want – I want
the truth."

Fort Worth's Mayor, Michael Moncrief, has also asked for a federal investigation into the incident. The Dallas Morning News has the story here, and Mayor Moncrief's statement is included below. The swift action by Council Member Joel Burns, Mayor Moncrief, Senator Wendy Davis, and State Rep. Lon Burnam is commendable. The severity of this situation was not lost on them and is shown by their strong demands for investigations into the raid at the local, state, and federal level.

Mayor Moncrief Statement:

We all join in wishing Mr. Gibson a speedy and full recovery.

Currently, two investigations are underway to review the circumstances and events that took place at the Rainbow Lounge early Sunday morning. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) is conducting an investigation and the Fort Worth Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division is conducting its own investigation.

I join Police Chief Jeff Halstead in encouraging any eye-witnesses to the events under review to come forward and share their observations.

Members of the City Council and I have confidence that Chief Halstead is leading a thorough and professional investigation. Once the Fort Worth Police Department’s examination is complete, I have asked the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, James T. Jacks, to independently review the findings of the Fort Worth Police Department’s investigation to ensure the department has thoroughly and impartially carried out its obligation to all the citizens of Fort Worth. I encourage the TABC to follow the same course.

Fort Worth has a history of inclusiveness, and the Fort Worth Police Department has a history of responsible and professional service to our citizens. The police department’s internal investigation and the outside review is meant to ensure all citizens are professionally and responsibly represented by our police department. I am most appreciative to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for assisting us in this effort.

Mayor Michael Moncrief

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Washington D.C. begins recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages

Washington D.C. begins recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions today. Same-sex couples will not be able to marry in Washington D.C., but the marriages from other states will be recognized in the District. As of now, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allows states to deny marital rights to same-sex couples who were legally married elsewhere. Here is a quick run-down of how things will work in D.C. from the Washington Post. Gay marriage is legal in four states, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, and Massachusetts, with New Hampshire and Vermont joining them in coming months. Marriages performed in California before Prop. 8 will also be recognized.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Senator Wendy Davis and Representative Lon Burnam release joint statement on Rainbow Lounge raid

Newly elected State Senator Wendy Davis (D-District 10, Tarrant County) and State Representative Lon Burnam (D-District 90, Tarrant County) released a joint statement calling for a detailed investigation into the tactics used by Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) during the raid of Rainbow Lounge. The statement was released by the two Fort Worth area electeds after a meeting with TABC officials. They also stated that Chad Gibson's family deserved answers. Chad is still recovering from severe injuries suffered during the raid while in police custody. The swift action by these two state officials shows the importance of electing equality supportive candidates. Senator Wendy Davis was elected last November with the support of Fort Worth and Dallas area GLBT groups. She unseated long time Republican incumbent Kim Brimer for the District 10 seat, the only seat to switch parties in the last election. The Houston GLBT Caucus is grateful for their work at the state level to ensure a quick and thorough investigation into the raid on Rainbow Lounge. Their statement is included below.


CONTACT: Bernie Scheffler - 512.463.0110
July 1, 2009

Today State Senator Wendy R. Davis and State Representative Lon Burnam issued the following joint statement.

From: State Senator Wendy Davis and State Representative Lon Burnam

Re: Incident at Rainbow Lounge, 651 Jennings Ave., Fort Worth on June 28, 2009

We want to provide you with an update of our response to concerns raised about the actions taken by City of Fort Worth Police officers and Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission agents on the early morning of June 28, 2009 at the Rainbow Lounge, which is located in the Fort Worth portion of the districts that we represent. We are deeply concerned about eye witness accounts of the events that occurred that morning and intend to activate all possible investigatory methods to learn the truth about those events.

