Coming Out

People Of Faith Support HERO In Houston!

by Alison Amyx

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, lovingly known as HERO, is a ballot proposition being voted on this Tuesday. People of faith across Houston have joined the campaign to make HERO law and protect 15 classes of people currently without vital non discrimination protections in the city. Stories of some of those advocates of justice and why they support HERO are included below:

Being an immigrant is the biggest reason why I support the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. National origin discrimination protection is extremely important to me as someone who came to this country on a work visa to work on a job where I was bullied because I came to America from the United Kingdom. Even though I am now a permanent resident of the US after marrying my wife, I joined the HERO fight in city hall to ensure other people of different national origin’s and the 14 other protected classes would have protection from discrimination. I have been a part of this journey for the long haul and believe that all people should be protected no matter who they are. My faith helped me find my voice and learn that it could be a benefit to others. Volunteering for HERO is how I live out my faith.

As a Sunday School teacher, I teach my students to love all people and to never use our faith to make people dirty. The opposition has twisted the words of Christ into what they want it to be. Coming out but being in the closet at church was a hardship for me. Moving to Houston I found a diverse community where I could be myself and be open, Most importantly, I found a church home at St. Stevens where my family would be accepted and we didn’t have to hide. That’s the Houston I have come to love. Passing HERO puts into law what Houstonians feel for each other every day and highlights the beauty and diversity of our city.

—Sal Stow

I am voting YES to protect my family and friends that have been affected by discrimination in their jobs, housing, and restaurants, stores, and hotels. I want to keep them from the risk of mistreatment and discrimination. My Egyptian husband, my younger sister, my Muslim friends, and my gay and transgender friends all inspire me to speak up and fight for equality and justice.

I am a follower of Jesus and a child of God. I am married to an Arab man who is Muslim. I know I serve a God of love and have been commanded to love others as I love myself; be the hands and feet of Jesus to serve the least of these. There is a moral obligation to speak when there is injustice and act to protect those that may not be able to protect themselves. I have heard too many stories of people being physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally hurt because someone did not like them because of who they are. My husband lost his job, my transgender friend was kicked out of her apartment, and countless friends have been discriminated against in public spaces due to race, national origin, sexual orientation, and age.

The opposition to the Equal Rights Ordinance only speak hate and have built their campaign on demonizing transgender women all the while saying they are Christians and represent the moral perspective on this issue. There was no question if I would be part of the movement supporting HERO and here I am now part of the campaign, Houston Unites, supporting the Equal Rights Ordinance as the faith field organizer. All Houstonians deserve equal treatment and the same opportunities to have a quality life in this city.

—Amber Emam

First, I am tired of all the lies that are being told in the name of God. We are all God’s children and the bible says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. To get on a stage and vilify a community of people, who are God’s children, and use that community to spread myths and lies is not an example of Christian living that I believe.

Second, I am tired of being denied entry into spaces where I belong. When I would help my wife in a dressing room, people said I did not belong there. On my graduation day, people in the restroom told me I did not belong there, when I, a woman, was in the restroom simply doing what everyone else was doing, freshening up.

Houston needs this, and I want my vote to be one of those that ensure we get HERO.

As a lesbian woman in an interracial relationship, I see the need to have protections in place for my family.

Additionally, there was a time a few years ago when my wife was temporarily disabled. She broke both of her legs and was confined to a wheelchair. It was during this period that my eyes were opened to the mistreatment of the differently-able community. I would question why she would have to travel out of her way to find a ramp, whenever we wanted to enter various spaces. In some places, she would not even be able to use the restroom because the facilities were not accessible. I know we could have filed a lawsuit, but we were focused on her healing.

I am voting yes on Proposition 1, because people should be able to live, work, and care for their families regardless of what they look like, to whom they are married, or whether they are disabled.

—Kim Watson

As a young caretaker, the fear of losing my $5.65/hr job at a fast food restaurant because I was perceived to be gay and an irate customer demanding my termination because he refused to be served by a “dyke b#$%&”.

Crossing the street at major intersection and being called the “n” word by a white man because I was not moving fast enough.

I am proudly voting YES on Proposition 1 because it is my moral duty to do so. We are all different and equally beautiful and we should all have the opportunity to access what this world class city has to offer. If one person is denied access to employment, housing, or public spaces in Houston, the city where I was born and raised, that is one person too many.

Who inspires me? Friends who have had to sleep in their cars at one time or another because they had the courage to come out and like a snowball lost everything. From the beautiful woman to came out to her boss as Transgender to the Pastor’s kid who lost funding for school when he came out. These are just a couple of stories my friends have shared with me.
—Fran Watson
I voted yes to make a difference in Houston. I want people to feel free, love, and accepted in the city that I have grown to love. I have experienced many forms of discrimination in my life and would want nothing more than to prevent the next person from experiencing that. I have family, friends, and associates here and want to make a difference in the lives of everyone who calls Houston home.

