This opinion piece was submitted by twenty activists and community leaders. Their names can be found below.
tl/dr: Marsha P. Johnson would never.
Dear fellow LGBTQI siblings,
Pride is a time for celebration: for beads, for drinks, for meeting new friends and basking in the glow of being who we are. Even amidst COVID and in quarantine, June is a time to celebrate our community’s progress. We’ve still got a long way to go, but mainstream American society has come a long way in accepting LGBTQI people in the last several decades.
It’s also a time for remembrance, and for reflection. June is Pride Month for a reason: the Obergefell ruling, and the Stonewall Riots that took place 51 years ago. In June, we honor our trailblazers and remember our history—the victories and the violence, that catalyzed the modern LGBTQI civil rights movement.
But put down your quarantinis for a moment, because this Pride, we’re calling a family meeting:
We need to talk about Republican State Representative (HD-134) Sarah Davis.
This election, two of the most prominent gay-rights organizations in Houston—the Human Rights Campaign PAC and Equality Texas—have loaned Davis their support. Ostensibly the idea of supporting her was to have a “friend” across the aisle to defend our community from her own party’s leadership. Unfortunately, Sarah Davis is no friend at all.
Supporting Davis is not only a tactical mistake, but also an insult to our community.
It is an insult to the legacy of those who fought in the Stonewall Riots, thereby firmly establishing our community’s responsibility to oppose police brutality and law enforcement overreach. She has been silent on any meaningful police reform in the wake of 60,000 Houstonians marching for change in the wake of the death of Geroge Floyd and officer involved shootings of six Black and Brown men over a three week span by the police department in her own city. Davis’ failure to appear in the fight against racism reveals a tone deaf, out-of-touch rep to whom the issue callously lacks importance. Marsha P. Johnson did not physically fight back against the police raid just for HRC and Equality Texas to support Davis, who voted to felonize protesters standing up to power (HB 3557). Stonewall rebels did not form a kickline to drive back the arresting officers for HRC and Equality Texas to turn around and support Davis. Just last session, she voted for a “blue lives matter” law (HB 2908), which lowered the bar to make speaking your mind to police punishable as a state felony by up to two years in prison.
Supporting Davis is an insult to undocumented LGBTQI Texans, others in the undocumented community, and all people of color. In 2017, she authorized family separation by co-sponsoring the most anti-immigrant legislation in Texas history, SB 4, a.k.a. the “show me your papers” bill. The forebearers of our movement did not occupy Christopher Street outside the Stonewall Inn so that police could be weaponized by federal ICE goons to racially profile our neighbors and violently rip apart Texas families.
Supporting Davis is an insult to the memory of every single person we lost to the bigoted negligence of public health officials during the worst years of HIV/AIDS. Sure, Davis talks a big game on health care, and yes, her proposed HB 1110 could have been a good start on maternal mortality. But Davis could not even get her own party to support her modest reforms, and their ultimate bill, SB 9, omitted “the top recommendation of a task force looking to solve the problem” in Texas. What exactly is the strategic purpose of a “friend across the aisle” if she can’t even get her own party to support high-priority legislation?
Davis’s failure on public health issues has become even more critical in the age of COVID-19. In 2017, she tabled Rep. Chris Turner’s amendment requesting a federal waiver for Medicaid dollars during a discussion of the state budget. Governor Abbott has already given her his full-throated endorsement. Abbott and his team of lobbyists and corporate executives have already begun to gut protection measures against COVID-19 as his partner in crime, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, has called for elderly Texans to literally die so others can continue to live lives of luxury. Abbott, Patrick, and indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton have chosen to deny rights to Texans at every turn throughout the crisis, opposing vote-by-mail in court, and even going so far as to flip flop so they can pander to a far right group of armed white supremacist terrorists marching up the Capitol steps in pursuit of ice cream and haircuts. This is the company that Davis chooses to keep.
What the hell kind of air-quotes “mOdEraTe” wants an endorsement from that kind of a leader?
Supporting Davis is an insult to those we lost in the 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub. Her consistent scores of 80-100 on NRA scorecards, her history of NRA endorsements, and her vote in favor of concealed carry on college campuses all put our community at risk. And that wasn’t an aberration: in May 2013, she voted for HB 1076, the law that eliminated background checks for purchases at gun shows. Two years later, she voted to lower the penalty for carrying a gun in restricted locations such as high schools.Two high schools in her district lost students to firearms earlier this year.
Make no mistake: should Davis be part of the margin that keeps the Texas House in Republican hands in 2020, her votes on specific bills will not save us from a Republican majority. A Republican-held Texas legislature will yet again redraw district lines in its favor for the next decade, rigging the map toward extremists who will assault LGBTQI rights in courthouses, hospitals, schools, the public square, and everywhere else we exist… because Davis’ party doesn’t want us to exist at all.
Maybe we could ask Davis about her positions in a forum where she could address our concerns, on the record. In a meeting of LGBTQI people, someone could ask her to describe specifically how she would meaningfully protect our rights against the designs of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and her own party’s majority in the state legislature.
But that forum won’t be the GLBT Political Caucus, the oldest equality organization in the south. Davis declined to respond to their candidate questionnaire last cycle. This year you can expect more of the same.
Davis’ district will be crucial to who holds the gavel in Austin next session, and who controls redistricting for the next decade. Republicans currently control the Texas House by a narrow margin of eight seats. The Texas House must change hands in 2020 to avoid a redistricting agenda run by Republican extremists. Based on 2018 election results, only a handful (seventeen) of these seats are even within reach — and we need to flip nine.
House District 134 is one of them. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke won Davis’ district with more than 60% of all votes. Even Lupe Valdez, who lost the statewide gubernatorial race by twenty points, won the majority of votes in Davis’ district—as did four other Democratic candidates for statewide office. The votes are there in HD-134 to replace Davis with a better, more reliable advocate for the communities of West University, Upper Kirby, the Museum District, Bellaire, the Med Center, and other neighborhoods in the district.
HRC and ET’s endorsements of Davis in 2018 were a perversion of our community’s values. In 2020, Sarah Davis does not deserve the support of any civil-rights organization, especially endorsement from leaders in the fight for LGBTQI rights.
Davis gets away with calling herself a moderate thanks to support from HRC and Equality Texas. But her voting record shows that she is no moderate; she simply talks like one so she can win reelection. Just because Davis supported marriage equality in 2015 does not mean that we owe her our community’s backing in 2020.
Remember Matthew Shepard.
Remember the AIDS quilt.
Remember Harvey Milk.
Remember Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien and Viccky Gutierrez.
Remember Celine Walker, Tonya Harvey, Zakaria Fry, Phylicia Mitchell, Amia Tyrae Berryman, Sasha Wall, Karla Patricia Flores-Pavón, Nino Fortson, Gigi Pierce, Roxana Hernández, Antash’a English, Diamond Stephens, Cathalina Christina James, Keisha Wells, Sasha Garden, Vontashia Bell, Dejanay Stanton, Shantee Tucker, Londonn Moore, Nikki Enriquez, Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier, Regina Denise Brown, Tydi Dansbury, and Keanna Mattel.
Forget Sarah Davis.
Stephen Abrams Harrison
Photo: Michael Rowley/Getty Images