One Faith Leader’s Perspective on Houston Voters’ Rejection of Equal Rights Measure

Dry Bones in Houston
Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz
Days later, I’m still in disbelief. One hour I want to cry out at the top of my lungs, and the next hour, I want to sit in deadening silence. As I move from frustration to tears, I remember the last time I was this emotional. Back in May of 2014, Houston City Council passed the historic Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), ensuring Houstonians have the right to access employment, housing, and public accommodations without discrimination. I remember the courage exercised by so many friends. Many spoke their truth like never before in front of city officials, risking the little stability found in the closet by coming out for the first time ever on public television.

I was proud of my city that day. I feel ashamed today.

Despite our collective efforts as people of faith and equality, this week Houston voters emphatically repealed the Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. Let’s be honest. It wasn’t simply an ordinance. It was a statement about our values and how we as followers of Jesus commit to treating one another – with love and without discrimination. We had the chance to affirm the sacred value of every Houstonian. We had the opportunity to prove to the rest of the country and one another that we indeed value being the most diverse city in this USA.  Instead, we sent a message of blatant disregard for people like my own mother who years ago had to endure ridicule from apartment managers not wanting to rent to an unwed mother and child.  Blatant disregard for African American Houstonians who are forced to pay outrageous cover charges at establishments where our white neighbors get in for free. Blatant disregard for Latina lesbians being denied a job because of the languages they speak or the person they love. Blatant disregard for the dehumanization of children of God, our trans* neighbors.

In a year where we are experiencing record numbers of trans* people (especially trans* people of color) being murdered in cold-blood, a small minority group of evangelical pastors and right wing activists has the nerve to fear-monger, make up lies, and engage in spiritual violence towards our trans* siblings, all for political purposes. MCC’s Moderator, Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson, saw how anti-LGBT faith leaders rooted their advocacy in bigotry and hatred, “It is a sad day when church leaders use fear to enforce prejudice.”

I, too, am sad because like many of you, I feeI did all I could do and it was not good enough. The brittle bones of HERO and the brittle bones of hope-filled people were finally beaten down by hate, racism, transphobia, and oppressive rhetoric. After all of the organizing, phone banks, and volunteer hours from so many fair-minded Houstonians, it still wasn’t good enough.

As I wrestle with this phenomenal tragedy, scripture reminds me that the Prophet Ezekiel speaks of a valley of dry, brittle bones. Notice the story is grounded in a valley, not a mountaintop. Maybe that’s where unique opportunities for transformation are supposed to take place – in valleys. Yes, positive change happens on mountaintops by way of broad coalitions of community organizations like we had in Houston. But justice-minded people must also work directly in the valleys where dehumanized Houstonians, our trans* siblings, have been made to feel like dry, brittle bones. As justice-minded people, our goal is not only to change public policy, but to transform dry bones into hopeful hearts and transformed minds.

I firmly believe the Houstonians who voted against HERO did so out of fear. After being preyed upon by vicious transphobic and homophobic forces themselves, I wonder how dry are the bones of voters themelves, especially those from communities of color. Maybe it’s time we come down from the mountaintop and and commit our work to the valleys of dry bones all around us.

Rev. Troy Plummer-Treash, Senior Pastor of Resurrection MCC here in Houston, declared that “Our struggle is not over,” and he is right. Just as Ezekiel stood among the dry bones and prophesied of their resurrection and transformation into a revived community, maybe that’s our first step as well….

Stand alongside our LGBT Houstonians, especially are trans* siblings. Speak life into dry bones, not only with our words but with our presence. Love our neighbor anew. Hug and comfort our neighbor. Allow our trans* friends to authentically share their stories, share their commitment, and share their leadership. Let’s make space for them to find and use their voice so they are not longer dry bones, but empowered Houstonians.

Then, let’s engage Houston voters in the valley also. We now know more about what our neighbors think about this issue.  We know that we must engage them where they are.  We know that we must be true and authentic, sharing our stories of transformation, our commitment to equal protection for all people, our resolve to work toward an end of economic exploitation, racism, the sexual exploitation of young people, equal rights for women, homelessness, and so many other social justice issues.  We must struggle in the valley with all people on the margins so that we truly see each one another as children of God.

I prophesy, not from the mountaintop, but from within the valley. I prophesy over dry bones, bones battered with homophobia and transphobia, bones that rest in the ballot boxes of Houston. Through our organizing and advocacy, and our love, we will make space for Spirit to breath new life into voters. They will rise up, new and transformed and we will work hand in hand in the valley.  The valley will be restored. Houston will be restored. We will redeem the outcome of Tuesday’s election. We will be proud of Houston once again.

Our work and ministry continue.  Let’s cause some #HolyTrouble.  Here are actions you can take to help to advance equality for LGBT and anyone who faces discrimination and marginalization:

  • Participate in the 40 DAYS OF FAITH IN ACTION campaign by the National LGBTQ Task Force (a follow up to the Faith & Family Power Summit) with resources available here.
  • Add your name to Believe Out Loud’s open letter to Houston voters telling them the discrimination is not a Christian value.
  • Use social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram) to share your story about how natural and loved by God your family is.  Use the hashtags #HolyTrouble and #FaithFamilyLGBTQ
  • More firmly establish partnerships among your congregation, other local faith groups, and social justice organizations so you can host educational forums on religious liberty, religious exemptions, and equal rights.  The Public Policy Team is available to consult and help organize. If you would like our support send us an email.
For more information, contact mccadvocacy@mccchurch.net