As part of learning as much information as possible about the incident at issue, we requested a meeting with Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. As a consequence of that request, today we met with TABC representatives Joel Moreno, Chief of Field Operations, and Carolyn Beck, Public Information Officer. In that meeting, we made a very detailed request for information regarding the factual events that occurred at the Rainbow Lounge on both June 25, 2009, when TABC agents first conducted investigation activity at that location, and on June 28, 2009, when TABC agents returned to that location. Additionally, we requested detailed information with regard to the TABC agents' compliance or non-compliance with procedures and policies of TABC as those are expressed in the TABC Enforcement Division Policy, Procedures & Forms manual.
It is our hope that through a thorough investigation and analysis of the events that occurred at the Rainbow Lounge, particularly in the early morning hours of June 28, our community and those outside our community who have raised concerns, will be able to get the answers they need to their valid questions. Most importantly, Chad Gibson and his family, for whom we are deeply concerned, deserve answers.

To that end, we intend to make a written request to TABC for answers to the questions raised in the meeting that we held today. Tomorrow, we will issue a joint letter detailing that request.
Additionally, in order to assure that we and the community at large receive the answers deserved regarding the events of that morning, it is our hope that an objective, outside investigation be made which would examine internal investigation reports of both the Fort Worth Police Department and the TABC, as well as eye witness accounts. Through such an independent review, truth will be best assured. Our community deserves to know whether unacceptable actions were taken at the Rainbow Lounge, and, to the extent they did, that the persons responsible for those actions will be held accountable.

Senator Wendy Davis (D-District 10, Tarrant County)

Representative Lon Burnam (D-District 90, Tarrant County)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sheila Jackson Lee signs letter asking President Obama to end investigations into DADT

Thank you to Houston Area Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee for signing a letter sent to President Obama asking him to use his stop-loss power to end investigations against soldiers accused of violating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). DADT bans service members in the military from serving as openly gay. The Houston GLBT Caucus screened and endorsed President Barack Obama. We hope that President Barack Obama will keep his campaign promise of repealing DADT sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fort Worth Council Member Joel Burns' statement regarding the raid of Rainbow Lounge

Those of you who follow us on Facebook and Twitter are aware of the Fort Worth and State Police raid of Rainbow Lounge, a gay bar in Fort Worth. The raid occurred 40 years to the day of the raid of the Stonewall Inn. The raids left one patron, Chad Gibson, 26, in the hospital with severe head trauma. The police have since admitted that Chad received his injuries while in police custody. Our thoughts are with him and his family as he recovers in a Fort Worth area hospital. Here are some articles and video about the raid from CNN and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Openly gay Fort Worth Council Member Joel Burns has been active in demanding a swift and thorough investigation into the raid. His exemplary actions in the aftermath of the incident are a prime example of why elected GLBT representation at every level of government is needed. The Houston GLBT Caucus applauds his actions. Here is his statement.

Update & response to those who emailed me in the last 48 hours.

I wanted to let you know that I have received your email (along with hundreds of others) regarding the events that occurred at the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth's Near Southside Sunday morning.

I want to provide you with an update of some of the actions I and others in the City have taken since the incident.

Monday I met with my predecessor on Council, State Senator Wendy Davis, and spoke with State Representative Lon Burnam by phone. Both represent the area of Fort Worth where the Rainbow Lounge is located (as well as representing most of City Council District 9) and both committed to make official requests Monday for a thorough internal investigation by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on actions of TABC officers (shown in photos on some blogs & news sites wearing shirts labeled "State Police"). Both also committed to follow-up from Austin as they begin the Governor's called Special Session on Wednesday. I appreciate not only their quick and ready action, but also their support and friendship in recent days. If you would like to contact them, you may do so at and .

In addition, I met separately with Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead twice Monday and with City Manager Dale Fisseler. I reiterated to both of them that the City's investigation of what happened must be swift, thorough, open and transparent -- even if doing so required an outside law enforcement agency such as Tarrant County to come in and conduct portions of the investigation. It is important for those who live in Fort Worth as well as those watching from around the country to know that the investigation will be complete, accurate, and without anyone being able to claim that internal bias or political pressures played any role in determining the facts. Such an investigation not only serves the patrons who experienced the police action Sunday morning, but also sets the record straight for Fort Worth Police officers involved and honors their commitment to serve the City.

So that you may be fully informed of my actions, provided below this e-mail is the text of two written requests I made on Monday to Chief Halstead and City Manager Fisseler as well as to the Chairman of the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, Estrus Tucker, and my appointee Lisa Thomas. The content of the statement I issued on Sunday afternoon is provided below as well.

I also want to share with you that on Monday afternoon I visited with Chad Gibson, the 26-year-old patron who sustained head-injuries Sunday morning, in his room at JPS Hospital. We were joined by two of his friends who were also at the Rainbow Lounge with Chad Sunday morning and also detained by police. I heard their accounts of what happened. I also visited with Chad's parents and grandparents in the waiting room and with his sister by phone. I hope you will please keep Mr. Gibson and his family in your thoughts.

If you or anyone you know was a witness to what happened at the Rainbow Lounge and wish to report your account please call 817-392-4270 as this may aid the City's investigation.

Like most of you, I love this great City, and am concerned about the unanswered questions surrounding this event. You can be assured that I will work with my Council colleagues and City staff to determine the facts and to make sure we have the appropriate policies, procedures and training in place to make sure it does not happen again.

Again, thank you for your email. Feel free to contact me anytime. This is my direct City email address and my office number is 817-392-8809.


Joel Burns

Councilmember, District 9, City of Fort Worth


June 29, 2009
Dear City Manager and Police Chief,

I am writing to request that you immediately initiate an internal affairs investigation regarding the City of Fort Worth Police Action in coordination with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission on the early morning of June 28th at the Rainbow Lounge located at 651 Jennings Street.

I wish to have comprehensive and conclusive information to respond to citizens requests regarding this matter as soon as possible. Please inform my office when this investigation will commence, the step by step procedures that are taken in such an investigation and when an investigation of this nature can be concluded with due diligence to thoroughness and accuracy given great consideration. Further, please provide a copy of written procedures and policies which govern the conduct of such police actions.


Joel Burns


June 29, 2009

Dear Chairman Tucker,

I am writing to request the Human Relations Commission initiate a review of the actions taken by the City of Fort Worth in coordination with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission on the early morning of June 28th at the Rainbow Lounge located at 651 Jennings Street.

I wish to have comprehensive and conclusive information to respond to citizens requests regarding this matter as soon as possible as it relates the Anti-Discrimination Ordinances of The City of Fort Worth. I greatly appreciate the Commission’s dedication and service to protecting the human rights of all citizens of Fort Worth and your consideration of this important matter.


Joel Burns

Cc: Vanessa Boling


Statement from Councilman Joel Burns

I want all citizens of Texas and Fort Worth to know and be assured that the laws and ordinances of our great State and City will be applied fairly, equally and without malice or selective enforcement. I consider this to be part of "The Fort Worth Way" here. As an elected representative of the city of Fort Worth, I am calling for an immediate and thorough investigation of the actions of the City of Fort Worth Police and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in relation to the incident at the Rainbow Lounge earlier this morning, June 28, 2009.

It is unfortunate that this incident occurred in Fort Worth and even more so to have occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall protests. Unlike 40 years ago, though, the people of this community have elective representation that will make sure our government is accountable and that the rights of all of its citizens are protected. I am working together with our Mayor, Police Chief, the City of Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, and our State Legislative colleagues to get a complete and accurate accounting of what occurred.

Rest assured that neither the people of Fort Worth, nor the city government of Fort Worth, will tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens. And know that the GLBT Community is an integral part of the economic and cultural life of Fort Worth.

Every Fort Worth citizen deserves to have questions around this incident answered and I am working aggressively toward that end.

Thank you,


Joel Burns

Councilmember, District 9, City of Fort Worth

817-392-8809 • District Office

817-209-5555 • Mobile (City)

OPEN RECORDS NOTICE: This email and any responses may be subject to the Texas Open Records laws and may be disclosed to the public upon request. Please respond accordingly.

