As Gay Pride Month comes to an end, Howard County leaders want to further protect and support the rights of the county’s LGBTQIA+ community.
County Executive Calvin Ball announced at a news conference Wednesday morning a proposal to create a new LGBTQIA+ commission.
“We will always support and affirm our LGBTQ community and need to take action in the face of increased attacks on gay and transgender equality across the country,” Ball stated in a news release following the news conference. “Howard County can be a beacon and a model on how to uplift all our residents, and how to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”
The proposal would need the approval of the Howard County Council before its formation. Legislation to form the proposed commission is expected to be filed next month, the news release states.
The new commission would be an extension of the county’s LGBTQ work group launched in 2019, which has already made several recommendations.
If approved, the new commission would consist of at least 13 members of the gay and transgender community, the news release states. The commission would have the following responsibilities:
- Support efforts to organize, educate and mobilize the LGBTQIA+ community through coalition building and coordination with allied individuals, groups and organizations.
- Identify best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender community.
- Recommend initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children.
- Advise the county on policy and programs that are intended to improve the lives of the underserved and at-risk members of the LGBTQIA+ population.
- Support, plan and execute events to celebrate and affirm the gay community.
The proposed commission also would be required to submit an annual report to the County Council and the county executive.
“This is not Texas,” Byron MacFarlane, register of wills and the first openly gay elected official in Howard County stated in the news release. “This is not Carroll County. This is Howard County.”
The Carroll County school board recently voted to ban pride flags from display in its buildings. The Texas Republican Party has adopted a platform referring to homosexuality as abnormal.
“Today, we are saying loud and clear that queer voices will be heard, we will have our say in our government, and we will have a seat at the table,” MacFarlane said. “We are sending a message, especially, to our young people, who need now more than ever to hear from those of us in positions of leadership, that we see them and will do everything we can to give them a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment to grow and achieve their potential.”
Yolanda Sonnier, administrator for the county’s Office of Human Rights and Equity, said that Ball listened to the work group and understood the importance of addressing the needs of the LGBTQIA+ population.
“The work that is needed could not be concluded in 18 months,” Sonnier said. “In fact, the quest to equality, eradicating discrimination and having equitable outcomes cannot be put on a timeline, and having a permanent commission will allow the commissioners to address the evolving needs and concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
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Human Rights Commissioner Bob Ford said having the commission as part of county government would hopefully help to eliminate hate and inequality.
“In the LGBTQ community, there is a sense of labeling us as other, but that’s not always true,” said Jumel Howard, president of PFLAG Howard County, an organization dedicated to advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.
“We’re your students and your teachers,” Howard said in the news release. “We’re business owners, family members, and friends. We’re in the community that you live in as well.
“At the end of the day, we deserve to have not just a seat at the table, but our own table to sit at,” he said.
Howard said having a commission like this in the county is a “very different feeling and a very positive feeling.”
Community member Becky Weiss Vivrette said what she hopes to elevate is a better understanding that their identities are not just about sexual orientation, but instead a key piece of their identity that should be recognized.
“It is about teaching our children that love is love, that everyone deserves to give and receive love, and that they deserve to hear and read stories about families that look just like theirs,” she said. “That our family should never feel ashamed for being proud of who we are.”