—Rhys Caraway

Voting YES on Prop 1 HERO is the right decision based on living life with unconditional love and respect for others. My parents were Pentecostal Missionaries and the kindness, love and support people had for my family showed me the true meaning of being a Christian. I struggled a little with my upbringing due to some teachings regarding the sin of Homosexuality, but my heart knew that there was no way I believed in God and that He would consider me less than. I was created in His image but I am the person I’ve become, not the person a church or religion says I must be to follow the love He wants us to have for each other. I have had my missteps in life, failed relationships, some legal issues, but through it all the teachings I was raised with lead me back to a path that brought me happiness. The first scripture I learned in English and Spanish was Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should grow, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” My faith brought me back to myself which led me to my husband. Together for 7 years and married for 1 1/2 years blows my mind. I had accepted as a young Christian gay man that I would never get married. Now that marriage is not an issue, Equality is and my husband and family that can be affected by losing this ordinance is why I support HERO.
People are twisting this ordinance around to focus only on one issue and misspeaking on that side of the protection it allows. But HERO is multi-faceted. On top of the LGBT side I also suffer from a genetically auto-immune disease passed on my mother’s side. My younger brother, mother and I suffer from Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis. There is no cure, but there is medicine that helps stop the progression of more damage. Unfortunately, the pain from the arthritis is debilitating some days to the point I can’t move and my skin is very dry and can be scaly during a flare. I have unfortunately lost a job because my pain and appearance prevented me from going to work. I have always been a hard worker, even more so before my diagnosis 12 years ago, but my disease stops me from performing at my full potential some days. I am not considered disabled, but I have a disease that is debilitating. I don’t feel anyone should lose their job because they cannot work some days. Most people I know with this disease are hard workers and the depression sets in when they are not allowed to work because of the pain or because they are told they are not reliable. This is wrong and I want to be sure it does not happen to me or my loved ones or those with similar diseases again. I am taking action and supporting HERO because it means more than just to me. This is about the city I live in. This is about the teachings that we grew up with in Sunday School. Be good and love one another. My faith has guided me and my mother’s prayers have brought me through many trials. I have claimed victory for HERO and I look forward to hearing our win November 3rd!

—Robert Garcia Remmert

I am voting YES and supporting the YES ON 1 campaign because at the core of my faith is an all-loving God. I serve as minister to many good people who have called Houston their home and am inspired by their commitment to ensure our city lives out our values of love and inclusion. I am also frustrated with the messages of the opposition ads that paint transgender people – a group often at the receiving end of violence – as perpetrators. This message is not only false, but offensive. They do not speak for me.

My experience as a Native American lesbian minister provides a personal glimpse into the ways biases affect the way we treat one another. I served as a chaplain in a hospital a few years ago and one particular instance stands out for me. It was my very first day and I was nervous about visiting many people I did not know. The first room I passed included a woman who was very ill and sound asleep, so I decided to visit her later. That day included some very meaningful visits. Then, it came time to visit the first room again. She was awake and her daughter was present with her. I introduced myself and almost immediately I received body language from the daughter that I better not step closer. She started quoting scripture. I tried to affirm and support her, but then I found out what was really going on. She said, “I hope you didn’t go to one of those seminaries that says it is ok to be gay.” She sadly didn’t stop there.

I was shocked and hurt. This was my first day and in a way I saw it as a test of how I might minister in the “real world.” At the time, I felt attacked and it caused me to ask myself if I was cut out for this work.

But I realized that the daughter was scared. She redirected her pain and fear onto something a bit easier than realizing her mother was very, very ill. It was unfair for me to be on the receiving end, but it helped me understand how important it was to have people like me be there to walk beside them to face the true issues and the true concerns that bind us.

Years have passed and I am an ordained minister continuing to work for justice and equality and passionate that each person know just how much you are loved.

—Rev. Angela Henderson

I am a person that practices and believes that all people have a place at the table. A yes on Prop 1 is a yes for all. When I think of who inspires me, I think about the children that I will one day raise who need a non condemning and non judgemental society to live in. To build a career for themselves and raise their children. We live in a free country and the yes from this proposition will give them the ability to earnestly own their freedom to live and just be in their own being.

I finally have a career with a successful company that has a non discrimination policy. Why can’t the city I live in have the same?

—Kedric Brown

I am voting YES because I have long recognized the need for a non-discrimination law in Houston. Whether I was helping a disabled client find housing, being told I’m “over qualified” but hearing “too old,” or grieving the most recently murdered transgender woman; I knew Houstonians deserve better.

