Editor’s note: Below is an opinion piece written by Todd Whitley, a columnist who contributes regularly to the Texas Voices (formerly Viewpoints) section of the print edition of Dallas Voice. Whitley will also be a regular contributor to our new blog page, which will be called CommuniTEA and which will feature the voices of people of our LGBT community. Watch for CommuniTEA, coming to our website soon.
A vision of what could be, if we all turn out to vote next month
Todd Whitley, Contributing Columnist
I can still remember that moment as if it were just yesterday: I had watched the past two presidential elections with amazement. But never had an election seemed to affect me so personally — in my own state.
You see, back then, although gays and lesbians were making great progress toward marriage equality in other states, in Texas the nation’s longest serving governor, the Republican-controlled state Legislature, both U.S. senators and most of the U.S. representatives were against us. We had no marriage equality and no job protection.
Heck, the establishment was against women and poor people, too.
I admit: I had felt helpless, as if my vote — my voice — didn’t matter. But still, I voted.
As the polls closed, we had only a glimmer of hope. But we had no idea that hope was about to be realized.
A small group of us were watching the election returns at JR.’s. First, the early vote numbers came in and how we rejoiced at the landslide! Then, county by county, we held our collective breath.
Most — but not all — of the rural counties went red, as expected. But the vote count was closer than anyone could have predicted.
But how would the four major urban areas turn out?
The wait was excruciating and the entire bar was on edge, waiting to see what Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas would do.
Then, like a line of dominoes, they fell as something that had once seemed impossible happened. One county after another went blue — definitively so. People in overwhelming numbers — women, lesbians, gays, Latinos, African-Americans — had shown up at the polls and elected Wendy Davis as the first Democratic governor of Texas in 20 years, and only the third woman ever!
It is said, “As Texas goes, so goes the nation.” A state that had been so deeply red — the hateful, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant shade — began to change. And so did our country.
Our new governor set about to expand Medicaid so that the taxes we were sending to Washington came back home to take care of our most vulnerable citizens, including those with HIV/AIDS. She set a course for our Legislature that increased funding to our schools instead of slashing it. She fought the uphill battle to end discrimination of Texas gays and lesbians, both in matrimony and in the workplace. And she fought for the rights of young Texas “DREAMers” to receive higher education.
Eventually she increased the minimum wage and we experienced real job growth — not the kind that comes from more minimum wage jobs.
It was not easy at all. The stubborn, still-Republican-controlled Legislature fought her tooth and nail.
But by the next election, more Democrats and moderate Republicans had won seats in both houses, and the country began to take notice.
What our governor started could be continued for decades and could catch on in other formerly red states.
You see, no longer was Texas a safe haven for those who would try to oppress women, take away their access to safe healthcare or control their bodies. No longer would the state exclude lesbian, gay and transgender Texans from the benefits and protections heterosexuals enjoyed.
No longer did our students perform at the bottom of the nation but rather they excelled because of the investment we made in their educations. No longer was Texas a state that gave preference to white, heterosexual citizens and instead became known as the Everyone has a Chance State, where each one of us — white and Latino, straight and LGBT, wealthy and poor — had equal footing, was respected, and flourished.
We still had our guns. Churches still decided whether to perform same-gender marriages. But we moved ahead so far. And the nation followed suit.
All because we showed up at that Nov. 4, 2014 election.
This scenario is fiction, a vision of what could be.
This history has yet to be written. But it will be written, in just a few days.
And it could happen.
We are so close to seeing this vision become a reality. But only if you claim the power of your vote.
The future of Texas — and the nation — is up to you.
Todd Whitley is a local activist who can usually be found tweeting (@toddwhitley), holding a picket sign, thrift store shopping, or eating Tex-Mex. Read his blog at tdub68.wordpress.com.