Friday, June 26, 2009



By Nick Hellyar

This week, we celebrate Pride in Houston. This year’s Pride Parade marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. The Stonewall riots were the catalyst sparking the modern gay rights movement. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. It was a scary time to be gay. People feared being arrested for simply being in a certain place or having their pictures printed in the newspapers, knowing they would be fired if they were outed. Today, the GLBT community fights for equality; then, they fought to exist. The gay community had never fought back against the oppression it had faced. They refused to be taken to jail, they refused to give identification. Some were let go by police, but instead of scattering as they usually did, they stayed and gathered in the street. The crowd grew as the few police officers who raided the bar waited for more officers to arrive. As patrons were being led out, some began to resist. The crowd joined the fracas, and rioting broke out. Years of oppression spilled into the streets of Greenwich Village. The riots continued for days. Our community had risen up for the first time. A year later, in cities around the country people marched to commemorate the event. Some were called “Gay Liberation Day” some were called “Gay Freedom Day,” today we call it simply PRIDE. This week, we march to commemorate the beginning of our movement and to celebrate what has been accomplished since.

July 4 marks another anniversary for the City of Houston, the killing of Paul Broussard. He was beaten to death by ten teenage boys from the Woodlands who wanted to “beat up some queers,” as one defendant put it. Paul was 27, my age. It is hard for me and many of my peers to comprehend someone could be killed for merely being gay, that only forty years ago people could not be openly gay for fear of being arrested, and that only eighteen years ago someone was murdered for being gay right here in Houston. It is also hard for our generation to understand the depth and depravity of the AIDS crisis without experiencing it. People learned daily another friend had died. I have be told stories from one of my mentors, openly gay City Council Member Sue Lovell, of how many gay establishments there used to be in Montrose and the wonderful vibrant gay community of the 70’s and 80’s. I asked her once, “Where are all those people and businesses today?” She simply said, “They all died,” referring to all those who were lost to AIDS. I had heard and read of the horror of the AIDS crisis, but this was the first time I could comprehend the severity of those times.

Today we can freely rent apartments, be openly gay at work without fear of being fired, and for the most part exist free of shame and trepidation. Gay youth feel comfortable coming out at a younger age. The GLBT community has made its way into the mainstream of American culture. Gay characters commonly appear on television, though it was just twelve years ago Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out episode was banned from several stations and was preceded by a parental warning before airing. Opponents of gay rights and gay equality are fighting a losing battle. Being gay is not a divisive issue with my generation. Given that it is easier to be gay these days, it can sometimes be difficult for younger GLBT people to identify with with the struggles of the past generations of their community. Many young people may not have heard of the Stonewall riots, they may not have heard of Paul Broussard’s murder, they do not know what it is like to lose dozens of friends to a horrifying illness, and they do not know what it was like to live in fear of merely being who they are in public. Recently, this is where complacency has taken hold in the gay rights movement especially with GLBT youth. However, acceptance and toleration are not equality. The recent set backs, such as state constitutional bans on gay marriage and the Prop 8 fiasco in California, have proven that there is still a long battle ahead. There is a buzz in the community that many have not felt in a while. Many of us, who have grown up with it being acceptable to be gay, have had their eyes opened to the fact that we are still not equal, and realizing we have laws of our country, our state, and our city affirming that we are not equal. Living a life being tolerated or accepted is not the same as living as an equal member of society. The complacency is now being thrown aside.

So this week we celebrate. We observe who we are and our community’s accomplishments. As you gather for Pride, take time to remember how we got here. Remember those who fought back in the Stonewall riots, remember the thousands that would be standing next to you that were lost to AIDS, remember Paul Broussard and Matthew Shepard, remember the struggle the generations before us went through so that we may live as who we are. Celebrate but remember, we have come a long way and have a long way to go.

Nick Hellyar is the Vice President of the Houston GLBT Caucus