I am motivated to share my story because of the misinformation I hear from the opposition.

—Virg Parks

I am voting YES on prop 1 because it makes a difference. I believe that things won’t change unless ordinary people take a stand. That’s the way a real democracy can work.

When I was younger, I was in an abusive marriage and had two children, a 3 year old and a 1 year old. I knew that I would be unable to get away from him if I had another child; also, I would not be able to handle 3 small children on my own. Abortions were illegal and no doctor would perform the operation for me. I finally came across a doctor who listened to my story, performed the operation, and nurtured me to seek help and assistance. I sold everything I had and went to work in Vietnam. I then moved back to the states and got my PHD. I got married 14 years later and took my neighbor’s kid’s under my wing to provide help and support.

Years later, my daughter was in an abusive relationship and got an abortion without telling anyone. It wasn’t until she told me about her abortion, that I decided to share my story about my abortion and my situation with her father.

For many many years now, i’ve been working towards women’s rights and LGBTQ equality. That is why this is important to me, I want to help create a world where issues that I have experienced, no one ever has to endure that type of pain and emotional hurt.

—Barbara Schoot

I’ve been a supporter of HERO since Mayor Parker said that she would not advance an ordinance that left any of the protected communities vulnerable – including gender identity. As a transgender man I felt it was my duty to testify every Tuesday and Wednesday for 6 weeks in front of City Council to provide a face to the stories of transgender experiences in Houston. When the ordinance passed, it was the first time I felt proud to be a Houstonian. I no longer felt like a second class citizen.

Once the Texas Supreme Court ruled that we would need to place the ordinance on the ballot, I gathered the 600 folks I worked with to host the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual conference Creating Change to galvanize our community to also win at the ballot.

In March, the opposition began to focus their campaign on transgender community members using the bathroom. Their attacks were vile and have created an atmosphere where everyday I fear that the life of a transgender Houstonian will be taken as we’ve seen over 20 transgender lives taken mercilessly across the country – not to mention those many unnamed who have taken their own lives. This is my community and my transgender brothers and sisters who are being attacked as we fight for equal rights protections that every major city in Texas already have in place.

As a spiritual person, I focus on mindfulness and personal sustainability efforts to preserve my temple and allow me to give my best as a volunteer for HERO. I hope that those reading my story will be motivated to also get involved and use your own spirituality to uplift the narrative that people of faith are on the side of equality and voting YES on Prop 1!

—Lou Weaver

I voted “Yes” on Proposition 1 because I could not in good conscience vote to exclude any person based on race, creed, color, gender, or national origin. When I have felt the stings and blows of bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination a lot of my adult life, considering that I was born in 1945, I am certain that I subconsciously still bear the inner scars of exclusivity. 

I personally abhor exclusivity where even its manifestation raises its ugly head. I am appalled that person still react to me differently in this day because I look differently. That they do – even in my own neighborhood, where I have resided for 30 years – sometimes I want to scream “I am not the enemy!”

—Charles D. Johnson

In short, I support HERO, because it gives a local remedy to the most diverse major city in the country. Part of what drove me to pursue a career in law, was seeking to make our society a more just place, particularly for disadvantaged communities. However, I have learned that seeking justice can be quite a costly venture, and many of the communities who need it most do not have access to the means to pursue such justice. As such, I have been in favor of HERO since it’s inception. In August of 2014, I spoke on behalf of HERO on the steps of the Houston Civil Courthouse. I have and continue to support the ordinance because it protects Houstonians and is critically needed.

As a black man, I have personally experienced and witnessed discrimination. A recent incident that happened to friends of mine in the legal field inspired me to write an op-ed piece in support of HERO, which can be found here.

—Danyahel Norris

Houston is my hometown and I want it to be a place where people are taken care of and it motivates me to do this work. There are issues that also effect me as a woman, but I look at it more as an opportunity to protect people of all identities to have easy access to everything that I have access to every day.
—Erin Eriksen 

One of the seven principles of our Unitarian Universalist faith is the recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every individual. HERO protects that inherent worth and dignity. All Houstonians benefit from living in a diverse, cosmopolitan city. HERO recognizes the importance of providing legal protection to the individuals who make our city such a rich, vibrant place to live.

Who inspires me to support HERO? My parents, to begin with–they have always been politically involved in the pursuit of equal rights for everyone. More recently, my church, our social justice program, Craig Oettinger, who has led the HERO initiative for the social justice program of our church and Sissi Yado, who has been our primary agency contact.

The experience of loving individuals who are in each of the classes that would be protected by hero have made me a huge supporter of the ordinance.

—Frances Johnson