Rebounding from Houston: How to Be a Hero

11/06/2015 05:47 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2016

Did our LGBTQ communities suffer a devastating defeat on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance because of a lack of ad buys, or did we lose for deeper, more systemic and more longitudinal reasons?

The consensus seems to be that we lost because there was no Spanish language outreach to the 44% Latino community and our outreach to the 24% African American community was inadequate. We just didn't counter the outrageous fear mongering of the right regarding bathroom safety.

Of course that's true. But is that all there is to the story? I don't think so. I bristle at the idea that messaging is what organizing is all about. Because it is not.

Human and civil rights struggles are won because relationships are built across difference. We win when our struggle is everyone's struggle--and the opposite must be true as well.

Forty-four years ago the icon of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, published "Rules for Radicals". The LGBTQ community can count on success when we learn the lessons he so brilliantly taught. When we act on Alinsky's first rule: "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have." Power is derived from two main sources - money and people. "Have-Nots" must build power from flesh and blood."

Deliver the people and we can predict success.

How is that done? We build relationships upon shared vision, shared commitment and shared struggles around the issues that affect all of us. The HERO ordinance gave us the perfect vehicle for doing that. It was not just an LGBTQ ordinance, but one that protected 15 classes of people against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

What does it mean to build relationships and have a shared vision? It means that we attend the rallies, the Council meetings, the vigils for Black and Brown lives and issues.

It means that the $15 minimum wage struggle is our struggle. Working to end police brutality is our struggle. Immigration issues are our struggle. Detention and deportation is our struggle. Access to quality health care and education are our struggles. Affordable housing is our struggle.

It means that we become members of organizations that go beyond the narrowly defined human and civil rights agenda that only affect LGBTQ people. We give our time, our voice, our money, our canvassing, our love, our pot-luck meals, our picnic lunches to broader justice struggles.

And over time, relationships strengthen. Families become friends. Children play together. We go to one another's celebrations and funerals.

And you know what happens around the bathroom? Sooner or later, a mother (or father) is busy comforting the bereaved or speaking at a rally or cooking at the shelter and her daughter needs to go to the bathroom. And the parent's friend, a Transwoman that she has protested with and lobbied with and done civil disobedience with, that Transwoman is her go to person to take her daughter to the bathroom. That Transwoman is her sister from a different mother. Her daughter calls that Transwoman Auntie or Tia. And there is absolutely no room for anybody to blink an eye or worry. There is NO ROOM. That parent is thrilled that she has such a good friend who is with her through thick and thin and who her daughter loves and trusts so much that she asks when she can hang out with her mom's cool sister from another mother. That is what happens.

I lift up the example of the Transwoman not because it is their responsibility alone, but because it is so on point to the bathroom wars. Of course it is ALL of our responsibility to do this work.

And you know how I know? Because this happened to me--not as a Transwoman, but as a cisgender out Bisexual woman, who worried twenty and thirty years ago that new friends would be scared to have me, a queer out woman who has the most impeccable boundaries around bodily integrity, connect with their daughters. I was really wrong. In fact, when some of those friends started suspecting that their children were queer they ramped up our friendship to affirm their love for me and to illustrate for their children that they love them for exactly who they are.

When every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, intersexed, asexual activist is doing this work the bathroom wars will be over. And we will win ALL the ordinance battles. And we will get affordable housing, a $15 minimum wage, an end to police brutality, and quality health care and education. And you know what else we get? The world we want to live in.