In order to protest the planned destruction of a centuries-old redwood tree in California, Julia Butterfly Hill climbed the tree and lived in its branches for 738 days. Lovely Murrell of Denton found inspiration in Hill’s act that helped set Murrell on her own activist path.
Murrell — one of the co-chairs for this week’s Creating Change conference in Dallas — works with "Denton What’s Your Tree?," an organization that helps people find their passionate cause. Through a six-week series of workshops that employ reflective and interactive activities, people discover their passions, or their "tree."
"What I’m seeing with people currently involved, it’s always giving back," Murrell said. She said that people who have passed through the Denton organization have started organic gardens and markets. Her wife, Kayci Barnett, began working with LGBT youth. And Murrell’s passion is community organizing.
Murrell met Barnett in college at Texas A&M when both were members of the National Organization for Women and attended the same pro-choice rally. The two have been together for 12 years. They had a wedding ceremony in Denton. Their parents attended and sent them to Key West on a honeymoon.
"It was very liberating for us. At the guesthouse, they called us ‘ma’am.’ They got the gender right!" Murrell said.
Murrell works for Cupboard Natural Foods, the largest and one of the oldest independent health food stores in Texas. As nutrition and body care manager for the company, she describes her job in terms of her passion.
"I help people take charge of their health, helping them choose products, foods and supplements, and educate them in the latest health trends," she said.
Murrell recalled how she became one of the local co-chairs of the Creating Change host committee.
"I went to the meeting at the Resource Center. They gave us the chance to hang out with [Creating Change Executive Director] Sue Hyde and [National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Deputy Director] Russell Roybal. I was asked if I would like to be one of the local co-chairs," she said.
Murrell is in charge of three of the hospitality suites — for youth, elders and people of color. And she gave her wife the opportunity to contribute by involving her passion. Barnett will be running the youth hospitality room throughout the conference.
Standing up for her beliefs is something Murrell said she learned as a child.
"When I was 6 years old, I marched to the state Capitol in Colorado to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday," she said.
Even at the age of 6, Murrell said, she realized that standing up for what she believed in could make a difference, and she was proud that she was part of making something happen that was important to her.
Murrell said that belief has easily carried over into her adult life and her work in the LGBT community. Everything we do, she said, is important in building a strong LGBT community.
In 2004, she was involved with a weeklong event known as Ladyfest. Money raised paid for cell phones for battered and abused women living in a local women’s shelter. While most donations to the shelter provided basic care, the phones helped the women get back on their feet and gain some independence.
"Sometimes it’s the small things we don’t know we’ve done that make a difference," she said.
As an example, Murrell recalled when she and Barnett took country-dancing lessons in Sanger, a small town north of Denton. She said that years earlier, the teacher became friendly with two gay men who took her dancing at the Round-Up Saloon in Oak Lawn, which made her comfortable with gay people. When Murrell and her wife showed up for dance lessons in Sanger, she said the teacher welcomed them warmly.
"We’ll never meet those two gay guys, but they changed her life and made it easier for me," Murrell said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2010.