Manuel Rodriguez

Trustee Manuel Rodriguez in the hot seat as public condemns his homophobia

It’s been 36 days since news first broke that HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriquez was distributing an anti-LGBT flier as part of his campaign, yet the HISD board has still taken to action to reprimand their colleague. As previously reported by Houstini, at some point toward the end of early voting during the fall municipal elections Rodriquez began distributing a flier that encouraged Houstonians to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, because Fonseca had a history of activism for LGBT issues, was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, had no children and had a “male partner.” The net effect of the flier was a statement that gay men are not fit for public office. Rodriquez later appeared on Spanish language television and said that he did not understand “why an unmarried 54-year-old man would want access to children.

At the board’s monthly meeting last night trustees considered adopting an ethics policy that would instruct trustees to “make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of all children in the District, regardless of ability, race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, national origin, sex, age, disability, ancestry, marital status, veteran status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/ or social standing.” The enumerated list of attributes was added to the draft policy after community outrage at Rodriquez’s flier. After trustees raised concerns about other portions of the ethics policy the measure was tabled until an indefinite date. At this time there is no commitment from the HISD Board of Trustees to resume consideration of the policy.

As happened at the board’s November meeting several HISD students spoke to the board requesting that action be taken against Rodriguez. Sergio, a freshman at Milby High School, told Rodriguez “your fliers make me feel inferior,” adding “what makes you think a bully should be my representative?” Micheal, a Milby sophomore, spoke in similar terms “I have been bullied throughout Elementary and Middle School… I don’t want a bully representing HISD.” Christine Farley, the school nurse at Milby and co-sponsor of the schools Gay Straight Alliance spoke eloquently, decrying Rodriquez’s “dirty politicking” and criticizing his lack of contrition: “You have made to attempt to apologize to my students.”

Several community leaders also addressed the board, echoing the call for action or at least a sincere apology. Cristan Williams, executive director of the Transgender Foundation of America, said that she did not believe that Rodriquez understood why the community was upset. “I’ve not yet heard a type of an apology that fully recognizes the message that was sent,” said Williams. “Just because someone is GLBT, or a part of the GLBT community does not mean that they are a pedophile or should be excluded from our culture.” Lou Weaver read a resolution from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus adding his own comments. “Students, faculty and staff should all be held responsible for their actions, board members should be no exception,” said Weaver. “Don’t use your biases to get elected.”

Only one person spoke in defense of Rodriquez, former mayoral candidate Dave Wilson. You may remember Wilson as one of the people behind the “straight slate” that repealed Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance back in the 80’s, or you might remember him for his unintentionally hilarious mailers attacking Mayor Annise Parker. Wilson spent most of his allotted three minutes speaking about what he called “traditional marriage,” and defending Rodriguez’s rights to express his “religious beliefs.” (Neither Rodriquez nor any representative of the GLBT community has spocken of marriage with the board and Rodriquez has not attempted to defend the flier as based on his religious beliefs.) Wilson closed by saying “I admire Manuel Rodriguez… I applaud him for his traditional values.”

Protestors outside of HISD Board Meeting

Protestors brave the cold outside of HISD Board Meeting

While the board met inside a group of protestors, including many HISD students, stood outside. Cory Cousins, a straight ally, said that he “didn’t know anything about Manny Rodriguez prior to this” and was “baffled by someone like that being allowed to sit on the school board.” Many of the protestors echoed Cousins comments, saying they had never taken an interest in school board elections until this incident.

Mike Pomeroy, one of the organizers of the protest who also spoke to the board last month, pledged that the board would continue to hear from the community and its allies until some action is taken, saying “Rodriguez needs to know that we aren’t just going to go away.”