This month I lobbied the Texas Legislature on behalf of LGBT Youth with Equality Texas.
After I had finished speaking with my Houston area legislators I decided I had to speak with representatives from the Rio Grand Valley, as a former constituent. When deciding whose office to visit first, one representative stood out to me, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinajosa. Earlier this year, Senator Hinajosa filed a bill in favor of civil unions for lesbian and gay couples in Texas –this was a huge deal! When the Senator’s office had released a statement concerning the matter local opponents of equality began slinging mud at the senator, questioning his sexuality and sanity.
As I walked to his office I wasn’t sure what to expect. When we arrived we learned the Senator was not in his office so we spoke with a member of his staff. After a short while we headed back to the Senate Gallery and to my surprise, as I reached for the door, Senator Hinajosa walked through. “Senator Hinajosa!” I said. He looked at me for a second wondering if he knew me. I shook his heavy hands, introduced myself and my team and explained how we had just left his office. After a few words I suddenly began to feel so overwhelmed. The tall man who stood before me had made a bold move when he filed his bill for same sex civil unions, and it meant a lot to me.
To me, Senator Hinajosa’s support of civil unions made him a hero. He wasn’t from some other place, he wasn’t from some other background, he was a Mexican-American man like me, from the Rio Grand Valley. In my eyes he was what all the other men in my life hadn’t been, supportive.
After a few words I told the senator, “I stopped by your office today to lobby for a bill that’s been filed in the senate, but I have to talk to you about something else right now.” I thanked the senator for his support of civil unions and told him how bold I thought it was for him to have filed his legislation. Suddenly I started choking up, my eyes became watery, I told him “I’m from the Valley, and I know what the attitudes can be toward LGBT people there” and just when I thought he couldn’t get any cooler he replied, “Some people just need to grow up and get educated.”
At that second I could hardly contain myself. I shook the senator’s hand and thanked him again as I fought back tears. As I walked through the Senate Gallery I couldn’t help but fall into one of the chairs and start crying. I realized in that moment how much things have changed, both in my own life and in our state.
If you had told me when I was a kid that a straight man, from my part of the state, would file legislation urging other lawmakers to move toward the equality of lesbian and gay Texans, I would have thought you were playing a cruel joke. When I heard the news that an RGV Senator had filed that legislation I felt a sense of vindication for all the wrong doing that had been done to me when I was a kid.
As I wept in the Senate Gallery and thought of the progress that had been made I felt even stronger about my future, and the future of Texas. We have a long way to go, but we will get there. With the help of allies like Senator Hinajosa and young people like me, we will get there.
James Lee is the Houston Area Outreach Intern for the Texas Freedom Network and works with the Texas Student Leadership Council, part of Advocates for Youth’s Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization Initiative.