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How Beyoncé Became A Symbol Of Houston’s Fight For LGBT Equality

CREDIT: THINKPROGRESS/DYLAN PETROHILOS
CREDIT: THINKPROGRESS/DYLAN PETROHILOS

The nation’s anti-LGBT conservatives have made no secret about the fact that they are taking a stand in Houston, Texas. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which would protect LGBT people and many other groups from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, has been contentious since it was first passed in May of 2014. After months of back-and-forth legal challenges, the Texas Supreme Court has arbitrarily decided that the fate of HERO must be decided at the ballot, and one LGBT advocate is calling in the big guns to defend it.

According to Carlos Maza, Beyoncé has enough star power that she could single-handedly ensure that HERO survives its challenge at the ballot in one fell swoop. He wrote as much at The Huffington Post, explaining that as “the world’s proudest and most famous Houstonian,” Beyoncé Knowles “could change the debate” over HERO “with a single post to her over forty million Instagram followers.”

Maza makes a compelling case that it’s reasonable for her to chime in. Beyoncé is not a stranger to political engagement, having drawn attention in particular to the death of Freddie Gray and supporting the Black Lives Matters movement. She’s also been an outspoken advocate for marriage equality; she celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer with this #LoveWins tribute:

Since Maza’s suggestion to Beyoncé was first published Monday — and Texas student organizers started using the Twitter hashtag #BeyBeAHERO — state and national organizations have added their support, including GLAAD, GLSEN, The National LGBTQ Task Force, The Victory Fund, the Courage Campaign, and the ACLU of Texas. The campaign also been picked up by NBC News, BuzzFeed, Salon, Upworthy, Mic, Blue Nation Review, and various LGBT news outlets. Over the past week, Beyoncé has become a symbol of LGBT equality in Houston through hype alone.

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How did this all come about? Maza told ThinkProgress, “Honestly, I was just so frustrated that Houston is going to have to have to fight an ugly, expensive ballot effort just to protect a law that gives LGBT people basic legal protections. I wanted to find a way to fight back, and to make sure that LGBT people in Houston at least don’t have to fight alone.” As he explained in his original post, Houston struggles from low voter turnout, and HERO could be decided by just a few thousand votes even though Houston is the country’s fourth largest city.

“When I think of Houston, I think of Beyoncé, and vice versa. I think it’s fair to say she’s the most influential Houstonian on the planet right now. People listen to her. She’s always been a supporter of LGBT equality and her LGBT fans, and she’s used her influence to do a lot of good for her hometown. If she spoke out in favor of HERO, it would be a game-changer. I thought asking for her help was at least worth a shot.” Besides, Maza points out, “she literally has a song called ‘Save The HERO.’”

Maza hopes Beyoncé would bring new awareness to the HERO fight and motivate those working to protect the law. “I think a lot of people in Houston don’t even realize that the city is on the verge of legalizing discrimination,” and beyond that, he worries many will never realize how “out-of-touch and offensive the campaign against HERO is.”

As LGBT Program Director at Media Matters, Maza is all too familiar with how the media is helping conservatives spread lies about the supposed consequences when “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are protected classes under the law. Fears that HERO’s opponents promote include that it will undermine religious liberty, result in frivolous lawsuits, and allow sexual predators access to women and children in bathrooms. He has tracked how Houston’s own local media has left these myths go unchallenged, and Media Matters offers some of the most comprehensive reports debunking myths about bathroom safety. In states and schools that have protected transgender people for years, there has never been any compromise to women and children’s safety in bathrooms, changing rooms, and locker rooms. But that doesn’t mean uninformed people aren’t still scared by this claim.

“HERO protects everyone, and we’re all in this fight together,” Maza reasons. “HERO makes sure that every Houstonian is able to live freely without fear of being discriminated against, no matter their race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Houston is one of the LAST major cities in the country to get a law like this, and we’ve come too far to lose it now.”

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Beyoncé’s support would certainly be welcome on the ground in Houston. Christina Canales Gorczynski, a native Houstonian and the statewide director of Texas Wins, wrote Thursday, “What we hope now is that Beyoncé will notice. I sure hope so, because she might be the only one who can encourage all of you who show up at Pride to show up at the polls to vote this November.”

Brad Pritchett, who has helped defend HERO by managing the HOUequality site, is ecstatic. “Already #BeyBeAHERO has brought national exposure to our fight to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance,” he told ThinkProgress. “We also know that Beyoncé loves her hometown as much as we do and HERO just makes Houston an even better place to live in, work in, and visit by protecting people based on 15 characteristics. And you can never underestimate Beyoncé’s ability to capture the attention of young people and we will need them keyed in to help protect HERO.”

So far, Beyoncé has not responded to the campaign, but it’s still early; the ballot language is still being worked out and Houston Unites, the coalition to defend HERO, is still coalescing. Maza doesn’t feel that she has any obligation to engage, but he does believe she would be on board. “I really, truly believe Beyoncé loves the LGBT community. In her words and in her actions she’s backed her LGBT fans and never shied away from being an ally. And Beyoncé loves Houston. That’s her home. If anyone is going to fight to make sure Houston keeps treating everyone equally, it’s her.”

He’s also confident that if she did speak out, she would be able to do so articulately. “Beyoncé is smart as hell, and she knows Houston better than anyone. HERO is a common sense law, and everybody understands that the people of Houston deserve to be treated equally regardless of who they are and who they love.”

Houston-based LGBT activist Monica Roberts, who blogs at TransGriot, tells ThinkProgress that though she agrees Beyoncé would help the HERO campaign, she worries that the campaign might help reinforce racial wedges that HERO’s opponents have been using — a familiar tactic to LGBT rights fights. She explained that “any anti-HERO news coverage has featured Black ministers in opposition and rarely had Black supporters of HERO — until recently.” Roberts is likewise concerned that “Black LGBT Houstonians had no input” into the Beyoncé campaign, and though some have certainly embraced it, she hopes that other celebrities are also targeted to help defend HERO.

Maza doesn’t currently have any plans to reach out to other celebrities because “Beyoncé is probably all I can handle right now,” but he jokes, “Anyone have Jim Parson’s number?”

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What’s more important, he says, is supporting the activists on the ground in Houston, “who have fought tooth and nail to protect their brothers and sisters from discrimination. They’re fighting a huge battle with limited resources, and they’re some of the smartest, toughest, and most passionate people I’ve ever gotten a chance to interact with. I hope Beyoncé recognizes and supports the truly incredible work they’ve done for their city.”

Beyoncé did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment.