Texas House LGBTQ Caucus hosts Town Hall at El Paso


Daniela López Martínez

Glen Maxry, politician from Austin, Texas, who was the first openly gay member of the Texas Legislature, talks about queer inclusiveness in classrooms.

Anahy Diaz, Contributor

Founding members of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus hosted their first Town Hall meeting at El Paso Thursday, Oct. 17, at UTEP’s Union Cinema, to discuss political engagement, equality and the progress the caucus continually makes to increase representation for all LGBTQ Texans.  

“The caucus institutionalized our place in the legislature,” said Mary Gonzalez, one of El Paso’s state representatives. “It really said, ‘We are part of the leadership team, we deserve to have a seat at the table.’ It made sure our voices were centered and that other people weren’t speaking for us.”  

Gonzalez is one of five women lawmakers who, earlier this year, decided to form the first Texas Legislature LGBTQ caucus, whose goal is to advance bills for the benefit of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals across Texas.   

Aside from Gonzalez, other LGBTQ lawmakers include Celia Israel of Austin, Erin Zwiener of Driftwood, Jessica Gonzalez of Dallas and Julie Johnson of Carrollton. Thursday night, Mary Gonzalez, Israel and Zwiener answered the audience’s questions, which were moderated by Texas House Speaker Joe Moody.  

The lawmakers touched upon the challenges and discrimination they face as they try to move forward or argue bills, specifically in the recent legislative session in which lawmakers tried to defeat the now passed Senate Bill 1978, which prohibits government entities from punishing individuals or organizations in partnership with someone exercising their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are perceived as discriminatory.   

However, the lawmakers will continue to fight to defeat bills they believe are discriminatory to the LGBTQ community by filing some of their own bills pertaining to this community’s rights.   

Mary Gonzalez and Israel, for example, are currently each working on bills. Israel’s bill focuses on outlawing conversion therapy, the practice of trying to convert an individual’s sexual orientation through psychological or spiritual interventions while Mary Gonzalez focuses on her “Romeo and Romeo” bill, which would include same-sex relations in the current Texas law that protects teens who engage in consensual sex from being prosecuted if they’re over 14 and within three years of each other. 

“We want to make sure the next generation of folks elected or young people have a voice in saying these types of things are wrong,” Mary Gonzalez said. “That’s one of the things we did do. Now, as a caucus, every time something was said that was homophobic or attacking the LGBT, we were able to call it out.”  

The lawmakers urged students to get involved in activism and become allies for members of the LGBTQ community, as they believe unity leads to a better tomorrow.   

“I believe it’s my responsibility as a citizen to be an ally,” said Evan Carcerano, 21, who graduated from UTEP in the spring of 2019. “To make sure people in the LGBTQ community are accepted and loved and feel like they can be themselves without people looking down on them or being discriminatory or ugly toward them.”  

Lawmakers also emphasized the importance of being politically involved, encouraging students to apply for internships and even the fellowship they themselves are offering. However, Mary Gonzalez especially emphasized the importance of being politically involved on campus as she acknowledges the levels of racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism that areare present in institutions.   

This discussion led to a question that touched on the controversy surrounding the appointment of UTEP President Heather Wilson and her anti-LGBTQ congressional voting record, which led to protests mainly led by the Queer Student Alliance at UTEP.   

Zwiener revealed that a few of the caucus members sat down with the Chancellor of the University of Texas System to express their concerns regarding the appointment and discuss what they could do to help set the new university’s president on a path to succeed with the LGBTQ community.    

“I encourage you all to hold your leadership here at your university accountable,” Zwiener said. “To follow up on building those relationships and doing better. It’s not fair that you guys have to do the work, but it’s important work, in order to protect the entire student body.”  

The lawmakers said more work needs to be done for the advancement of LGBTQ rights in this country, which mainly dwells on defeating society’s discriminatory acts against this community.  

“My hope is that there is not only more visibility, but more acceptance,” said Alonzo Mendoza, 30, who identifies as bisexual. “We have to do that by making our presence more known and telling people our stories. We are already doing that and I hope we continue … so we can create a world where one day coming out of the closet is not something that is supposed to be considered brave, it’s just something totally normal.”  

Anahy Diaz may be reached at [email protected]