Texas Rising

By: Christina Gorczynski, National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change 2014 Host Committee Co-Chair

Sens. Wendy Davis, left, and Sylvia R. Garcia cast their votes against Senate Bill 5 amidst the cheers of the gallery. Photo Credit: AP/Daily Texan

Sens. Wendy Davis, left, and Sylvia R. Garcia cast their votes against Senate Bill 5 amidst the cheers of the gallery. Photo Credit: AP/Daily Texan

The eyes of the nation have been on Texas in the past month, as we fight to keep the government from making personal medical decisions for Texas women. This is far from the first time Texans have fought to keep the government out of our bodies and our bedrooms – the cases that became Lawrence v. Texas and Roe v. Wade originated in Texas courtrooms. But this may have been the first time the entire world had the opportunity to tune in live, online, to actually watch it happen. And those watching know that Texas grassroots activists are a fiery, determined group who know what it takes to fight discrimination.

I, like many others across the state of Texas, watched State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster on the last night of the first special session. We used Twitter, Facebook and the Texas Tribune livestream to track the process remotely. Our primary news sources became our friends, who made the trek to Austin to testify on our behalf. The advocates present in the Senate gallery reported what was happening on the inside to those of us following at home.

Ultimately, these advocates prevented the Senate from voting on the bill before the end of the first special session. The whole country saw Texas progressives who have had enough government intrusion literally screaming for our rights. When leaders in the Senate abandoned decorum and disregarded rules to shove their laws down the throats of Texas women, the people in the Gallery fought back.

Ash Hall on the left and Christina Gorcynski on the right.

Ash Hall on the left and Christina Gorcynski on the right.

Out of the many testimonies that I heard during the special sessions, one voice rose above all others. Ash Hall, a social justice advocate from Houston, presented three testimonies in total and Ash’s message embodied the spirit of Creating Change. I sat down with Ash to talk about Creating Change and discuss hir advocacy on reproductive rights, specifically hir testimony and role as a new source for those following at home.

Let’s start at the top. In your opinion, why should members of the LGBTQ community care about repro rights?

Reproductive rights affect the LGBTQ community! Many of us may choose to have children, and if complications arise, we need to be able to make a choice about whether or not to terminate our pregnancies. Unfortunately, lesbians, bisexual women and transmen may be subjected to corrective rape, in which a straight person attempts to make them straight/cisgender through rape; this horrifying act can result in pregnancy. Rape or not, we deserve to make our own choices.

I watched you testify and read the testimony that you provided Senator Davis. Your words were powerful and your message was striking. Tell me more about your testimony. What did you say and why? How did people respond?

I told my story from the year I spent at Baylor University, where a male student attempted to correctively rape me. I defended myself and was completely untouched, but it forced me to face the reality that queer people need to be concerned about reproductive rights because we live in a rape culture. I testified because I wanted the world to understand that this issue affects my community, and to start teaching people not to rape, that sexual orientation can’t be forcibly changed, and that religion doesn’t entitle someone to another’s body or mind. Near the end I said, “I can’t believe we’re arguing about the rights of unborn fetuses when my community doesn’t have basic ones,” and finished by stating my hope that the next legislature will extend more rights to the LGBTQ community.

The legislators were obviously disturbed. I had nothing written down except “be brave,” so I saw their faces. When I finished testifying, I was met with support. It was particularly important the second time; testifying in front of the opposition was difficult, and I walked out crying. Immediately I was wrapped up in hugs by complete strangers; it was beautiful.

Thank you for sharing your story during your testimony and for reporting about what was happening at the capitol for those of us at home. When was the first time you realized that you were a news source for others? And how were you getting updates and news during the time that you spent at the Capitol?

When the bill came before the House, a few people had asked for updates, so I thought for a while that I was doing just that. I didn’t realize that I was a news source until the night of the citizen’s filibuster. Friends started posting supportive comments on my Facebook saying that they were able to answer questions their friends had about the proceedings because of my updates; it only occurred to me then.

In order to get updates while I sent out my own from within the Capitol, I primarily used Twitter. Folks throughout the process kept each other updated on various happenings by using common hashtags such as #StandWithWendy, #SB5, and #FeministArmy.

With your huge national network, has anyone ever asked you why you stay in Texas? Why not move to California or New York? I’m asking you this because I get this one all the time.

I get asked frequently! While I would like to work in DC for a while, I am invested in the people of Texas. We are not a state of Rick Perry clones; we are women, people of color, LGBTQ people, atheists, Muslims, immigrants, seniors and youths. Texas echoes the United States in that it has so much potential for progress. While change can be slow and frustrating, it can also be exciting and empowering. I want to continue to witness ignored and oppressed communities in Texas reach empowerment and create change.

Speaking of which, how was your experience at Creating Change last year? I want to hear about the people you met and what you learned.

My second Creating Change was in Atlanta last year, and I loved it. It continues to be my favorite conference. I learned organizing strategies around Transgender issues from Mara Keisling, the director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. I also learned from Maya Rupert and her colleagues at the National Center for Lesbian Rights about how legal advocacy for LGBTQ folks works in regards to housing, insurance, healthcare and more. What inspires me most is meeting fellow advocates from all across the country.

I know that you’ll be here for Creating Change 2014 and we’ve even talked about you proposing a workshop. Tell me why you think other activists should join us in Houston for Creating Change 2014.

Creating Change taught me many of the strategies I use in my advocacy; it made a difference in my organizing throughout the legislature proceedings. It could not be in a more fitting location this year. Texas is undergoing major changes politically and culturally, and our communities are at the center of the process. Houston has twice elected an openly lesbian mayor, voted for President Obama, become one of the greenest cities in the nation, and continues to be a business hub and home for millions of people. It is a place every bit as diverse as we are.

Creating Change 2014 is coming just in time. We still have work to do down here in Texas, and we need your help. Unfortunately, in early July, Governor Rick Perry called a second special session, the bill was re-filed and passed by the Legislature on July 12. In a sad moment for our state, Perry signed House Bill 2 into law at 9:30 a.m. on July 18. The fight lives on in the courts, and activists are organizing on the ground now to make sure women remember next November.

The laws in Texas are against us now, as they have been in the past — but we’ve always fought back. Local activists, like Ash Hall, are solidifying the network founded during the two special sessions and extending the network to LGBTQ activists all over the country. Local LGBTQ activists are busy preparing to host Creating Change 2014 in Houston to build on the current momentum. We hope yall join us! To attend Creating Change in Houston, Texas: click here. To submit a workshop proposal, click here.